IT BEGGARS BELIEF

It’s enough to make strong men weep. A 91 year old man living with his cat Fluffy was forcibly removed from his home where he had lived for over 50 years and locked in a dementia unit against his wishes by his caring social services of Essex Council.  And to add insult to injury, Essex Council had the temerity to charge him £25,000 for the privilege.

Fortunately for him, but not before 18 months of incarceration, his friend raised the alarm and he was rescued.  The judge who heard the case was scathing in his criticism of the Council’s conduct, which they sought to justify to the bitter end.  The elderly gentleman’s pleas to be allowed to return home fell on deaf ears, giving rise to a comment from the judge that the Council’s conduct was nothing short of reprehensible.  Whilst at the age of 91, being incarcerated for 18 months must have seemed an eternity, the Council was required to pay him £60,000 in damages, which no doubt will come out of their budget as provided by the taxpayer.  The sad reality is that nobody on the Council was prepared to take any of the blame, as in their book, there was no blame to take.

Over the years, I have done my best to defend Social Services from their catatonic mistakes on the basis they they have to make decisions that will affect the welfare of many in their care.  You will remember not so long ago the catalogue of mistakes relating to vulnerable children, where Social Services failed to act despite the clearest warning signs, and the children died horrible deaths.  In their defence, such as it was, they saw nothing to arouse their suspicions.  It beggars belief.

The good news for those of us nudging at the margins of advancing years is that the Social Services cannot simply walk into our homes and march us off to the twilight home for the bewildered. They need a court order, and we are entitled to be legally represented and to be heard.  So if some Gauleiter comes knocking at your door, tell her to get stuffed with my compliments. As somebody once said: “Don’t let the buggers get you down!”

HONOUR KILLINGS

There is no honour in killing, so these chilling words are self contradictory.  They are the more so when parents kill their own child, and it is difficult to comprehend any culture, even the Stone Age, when such brutality could be condoned.

The conviction of the Ahmeds, originally from the foothills of Pakistan, is little consolation to their daughter Shafilea, who perished at their hands for failing to obey their medieval demands.  At the root of this despicable crime was Shafilea’s wish to live a Western life like her friends, and her refusal to be carted off to Pakistan to marry a complete stranger chosen for her by her ‘loving’ parents.

Arranged marriages are not the sole preserve of Middle Eastern illiterates.  Indeed, in the recent past we have had an example of an arranged marriage between the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer.  It was certainly not a love match, as the Prince’s affections lay elsewhere, and had done so well before he married Diana.  Historically, the Royals chose their matches within their own narrow circle right up to our present Queen.  Her sister, Princess Margaret, entered her life destroying downward spiral when he was forbidden to marry Captain Townsend.  They loved each other, but he was unsuitable, and that was the end of it. The sad irony is that she ended up marrying a photographer, quite a good photographer by all accounts, but a photographer nonetheless, and that union ended in divorce.

Shafilea’s death has an all too familiar ring to it. Those who could have helped, didn’t, and I refer to her school, the police and the social services. All were found wanting when she needed them most.

The problem, in part, lies in our own belief of the sanctity of marriage and family life, where we believe somewhat naively that the first concept is inalienable from the second.  Couples who marry, live together and have children are rarely challenged within the family circle, and there are instances, too many by far, of parents badly abusing their children, and in some cases, killing them. In these cases, as with Shafilea, the police and the ‘caring’ agencies are slow to act, and often too late when they do. But these cases are usually the result of bad parenting, or the arrival of an abusive and manipulative boyfriend where the mother feels helpless to intervene.

We must be careful not to rush to judgment and hold up our own values as the only ones worth following, but equally, to treat ‘honour killing’ as somehow different and therefore excusable because it has its roots in another culture is wholly unacceptable, especially when the crime is committed in the United Kingdom where the Ahmeds had settled and made their home.

Some crimes are so heinous they offend all the precepts of a civilised society, and should never be tolerated.

LOVE IS BLIND

I read a suggestion the other day from the Association of Chief Police Officers (P.L.O.D) concerning men who have a history of violence towards their partners. They support a Register, similar to the Sex Offenders Register, listing the details and current whereabouts of those convicted of domestic violence, and who are, by inference, likely to reoffend.

This proposal has been around for some time. It was last kicked into the long grass back in 2003, when some twerp in the Home Office with nothing better to do, produced a consultation document to this effect. It went down like a lead balloon, and until PLOD breathed new life into it, everybody thought it was dead and buried.

Love is a strange emotion, bringing together the most unlikely partners, and according to statistics, around 60% of partners stick it out through thick and thin, for richer for poorer and all that.

Domestic violence is all too real, not just for battered women, but for PLOD, the prosecuting authorities and the courts. In its extreme form, the violence is almost unimaginable, and often committed in front of children. All too often, the violent man suffers from a pathological disorder, which accounts for unexplained mood swings, and once the dark mood passes, he is full of remorse.

Then again, there are a few, hopelessly inadequate in all walks of life, who take a perverse and sadistic pleasure in inflicting pain on defenceless women, and for whom little or nothing can be said in mitigation.

But the real problem is not the fact that some men are given to violence, it’s the emotion that cannot be stripped from the equation. Time and again, even after severe beatings, the violent man begs his victim to forgive him and take him back, and time and again, she does so, knowing she shouldn’t, but hoping against hope that he will reform, and that this time, he means it.

So what is to be done? A Register is not the way forward. It may help, so I don’t dismiss the idea out of hand, but it’s not the solution. The solution is all about squaring the circle, which is remarkably unhelpful. First, there must be much more support for battered women, and not just a night or two in a Women’s Refuge. A battered woman should be treated from the outset as a victim of crime, with the police being informed as soon as she walks through the door. They, in turn, must give the case the same priority as they should over any allegation of violence, which must rule out a caution or other labour saving and utterly useless device. There already exists a plethora of legal sanctions to keep the offender away from his battered partner, on pain of imprisonment regardless of conviction, and these must be used to full effect.

But above all, the Crown Prosecution Service must be more supportive and proactive. They should know that between arrest and trial, the battered partner is likely to retract her complaint, either because she wants him back, or, more likely, she fears the consequences of giving evidence. After all, he knows where she lives.

The Social Services and the local authority must also put their collective shoulders to the wheel. The battered woman needs emotional as well as physical support to rebuild her life, and not simply expressions of condolence.

The CPS must take the lead in prosecuting the offender, even where the battered woman is a reluctant witness. They too have powers, not just to compel her to attend trial with a witness summons, but screens or a video link to allow her to give her evidence in the least stressful circumstances.

All this costs money, and it’s easy to throw in the towel with a reluctant witness. After all, if the battered woman can’t be bothered to turn up for trial, or having turned up, departs from the script, why bother?

We should bother because it’s our duty to protect the vulnerable, the more so where children are involved. After all, Pontius Pilate washed his hands, and look where it got him.