Saturday, July 11, 2009

The child murder epidemic: Deaths as shocking and avoidable as Baby P's happen every single week

As a nation, we became obsessed with the case of Baby P. We winced at the details of his unbelievably cruel death at the hands of his mother and her vicious boyfriend.

We were angered by the failure of social services to protect this innocent little boy from harm.

If there was any consolation in the outcry that followed, it was the thought that, in 21st-century Britain, such cases were rare. But this is a dangerously mistaken impression.

Sadly, there was nothing out of the ordinary about the ordeal of Baby P, or of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie - another notorious case of violence and neglect ten years earlier.
Deaths every bit as terrible as theirs take place nearly every week in this country, largely unnoticed and unreported.

The numbers are rising all the time, as a unique survey carried out for the Channel 4 Dispatches programme reveals.

For six months, researchers trawled through social service inquiries and reports from courts and inquests up and down the country.
The Freedom of Information Act had to be invoked to get some councils to release key documents.

In the end, we uncovered a total of 183 child killings between 2004 and 2008 attributed to a parent, a parent's partner or a carer.

In 2004, there were 29. The number doubled to 55 in 2007. The trend is upwards; shamingly so.

For a supposedly civilised society, the statistics make chilling reading . Two-thirds of the 183 victims were under five.

A third were less than a year old. Most were beaten to death, stabbed, smothered or strangled.
In nearly three-quarters of the cases, the killers were either the child's mother or father (and on rare occasions both).

One-fifth of deaths involved the mother's partner or new boyfriend. Men were twice as likely to kill as women.

But look behind the figures to the reality of these tortured lives and the picture that emerges is almost Dickensian in its horror.

For example, James Howson placed his 16-month-old daughter Amy - already skeletal from under-nourishment - across his knee and pressed down so hard he broke her back.

A mortem revealed 40 other wounds inflicted on her in the four weeks before her death, including six fractures to her arms and legs.

Howson had progressed from wife beating to child-beating - a not unusual phenomenon.

There were warning signs that, had they been picked up, might have prevented these deaths He had been expelled from school for violence, with a warning from a teacher that 'this boy will commit murder'.
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