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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Friday, March 12, 2010

How is it not murder?

Khyra Ishaq's mother and stepfather will serve about seven years in prison before being released on license. Khyra was seven when she died of starvation following years of obscene abuse by these people, who have been convicted of manslaughter. Following on from my last post, their defence against murder probably ran something like:

"Anyone who treats children like this must be mentally ill, therefore not capable of murder, so it should be manslaughter."

Either way, they won't have access to kill any of the surviving children. Well, not unless the mother's psychiatrist writes a report saying how her health has improved in prison.

This case disturbs me greatly, because it appears that social workers failed to actually view the child despite repeated visits to the house. In response, the new idea is that social workers MUST view every child reported to them as being neglected/abused. Perhaps it is just me, but have social workers really been dealing with cases WITHOUT seeing and interviewing the child? I do not see how any child abuse case can be dealt with in any way, even a totally utterly groundless one, without the child being spoken to on their own or with an independent adult present.

When police officers attend these incidents, they are in a better position. If I ask to speak to someone's child alone, and they refuse, I can arrest them for Obstructing Police or suspicion of Child Cruelty (assuming I've had a report of child abuse/neglect that has brought me to the address). Or I can take the child into temporary police protection, which can be done by force (although force is rarely used).

I have a great deal of sympathy for over-worked social workers, and the pressure they can come under from bullying or dissembling parents. I can understand how Khyra's file went back onto a tray after each failed visit in order to be tried again, and that things move slowly in terms of gathering evidence of abuse like this. I imagine on the tray were files relating to children who were not being abused, which had to take equal priority until the truth was known about either. But the powers are there to deal with child abuse. If the social workers or police had seen for one moment how these children were living, no one is suggesting they would not have acted.

As with the police, it all comes down to resources. Something the government is doing everything it can to reduce even further.

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26 Comments:

Blogger Bill Sticker said...

Bloggsy, didn't you know? Murder isn't a crime any more. At least not so long as the Home Offices statistics are concerned. Google "Murder rate UK" and check out the Home Office reporting.

There are 'crimes of violence' but no murder stats since 2003. Go figure.

12 March, 2010 19:13

 
Blogger Raindog said...

If they are "mentally ill," then they should be hospitalized for the rest of their lives.

12 March, 2010 21:14

 
Anonymous Ben said...

I don't know why it wasn't a verdict of murder, for murder it surely was.

On the other hand I am very disturbed by your suggestion that the state should have the right to interview a child without the parents present. It is with such interviews that the tragedies of Orkney and Cleveland began.

When seeing the harm that private persons cause it is easy to forget the harm that the state can cause.

What's more, it would have made no difference in this case, or in most cases of severe abuse, whether the parents were present or not. A bruise is a bruise, malnutrition is malnutrition. This sad case is not an argument for violating the parent's right to oversee their child's safety.

12 March, 2010 22:54

 
Blogger PC Bloggs said...

Ben, why shouldn't the police or anyone speak to a child without their parents present? If I'm on patrol and stop to speak to a bunch of kids for a chat, should I first take them home to ensure I'm being supervised? Just because the parent isn't present doesn't mean we're going to believe everything the child says immediately, and as long as two police officers/social workers are present and/or the interview is recorded/noted, what's the problem? We'd only be asking to do it in circumstances where abuse is suspected, or where we have tried to interview the child with parents present and felt that they were not speaking freely.

12 March, 2010 23:19

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree 100% with what Ben has said Bloggsy. I think that when officials make an assumption of having more authority over a child than a parent has, that's Orwell's Big Brother State creeping in and taking over. Kids quite often do not have good communication skills and misunderstandings can happen all too often, with serious consequences for innocent parents.

A child may well have been having a normal battle of wills over something, with their parent[s] and would therefore have a child's eye view of "mean old mummy" won't let me have, or do - blah blah! When in fact it is a case of normal discipline and "issues" between parent and child. The state should not be interfering in this area at all.

