I read a piece on Paul Linford’s blog about another boy who died in terrible circumstances at the hands of his foster parents – who astonishingly had been cleared to adopt. However, it was this boy’s tragic death, John Smith, that brought about a change in the law – a change that was able to be used for the trail following the death of Baby P:
A group of journalists from the Brighton Argus launched a “Justice for John” campaign after murder charges against his adoptive parents were dropped in favour of a lesser charge of cruelty on the grounds that it could not be proven who had struck the fatal blow. In the end, this led to a change of the law, and the creation of a new offence of causing or allowing the death of a child – the offence of which the vile killers of Baby P have now been successfully convicted and for which they will be sentenced early next year.
You can read the full post on Paul Linford’s site – but to my mind, there are two points rising from this. Firstly – it shows what can be done when people put their mind to it. For all the flaws in our democracy and system of government – individuals can get together and bring about change.
Secondly – Baby P’s tragic death raises the question of whether the maximum sentence for this (new) crime is high enough. It can cover such a wide range of circumstances that there needs to be the flexibility to deal with the circumstances of an individual case, but the maximum sentence available (I believe it is 14 years) is now facing a growing grassroots campaign organised primarily by mothers and grandmothers.
My own priority is to push for a public inquiry to ensure that the full range of necessary lessons are learnt and then changes applied because – vital though a just legal system is – in the end a court case and a jail sentence can only deal with the aftermath of tragedy. Avoiding the tragedy in the first place is the main objective.
But for me, the shining message from Paul’s post is that things can change. It takes action and commitment – and here we have a bunch of those who are only slightly less reviled than politicians – journalists – who saw something that wasn’t right – and took the action necessary. Hurrah for journalists – on this occasion!