Kevin Hjalmarsson was killed as a toddler in Sweden
Kevin Hjalmarsson was killed as a toddler in Sweden

Investigation into the death of 4yo reopened after 19 years

IT BECAME known simply as the "Kevin case".

The four-year-old boy "who always wanted to play" whose body was found one sunny afternoon lying by a pristine lake on the last days of the school holidays.

Kevin's brutal murder was one of Sweden's most shocking crimes. Five years after British toddler James Bulger was led away from a shopping centre and murdered by two boys, the Scandinavian nation had to struggle to understand how a child could coldly kill another child.

Two brothers, aged just five and seven at the time, admitted to killing toddler Kevin Hjalmarsson in the village of Arvika, 400kms west of Stockholm.

Last week, the pair, whose identity was suppressed for almost two decades, went public for the first time.

The case against Robin Dalén, now 24, and Christian Karlsson, 26, has as good as collapsed.

But the brothers say they still have no recollection of what happened that day and have spent more than 19 years thinking they may indeed have bludgeoned Kevin to death.

"What [Police] said was a horror, especially when you sat there yourself and were suspected," Christian told Swedish broadcaster SVT earlier this month.

For Kevin's father, Patrik Skog, the reality that the riddle of his son's death remains unsolved has left him with a "black hole" and resentment towards police for a botched investigation.

It was a warm August day in 1998 when Kevin went missing.

"He was a happy guy," said his dad. "Always wanted to play. And he loved to ride on his new red bike."

He had been missing for four hours when his grandfather found him lying on a wooden raft on the shore of the lake close to the town.

The toddler's body had been dragged 30 metres from the bank to the lake.
Initially it was thought he had drowned, a tragic accident maybe. But an autopsy showed that something far more sinister had happened.

A stick had been pressed against little Kevin's throat choking the air from his lungs. Worse still, the body had injuries which led police to believe he may have been murdered by a paedophile.

More than 100 people, including children, were questioned.

Eventually, after several months, suspicion fell on two of Kevin's playmates - Robin and Christian. Both had been seen with him earlier that afternoon.

Over several weeks, the two were questioned for more than 30 hours. After which, in November, Police announced the two had confessed to Kevin's killing.

The brothers, it was said, started kicking and beating Kevin over a toy.

"It began as a game. But it became serious so after a while it was no longer a game," Police Commissioner Rolf Sandberg said.

"They told us what they had done. But they never said they regretted it," reported Sydney's Daily Telegraph in 1988.

Due to their young age, Swedish law meant they could not be held accountable for their crimes. Instead the brothers, whose names were kept secret, were taken into care. After futile attempts to put them into foster care, they eventually returned home.

They would spend the next 19 years under the belief they were the first children in Sweden to be found guilty of murder.

However, earlier this year, Sweden's SVT and newspaper Dagens Nyheter began asking questions about how the two were interrogated and whether their confession was reliable.

There were accusations the questions by police were designed to elicit a confession and that they were threatened and rewarded depending on their answers.

A key witness who may have given the brothers an alibi was ignored. There was no audio or video recording of the much vaunted confessions. They frequently changed their answers. They had no lawyers present.

Earlier this month, the Swedish prosecutor announced the almost two decade old case into Kevin's death would be reopened due to "new circumstances that warrant the resumption of the preliminary investigation".

Dan Josefsson, the journalist at SVT said: "We know exactly what kind of material that the police had and we know that there is no evidence against these boys".

This prompted Christian and Robin to reveal their identities and explain how, they say, they came to confess to a murder they have no memory of.

"[The police] showed us a lot of things and explained a lot about what they had found, and what they thought had happened," Christian said.

"They almost threw it at me and would say 'yes this has happened'. It was a lot of pressure that was the thing that made it so scary."

"I remember that I was afraid of the police [but] if I did what they wanted, they would be happy and satisfied", said Robin, who wants an apology.

"If I am cleared of these charges, then I have gotten my reparation."

Swedish police have said they would never interrogate children today the way the brothers were questioned.

Neither Robin nor Christian can say what did happen on that August day. They say they simply have no concrete memories of the event which always made them doubt it was anything to do with them in the first place.

"I've always had the feeling that it's not me. But you imagined all the scenarios, what if it was me?" said Robin.

Mr Sandberg said he welcomed the fresh probe saying as it would sort out the many points of view of what took place.

A Swedish law expert has said the brothers' experience has reopened a discussion about the perils of protecting the rights of children during the legal process.

"In a painful way, the Kevin case highlights the challenges of involving children in crime investigations," said Titti Mattsson, Professor in the Department of Law at Lund University.

"Even if a child under a certain age cannot be convicted in a legal sense, the consequences are still very drastic for the child,"

In The Conversation, Ms Mattsson said the children should have gone through what is known in Sweden as a "bevistalan".

This is a full court process, where the police's theories could have been scrutinised, but without the formal conviction.

"They have taken years of my life that I will never ever get back," Sydsvenskan reported Christian as saying.

Kevin's father, Patrik, told SVT the case being reopened was like "digging with a spoon in an open wound".

When the revelations that prompted the new investigation were aired, he said he felt resentment towards the police.

"You believed what they said. I have relied on a truth about the incident and tried to move on. Now I'm back to square one again," Patrik said.

"To continue, we have to know what happened."

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