British readers will be familiar with this tale of uspeakable cruelty and sadism. From The Times:
When the infant known in court only as Baby P was brought home from hospital days after his birth in March 2006, it was as a bubbly, blue-eyed boy with the first signs of curly blond hair. He was, according to those who came into contact with him, a lively child with a ready smile.
After 17 months enduring abuse of an almost unimaginable cruelty, the boy had been reduced to a nervous wreck, his hair shaved to the scalp and his body covered in bruises and scabs. Physical injuries included eight broken ribs, a broken back and the missing top of a finger, while the emotional damage was almost incalculable. Despite it all, Baby P was said to have still attempted a smile.
The jury was told that details of the intervening months, leading to the baby’s death last August, would “fill [them] with revulsion”. But even this could not prepare jurors — one of whom could not hold back tears — for one of the worst cases of sadistic brutality and sordid child neglect to come before a British court.
Baby P’s life in a council flat in Haringey, North London, began with gradual and growing neglect at the hands of his mother, who would leave him unattended for hours in his cot. The overweight woman, who had never had a full-time job and spent hours trawling the internet for pornography, split from the boy’s natural father when he was 3 months old after affairs with two men.
When the second lover moved in, Baby P’s suffering increased dramatically. The court heard that while his mother gossiped with friends in online chat rooms, her boyfriend took to beating the boy, swinging him around by the neck or legs and pinching him.
The Times has been told that the man, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, forced Baby P to follow commands like a dog. At the click of a finger he would have to sit with his head bent between his legs; 20 minutes later a second click would be the signal that he could sit upright again.
Although not as physically brutal as the rest of the abuse, this last is particularly upsetting. It is a cruel parody of a game that you would play with a baby, such as peek-a-boo. The poor child seems to have been a quick learner, for who knows what method of "encouragement" was used? When "the man who cannot be named for legal reasons" is imprisoned, I hope something very unpleasant happens to him in the showers. Unpleasant and prolonged.
Other routines included placing the baby on a stool and spinning it around until he fell off.
As he grew too old for milk and jars of baby food, Baby P scavenged bits of broken biscuits from older children and was even seen eating dirt in the garden.
Baby P received a fatal blow to his mouth, knocking a tooth out. After 17 months of agony, the tiny child finally succumbed.
Theodore Dalrymple writes on the reasons failure of the child protection service. First, he acknowledges that "the work of child protection is very difficult, emotionally wearing and even dangerous." Then he gets to the heart of the matter:
[T]he fundamental purpose of the British public service is to provide a meal-and-mortgage-ticket for those who work in it, especially at management level. The ostensible purpose of an organisation is rarely its real purpose. I know this from my experience in the Health Service.
Thus, when a problem reveals itself, the response is a curious one, that is to say simultaneously one of work creation and work avoidance.
The work creation consists of instituting ever more “failsafe” and “best-practice” procedures, usually with all their associated paperwork, which are then bowed down to and worshipped like the Golden Calf. Of course, this creates the impression of terrific pressure of work, that can be relieved only by the employment of more and more staff with strange titles such as Compliance Manager and Best-Practice Co-ordinator.
This work creation is dialectically related to the work avoidance. So much effort goes into the procedure that no time, energy or inclination is left over to secure the alleged purpose of the procedure.
Will anyone benefit in the end from this terrible case, that causes one to tremble when one reads of it? Will Baby P have died in vain, as (apparently) did Victoria Climbié? Yes, there will be beneficiaries. I have little doubt that information technology consultants, asked whether they can come up with a system that will co-ordinate all the information about all the children at risk in the country, so that nothing like this ever happens again, will come up with a plan that will cost billions to install and that will not work. But they, the consultants, will have benefited enormously.
Dalrymple is right to excoriate Haringey social services. He has been right, on other occasions, to castigate the dependency culture that creates "lumpen sluts" (as he calls them) like the child's mother, and callous brutes like the men she consorted with. However, Dalrymple knows as well as anyone that no system or culture can prevent all such deaths. Evil - a word Dalrymple does not flinch from - is part of human nature, and is intractable.