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Saturday, 20 September 2014

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No excuses. Children should never suffer

When eight-year-old Victoria Climbié, died in 2000, having been tied up, burnt with cigarettes and beaten with bike chains by her guardians, a promise was made.

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Failed: Daniel Pelka who was denied food, regularly imprisoned in a locked room, force-fed salt and made to perform arduous punishment exercises and finally battered to death mother and stepfather

Seven years later, when baby Peter Connelly died from dozens of appalling, cruelly-inflicted injuries, another promise was made.

Actually, it was the same promise. We hear it over and again, whenever the indefensible triumphs over the wholly avoidable (and that happens too often): “Lessons will be learned.”

Now Daniel Pelka has joined that grotesque roll-call of victims succumbing to shockingly abhorrent child abuse.

Beaten and tormented by his mother and stepfather; left to starve until he weighed only a stone; bruised, broken and totally alone, the little four-year-old died in the torture chamber he knew as home.

The lesson is now well and truly learned. It’s known by heart by countless social workers, teachers and health professionals everywhere.

When a child is in need, look the other way.

What other conclusion is to be drawn from those and other little lives lost, along with numerous more, no doubt still suffering the terrifying misery of mistreatment by adults?

It is the common denominator in every case we know of in which a child is violently or sexually tormented and abused. That which should have been seen and reported went unnoticed. Too many people looked away.

And the answer to all stunned and sickened helpless cries is always the same.

Where were the social workers, health visitors, nurses? What were his teachers thinking of when a boy barely past toddling was so hungry he was stealing food from fellow pupils and from dustbins?

“Can’t say. Inquiry pending. But lessons will be learned.”

Daniel’s torturers have been jailed for life with a minimum 30-year term. It isn’t enough.

Had they been hanged for their crimes, that wouldn’t have been enough either. Nothing could ease the horror or calm the anger felt by right-thinking people about the way in which a vulnerable little boy was allowed to become invisible – even as he surrendered to a concerted, scheming plan to hurt him. Nothing could now compensate that little soul for the abandonment and betrayal he suffered at the hands of every responsible adult who must have wondered about his welfare.

Authorities had missed at least seven opportunities to uncover the level of abuse used against Daniel. There had been a series of home visits and investigations within little more than a year.

There had been some teachers’ concerns but the little boy was never taken away from his vicious guardians.

A report from ChildLine this week made the point that an increasing number of children of primary school age are finding the courage to ask for help when they’re being abused or fear that they may be at risk from ill-treatment.

As young as they are, they are finding a voice. But are their pleas for rescue being heard and answered? Patently they are not.

There is no excuse for any suffering child to slip through the net of bureaucratic bungling. The needs of state appointed social workers, their job-protecting managers, legions of number-crunchers, work-schedulers and rota-fixers are as nothing in comparison with the life of a child.

Doctors resisting weekend and evening call-outs, teachers bleating about pension changes and cuts to holiday time – are your concerns more pressing than those of a little one helplessly at the mercy of abusers?

Little Daniel knew no better than the nightmare in which he found himself. Too young to compare his own hell with the happy homes enjoyed by other kids, he could only trust that perhaps this was normal and that one day his pain would end.

It did. When everybody was looking the other way.

Not related, they will say. Cuts have consequences, they will say. Not our fault. Blame the Government. Lessons will be learned.

Forgive me if I don’t believe a word of it. Humanity demands responsibility for the weakest. Daniel saw none of it and there’s no promise that the next little lost soul will either.

Have your say

The social services in Cumbria are extremely overstretched and under manned,it took me 9 months to become a friends and family foster carer,it normally takes 2 or 3 month sometimes a few week,in that time I received 3 letter informing me of what was going on,it took 4 month before the child was checked when we got her,it normally should be done within 2 week,some staff travel as far as Newcastle and Liverpool to talk to familys,it is undermanned and the staff are at breakingpoint with at least 3 I know who are on the sick because of overwork and pending complaints because they cannot cope anymore.

Posted by James O on 19 August 2013 at 14:36

This reminds me of the way that Cumbria Constabulary handled the Azad Miah case. Three years after a vulnerable young schoolgirl reported what was happening, Miah was finally arrested!

Posted by Stemax1960 on 13 August 2013 at 19:51

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