A week in the Death of Common Decency

Of all the comments made in the last few days about the case of ‘Baby P’, I think Mike Power, who’s married to a social worker, has come closest to hitting the nail squarely on the head:

The real point here, as I have stated before, is that there simply is no story. This case is a little more horrific than usual (although there have been plenty of nasty deaths since Climbie that have never been reported beyond a short piece in the local paper) and it happened in ‘loony left’ Haringey. Beyond that there is little to distinguish it from many other child killings that happen (on average once every 10 days). It’s a moral panic + political opportunism + classic tabloid tub thumping.

Having taken the time to read through the executive summary of the serious case review conducted by Haringey Council, which it published on the day that the verdict in the trial of Baby P’s killers, perhaps the most striking thing about this case is just how mundane the events leading up to the child’s death seem but for the final few days of his life, when the injuries that were to prove fatal appear to have been inflicted.

From the mother’s first contact with Haringey Social Services in December 2006 right through to Baby P’s death in August 2007 there appears to have been few, if any, of the classic signs that serious abuse may have been taking place within the family home. The mother appears to have willingly cooperated with both the social workers and health workers throughout and although the SCR notes two incidents where the child was presented for medical treatment with injuries that raised suspicions about the possibility of abuse and/or neglect, both of which were investigated by the police but gave rise to an inconclusive outcome, there seems to have been little or nothing until the final two weeks of Baby P’s life which would indicate that what social workers were dealing with was anything other than a run of the mill case of a newly single parent struggling to cope on her own with the youngest of her four children.

That’s the point that seems to have been entirely overlooked in the media feeding frenzy following last week’s verdict – up until a couple of weeks before Baby P’s death there was nothing in the case, whatsoever, to distinguish it from from any of the thousands of relatively minor cases of abuse and neglect that social workers across the UK deal with every day, the kind of cases that, as often as not, are successfully managed by providing the parent with additional support without ever reaching the point at which the child needs to be taken into care.

That, together with the inability of the police to build a strong enough case to prosecute on the two occasions that the child exhibiting injuries and signs of neglect that did raise suspicions of abuse, seems to explain why, a little under two weeks before the child died of an horrific set of injuries, the Council’s legal team advised its Childrens’ Services department that there was insufficient evidence to obtain a care order.

As to exactly what happened during the final two weeks of Baby P’s life, the truth seems to be elusive, and all the more so for the media, politicians and just about everyone else overlooking what’s right in front of them in the content of Haringey’s Serious Case Review. Even without sight of a transcript of the trial proceedings, what we can infer from the fact that the police failed to secure a murder or manslaughter conviction in this case and had to rely, instead, on obtaining convictions for the offence of causing or allowing the death of a child, is that no conclusive account of the circumstances leading to Baby P’s death was put before the court. Whether this was because the three individuals who were tried and convicted gave entirely conflicting accounts or simply refused to implicate each other in the child’s death is unclear, primarily because in their unseemly haste to point the finger at social workers and seek out a scapegoat, there appears to have been little or no information published as to the proceedings of the trial.

As a result, what has appearing routinely in the media is the suggestion that Baby P was subjected to a serious and sustained level of abuse over a period of months prior to his death – the Daily Telegraph headed up one its articles with the claim that

“Baby P was used “as a punchbag” during eight months of abuse”

while The Times upped the ante by claiming that Baby P after…

“17 months enduring abuse of an almost unimaginable cruelty…”

That last statement will surely be news to the child’s natural father, who lived in the family home for the first three of those 17 months according to The Times – or maybe its five to six months, which is what it states in Haringey’s serious case review, which also points to ‘limited efforts made by professionals to involve child A’s father in the early period of intervention’ as one of the shortcoming’s identified, with hindsight, in their own handling of the case.

The fact of the matter is that there is no evidence of any serious abuse approaching the scale of the injuries that the child suffered immediately before he died prior to the last two to three weeks of his life and much of the media have been trying to present as evidence of abuse and/or neglect is, for any parent, more than a little bit unconvincing as here, from the same Times article which made the unsubstantiated 17 months of abuse claim:

As he grew too old for milk and jars of baby food, Baby P scavenged bits of broken biscuits from older children and was even seen eating dirt in the garden.

One has to wonder whether or not the author of this particular article, Adam Fresco, has children of his own as most parents will be well aware that there’s nothing necessarily unusual in either behaviour. It would actually be more unusual for a toddler to see a another child with a biscuit and not ask for part of it and all young children go through a stage of putting anything and everything in their mouth as part of their development. Seriously, my oldest, who’s now 16, still suffers unmercifully at family get-togethers on account of the story of how, as a toddler, we only narrowly prevented him from eating a slug he’d found in the background.

Other elements of the evidence apparently presented to the court, and reported by The Times see similarly ambiguous. We’re told, for example, that:

The court heard that while his mother gossiped with friends in online chat rooms, her boyfriend took to beating the boy, swinging him around by the neck or legs and pinching him.

And they were told this by whom and what exactly constitutes a ‘beating’ in this context. Only on two occasions between December 2006 and June 2007 did the child receive injuries serious enough to require medical treatment and despite the suspicions that these injuries were not accidental, as the mother claimed, the police failed to find sufficient evidence to mount a prosecution and appear not to have even identified that the had moved into the family home. As for swinging the child round ‘by the neck or legs’ is that really as damning a statement as it appears to have been made to sound, given that swinging babies and toddlers around in a playful manner is a pretty common thing for a parent to do, and as pinching the child, again its not that uncommon, I’m afraid, for a parent to pinch a toddler in response to the toddler pinching them – parents will very often respond to a child hitting or pinching them in a tit-for-tat fashion, a revelation which, I’m sure, will horrify those who consider there there are no circumstances in which the use of physical punishment on a child can be justified but which, nevertheless, are a common enough element of ‘traditional’ parenting not to seem to far out of the ordinary unless presented in the context of a case, like this one, where much more serious abuse has taken place.

