Alastair Stewart: When will lessons be learnt about child abuse?

Political correctness is being preserved over young lives

Published Last updated

When I hear of yet another case of fatal child abuse my heart sinks.

Initially it sinks with sadness at the pain, the human loss and the lack of love…

It then plumbs the depths of sadness as, yet again, someone says ‘We will learn the lessons….’.

They never, ever do.

Throughout my forty plus years in journalism it’s been the same - and it still is.

Earlier this month, the father and step-mother of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes were jailed for his killing. He was a “joyous” boy who made other people feel happy, his heartbroken grandmother said.

Two months before Arthur was killed, Hughes’ mother had raised concerns with officials after seeing bruising on his body.

But social workers had visited the home and concluded there were no concerns.

Two weeks later, Star Hobson’s mother, and her mother’s girlfriend, were jailed for her killing. Star’s death has again led to widespread questioning of the role of social workers and the police after it emerged friends and family had reported concerns on five separate occasions in the eight month before she died.

When we heard it on the news, my wife remembered the first such case that she had worked on as a production assistant at Southern ITV - Maria Colwell who lived in Brighton but died when her step-father kicked her to death. That was in 1973.

Since then there have been many more.

Victoria Climbie died in February 2000, aged eight. Victoria was tortured to death by her great-aunt, and the woman's boyfriend. The subsequent inquiry exposed serious failings by the child protection services and staff responsible for her welfare.

In 2007, Peter Connelly was murdered. The death of ‘Baby P’, as Peter became known, resulted from the incompetence of almost every member of staff who came into contact with him. He had been visited 60 times by the authorities in the eight months before his death.

And Ella-Rose Clover was murdered in 2019, aged 22 months. Liverpool Crown Court heard chances to prevent Ella's death had been missed as doctors believed there was a medical reason for her bruising.

And on, and on, and on…

Reports, reviews, reassessments and the rest follow, as night follows day - shedding as much light on what really needs to be fine as night sheds light itself.

As for those reports, even the best hit the rocks, stayed on shelves or are shuffled away for fear of upsetting the social work world.

Twice Lord Laming has reported on these matters - on the case of Victoria Climbie and Baby P - and twice he has said the child should always be given the benefit of the doubt.

When warnings emerge, he said, remove the child to a place of safety.

He or she can always be returned safely, should those concerns prove unfounded.

But, no; time and time again it us the family that is given the benefit of the doubt; the parent or parents, or the parent and partner..

All too often, too, these are dysfunctional families.

The signs are there to see but the authorities are either blind to it or unwilling to be judged judgemental.

So political correctness is preserved but young lives aren’t.

What is more, heads seldom roll.

Ed Balls on the challenge of dealing with the Baby P case is well worth reading up on. The resistance he faced was staggering but he rested it, to his credit.

I know many social workers are low paid and hard pressed.

But frankly if a child’s death occurs on your watch and actions were not taken, were delayed or avoided - well, the bell tolls, and it tolls for you.

I may be harsh but decades of despondency have taken me there.