If there have been allegations of child abuse made against a parent, the child should have an independant person present, whom they trust, when being interviewed by officers or social workers. Social workers are well know for twisting people's words and putting their own spin on a situation. Many people say that they actually CAUSE more trouble than they are worth, because when one needs help from them, they are useless.

Officials also tend to keep to themselves any negative comments they have recorded in their records about people, who are quite often wrongly accused or crticised.
Nothing gets said to the accused person's face, but the looks given and the attitude of officials towards someone who has been defamed, give it away, and they can never defend themselves against it.

This is far removed from our long held British Law.
Who has invaded this country and screwed it all up?
Oh yes, the one who wants another 5 years to completely bugger it up beyond all recognition.

13 March, 2010 00:25

 
Blogger Carneades said...

Ben, why shouldn't the police or anyone speak to a child without their parents present?


If you could trust all adults - social workers, Doctors or Police - to do their job professionally and 'without fear or favour' then there would be no objection. Unfortunately, experience tells us that's simply not the case. As with all such issues, there's a fine line between protecting the child and allowing individuals, agendas and errors to destroy lives.

13 March, 2010 00:31

 
OpenID allcoppedout said...

The latest GMP disaster over the death of Mr. Askew after maybe 20 years of antisocial behaviour, much of which seems to have been crime on neighbours' accounts is a similar example.
GMP worthies are now saying they did everything possible, and I think what links this case, Baby P, Mr. Askew and many others is the lack of accountability - and for each of these there must be thousands suffering without dying to come to attention.
I'm sure you are right, but too many people are lying across the agencies (let alone Nulabour)and the scandal is being buried.

13 March, 2010 02:07

 
Anonymous Lizzie Love said...

These two should be locked away for the rest of their lives, preferably on a starvation diet. What gets me is how the father keeps being interviewed and saying how appalled he is. Where the hell was he when all this was happening and why didn't he know what was happening to his own daughter?

13 March, 2010 08:38

 
Blogger Ali said...

In my obvious ignorance I thought the difference between murder and manslaughter was pre meditation or planning. So if you, in a fit of temper, hit someone and they fall over, hit their head and die it is manslaughter. Surely if you spend months depriving someone of food and beating them and hiding them from the authorities and their relatives that is planned and therefore murder - whether you are depressed or have had a terrible upbringing yourself.

Or is it me being naive here?

13 March, 2010 09:42

 
Anonymous Retired Sgt said...

I cannot agree that it it is a question of resources.It is a question of how the resources are managed and the type of resource that you have-so there are more police than ever but they are badly managed and organised hence no police on front line they are all sitting in offices massaging figures for the Supts bonus whilst complaining of how bad their back is today.Secondly what type of people are we employing-is the selection process right for social workers?(or police for that matter?)Whilst I have no doubt that many social workers do work hard and have their hearts in the right place so many of them are not worldly wise and the worst thing that ever happened to them was running out of chilled Pinot Grigio at their last dinner party.Perhaps we should go back to retired coppers ex service people eyc for the front line of social work?

13 March, 2010 10:25

 
Blogger Criminal Justice Campaign said...

I think the problem with child protection is that we expect social workers to provide two contradictory roles. One is to support and help families, the other is to protect children.

I would be happier seeing child protection being a separate function, completely decoupled from the caring social work function. Then we can begin to develop the appropriate culture to protect children.

The question in my mind isn't so much 'is this murder?' in such extreme cases, but 'why aren't we investigating, prosecuting and punishing parents when neglect or abuse is initially suspected?' Broken Window theory should apply in child protection - if a home is dirty, a child is neglected or a parent is regularly abusing drugs, we should stomp in heavy-handed. (Yes, I know that this is 'impossible', because we apparently don't believe in punishment any more. Just my two penn'orth).

13 March, 2010 11:06

 
Blogger Hogday said...

