Justice protests for Baby P took place last Saturday in almost 20 venues including London, Plymouth, Leeds, Newcastle, Coventry, Blackpool and Edinburgh. Initially I had intended going to London for the event. When the marches were first announced I told my wife that I would go out with my 7 year old daughter. I spoke with a friend from Plumstead Common and he invited us to stay with him if we should choose to go over. I particularly wanted to take my child to Islington and St Pancras Cemeteries where a mountain of teddy bears and other cuddly toys have shot up round the site where the ashes of the murdered infant were spread. At the site a tribute from one father of three perfectly captured the sentiment that runs through the minds of many fathers disconcerted that no one moved to save this child:
When I look at that last picture of you, you look in so much pain, I just want to pick you up and give you a hug and make you feel better. If I knew what was happening to you, I would have come down there and kicked the front door open and rescued you myself.
The child was always within reach of safety. He was unable to reach out and not one person associated with the case reached in. As it happened other things intervened and we were unable to make the trip. We will some day. It is simply part of the common purpose that has been forged by the terrible suffering and death of this little boy. It affects people in different ways. Shortly after news of the convictions of his torture killers I found myself behaving in a manner I was a stranger to. I have no religious belief whatsoever; not as much as a doubt or a sentimental hankering for an afterlife. That did not deter me one cold, dark morning on my way to work, from stopping at a chapel I had not been near in over 30 years. Once inside I didn’t pray, listen to the words of the priest saying mass, pay the slightest attention to anyone else who happened to be there, or light any candles. I merely stood there in quiet reflection trying to comprehend the incomprehensible; how people labelled human beings could torment, torture and butcher a defenceless baby. On my way out I filled in a space in the petition book detailing my humanist conviction and my reason for being there. As Malachi O Doherty points out in his book Empty Pulpits about churches people ‘go there because there is something that they want to do and because that is the place in which it is done.’ For me it was the quietist place in town. 18 years ago when Sean Bateson died suddenly walking along a prison wing I wrote that we would remember him in the quiet recesses of our minds. Quiet recesses are where we retreat to in times of stress. In the days immediately after the facts of the Baby P case became public my mind was anything but quiet. I wanted to escape from not retreat into it. Anger flowed like lava as molten as anything that had previously coursed through me, including the aftermaths of the death of Bobby Sands and the Hillsborough Stadium disaster. I left no more religious than I entered but slightly more relaxed. The belief that a benign god existed who would allow such a thing to happen repulsed me. That would make him as guilty as those convicted of killing or allowing Baby P to die. What reasonable, reasoning jury could fail to convict god on those grounds? Some time after the visit to the church I read a young woman expressing the view that she wished there was an afterlife so that Baby P could experience something joyous, that the totality of his existence had not been confined to a torture chamber. Despair feeds that sort of sentiment. It comes with the terrible knowledge that in a universe without heaven the child knew only hell. Later I thought a chapel a most inappropriate choice of venue in which to reflect on a murdered child given the range of abuses inflicted on children by the people who run such places. In the end I rationalised it as an act of communion. Not the holy type. I believe in none of that. Simply an act of communion with other people elsewhere whose peace of mind had been ruptured by a form of violence we thought had stepped off the gallows at Nuremburg.

1 comment:

  1. Nuala,

    this is the one I linked for you today. Even rereading it I find myself getting angry. Such vermin.