To add to that we’re informed that the stepfather allegedly:

…forced Baby P to follow commands like a dog. At the click of a finger he would have to sit with his head bent between his legs; 20 minutes later a second click would be the signal that he could sit upright again.

Again, that sounds quite damning in the context of a case such as this one, particularly in light of the reference to the child following the stepfather’s commands ‘like a dog’, but in terms of the child’s actions in response to these alleged ‘commands’ does making a child sit down with his head bowed for a short-ish period of time sound that dissimilar a practice to the use of the ‘naughty step’ which seems to be much favoured by TV child care ‘experts’ as a alternative to physical chastisement.

At least some of apparently observed behaviour of the boyfriend appears abusive only in the context of a case in which, we know, the tragic outcome and yet, outside this context, would appear to fairly standard elements of normal parenting and, given the adversarial nature of the criminal proceedings in the UK, that does raise questions as to whether and to what extent at least some of the actions attributed to the boyfriend may have been non-abusive but ambiguous enough to be worth putting forward with the suggestion that they be interpreted in the worst possible light in order to buttress the prosecution case.

While there is no doubt, whatsoever, that the three individuals convicted of causing or allowing Baby P’s death are guilty of the offence for which they were charged, if one steps back from the media coverage and considers some of what is being reported in a cool and dispassionate manner then there seem to be enough ambiguities and inconsistencies here to suggest that the consensually agreed account of Baby P’s last few months that the media and a fair few politicians have bought into, wholesale, may not be the only possible interpretation of the circumstances leading to the child’s death and, in particular, there is an alternative scenario here which, while it has no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of the trial, is of considerable importance to the related events that have taken place since its conclusion.

Despite the media’s claims that Baby P was subjected to long-term and systematic abuse, what Haringey Council’s serious case review seems to indicate is that it was only during the last two to three weeks of Baby P’s life, a period which coincides with one of the three convicted parties, Jason Owen, moving into the household with his three children and his 15 year old girlfriend, that there was a sudden and dramatic escalation in the degree of abuse to which Baby P was subjected. From there having been two previous incidents in which the child suffered, in the first instance (December 2006), a minor head injury and bruising and on the second occasion, a lump on the side of his face and a few scratches and bruises, which his mother attributed to the child hitting his head on a fireplace after being pushed over by another child (June 2007), Baby P was subjected to a torrent of abuse in those final two weeks which left him with

Eight broken ribs and a broken back, with another area of bleeding around the spine at neck level.

Numerous bruises, cuts and abrasions, including a deep tear to his left ear lobe, which had been pulled away from his head.

Severe lacerations to the top of his head, including a large gouge which could have been caused by a dog bite.

Blackened finger- and toenails, with several nails missing; the middle finger of his right hand was without a nail and its tip was also missing, as if it had been sliced off.

A tear to his fraenulum, the strip of skin between the middle of the upper lip and the gum, which had partially healed.

One of his front teeth had also been knocked out and was found in his colon. He had swallowed it.

While everyone else seems to be running around searching for some kind of failure in the system to justify their demands for a pound and half of flesh and ritual mounting of several social workers’ heads on spikes over Westminster Bridge, no one seems to have noticed that during the six months in which its thought the mother’s allegedly sadistic boyfriend was living in the house with Baby P, the worst injuries that the child appears to have exhibited were a few scratches and a lump on the side of his head and yet within three weeks of the boyfriend’s brother shipping up while on the run from his wife, with three kids and an underage girlfriend in tow, the child is battered to death.

Circumstantially, at least, that sounds more than a little bit suspect, particularly when, as a typically prurient article in yesterday’s News of the World, points out, the main prosecution witness who fingered the boyfriend as the actual abuser was the 15 year old girlfriend of Jason Owen – or rather of Jason Barker who was not only the lodger, as has been widely reported, but also the brother of the Baby P’s ‘stepfather’.

Now, does that additional piece of information not suggest that the plot is thickening somewhat, particularly when you add to the mix the information on Owen/Barker provided, here, by the Daily Telegraph:

He moved into the house in Haringey in June last year with his 15-year-old girlfriend because there were people “after him” in South London, the court heard.

He had split from his family after sex and abuse allegations. The court also heard allegations – which he denied – that he had made threatening phone calls to his sister.

Knowing the involvement of social services, Owen made sure he was not there when workers visited.

After the death of the child in August, he helped to dispose of the bedsheets and Babygro by dumping them in the canal.

Owen then went on the run from police and hid for nearly two weeks in Epping Forest. He was arrested on August 15 and blamed the step-father for the injuries in police interviews.

At first he was accused of allowing the death of a child, but in November he was charged with murder. He was later found guilty of causing or allowing the death of a child at the Old Bailey.

Because of the lack of direct evidence against him, Owen was given conditional bail while awaiting trial. But this was changed halfway through the case after police received information that Owen was making an application for a passport. He was arrested and remained in custody for the rest of the trial.

So, even with a lack of direct evidence against him and with his 15 year old girlfriend putting up testimony which identified his brother as having been solely responsible for Baby P’s death, the police still thought that Owen was good for a murder charge… why might they have thought that I wonder?

The mother’s boyfriend was described by witnesses as “simple” and incapable of writing proper text messages. Police believe he was “sadistic” and fascinated by pain. He was said to have tortured guinea pigs as a child and tormented frogs by breaking their legs. He was a keen collector of Nazi memorabilia. Police found a number of knives in the house, along with a swastika.

One witness told the court that he was shy and easily dominated. Baby P’s mother left him to do the housework and look after the baby. He was blamed by lodger Jason Owen for the abuse. Owen claimed that he sometimes went to check on the baby after hearing him cry and found the boyfriend in the room denying anything was wrong.

So the boyfriend is, according to several witnesses, ‘simple’ and, according to one in particular, also shy, easily dominated even though he has an apparent history of sadistic behaviour as a child… and I do wonder quite where the evidence of his childhood behaviour. Surely not his brother and co-accused, Jason Owen/Barker.