I remember discussing a child at risk with a SW allegedly `on the case`. After hanging on the phone for the usual 45 minutes, getting passed around the department, the county and back to the department again I got her. After a few minutes it became clear to me that she had never seen this child and seemed quite embarrassed when I `backed her into a corner` with the simple question. I assumed this situation with every one I dealt with thereafter. I, too, was shocked. And even in the latter years, with all the joint training, I never knew a sw to take the lead in a joint interview. Always wondered why, but only for a few seconds.

13 March, 2010 16:07

 
Anonymous johnd2008 said...

One of the things that bothers me about this case is that no one seems to be accountable for the system failing. At the very least those in charge of the departments should have fallen on their swords.After all, with the pay and the perks,the responsibility should be theirs.

13 March, 2010 18:53

 
Anonymous Tim said...

Raindog,

Menatlly ill peoplecan get better.

I recommend a book called Baby X by Harry Keeble, a DS in Met Child Protection to see what an active and alert cop can do.

13 March, 2010 22:40

 
Anonymous Ambulance Amateur said...

I can understand Ben's point. However, simply presenting the girl to social workers would probably have sparked an alert.

After Cleveland and Orkney, many people are suspicious of social workers but trust the police.

In this case there should have been enough suspicion anyway, in that the social workers were always given a reason why they couldn't see Khyra. Unfortunately, social workers must try to build briges with the family. Police don't have to worry about that, and can take a more direct approach. Perhaps we should rethink some of the social work priorities.

And yes, in my book it WAS murder.

13 March, 2010 22:53

 
Blogger PC Bloggs said...

"If there have been allegations of child abuse made against a parent, the child should have an independant person present, whom they trust, when being interviewed by officers or social workers."
Anon you contradict yourself. Isn't the above the same thing I was suggesting? Of course police/social workers know that children can be confused or make things up, so you look for other evidence too, but interviewing the complainant in an environment where they can speak freely is important. Would you sit a rape victim down in front of their attacker and ask them to tell you what happened?

My point is, why is there a fear of letting a police officer have a chat with your kid? The first thing a juvenile's solicitor will do when they walk into the police station is ask the parent to leave so they can talk freely to junior.

14 March, 2010 00:02

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is there a fear of letting a police officer have a chat with your kid? Good question Bloggsy! But I don't think that I contradicted myself, I just expressed an opinion and some insight. Perhaps I didn't make myself clear enough.

From the opposite side of the fence, which would be a MoP's view of how things work, and without wishing to cause any offence to anyone.....It has to be said, that there is a mistrust of the police, who have long been known, for also twisting words and putting their own spin on situations, often due to a hidden agenda.

The public's perception of police, social care and health workers, since the Child Protection System got well underway, is that they are being "witch-hunted" by the state. There is a fear that kids will be snatched off them by officials and that parents will be arrested for exercising their parental duty and responsibility regarding discipline. We were discussing allegations of child abuse here, were we not? Not cases of children breaking the law and being arrested.

There has been, and still is, a general fear within the public, of state officials and of allegations of child abuse against them, which remain in records, often ruining people's lives and reputations. Police officers do have a lot of power, and these days so do children, who have been known to threaten their parents with calling the police, during a normal family dispute, to gain the upper hand. This is wrong, and who would not "fear" the long arm of the law jumping on one from a great height, simply because a child didn't like losing an argument with a parent.

I believe that the heavy handed approach of the past decade or so, by government agents, against normal parents, has caused this fear. The contradiction in this situation is the total failure of the state agencies to actually get it right, and help children like baby Peter, Khyra Ishaq and other recent high profile cases. No doubt the government will want to be seen to be doing something, and will use these cases to further oppress and persecute normal good parents.....another hidden agenda!

14 March, 2010 01:18

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have very little sympathy for social workers.

In years of experience I have found most to be arrogant and evasive.

W have contiunually offered them support in their role with 'multi-agency meetings' and joint operations. They very rarely turn up at meetings and when they do they refuse to share information.

They are often the authors of their own problems.

14 March, 2010 09:37

 
Blogger PC Bloggs said...

