Learning the stiff upper lip

It’s not easy growing up in Britain, I imagine. Kids in the United Kingdom have a minefield of nasty potential futures awaiting them. Abuse in the home, knife crime, teenage alcoholism and suicide are lurking around the corner at each birthday, just waiting to blow apart their innocence.

Wednesday’s verdict on London’s ‘Baby P’ case is a prime example just how vulnerable British children are.

In August 2007 a 17-month-old child who can only be identified as ‘Baby P’ was pronounced dead. A post-mortem was inconclusive as to how the little boy died but it did find that he had more than 50 injuries, including a broken back, which caused his organs to fail.

Three people were arrested at the time: his mother, a 26-year-old from the North London suburb of Haringey, her 32-year-old boyfriend, and a third man, 36-year-old Jason Owens, who could be identified and has been described as a lodger.

On Wednesday at the Old Bailey, the three were found guilty of “causing or allowing” the baby’s death, a conviction that falls short of murder.

After the judgement was handed down, Detective Superintendent Caroline Bates, of the Child Abuse Investigation Command said the child “suffered terribly” in his last few months.

“The child’s mother consistently lied in an attempt to conceal the ill treatment of him,” said Bates, “she repeatedly chose to mislead professionals in order to enable the continued abuse of her son.”

Social workers were aware of the child’s vulnerable situation, but Baby P’s mother had lied and manipulated them – the bub was smeared in chocolate once to cover bruises when social workers made a scheduled visit.

But they visited the home more than sixty times, or twice a week, on average, and authorities weren’t prompted to go far enough to protect him.

Haringey Council’s response has been criticised heavily, allegedly covering up the extent of the abuse until a judge ordered they present their complete records as evidence.

A government investigation has been announced and one person has resigned but Britons are wondering how serious the abuse has to be before a child’s needs are prioritised.

On the same day, in a court 300 kilometres to the north of London, a jury heard allegations that nine-year-old Shannon Matthews had been drugged and tied down by her own mother. Karen Matthews told police her daughter was missing and did a nationwide appeal to the public for her safe return.

Prosecutors told Leeds Crown Court that Shannon had been kidnapped by 33-year-old Karen Matthews, and 40-year-old Michael Donovan, the uncle of Matthews’ boyfriend.

Julian Goose QC told the jury that the pair sedated Shannon with prescription tranquilisers and tied her by a rope to a ceiling beam in the flat where Donovan lived.

In February this year, West Yorkshire Police launched a missing person’s investigation like Britain had rarely seen before based on a call that Shannon’s mother made to emergency services on February 19.

In a recording of that call released by police, Matthews says she last saw her daughter before she went to school and that her school confirmed she left at ten past three.

Happening in the aftermath of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance, the prosecution also allege Matthews and Donovan planned the scheme to claim the £50,000 reward.

The pair denied claims they kidnapped, drugged or falsely imprisoned the nine-year-old.

Poor Shannon. What did she do to get born to such dangerous ignoramuses?

It doesn’t get easier as children get older. The UK’s 2008 death toll of violent teenage deaths hit 45 on Tuesday with shooting of 15-year-old Derbyshire boy, Kadeem Blackwood.

Now, there is the very real danger of having relatives remember you by the chalk outline police drew around your body on the street.

Or even if they don’t meet a grisly death, life itself can be pretty grisly. Between 2002 and 2007, 648 under-tens and more than 24,000 under-16s were hospitalised because of excessive intake of alcohol.

Then there’s the suicide phenomenon in the South Wales county of Bridgend, where 24 young people have apparently topped themselves in as many months. Many of them posted gloomy entries on their Bebo social networking sites, and posthumously gained kudos in sickening tributes to their courage.

But even if young people choose a noble path, and want to take a stand against violence, they may very well purchase weapons unknowingly. A major retailer of teen fashion, TK Maxx, was selling jackets that had a knife concealed in the breast pocket. This is the same chain of stores where a female staff member was stabbed in January 2007 while working at the counter of one of their Leicestershire retail outlets. While not pitched at teens, TK Maxx was also selling lethal walking sticks. One man purchased one and felt it to be very heavy for its apparent construction. Curious, he attempted to pull it apart and found a dagger hidden inside. The chain’s purchasing team said they didn’t know it was there.

Police say teen violence is better than it used to be, but for an outsider, someone who grew up with a freer, brighter childhood it seems hopeless. There are all kinds of theories about why there’s so much delinquency and despair. One being that the lack of a father present in the family home has had enormous impact. Appparently boys don’t have role models to show them how to express strength and courage and develop into men without displays of violence.

It’s a dismal picture of youth in Britain.

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