And does that not sound at odds with the claim, made by Owen/Barker’s 15 year old girlfriend that the boyfriend was:

a domineering control-freak, who moved in when Baby P was three months, banned everyone from going into the dingy room or even changing P’s dirty nappy.

Not to mention that…

His [Baby P’s] mother even had to ask permission to FEED him. But the witness said: “The mum ignored all the kids and let them do what they wanted.

And that…

“She was scared of her partner though. We all were. Day after day I heard screaming coming from Baby P’s cot. But I didn’t dare go in there. His nappy went unchanged for so long his skin just rotted away. His bottom was red raw, blistered and covered in sores.”

That’s doesn’t sound like someone who’s shy and easily dominated, does it?

Let’s just reiterate one point here, this entire picture of the boyfriend/stepfather as a domineering control freak whose banned everyone from the child’s room and whose permission the mother allegedly required just to give the kid a meal comes from the 15 year old girlfriend of his brother/lodger who moved into the household at the same time as her boyfriend, all of which appears to coicide with an dramatic escalation in the degree of abuse visited on Baby P.

So this is, of course, a perfectly reliable picture of what went on in that house during the final few week’s of Baby P’s life, isn’t it?

Well, obviously, it isn’t – or at least the jury in this case didn’t seem to think so – if they had then the boyfriend would likely have been have been convicted of at least manslaughter, if not murder, assuming that this ‘witnesses’ testimony matches the story given to the News of the World.

You might wonder why any of this is relevant, given that the mother, her boyfriend and the lodger/boyfriend’s brother were all convicted and are all looking at a long stint in prision, and almost certainly in the secure wing reserved, normally, for serious sex offenders who would otherwise be subjected to regular attacks by other prisoners.

Well, the relevance of these apparent inconsistencies in the sorry tale of Baby P’s death isn’t to the case itself but to events that followed and, in particular, to the ongoing media witchhunt against Haringey Council and its Children’s Services department, because while the media’s preferred account of the circumstances leading to Baby P’s death, in which the child was seemingly systematically abused in a serious manner for several months before he died of his injuries, supports the idea that systematic failures in Haringey’s Child Protection services may have played a part in the events leading to the child’s death, the alternative account, in which the abuse the child was subjected to massively escalated during the final couple of weeks of his life following the introduction of a new, and to Haringey Council, unknown element into the household – Jason Owen/Barker – does not. In the latter scenario, while there was the one obvious and extremely serious failing, that of the community paediatrician who saw the child a couple of days before he died and who failed to spot his injuries – the scenario otherwise suggests only that social workers’ assigned to the case made  an incorrect judgement call based on incomplete and ambiguous information about the child’s circumstances and the composition of the household in which he was living and this, for the most part, because the mother, her boyfriend and, eventually, his brother, deliberately concealed that information from social workers.

It’s also worth pointing out here, as this is rarely if even made clear by the media, but of the much quoted sixty occasions that the family had contact with health and social care workers in the 8 months from December 2006 up until the child’s death in August 2007, only 18 of those contacts were actually with social workers, a little less than half the number of contacts with health staff (37, including three visits to the family home), and the family (minus the boyfriend one assumes) were also seen five times at home by staff from the Family Welfare Association, which is now called ‘Family Action’ and there were another eight occasions that the child’s mother took her son to see health professionals including the two occasions on which the child’s injuries raised suspicions of abuse.

So how come the press and politicians are busily trying to kick the hell out social workers when they account for less than a third of the contact between the family and health and social care workers over the entire period and when – if you actually bother to read things properly and think about the many inconsistent elements that are apparent in this case – there evidence provides an equally plausible scenario which accounts more than adequately for the events leading to Baby P’s death but without relying on systematic failures and incompetence to explain the role of a range of health and social care professionals in proceedings.

That scenario, which isn’t being put forward by the media because it doesn;t lend itself anything like so well to the ritual scapegoating of Haringey Council and its child protection staff, is as plain as day if you only look at the evidence which suggests that far from Baby P having been subjected to systematic abuse for a lengthy period of time before his tragic death, abuse that the system failed to identify and act upon, what actually happened was that:

A. Baby P was subjected to low level abuse and neglect by his mother and stepfather of a kind that was sufficent to raise suspicions amongst police and social workers but not to provide the evidence and legal grounds necessary for the council to obtain a care order, as its legal advisors indicated on 25th July 2007, and…

B. There was a sudden, unexpected and ultimately fatal escalation in the degree of abuse visited on the child by one of more of the adults living in his household, the presence of two of whom (the mother’s boyfriend and his brother, the supposed lodger) was not known to the authorities until after the child’s death.

C. Without social workers being aware of the presence of these two individuals in the household, there was no way that the death of Baby P could have been prevented, given that two police investigations into what appeared to be physicial abuse of the child failed to turn up sufficient evidence either for a prosecution or for care proceedings.

As to whether or not the failure of the community paediatrician to indentify Baby P’s injuries when the child was seen a couple of days before he died made any difference to the outcome of this case, the fact is that we’ll never know. Maybe, medical intervention at that point could have saved the child’s life… and maybe the injuries might have proved too severe even though the child took another couple of days to die.

The sudden appearance of jason Owen/Barker in the household just prior to the serious escalation in the degree of abuse experienced by Baby P is too much of a coincidence not to be taken into account, for all that the police could present no evidence of his direct involvement in the child’s death.

If, as one witness at the trial suggested, the mother’s boyfriend is, notwithstanding his physical size and apparent history of childhood sadism against animals, not only of low intelligence but also shy and easily dominated – and a psychiatric assessment should allow the veracity of that particular piece of testimony to be evaluated – then there are more than enough well-documented cases of ‘George and Lennie’ scenarios within the field of forensic criminal psychology to support the contention that its may well only have been at the point that Owen/Barker moved into the household, without the knowledge of any of the authorities, that the risk to Baby P’s well-being escalated to an unacceptable level, one which would only have been apparent to those working with the family has they been aware that the mother was not, as they thought, living on her own with her four children.

