By now a sea of words has been written about the brutal murder of the child who has become known to the nation as Baby P.
The photograph of this nameless toddler looking into the camera with the innocence of which only the very young are capable has flashed around the world and must, for those with long enough memories have recalled another picture that, in any other context, would have seemed sweetly mundane. It showed two boys leading another child by that hand, taking him off not to play but to meet a brutal death.
The picture related, of course, the murder of James Bulger in the early 1990’s and it, like the picture of Baby P has become a symbol of horror and social decay.
Try as I might I cannot join the chorus of voices heaping blame on the social workers who abandoned Baby P to his lonely death, they are far from innocent and yet, social work is hardly a profession people enter with dreams of earning vast wealth, rather it is one they enter because they have a conscience and a desire to do good, as such the guilt they will feel for the rest of the days over their failure to act is a punishment harsher than any court of law could ever hand down.
Our righteous anger should, instead, be directed at the system within which they were obliged to operate.
A system exemplified in all its callous arrogance by Sharon Shoesmith the head of Haringey Social Services who, seemingly without shame, told the press following the trial and conviction of Baby P’s killers that her department should be absolved of all blame for his death because the correct procedures had been followed.
For decades the British have laughed at pompous and self serving officialdom, its foolish diktats are regularly mocked by the tabloid press and generally ignored by the population at large. Now we know the truth; now we know there is nothing at all to laugh at in the bureaucratic mindset that dominates so much of the public sector. It is cold, self serving and, when applied to the most vulnerable members of society, more dangerous than a loaded pistol in the hands of a toddler.
While we are in the mood for apportioning blame we should be prepared to address our own culpability in the tragic death of Baby P.
The British public has stood by while whole housing estates have been turned into dispiriting reservations for the disadvantaged, blinded by the astronomical rise in the value of our own homes we failed to ask our political masters why they failed to build sustainable communities alongside affordable housing and why they’ve now lost the will to create either.
We ignored the plight of people struggling to get by on benefits while maxing out our own credit cards, watched industries and the towns they shaped die but failed to act to end the curse of long term unemployment that hands misery on from one generation to the next in case it added a few pounds to our tax bill.
None of this excuses the behaviour of Baby P’s parents, their actions were evil and deserve to be met by an ultimate punishment our judicial system no longer has the courage to enforce, but those of us lucky enough not to live chaotic, brutish lives on the bottom rung of the social ladder must accept responsibility for preventing such crimes from happening again.
If we do not then ‘the correct procedures were followed’ may well join ‘I was only following orders’ in the shaming lexicon used by societies that choose to ignore the suffering of their dispossessed underclass.