Media lynching no answer to the tragedy of Baby P

An important corrective to the Sun’s hue and cry from Polly Toynbee. Did you know this? You wouldn’t if you depended on the tabloids.

Surprisingly few children are murdered, given how many parents are drug addicted, psychotic, violent or profoundly inadequate; 29,000 are on the child protection register and another 300,000 are reckoned to be “in need”, with concerns about their quality of life. Yet last year of all those children in danger, 68 were killed (15 of those by strangers). Given how extraordinarily vulnerable children are, that is a relatively low figure to be balanced against the thousands who survive precarious lives, often thanks to social workers, who are never thanked.

Not that there isn’t a case for a compete overhaul, after just one sacking, the paediatrician who has said she was “deeply affected” by the case. Better to wait a week or two until after the full local report before picking on individuals. But who advised these people to stay so silent for so long, even to express regret?

  • neil

    The idea that 53 children were abused to death by their own parents or family is staggering. I understand that it’s a drip in the ocean when compared with the overall numbers, it’s just incomprehensible how one parent could do this, let alone 53.

    I cannot wait to leave this country and live somewhere where the front pages of the newspapers are in a language I don’t understand.

  • wild turkey


    agreed, media lynching solves nothing. In this instance the Sun once again demonstrates its tedious KnowNothing grandstanding antics of populist handjobbery. .. but it does strike a nerve. I think it is this.

    there is a general sense of double standards in practice. This has been especially engendered by NewLabour that those high-up, or at the pinacle, of the food chain in politics, the public or private sectors, are immune to any standards of accountability, openess and competence. The new politico/managerial class can be essentially indifferent to the impacts and outcomes of their fuck-ups. this contrasts with the experience of us proles who would be subject disciplinary actions or dismissal for mistakes or incompetence of far less magnitude… or the poor schmuck who is fined a £1000 for not having a TV licence.

    Punishment for the proles and compassion for the powerful is hardly edifying or inspiring. But then again, t’was ever thus.

  • Rory

    While Neil’s solution to this dreadful realisation that sometimes people do bad things is to flee to another country where humanity does not work out its imperfections (goodbye, Neil) the reaction of the grossly opportunistic LibDems in Haringey was to drum up a few rentaharpies to heckle the leader of Haringey Council, George Meehan, as he made his apology for this failure.

    The failures will always be there. The attempt to address deprivation in areas of London with horrendous social problems`has been what motivates
    men and women like George Meehan (a London teacher incidentally from the north of Ireland) and crude political opportunism has been the motive drive for he LibDems.

    We may, and do, deplore this failure of our services in Haringey, but we are not so foolish as to allow a LibDem to act as our baby-sitter.

  • The Raven

    “The failures will always be there.”

    Indeed Rory. I have just sat through a day or so of Child Protection training. And you have hit the proverbial on the head.

    Firstly, there will always be failures. No public sector (or indeed private sector) system will be so foolproof as to catch all those who intend to harm children. While the physical actualities of this case were shocking, there are many which go unseen and have equally deplorable endings.

    Secondly, yes – I did happen to know those figures, from having done this training. The screaming Mail headlines never highlight how rare this crime is. And it’s time they did. In fact, if there was a subject ripe for another Brass Eye, this is it.

    “often thanks to social workers, who are never thanked”

    And yet we label them as dungaree-wearing, rollup-smoking lefties who need to keep their noses out of others business. Their case loads are staggering, their pay often miserly, and their work tireless and unthanked. Perhaps THIS is where the overhaul is needed – some appreciation of public sector work, rather than the traditional vilification.

    Let’s have this report done, let’s have the recommendation heeded, and – yes you’re about to read this correctly – let’s not have anyone fired. Let’s have the problem fixed, rather than the blame affixed.

  • Alan

    As it is a child protection matter, you can be sure that there has been a continual turnover of social work staff. Despite the fact that there had been around 60 contacts with the family over the years it is unlikely that the same individuals were involved on the social work side all the way through.

