This is the official blog of Sgt Ellie Bloggs, a real live police sergeant on the front line of England. It's not the official opinion of my police force, but all the facts I recount are true, and are not secrets. If they don't want me blogging about it, they shouldn't do it. PS If you don't pay tax, you don't pay my salary.


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Sunday, November 16, 2008

P is for Past

Baby P died in August 2007, so why is it November 2008 that we are discussing it?

Simply, it is now that the people responsible have been found guilty, the court case meaning that the entire horrible truth has been aired in public and reported on.

This kind of time delay is fairly common, but often goes unnoticed. When something awful and obvious happens, such as this police pursuit gone wrong, it is directly in the news; if the police don't put it there you can bet the dead's relatives will. But when a friendless infant is tortured to death, the only way the public will get to hear about it is if someone goes on trial, and if a reporter happens to stumble into the courtroom that morning and realise he is onto a good story.

I have some sympathy with Haringey Council. Sharon Shoesmith (head of child protection) did not kill Baby P, and she has probably lost more than a night's sleep wondering whether she could have done more to save him. But I do ask whether internal investigations or actions were undertaken in the immediate aftermath of the baby's death, or are they just starting now because of the media attention?

There are some benefits of failing to publicise internal cock-ups. Apart from the hope that they might never become public at all, you can rely on one of the following never-fail statements if they do:
  • The person responsible has since left the Council.
  • Since then, measures have been put in place to prevent this kind of thing ever happening again.
  • We have already undertaken our own enquiry and sacked a lot of people. There's really no need to hold anothe enquiry. Really. No need.
Speaking as someone who visits addresses daily and has to make decisions on whether I am looking at a Baby P or a Baby Stewie, the kind of errors made in this case are made on a daily basis. Doctors miss injuries, parents lie, legal advice is given, and children are left in situations where their death is just a mis-timed punch away. If the child doesn't die, and no one is ever prosecuted, these cases never make the headlines. In fact, the decision-maker most likely never knows they got it wrong.

I can also tell you that numerous kids are taken away from their families who shouldn't be, and I have been the next police car over from one containing such a child that was being followed by six angry relatives trying to ram it - and their baby - off the road.

Either way, it's a tough call, but you do have to rely on doctors and legal advice for your decisions, and they rely on each other, and on you.

I predict another series of knee-jerk measures as seen in the wake of the Victorie Climbie tragedy (which was also on Haringey Council's watch). I predict more guidelines, policies and laws that will lead to more children being removed for no reason. I predict more Baby Ps, and more Jason Owens, and more Cannot Be Named For Unknown Legal Reasons.

I predict more time delays, cover-ups, accusations and political point-scoring. And I predict more distraught members of the public, pointing fingers and grieving in the face of an evil they cannot comprehend.


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'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.

16 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spot on and Owtch! painful to read.

17 November, 2008 00:34

 
Anonymous Eric Arthur Blair said...

As a journalist (sorry), I can confirm that Bloggsy is right in respect of how these things come to public attention (ie if a journo happens to stumble across them).

When I started out on a regional paper 20 years ago, we had 20+ general news reporters, not to mention a large features department, working on a newspaper that put out four or five editions a day.

We did police calls (ie visit the cops, ask them what was going on) twice a day (8am, 4pm).

We had two reporters covering the local courts (Mags and Crown, plus freelancers covering the outlying courts which occasionally hosted crims from our area). Additionally, every other day, some junior reporter was sent to the Mags court to collect a printout of the last 48 hours' court appearances and they would all go into the paper.

We had a dedicated crime reporter and a deputy crime reporter. (Our crime reporter was a bloke who'd been around for years and was always on the p*ss with the detectives - he trusted them, they trusted him, the relationship provided them with an excellent conduit to get material out there and us with some blindingly good stories.)

Over a period of around five years in the 1990s, the paper was sold to a succession of buyers who asset-stripped it (eg took the money stored up in pension pots) and reduced the staff by redundancy and natural wastage (retirements, people moving to the nationals).

Now that paper has no crime reporter, no court reporter and the Mags court printouts are long a thing of the past. They don't pay for freelance copy from out of town courts, they don't do police calls any more and I know from friends who still work there as subs that they have no relationship whatsoever with their local bobbies/detectives. (They also now do only one edition a day and have, I think, three reporters.)

The upshot of this is that if anything finds its way into that paper it is by accident.

I long ago moved to London to seek my fortune, so it makes no odds to me, other than that I do believe that stuff goes one which needs a light shining on it, but I would just say, generally, to any police readers, that if you don't tell them what's occurring, they won't find it out for themselves.

You don't need to identify yourself, you don't need to do anything illegal or dodgy, just pick a name out of your local paper, or get the name of the news editor, and start calling them with tips.

It will bear fruit for all concerned. (I'm not saying, by the way, that lots of - even most - journalists are not knobs, because they are. But we're not all.)

Also, one thing I disagree with in your (as usual) excellent column Bloggsy.

You say: I can also tell you that numerous kids are taken away from their families who shouldn't be, and I have been the next police car over from one containing such a child that was being followed by six angry relatives trying to ram it - and their baby - off the road.

Surely if the family try to ram a police car off the road with their baby inside it, this proves, ispo facto, that they're not fit to retain the child?