From a careful reading of both the executive summary of Haringey Council’s Serious Case Review and a range of media coverage of the case, there is at least enough evidence to support the scenario I’ve set out above as there is the one the media have been relentlessly pushing in the hope of claiming the scalps they’ve been demanding since the end of the trial, particularly as it does seem as if most of the evidence which paints the picture of the mother’s boyfriend as a sadistic abuser appears to rely on the testimony of his brother and his 15 year old girlfriend, testimony which has to be considered to be just a little suspect given that both have an obvious vested interest in blaming someone else for events which took place when both were living in the same household.

There is, as a barrister might say in the course of summing up a case, reasonable doubt as to the accuracy of the version of events leading up to the death of Baby P that the media have been pushing extensively since the end of the trial and the doubts that this alternate scenario raises are pivotal to the issues of official responsibility and culpability that have dominated the media coverage to the almost total exclusive of any reflection on the fact that the ultimate responsibility for Baby P’s death lies in the hands of the individuals who were, last week, convicted of causing or allowing his death; his mother, her boyfriend and the boyfriend’s brother.

Aside from the failure of the community paediatrician to pick up that the child was seriously injured during the developmental assessment which took place only two days before the child died, for which the paediatrician has already been disciplined, perhaps the only thing I can find any clear fault in, as regards Haringey Council is the rather ill-judged and graceless public statement given by Sharon Shoesmith following the trial – and even then I would be prepared to entertain a plea of ‘lawyered’ in mitigation if it were to be shown that her failure to offer and apology and the generally self-exculpatory tone she adopted, on behalf of the council, stemed in part from legal advice intended to avoid making any statements that could be construed as an admission of liability.

The media is, of course, the media and one can hardly be surprised that they’ve responded to this case as they invariably do, with the usual heady mix of cloying sentimentality and nauseating hypocrisy and the demand, of course, that someone at the council be given up to them as a ritual sacrifice.

So, perhaps you’ll forgive me if I admit to – as usual – being least impressed by the caperings of our elected representatives who one might have hoped would at least have questioned why the outcome of Haringey’s Serious Case Review is so clearly at odds with the media’s version of events before they started trying to ride on the medias’ coat-tails and join the search for a scapegoat.

Yes, cases such as this one do raise questions of responsibility and accountability but before demanding that anyone should done the hair shirt submit themselves for ritual humilation in the court of public opinion, should politicians not, at least, make some effort to establish that those they criticise and castigate actually have something to be held responsible/accountable for, especially in a case where there are a still a considerable number of doubts and unknowns not least of which being the exact circumstance that led to Baby P’s death.

64 thoughts on “A week in the Death of Common Decency

  1. Thank you for a fine analysis – somber food for thought.

    It would help to know exactly why there is an injunction on publishing the names of the mother and boyfriend and and also to have a transcript of the court proceedings.

    Sadly, even if there is a full public inquiry, any report generated would in my view be suspect. My trust in the authorities has been destroyed by a decade and more of spin and spivery by politicians of all persuasion and in particular the Hutton report.

  2. Good post, thanks for a sensible and reasoned review. It’s all too easy to go off the deep end with emotion when reading the MSM hyperbole.

  3. The injunction might be because the mother is pregnant ?

    Very interesting points you make Unity. I’ve been keeping away from media reports because it seemed too soon to digest anything useful.

    Any thoughts on the other children in the house ? you make strong arguments about how crucial the final 2 weeks were and the individuals present and seem to have picked up on something about the 15 yr old’s testimony.

    I’ve been involved in child protection conferences and argued for children to stay on/off the register when other professionals present took a different view.,It’s not unusual.
    Likewise anyone who works for or with social services is aware that ’60 visits’ does not necessarily mean what the media spins it as.

  4. Excellent article.

    “The best thing I’ve read on the subject, and I’ve read a lot” – Mrs P, Chief Social Work Officer.

    My wife is, ahem, usually quite sparing with her approbation, so that is praise indeed!

    The most important point that this post has brought out is that up until two weeks before Baby P’s death this was a ‘run of the mill’ case just like tens of thousands of others up and down the country. That is something most people utterly fail to realise.

  5. Sunlight is nature’s disinfectant. Thanks for assisting in progressing the cleanup, Unity.

    If the injuries were low level until the boyfriend’s brother appeared, we should not rule out the fact it was the boyfriend. One can goad the other.

    p.s. How come this woman lived in a place so big there was room for a boyfriend, his brother, his g/f and his 3 kids to all pile into?

  6. Excellent article Unity. As you have pointed out, the media (with a couple of exceptions) have been appalling on this, as have many politicians.

  7. A superb and useful article that deserves wider reading, but until I at least know more about the circumstances of the court order (Re: names) and I’m provided with a good reason for violating it, I can’t actively promote it.

    Hope you understand.

  8. This must be the kind of thing Hazel Blears was on about when she spoke of the dangerous cynicism and unaccountability of bloggers.

    Look and learn, ladies and gentleman of the press.

  9. His name is Peter Connolly – let him have that, at least. He was not an effing initial, he was a little baby, killed by psychopathic low-life.

  10. Hmmm !- If I have one bone to pick with Haringey it is that thier serious case revue was “internal”.

    This enabled the vermin to crawl out of the woodwork.

    An “internal” enquiry on a case of this magnitude is an invitation to the gutter press.


  11. Except, GW, that the Council were required by law to conduct a Serious Case Review and used an external firm of consultants to collate the information for it.

    Nor does the fact that an SCR has been carried out preclude an independent inquiry – the only effective constraint in any of this was that an independent inquiry could not be convened until the criminal proceedings had finished because the case was sub judice.

  12. Thankyou for an extremely thought provoking article in which you make many excellent and logical points which deserve careful consideration by all swept away by the understandable tirade of emotion following the appalling circumstances of Peter

  13. The names are injuncted pending the conclusion of another court case – unrelated to the sad death of this child, I believe. As is not uncommon, the courts are seeking to ensure that those involved in the other case receive a fair trial. The injunction will be withdrawn at the end of that case – which should not be far away, so we can expect more villification from the media in due course.