    It was interesting to watch MacIntyre’s programme on the Western Trust last night. There the problem seems to be failure to retain staff and an inability to employ qualified staff. This is an issue that is common across the emotionally charged and draining area of child protection. Imagine it being your job to knock on a door to investigate an allegation of abuse or neglect – every single working day.

    There is a huge incentive to move out of child protection and into less fraught areas such as the elderly or fostering.

    If we are to serve our most vulnerable children as best we can, then we cannot continue to constantly be appointing inexperienced staff into front-line services. We need to retain experienced staff.

    There is only one way to do that – we have to break into social work grading schemes and specifically pay child care staff more for the work that they do. The Western Trust( as all our Trusts ) have to be able to attract staff to key posts, that requires a pay differential to encourage people to move.

  • Greenflag

    Raven ,

    ‘let’s not have anyone fired’


    ‘Imagine it being your job to knock on a door to investigate an allegation of abuse or neglect – every single working day.

    Back in Thatcher days long before New Labour a close relative of mine worked in the DHSS in the London area. One of his work colleagues was a young Englishwoman who had to deal in mid winter over a period of a couple of months with a case of Irish travellers who were seen /perceived to be abusing their young children . As they were of no fixed abode this young woman had to bring the welfare money to the parents . On revisiting a few days later she invariably was met with a string of abuse by the now ‘drunken’ parents . The children meanwhile were still badly shod and cold and looked as if they had’nt had a warm meal for days .

    This young woman ‘decided ‘ that on her next visit she would buy shoes , and warm clothing for the children from special funds and reduce the cheque which appeared to be mostly going for ‘drink ‘

    Both ‘parent’ travellers became extremely upset at this action and complained loudly to the DHSS and went so far as to contact the local MP who took their ‘side’. To cut a long story short this young woman was ‘fired’ from her post for ‘exceeding ‘ her responsibilities . Shortly afterwards my ‘relative ‘ resigned from the DHSS in disgust being convinced that whatever the DHSS’s mission was it’s first priority was not the care of children being abused.

    Perhaps people should have to apply for a license and be deemed medically and psychologically fit before they are permitted bring children into the world ? . Shrieks of outrage on this one I’d expect from the politically correct . We have to have a license to watch TV or a dog -and surely children are more important than TV or dogs – or then again perhaps not ?

    I’m not sure if throwing more money at this problem will do more than make a small difference . The problem is irresponsible parents and that’s a whole other story . Sending inexperienced staff into the front line in these cases sounds mad to me, but then on the front lines the generals use whatever resources they have . I can imagine social workers dealing with disturbing children’s care cases , eventually needing care themelves , especially if exposed to the front line without a break for years .

  • neil

    While Neil’s solution to this dreadful realisation that sometimes people do bad things is to flee to another country where humanity does not work out its imperfections

    Was thinking of Spain myself Rory. What do you know of it? Your love of Britain and how well you British folk ‘work out your imperfections’ should be an inspiration to other crazy countries like Spain.

  • Alan


    Yes most of it is caused by problem parents, a small amount of it is caused by problem children, but it can’t be left to fester. In both cases the state has a responsibility to intervene.

    If you accept that, then it is essential that our interventions are of the best quality possible. I am not advocating throwing money at the situation, rather, I am advocating throwing skills at it. Skills, in this case, have to be bought on the open market.

    Despite your relative’s obviously caring actions, it would have been more appropriate to report the neglect and deal with the core issue, rather than save the parents from a less significant element of their parental responsibility.

  • Greenflag


    My ‘relative’ was a work colleague of the young woman who was fired and his only ‘caring ‘ action was to empathise with the young woman on her job loss . He observed the case from inside the DHSS and was aware that although the young woman appealed through the hierarchy against her suspension she was dismissed because of higher ‘political ‘ intervention and the ‘rules’. My relative left the DHSS a few months after this incident .This was just one of many ‘incidents’ which he felt he did not want to spend a lifetime ‘monitoring’.

    The young woman in the case had already appealed to ‘higher ups’ several times that just giving the money to the parents in that particular case was not helping the children or resolving the core issue as you put it . She was ignored several times before she broke ‘procedure ‘ to help the children directly .That cost her her job . Had any of the children died who would have been fired for neglect this young woman or her ‘superiors ‘ ?

