Thursday, 30 May 2013
A hidden accomplice Following the death in prison of Myra Hindley the Moors Murderer, the veteran Labour politician Tony Benn was asked on BBC's Question Time by an audience member whether it would have been better simply to execute her instead of paying for her to languish in jail for decades. Benn responded that the one crime that is probably beyond the ability of any human to forgive is the murder of a child, but that the greatest mistake for a nation that has to endure the pain of such events is to give in to blind hatred. Far better, he said, to forget about Hindley and allow her life to have been one of irrelevance. These are undoubtedly wise words, timely, as once again we encounter the horror of an adult purposefully and deliberate killing a child for their own sexual gratification. It is doubtful that anyone could ever forgive this crime and few will be able to forget it either. Today the murderer of April Jones, Mark Bridger, will begin what will probably be the rest of a lifetime behind bars, just a brief review of the court case indicates that the police were dealing with a calculating and dangerous man, but another aspect of the case was continually mentioned throughout the trial and was scarcely raised as a contributory factor, and that was Bridger's drinking. Bridger was heavily dependent on alcohol and was consuming large quantities of beer, cider and wine at the time of the killing, the Guardian background feature on Bridger's Walter Mitty fantasy world mentioned drinking twice, but at no point (probably in the interests of securing a prosecution for murder) has anyone from the CPS or the media explored whether alcohol has had some part to play in this most horrific of crimes. The purpose of this article is not to provide this wicked and monstrous man with any form of mitigation, drunk or sober, there is no mistaking this act as a premeditated deed. However, if the relationship between alcohol and violence against children were isolated to this case we might reasonably call it an aberration, but evidence from the NSPCC tends to suggest that it is a contributory factor in most cases of sexual or physical violence against children. The World Health Organisation states that: "In London, parental substance abuse was a cause of concern in 52 per cent of families on the Child Protection Register, with alcohol as the principal substance used." This report refers to cases that range from neglected children in chaotic homes to a minority of others who are in direct physical harm. In the past few months murder trials have revealed that alcohol has been a contributory factor in the Philpott family murder and the horrific killing of schoolgirl Tia Sharp by her grandmother's boyfriend. In both the April Jones and Tia Sharp cases the media have been quick to highlight the downloading of child porn images as a main contributory factor, which it undoubtedly is. There is less desire to examine how the most accesible and widespread drug in the country affects the judgement of people who go on to commit horrific acts. Put simply, there seems to be no desire to question whether heavy drinking enables people to act out harmful and violent acts that may well have remained suppressed otherwise. The evidence would tend to suggest that alcohol has been a facilitating substance in these crimes and in other cases. Drunkenness in the home can often be the means by which dangerous people, friends of the family or acquaintances from the pub, are first brought into contact with children as judgement is impaired and the needs of the young take a back seat to the priorities of the drinker. Alcohol is a powerful, dangerous and addictive drug that cuts a bloody swathe through our communities year on year, and it is a drug that Britain's moral coward-in-chief David Cameron has backtracked on introducing minimum pricing over. Perhaps if we as a society were to have an open and honest debate about how much and how often this drug really harms our children, we might be less fond of trotting out pseudo-libertarian arguments about 'the drinker's right to choose', and be more concerned with the rights of children to happy, safe childhoods.