    A thoughtful piece there, Unity – as always. Thanks.

  14. Here here SarahN. Initial post sounds like social workers closing ranks – usual long rambling nonsense! Less report writing and more child protection for social workers is what is required. At the end of the day social workers and medical professionals failed this innocent child and if the media can help highlight the lack in care in this case and others than I say bring it on! If social workers have a problem with this then get out of the job because you’re not worthy of protecting children!

  15. Extremely insightful post – nothing to add, only a query as to why the hell the press haven’t picked up on this. I mean, it’s not as if you have teams of reporters/newsrooms/editors etc. As the man said, this must be what Hazel Blears was talking about…

  16. A thoughtful article. I can certainly see how if the escalation of abuse only happened in the last two weeks of Baby P’s life, then bad things could happen without chance to intervene. I’m not so sure that this is fully the case though and I’d like to see the full report.

    Having said that, I’m suspicious of the released executive summary. I used to write reports just like that (although not for the Social Services). One of my skills was to present the truth in a dispassionate and mundane fashion to take the heat out of the debate. I never lied, but I did minimise bad events and play up ‘lessons learned’ by the words and emphasis used. Will a full enquiry show anything different? It might well do so.

    I think it is wrong to demonise all social workers, or doctors, or managers, or police, but I suspect that errors have been made and institutional indifference has permitted them to occur without proper corrective action. A few sackings may be required to set an example for the others – tough on those concerned perhaps, although the criminal courts do this with sentences sometimes ‘to send a message’.

  17. Social workers never killed this child. The media prefer to demonise social workers as that way, they (the media) don’t have to reflect on the society that their preaching of decadence has created.
    And suppose social workers took a child away from a mother because she can’t cope, the same media would jump down their backs demanding to know why families are being split up by the state.

  18. Interesting article Unity.

    There is in the media attitude to social work a clear false dichotomy between the evil social workers who allow children to die, and the evil social workers who break up families for no good reason.

    However the public angst on this case rests on a couple of issues;

    1. The clear nature of his pre death injuries.

    2. The number of visits.

    Your analysis seems to point the finger at the paediatrician who last saw baby P (yes I so know his real name) for the first and you have an explanation for the last.

    However I wonder if the executive summary is not a bit of a arse covering exercise.

    Lets look deeper. The information that baby P was being abused before the escalation of violence was there. That said not all of it may have been known to social services.

    What I am most interested in is where was the father? Why was he where he was? If as we here, social workers wanted the boy fostered, (but were overruled) was the father not asked if he wanted to care for either baby P or his three older daughters (and baby P’s sisters) and indeed why he either did not contest residence/custody or if he did why he did not get it.

    Here of course we run into the problem that family courts operate almost in total secrecy and that helps no one.

  19. This article whilst informative(some things i did not know)was shite!! It was just excuse after excuse
    Firstly you sound like a lawyer defending these scumbags who don’t need to be defended, even as you repeatidly say it was only 2 weeks up the baby peters death all the abuse began its still too much and no matter which one of these scum dished out the fatal blow they all let it happen
    There is nothing wrong with swinging a child around by his neck??? is that what your actually saying??? thats no f**king playful manner to me, he was a baby for christ sake, and pinching him is not uncommon??? – i feel sorry for your children i really do you sick ba*tard, And making him touch his head to the floor at a click of the fingers is not the same as a naughty step, firstly he is only 17 months and does not undertsand that yet and secondly that was fear that was built up in him that he was able to do that to avoid a beating, I am a mother of an 8 month old baby boy and and a 2 year old baby girl and could not imagine doing anything like this, it makes me sick at the thought of it!!
    While i agree that the media has obviously added there own story to this to make it more horrifying it still does not hide the fact that this child died in an awful manner an awful enviroment and in teh hands of 3 awful beasts
    Thank you for reading!!

  20. Utterly superb Unity, many thanks.

    Answers a whole load of questions I had about this case but which I didn’t have time or stomach to inquire into.

    This is why we need blogs.

  21. The other side of the coin of saying that this death is not particularly out of the ordinary is that it isn’t out of the ordinary. That social workers time & again fail to protect the kids that they are employed to protect. That hundreds of children die & 10s of thousands are abused who could be saved if the social workers either tried to keep them with their real dathers (either by keeping to damily together or giving the father custody) or by letting them be adopted.

    Instead we see the “caring professions” so eager to prevent adopting that they are tuling out any prospective parents who smoke.

    You can’t have it both ways – if this case is not remarkable it is common & the claim that most workers are saints or even useful is nonsense.

  22. Thank you,

    A well reasoned and well constructed article. The media attention to this is suffering from the “Diana” factor. Whip up the emotions and to hell with the truth. It is hard to be objective about cases like this which is why there are courts and professionals who do it for us (I’m not complacent about this – the buggers need watching). They don’t always get it right but the alternative is so much worse.

  23. I have been deeply upset by the articles on Baby Peter in the newspapers and reading your article has given me a new insight, however the fact that there was obvious signs of abuse before the 2-3 week period that you mention must not be forgotten. With reference to bowing his head and fingers clicks to allow him to sit upright again ………that is NOT normal and i say that as the mother of a 2year old boy, nor is pinching him or swinging him around by his feet (one would know that this could hurt a small child and could cause potential injury. What about covering uo his bruses with chocolate – a photo shows this and the child appears ill in the photograph. I have worked with many ‘dim witt’ social workers over the years, views shared by many medical and nursing health professionals. Regardless of the age of their cleints in lots of cases they are a complete waste of time…..however there are some that do a great job….I’ve just yet to meet one and i truly hope that one day i will. But….since this is happened before to Victoria in the same council we are left to believe regardless of media coverage that nothing has really changed – how many more innocents must die!