    ‘the state has a responsibility to intervene’

    No question about the principle – it’s as always the how and when appropriate .

  • Rory @ 09:51 PM:

    I first met George Meehan around 1980 (the bod behind this cognomen was then a Haringey councillor): we are on first name terms ever since. He’s not a London teacher (he worked for Camden’s building department, as I recall) and (again, as I recall) sprang from Donegal. He’s a good man who has served his community in Haringey magnificently, selflessly, to the best of his ability, and with enduring good humour. There are people like George, of all political persuasions, giving time and talent to local government. For what?

    I’ve blogged elsewhere my thoughts about this matter: I’ll not repeat myself here, except for these three:

    1. The spleen vented at Haringey and its professionals is the journalistic version of Munchausen by proxy syndrome. Because the abuse of the other child (and, I gather, other charges) has not yet come to judgement, the Press are muzzled against savaging the actual malefactors. Let there be no doubt: we are looking at some truly repulsive people here. Family, “friends”, acquaintances, neighbours knew — and were silent: yet it is the more-remote professionals (police, medics, social workers) carrying the can, while George Meehan is the elected Aunt Sally.

    The native reptiles can only pussyfoot around the corners of the judicial restrictions (foreign media use their freedom to fill the gaps). Nor do the doughty defenders of ambiguous morality (Rebekah Wade, the pornographer Richard Desmond and the rest) recognise that Courts tend to disallow child-snatching without ample medical and other justification.

    2. The pressures on the professionals working in the deprived areas of the east of the Borough (which rank among the most extreme across the country) need to be acknowledged. Because of the demands, recruitment and retention of experienced staff is difficult. Therefore, caseloads are horrific.

    3. I am no fan of my MP, Lynne Featherhead. Any observation of this lady reveals a ego in inverse proportion to ability. Her occasional propaganda broadsheet is devoted to a cult of personality: in an issue of four tabloid pages I counted more mentions of “Lynne Featherstone” than there are of “Jesus Christ” in four Gospels and the Acts put together. Her personal fortune, derived from the family business of Ryness electrical shops, in effect, bought the LibDem nomination. A nasty campaign against a good Labour MP was based on techniques and rhetoric borrowed from we are the Socialist Workers.

    Her shrill populist shroud-waving here amply illustrates her political shallowness and opportunism. And, as her claims for allowances and desperate raids on parliamentary stationary show, she is a self-serving, high-maintenance item.

  • Rory


    Thank you for correcting me on George Meehan’s occupation. I had simply assumed he was a teacher (he looks like a maths or geography teacher). I had thought he was from Donegal but plumped for the wider ‘north of Ireland’ for safety. I do share your high opinion of him. He has been a rock in Haringey for a long, long time through many trying and tiresome times having to live through the shenanigans of the ultra-left careerists that came in on the coat tails of Reg Race who had all the political integrity of a drunken chameleon. (I shall never forget the night when Race, having successly had Norman Atkinson deselected, almost had a breakdown when his confident expectation of selection was shattered as the Atkinson supporters switched their votes to Bernie Grant to deny Race any reward for his machinations.)

    Still, I digress, I am sure from my earlier comments that I am also quite taken with your assessment of Lynne Featherhead and the Lib Dems in general. I remember a conversation I had with Tariq Ali in Newport, Gwent in the 70’s and his assessment that if a right-wing coup were to take place the most likely figure-head would be someone like Cyril Smith, the sinister, less-than-svelte, populist Liberal MP for Rochdale. The thought was enough to inspiree nightmares in the sleep of strong men.

  • Rory


    If you are fixed on burying your head in the sand to avoid the horrors of existence I suppose Spain is as good a place as any.

    I would however advise the employment of a large, snugly-fitting cork to protect against any indignity being visited on your unprotected part.

  • John Furlong’s Ceylon

    Profoundly inadequate would sum up the medical staff of the redneck hicksville in which I live with a woman who offed 3 of her own and was caught trying to do the fourth but was not subject to a stay in a psychiatric hospital as the medical profession protected one of their own.