17 November, 2008 10:47

 
Blogger John B said...

Was going to make Eric's final point, but he's beaten me to it. Good piece though.

17 November, 2008 13:23

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your right about the forth coming knee jerk reaction. I forsee myself spending more and more time assisting SS taking kids off families now.

The problem being I know what SW's are like and that is alot are not very robust and will not do anything confrontational if at all possible (seems to be a prerequesit to obtain the job).

Hence it will not be more baby P's taken away it'll be more and more stroppy teenagers who refuse to go to school, or boisterous bairns who climb trees and break limbs that will be removed from single parents families as the parent has trouble coping as they have x other smaller kids to deal with.

They'll be the sort of parents who need some help and support and actualy care for thier kids but are struggling.

It will not be the uncaring,the good liers, the moraly neglectful parents, or the ones who are loud and intimidating who will be targeted until the extreme happens. It'll be the soft options, the easy targets that'll keep the figures right so senior staff can say they are doing the buisness when in reality if you scratch the surface it will reveal the massive underlying problem festering away as always. (just like the police with crime figures).

GEORDIEPLOD

17 November, 2008 13:36

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The six angry relatives may not have included either parent...

Personally, I think blogsy has it spot on inasmuch as the response to condemnation of social services (rather than the parent(s) and the live-in ... random blokes) will be knee jerk measures, and that these will likely include things that result in removing children from families where it isn't warranted, rather than addressing the cause of the problem - a completely disfunctional parent.

Simply taking lots of kids into care isn't likely to help anyone, on balance. It may prevent some deaths, but then again it may not, as kids can and do get beaten to death before they end up on the CPR (no pun intended). Children who grow up in care also don't exactly have the best prospects in life. Most importantly, kids who tick one or two of the right boxes and come from families of productive, well-socialised, (mostly) law abiding people, are more likely to come to the attention of the authorities, and therefore to be targeted, than children living in a crack house, surrounded by violent junkie mentalists, filth and discarded drug paraphenalia. I certainly know which set of people I'd find it easier to deal with.

It would be better for the politicians to focus on dealing with social deprivation, the culture of entitlement or whatever they wish to call the forces that result in such dramatically terrible parenting.

17 November, 2008 13:54

 
Blogger PC Bloggs said...

"The six angry relatives may not have included either parent..."

They didn't (the mother was still in hospital having just had the baby when the father's relatives decided to do this). But Eric you might have a point anyway, if that is what the baby's relatives were like!

17 November, 2008 16:19

 
Anonymous eric arthur blair said...

The six angry relatives may not have included either parent...

It was the phrase 'their baby' which threw me Bloggsy.

17 November, 2008 21:15

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A reason stories of the bad sort for failing to get a headline is that they be so common, as when crime becomes the norm, then the unusual good stories will become the news, as 'umans only like what they never see.


Dung beetle:

17 November, 2008 21:32

 
Blogger uniform said...

there is no collective memory , for anything.

Proust this ain't.

We are doomed to repeat any and every kind of mistake, that is the human condition.

blame is a subjective concept, it depends on who is in power.

Adam and Eve , Cain and Abel , The Prodigal son .

lessons do not seem to have been learned from these escapades.

18 November, 2008 08:22

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Hampshire’s head of children’s services John Coughlan has already been sent in to ensure that the correct procedures are being followed."


So that's all right then ?

18 November, 2008 11:24

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the "political point scoring" front..
A Manchester MP - Graham Stringer was vocal in calling for yet "another review" into police driving following the crash in Oldham.
A day or so later and the facts emerge and Mr Stringer is left with egg on his face....
The local Manchester Evening News is full of comments from the townsfolk denouncing Stringer and praising the cops...

http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/s/1080432_fatal_crash_driver_was_banned

Turns out the driver was banned, had done 6 years - oops was sentenced to 6 years for armed robbery - was on a suspended sentence for disqualified driving and on bail for taking someone eye out with a screwdriver !!!

19 November, 2008 10:15

 
Anonymous Mac said...

Really good post Bloggsy and good comment by Eric.

I've always been amazed by the time delay in incidents like this hitting the press (Thanks Eric for eloquently explaining why. Incidently the last series of 'The Wire' focussed on what you describe happening to the regional press in America). Someone somewhere knew a B****ck had been dropped the moment that child died a horrific death but they waited until it hit the press before investigating, A YEAR LATER. If they'd actually remembered a child died and got to it straight away then as soon as the story broke they could have put out a single, detailed press release showing the results of the enquiry and what action had been taken. Instead, the way that news is dripping out now, it seems like they have been caught on the hop and are making it up as they go along. Plus a year has passed when the same thing could have happened to another child.

Playing Devil's Advocate for a moment. It might be the case that if an investigation is held prior to the trial, any failings in the system or of particular indvividual that come to light can then be used by the defence to deflect blame from the offender and even paint them as a 'victim' of a lack of intervention.

19 November, 2008 10:22

 
Blogger staghounds said...

Thank you, EAB, for an illuminating, helpful, and suggestive post.

It's a shame no one in authority has what it takes to say something like,

"Why Baby P? They are ALL Baby P. If you think it's possible to choose the particular future corpses from the almost future corpses, here's a bundle of files and YOU be the Angel. But you only get to pick one in sixty."

24 November, 2008 17:54

 
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