  24. Sarah Jane – you clearly haven’t read what he’s saying – he’s not excusing anyone, just trying to give a clearer view of the facts. Please don’t fall for the media’s interpretation of the facts, as they have a tendency to be based on those little things called advertising/sales/listeners/viewers or readers. It’s not easy being objective, but without it we’d be banging up anyone who smiled at a kid in the street.

    It was indeed an excellent piece, and having spent time working in the care services some years back as the suspicion of people on practitioners grew, I can empathise with those people doing the job today, albeit to a small degree. I do have one pedantic request though (which I feel stupid making!): could you use a few more full stops – I struggled to read some of the sentences as they were so long!

    That said I’ll be visiting this site a bit more often – good news and analysis is hard to come by.

  25. Indeed, an excellent and thorough post.
    I’m a bit bothered by the pitchforks-at-dawn reaction by some the commentators I usually read. That kind of thinking/reaction only plays into the hands of a government only too willing to interfere with our lives further.

  26. How dare we get our knickers in a knot over a baby’s death? What should we be doing instead? Co-ordinating vigilante campaigns against internet stalkers? That’s one screwed up set of priorities you’ve got there.

  27. Sorry?

    Do you actually know the family or have even the slightest personal connection to this case?

    No, of course you don’t, you’re commenting from Cambridge aren’t you.

  28. Unity said…
    POSTED ON: NOVEMBER 21ST, 2008 AT 12:53 AM

    Do you actually know the family or have even the slightest personal connection to this case?

    Do you? I was unaware btw that one is only permitted to voice an opinion on an issue if one has a ‘personal connection’ to it. Thanks for informing me of that. Is it a new law or something? Perhaps you could provide a link so I can ‘educate myself’.

    No, of course you don

  29. It demonstrates that you’re just another keyboard warrior like all the rest who’ve spent the last week with their typing fingers in overdrive and their brains in neutral over a kid they don’t know and wouldn’t even have known existed if they weren’t dead.

  30. FWIW I do have some sympathy with your critique of the media coverage of this case (particularly the sun). I am also concerned with the media witch hunt that is being carried out by the media against the social workers in this case. They’re fucked if they do and equally fucked if they don’t. I find it vaguely amusing when people assert that every member of the social work department of Haringey council should be dismissed. I’d like to know who they plan to replace them with. There is a national shortage of social workers. Apparently the ‘authorities’ are finding it particularly difficult to recruit social workers who specialise in child welfare. I can’t imagine why that would be.

  31. When I was university, twenty years ago, there were as many qualified social workers on the course (Combined Social Sciences – and I specialised in psychology) doing the degree as a route out of social work as there were bright young things taking the course as a way in because you could do a CQSW as a one year post grad course.

    I’ve just notices that you arrived via DK, in which case you’ll have to excuse me for being a little sharp tongued – been getting a few twats from the facebook hategroups as well.

  32. Unity if i heard about every case there is out there i would be hurt like i am with this one, it makes me feel sick in my stomach when i hear about kids that went through any kind of abuse, i do not need to know the baby to have feelings for him i have my views/feelings and thats what i’m entitled to. I know this one has been publicised alot more than others but i think its necessary so people know whats going on i wish they were all publicised this much but there would probably be nothing else on the telly or newspapers if so, This has actually made me want to quit my job and take a course in college to help families and babies like this one so thats a good thing that has come out of this and i’m sure there are alot more people like me that were effected like this.
    I did read the artical thanks Brighton Womble i know he is not excusing anyone really i got my words mixed up there i just don’t agree with some of the things he says, it was like he was trying to excuse them by saying swinging him by the neck or pinching him or making him touch his head to the floor was not “uncommon” and “normal”.
    ……….. (this is for you Brighton Womble cause i know you like your full stops!)

  33. Although I agree with some of your points, including the manipulative media coverage and the inexactitude of some of the information provided, I totally disagree with your view of injuries inflicted on the 3 occasions that the baby was taken to the hospital.
    Doctors considered them as non-accidental, although they were non-conclusive. My question is: in your opinion, how many times a child has to be taken to the hospital with non-accidental injuries to be taken seriously? I don’t think is exact they way you describe them as some bumps and a few scars. The mother was detained the first time back in December 2006, twice apparently. The police collected information for some months to have a case against the mother. Including concerns of doctors who saw them, do you think that this fact is something not to taken into consideration?

    Apparently, the flat was a filthy, unhealthy place. How much time the social worker spent looking around the flat and checking the conditions in which the children were living? Did she ever take any step to find out who was really living in the house? Did she even take two minutes to clean the baby’s face? Apparently, for her description, on her last visit, he was smear with chocolate to cover the bruises. This is something that abusers very often do to cover the marks. As an experienced social worker, I think she should have known this. What about his childminder’s complaints? Have you taken into consideration this? She complaint to the Social Services more than 20 times, including cuts and bruises. She said once, she had to wipped off blood from his highchair. Is this something that you would also admit as normal? And this happended during the last months of the baby’s life. Maybe, Social Services thought it was normal as they didn’t take it into consideration.

    My opinion is that whatever the reasons, neither the social worker nor her managers, took enough time to really worried about the baby. Asking neighbours, visiting the baby’s home, his room, his real living conditions. Stay a while with the baby, and take time to observe him. To me these details would have been necessary to have a whole vision of the baby’s life and conditions.

    Instead, they opted to believe the mother and described her as “cooperative”. I find this fact, very naive and unprofessional. And most of all, worrying. I wonder how many other abusers are fooling the social services in that way. I think this is a very serious mistake. Of course, an abuser or a person who is covering an abuser will lie and probably “cooperate” in order not to be discovered or for fear. They kept giving her “opportunities”. In my opinion, it looks more like a: “but, don’t do it again!”. Shouln’t have given any opportunities as well to the baby?

    Unfortunately, there is always going to be psycos, abusers, and baby killers. But if as Sharon Shoesmith said they can’t do anything to avoid this. What are the Social Services for then? Aren’t they responsibles for the well-fare of children until they are able to do it for themselves? Shouln’t be the ones protecting the most vulnerables? I find this comment not only unappropiate and shocking, coming from a Head of Social Services, but also, I think it shows an incredible level of careless, coldness, and lack of responsibility. The same, in my opinion, the whole case was handle with.

