Two stories about the maltreatment of children have startled a distracted Britain somewhat from its current economic woes. The first was that of Baby P (unnamed for legal reasons), a 17-month-old child done to death by his mother, her boyfriend, and a lodger. Only the fact that it was impossible to tell which of them had actually killed the child prevented their conviction for murder. The pathologist found more than 50 injuries to the childs body, including a fractured vertebra and eight fractured ribs; he said that he had never come across anything like it. The killing took place in the same borough of London as the murder of Victoria Climbie, about which I wrote in City Journal seven years ago.
Baby P was visited a total of 60 times by the child-protection agencies in the deeply squalid but not impoverished household in which he lived. His mother was a drug addict who had never worked, and who spent a lot of time watching pornographic videos with her boyfriend. The 36-year-old lodger had a 15-year-old girlfriend. Baby Ps mother gave birth to him in prison while awaiting trial. Social workers recommended that she be allowed to keep the baby because they, mother and child, needed to bond.
The second case involved Shannon Matthews, whose storywhat parts of it were then knownI also related previously in City Journal. Earlier this month, her mother Karen went on trial for maltreating her. According to the prosecutor, Karen, who has seven children by five different men and who lives entirely on Social Security, organized the kidnapping, drugging, and sequestration of nine-year-old Shannon, in concert with the uncle of her current boyfriend. It turns out that the object of their plot was to raise $75,000 by public appeal for knowledge of the whereabouts of Shannon, who was later to be released and then found by the uncle, who would claim the reward.
A tearful Karen Matthews appeared on television appealing to the public to help locate her daughter, who was meanwhile being kept on a leash and drugged with sleeping tablets. Karen Matthews even printed up T-shirts reading, HAVE YOU SEEN SHANNON MATTHEWS? She had lavender bows made like those that were sold to raise money for sufferers from AIDS. Shannon was found alive, in her uncles house, before the target sum was reached.
Shannon Matthews was missing for 24 days; the police search for her cost $4,500,000. At one point, three-quarters of all the police dogs in Great Britain were looking for her. Karen Matthews offered to have sex with one of the police officers who came to her house during the search.
How does the liberal British intelligentsia react to this almost unspeakable social degradation? The week that Karen Matthews went on trial, their newspaper of preference, the Guardian, ran a long article entitled Marriage is a Form of Prostitution.
Theodore Dalrymple, a physician, is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.