Anon 01:18, I suppose it's hard for me to judge what other police officers might do, but in general they don't "twist" people's words deliberately, though there are obviously misunderstandings (and the occasional gargantuan error). Unfortunately a lot of adults/parents the police deal with don't like to hear what their children really think or feel, or simply have never asked them themselves and don't like the idea that they don't know what the answer will be.

By contrast if you are someone who holds the view that you care about your child, are protective and a good parent, you are unlikely to be in the position where the police are taking your child to one side. If you are due to an error or misunderstanding, the police usually realise quickly the child is in no danger.

My view is that you should ask yourself, what would my child say if a police officer asked them about their home life. If you have no idea of the answer, you might want to take more of an interest in your child.

As always, there are exceptions, when police/social services behave badly through good intentions or otherwise.

14 March, 2010 18:15

 
Anonymous NottsSarge said...

Sorry that last one was mine

15 March, 2010 00:47

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CJC makes an interesting point. If we were to separate 'social work' from 'child protection' I think things would change. Social workers like to keep the family unit together. As an abstract principle that's fine, because they should be offering support to allow a family to function reasonably normally, or maybe even to teach those skills via things like SureStart. Unless there is intervention of this kind, parents (being generous and using the plural) will simply perpetuate their own disfunctional 'family lives' in a particular sector of society.

Child Protection, on the other hand, tends to mean forcibly removing a child from its parent or parents. A big step, but sometimes necessary. Clearly the two roles are different, although complimentary (again, in theory) as the foster parent should then be supported by Social Workers to assist in providing the appropriate environment for a child to grow up.

Retired Sgt is also correct - for all the good SWs there may be, the vast majority I have met are naiive, system-led individuals ('Let me just talk to my manager') who may well see their work as worthy and valuable, but lack the social overview that would kick their touchy-feely left-of-centre views into touch.

It's no wonder we don't mix very well...

15 March, 2010 00:47

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bloggsy. The original intention and concept of a properly organised system to protect children from SERIOUS abuse, should have been a "Safety Net System; for children to obtain help from people like teachers and nurses, in an environment they felt comfortable in. That was the theory of it, based upon the childhood experiences of myself and many others who were being abused, but not listened to. Some of the abusers were in the professions of law, order, health and social work, unfortunately.

It is a bit of a mine field, child abuse, and now, so is the system that is supposed to protect kids, and often their mothers. But the OPPOSITE happened, because the letter detailing the idea for a system to protect kids from serious sexual abuse and beatings, was actually hijacked by a notorious abuser, whom people were terrified of. His spin on it corrupted it and undermined parental authority.

The original concept never was intended to pan out as a witch hunt against all parents, by over zealous NHS and education staff taking their role very seriously and going right over the top. The whole attitude of the system changed from being there to SERVE the public, to one of proactive snooping, data collection, control and an assumed authority over the public's children, which usurped parental authority.

Unless a child is in obvious distress and seeking help for an unbearable situation, what business is it, of a police officer on patrol, or any other professional, to have a "chat" with a child on its own, about their home life? Life isn't perfect and the government cannot realistically legislate to make it so.

Clearly there will be cases where a mother ill treats a child, or children, and in those cases it should be obvious that a child needs help. You know that you would probably be fair and deal with the case in a responsible manner, as I know I would too, if I were a front line officer. But, as you say there are as always, exceptions, when professionals behave badly.

The main motive behind the concept of the child protection system in 1986, was to protect children from abusive MEN, in positions of power and authority.....and also MoP's who were seriously abusing their kids. Serious being the key word. A deserved slap to bring an out of control disruptive and antagonistic child under parental control, isn't "abuse", it's a duty.

Some children by nature will deliberately and repeatedly test the limits with parents, especially mothers, and they will take every ounce of energy and attention one has to give them, and will still want more. And if asked a leading question by someone in authority trying to manipulate the child and the situation, a distorted view may be given.. The parent may well have a more balanced account of the situation, but would not be asked.