    I think that if Social Services have so much power, so much that they can even overrule the Police department opinion and decisions, and apparently they have the last word in a case whether a child needs to be taken into care, then, they need to act accordingly, and take they work and responsibilities seriously, because children’s lives and future are on their hands.

  34. When I was university, twenty years ago, there were as many qualified social workers on the course (Combined Social Sciences – and I specialised in psychology) doing the degree as a route out of social work as there were bright young things taking the course as a way in because you could do a CQSW as a one year post grad course.


  35. Reads awfully like social worker propaganda as they try once again to deflect blame for their shortcomings. The investigation into this has been damning of the social workers involved. Don’t try to pass the buck on this… the perpetrators of this crime are being rightly punished for this, the people who ALLOWED it to happen should be punished too. I can’t believe that not a single job has been lost, at the very least.

  36. Shouldn’t we at least establish, first, if there is any good cause for sacking people in this case, or does becoming a social worker mean giving up the basic right to due process?

  37. What I’m talking about is responsibility and accountability. A child has died at a time when social workers had made numerous visits to the family home. Somebody has really dropped the ball here and should be accountable. Being a social worker does not mean giving up the basic right to due process at all. The due process is there to be seen – a dead child = failings by those charged with his care.

    Social workers need to stop bleating on about their treatment by the media. The media were right to be outraged by this terrible crime and they are right to hold to account those who have failed in their duty.

  38. “The due process is there to be seen – a dead child = failings by those charged with his care.”

    Who were presumably psychic and had the benefit of 20/20 hindsight like you, who is so totally convinced of the facts of this case, gleaned though they were from a 15 year old girl (who was already discredited as a reliable witness) and then parsed through the sensationalist filter of the tabloid media, who were only too happy to feed the baying mob.

  39. Many thanks, Unity, for your thoughtful and thought-provoking posting.

    As a non-‘cabinet’ councillor in Haringey I have no idea whether your speculations are accurate or not. Like you, I’m not allowed to read the full Case Review Report on

  40. Not 20/20 hindsight at all, just more likely to believe the accounts of the press who were in court every day for the trial, rather than a document written by the council in question.

    Anyone on here who tries to defend the actions of social services or the council in this case should be ashamed.

    These people should be held accountable and prosecuted under the full force of the law for failing to protect a vulnerable child and allowing him to suffer terrible abuse whilst under their care.

  41. John – you trust the Press? Journalists are even less well regarded than politicians in Britain today.

    The main culprits in this case are people who have been found guilty already. In order to decide if social services (or, indeed, the NHS, the police or the CPS, none of whom work for Haringey Council) are culpable I think we need a more full investigation into the facts. The internal report is not the end of it, and no-one is pretending that it is.

    Besides, I wonder how many vulnerable children the same social workers that you want to imprison have actually saved?

  42. Danivon, I am a journalist and the kind of sweeping statement about journalists is exactly what has been criticised here in regard to social workers. Journalists on the whole report objectively and truthfully with the sources available to them (I grant as with any profession there are journalists who sensationalise and aren’t always accurate or truthful).

    The bottom line here is the inspector’s report, that has seen the sacking of the head of children’s services and the resignation of the council leader and a senior council officer. One of the most damning findings of the report was the “failure to talk directly to children at risk”.

    Social workers visited Baby P on 60 occasions. I’m not advocating the wholesale attack on all social workers, of course like any profession, including journalism, there are great social workers who intervene regularly to save children from cruelty.

    That did not happen on this occasion and those responsible must be held to account and following the publication of the inspector’s report they have been held to account.

    It is to the eternal shame of Haringey Council that Sharon Shoesmith, the Head of Children’s Services had to be pushed rather than take responsiblity for her departments failing.

    I understand that social workers want to defend their profession and their actions. But to do so in relation to this case is clearly the wrong decision. There was a total failiure here at all levels, don’t try to blame the press for getting it out of proportion or orchestrating a witch hunt.

    It is a shame that social workers feel they should have to defend themselves even when they are clearly negligent.

    To do so here besmirches and disregards the memory of Child P, who could have been saved if the social services had acted properly.

  43. John- I’m a journalist too. I also used to work for a couple of years at Southend Social Service as a team clerk to the continuing care team (the ones that looked after those after the emergency car team had steamed in).

    So, having seen both sides, I think I can say with an element of certainty and accuracy that the media – in the tabloid main – does its level best to look for the short-cut version of events. Meaning, they don’t want to bother with the lengthy explanations – they want the meat and that’s all.

    There are loads of similar cases like Peter across the UK. There are worse ones as well, where the child lived and continued living with the parents/mother and new boyfriend. There are worse ones were the child goes on to suffer far, far more horrific abuse at the hands of mother, father, stepfather, grandfather, brothers, uncles. When you meet the children who have endured continuing sexual and physical abuse, it’s depressign. You see tomorrows’ junkie, abuser, alcoholic, self-harmer, killer, psycho. If something goes right, then perhaps you see a survivor who goes on to live a better life. Perhaps they write one of those bloody awful misery-lit books entitled “Daddy, no” or “When the lights went off, I would cry”.

    I’ve seen good, diligent, big hearted social workers, young and old, with years of experience, juggle 30 or more case files when they should only have ten, attempting to ensure the most worrying cases are looked after. When I once pointed out to a SW she hadn’t seen a child for six months as she should have, she said that family was doing fine and didn’t need her interference – she had other families she needed to dedicate more time to. I looked at the files – she was right. She had about a dozen far more worrying cases to handle.
    When I asked her what was her most worrying case at the moment, she replied “the one I don’t know about”.

