Denise Robertson: How many more children will have to suffer?

Denise Robertson addresses the issue of cruelty to children following the discovery of the death of four-year-old Hamzah Khan

Lynne Cameron/PA Wire Amanda Hutton arriving at Bradford Crown Court, where she is charged with the manslaughter of her son, Hamzah Khan
Amanda Hutton arriving at Bradford Crown Court, where she is charged with the manslaughter of her son, Hamzah Khan

In 1986, on BBC Breakfast Time, I was asked to comment on the report into the death of four-year-old Heidi Koseda, who starved to death in a locked room in Hillingdon in 1984.

Her stepfather was jailed for life for her murder while her mother was found guilty of manslaughter.

An inquiry found that the senior National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children inspector allocated to her case failed to investigate a complaint of child abuse made by a neighbour then tried to cover this up with a fictitious account of a visit to see the child.

Last week I was asked to comment on the death of four-year-old Hamzah Khan, whose mummified body was found in a cot in his mother’s bedroom almost two years after he starved to death.

His mother, who denies manslaughter, is on trial and we do not know the outcome of the case but we do know about four-year-old Daniel Pelka.

Last week a serious case review found evidence of repeated failures by the agencies in Coventry responsible for his care, although it said no one could have predicted his death.

Really? Shouldn’t breaking a child’s bones, starving and beating him, holding him under water and force feeding him salt over a protracted period be noticed by someone?

If a pupil was repeatedly scavenging in bins for food shouldn’t a teacher ponder?

Doctors who examined Daniel after his death found he had 40 separate injuries and described him as looking like a concentration camp victim.

Police received 27 reports of domestic violence in Daniel’s home. Yet none of the professionals who worked with Daniel raised serious concerns. The £120,000-a-year director of Coventry’s Childrens’ Services, paid to safeguard children, resigned as the scandal unfolded then walked straight into a new job as chair of Safeguarding Children in another area.

Fortunately, public outrage has since forced his resignation.

Home Secretary Theresa May says there are “lessons to be learned” from the report on Daniel Pelka. Which is exactly what was said after the report on Heidi Koseda.

It is exactly what will eventually be said about the death of Hamza Khan.

Thirty years on and nothing has changed.

:: The sheer awfulness of the party conferences, every one of them, allied to the revelations of Damian McBride, depressed me.

What have we done to be saddled with this lot, not a hero among them!

I felt low enough to walk under a duck and then I went along to a party held as part of Dementia Awareness Week. Dementia is a serious and progressive disease that leads to memory loss and communication problems.

To care for or work with sufferers is rewarding but also relentlessly demanding. What I saw at that gathering was inspiring.

A daughter patiently stroking her mother’s face as the mother slumped, inert, in a wheelchair. That same mother suddenly coming alive as the band played the sixties music she remembered. Carers who were not only paid to care but actually did care.

The trust in the eyes of their charges told you their attentiveness wasn’t put on for the party.

A room that could have been sad was filled with laughter.

Next time I’m in despair at what goes on in the higher echelons of our society I’ll remind myself of the humanity and effort that still exists underneath.

:: Nick Clegg was scornful about Tory plans. “Their priority is to help some families over others, with a tax break for married couples. That tells you everything you need to know about their values.”

I can’t see the reported £150 per annum doing much for matrimony but, if a survey by The Marriage Foundation is correct, the present situation is untenable.

The report alleges that 240,000 couples claim to be apart in order to claim one-parent benefit.

Cohabiting couples who claim tax credits illegitimately by pretending to live separately stand to gain up to £7,100.

Parents with two children can benefit from up to £9,985, while parents with three children can increase their income by £11,917. If those figures are even close to the truth it is staggering.

The Marriage Foundation says: “It is indefensible that parents who are in committed, stable relationships should face significant penalties for staying together, to the extent that some pretend to be separated in order to avoid penalisation.

“It is irresponsible for the Government to continue this disincentive to make relationships work.”

It’s difficult to quarrel with that but how you solve it without penalising single parents is another matter. £150 won’t fix it.


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