It is the nature of some parent child relationships that there will be disputes and conflicts, because often it is just a battle of wills. The state has no right to interfere in that sort of family situation, giving all power to the child. ONLY if there is really serious abuse going on. Shouting at a child, because they just will not be told something about its unacceptable behaviour, isn't abuse. But Social Workers say it is, and children have been snatched by them for that reason.

You asked, would you sit a rape victim down in front of an attacker and ask them to tell you what happened? Well NO, of course I would not do that. But imagine having been raped by policemen et al as a child, and then trying to tell your parents what had happened to you, and that they refused to believe you. Because one of them had gained the trust of your parents, and the paedo lied to cover his guilt. And your parents believed the paedo, and not you.....and later they made you sit in the same room as your attacker, who had also tried to smother you with a cushion, because you were a witness to the goings on of men in high places....And you were FORCED to "forgive" him for terrifying you. Imagine that Bloggsy.....

15 March, 2010 02:36

 
Anonymous R/T said...

And don't forget that there is absolutely no situation, no matter how fucked-up, that can't be made worse by the addition of a social worker.

15 March, 2010 14:55

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where was the bio DAD? I heard him on the radio complaining about the system etc. He should shoulder some blame and ask himself just what he did to stop his daughter from starving to death.

15 March, 2010 18:02

 
Blogger Marjorie said...

anon, you said "in those cases it should be obvious that a child needs help" Unfortunately it isn't always obvious, especially to someone who may only see a child briefly, with a parent, when the child may not feel comfortable speaking freely.


NottsSarg - I agree that it can be helpful to have people who are involveing in suppoting the family who are not necessarily the same as the 'Social Worker', but I don't think it is practical to completely separate 'Child Protection' and Support / Social Workers are not there to keep the family together at all costs, but often there is a balancing act between the known harm of leaving children in a less-than-ideal family situation, and removing them, which is in and of itself traumatic - Removal is far from being the only, or most common feature of child protection (although it may well be the one where the police are most likely to be involved, either becaue the child is removed in an emergency or becasue police protection to effect removal is sought/needed.)

If you have someone who is there primarily to support the family then they may also be best placed to recognise and report problems, they (in the best cases) become a familiar, trusted person whom the children can speak to etc.
I don't think the current system is perfect - I think a lot of the problems are sown to underfunding, which tends to mean that social workers are constantly dealing with emergencies and don't have the time, energy or resources to deal with the more routin, low level support and monitoring. It also means that more outside agencies are used, which can mean unskilled or poorly trained indivuals, lack of continuity and inconsistent monitoring.

(No, I'm not a social worker, but I see them in action!)

01 April, 2010 13:10

 
Blogger Marjorie said...

anon, you said "in those cases it should be obvious that a child needs help" Unfortunately it isn't always obvious, especially to someone who may only see a child briefly, with a parent, when the child may not feel comfortable speaking freely.


NottsSarg - I agree that it can be helpful to have people who are involveing in suppoting the family who are not necessarily the same as the 'Social Worker', but I don't think it is practical to completely separate 'Child Protection' and Support / Social Workers are not there to keep the family together at all costs, but often there is a balancing act between the known harm of leaving children in a less-than-ideal family situation, and removing them, which is in and of itself traumatic - Removal is far from being the only, or most common feature of child protection (although it may well be the one where the police are most likely to be involved, either becaue the child is removed in an emergency or becasue police protection to effect removal is sought/needed.)

If you have someone who is there primarily to support the family then they may also be best placed to recognise and report problems, they (in the best cases) become a familiar, trusted person whom the children can speak to etc.
I don't think the current system is perfect - I think a lot of the problems are sown to underfunding, which tends to mean that social workers are constantly dealing with emergencies and don't have the time, energy or resources to deal with the more routin, low level support and monitoring. It also means that more outside agencies are used, which can mean unskilled or poorly trained indivuals, lack of continuity and inconsistent monitoring.

(No, I'm not a social worker, but I see them in action!)

01 April, 2010 13:10

 

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