    I’ve seen public-fund paid psychologists and public-fund paid solicitors ensure a social worker who has real and genuine concerns for a child is utterly ignored in a court hearing and the child – who has been battered and battered for weeks, resulting in brain haemorrhage – is returned to the idiot and newly pregnant mother. I’ve read the police interview which has her state how she repeatedly tortured her child, not caring for it’s injuries, and how her new boyfriend would join in. The guy got a little time, the woman got her kid back plus “help” from social services. Not that they wanted to help her, but the court ordered the bitch got “family training” in how to warm milk, interact… spell. I can’t imagine how they didn’t want to lamp the cow when they had the observed sessions.

    Somebody indeed dropped a ball here. But fucktards who just run screeching to social services and blames them and them alone don’t help ensure the ball-catching improves across the UK.

    The wider issue is a) various Governments have not made sure social services are adequately funded resulting in fewer and fewer social workers handling more and more difficult cases, b) social workers are so vilified – often utterly wrongly (but sometimes rightly) – on such regular basis for both taking children and not taking children that less and less people want to take up the job (it ain’t the money mate) and so the calibre does not improve – it stagnates, c) social workers are not rated as experts and so in court fight a losing battle when they do want to protect a child. Oh and d) perhaps a FoI on how many local authorities employ contract social workers from abroad would surprise a lot of people. As would how many private companies have taken over the fostering process, leaving local authorities with fewer local-authority foster parents who will take on the problem kids.

    It doesn’t make sense to rage at all social workers because of this case.

    Otherwise that’s like saying all journo’s are abject cunts because Littlejohn is one.

    Until all the information is in, this is just another awful case of an appalling trio of turds turning on their own. Not the first, not the last and not always avoidable, regardless of how good or bad a local authority is.

    Ta for listening.

    Good post by the way Unity. As always though.

  44. I am a front line experienced social worker, have worked in Haringey and now in another inner London borough, I dont wish to minimise any of the comments either here or anywhere else in the media, but all the Inspections and reports and Reviews can be undertaken to look at “lessons learned” but I wish that somebody somewhere would just try my suggestions for 6 months, and see if there are any improvements:

    Increase the amount of social work positions within the Councils Children’s Services teams, and restrict no of families/children to each social worker to say 15 children per social worker.

    Obviously, training, management supervision, resources etc etc are significant issues but unmanageable case loads increase risk…….

  45. I’m so sorry to appear to malign your noble profession, John. However, I was referring to public perceptions:



    In the second article it shows that redtop and ‘midmarket’ (Mail and Express?) journos get less than 20% positive responses. What is more, the fall in reputation among journalists of all types is greater than any other type of profession listed.

    I was just issuing surprise that you’d trust journalists from the tabloid press, because such trust is rare indeed.

    The point is not to ‘defend’ the people involved in the Baby P case, as much as to try to hold back the swathes of knee-jerk blaming of social workers in a case which involves several different agencies before a proper investigation can be carried out. I see that the inquiries are not yet over. So until then it pays to be a little circumspect.

    As it happens, I have seen a case in which a social worker made a series of errors which resulted in a girl being left with her abusive father and step-mother for two years after problems were first notified to them. So I know that social workers are not perfect (they are often overworked and dealing with highly subjective information), but I’m not sure that sacking them all before finding out what actually happened is at all productive.

  46. Danivon
    I note that that report only asked people about their opinion of national newspaper reporters.

    Nothing like a half done job then.

    Regional reporters – who make up the majority of the country’s journalists and work on the majority of newspapers – never got a look in. And yet, local people do appear to trust them more than the nationals.

    Answers on a postcard please…

  47. Actually, the second link shows a list of responses to the poll and demonstrates that it did ask about local journalists, who polled rather better than the red-tops and midmarket, but still only 40% (down by 20 points). It also asked about TV news journalists by channel – BBC, ITV, C4, who all polled better than local journalists. National ‘upmarket’ papers did slightly better than the locals too.

    Perhaps reading the links properly might be a good idea, before assuming that you have a killer point to make, eh? I do hope you aren’t a journalist as well, because part of the job is research and fact-checking, innit?

    Most of the hysteria about Baby P comes from the tabloid press, whether it’s the red-tops or the ‘middlebrow’ ones. These papers are all engaged in constant circulation wars with each other and use sensationalism and manufactured outrage (see the Daily Mail on John Barrowman exposing himself on radio) in order to maintain the hype. Strangely, even though they sell a lot of copies, they are among the least trusted professionals in the country (and if you don’t think ‘Estate Agent’ is a profession…)

  48. Danivon
    Apologies – you’re right. No time to check and more fool me. Any excuse of it being read and written on by me after an 11 hour day making up local reporter lies and rubbish won’t wash, no doubt. I’ll take time to read next time.

    I assumed – wrongly – it was all to do with this report http://www.public-standards.org.uk/Library/Survey_of_public.pdf which was reported on by Martin Kettle in the Guardian recently. It came out and didn’t have a word about local reporters (I wrote to Mr Kettle to double-check).

    40%’s not bad really. Added to which there is no explanation as to why there is such a dip.

    Oh, yes, the general feeling about nationals is pretty much an obvious. But why such a dip in local papers. There hasn’t been an increase in complaints against local papers. Mr Barnett notes the stats, but doesn’t go into the reasons behind it (no space I guess).

    What usually happens – and I say this only anecdotally – is we (locals) get lumped in with the nationals, regardless of the quality of the regional reporting. If you took individuals aside and asked them what was worse about their local papers since last year, I would suggest they would generalise, allude to the nationals and then wave their arms about saying “we’ll they’re all the same, aren’t they?”

    Killer point? Erm, no. Local reporters get lumped in with national reporters (invariably the tabloids) – yet we don’t operate like them because our main rule is “try not to shit where you eat unless it’s absolutely necessary”.

    And yes, I recognise the manufactured outrage.

    No mention of bloggers though… maybe that’s a killer point I could expand upon at a later date.

    Perhaps not.

    xxx Carl

  49. Interesting read… I just think there is so much more to Baby P’s ordeal, his death and the fallout in Haringey afterwards… We won’t get the “real” story for years if ever. The more I read, the more it stinks of a cover up – somewhere along the line anyways. RIP Baby P…

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