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Fail To Act – Act To Fail

October 1, 2009

The Police and the local authorities in Leicestershire were partly to blame for the suicide of a mother and unlawful killing of her daughter by failing to protect them from a sustained campaign of bullying and harassment by the local youth. This was the conclusion of the Inquest into their deaths this week.

This is such a heartbreaking tale and one that could’ve had a shorter and better ending if all involved had done their job. For the few of you who don’t know the story, the Pilkington family, Fiona, 38, Francesca, 18 and her brother Anthony, lived in Barwell, near Hinckley in Leicestershire. They were the victims of ‘anti social’ behaviour by teenagers and children, some as young as ten for several years. There was continual harassment, including shouting abuse and the throwing of stones, which kept the family virtual prisoners in their homes. The extra dimension to this was that Francesca had learning difficulties and her mother had depression and other difficulties herself which made them a ripe target. The failure of the Police to link or prioritise her many desperate calls which would’ve gained a better response and the authority’s failure to deal with the gangs, led Fiona to drive to a lay-by off the A47 on October 23 2007 and set fire to the car, killing herself and Francesca.

There are very few people up and down the land who have not been on the receiving end in some form or another of anti social behaviour from some families and their brood. I’ve mentioned before that at Pie Palace, I’ve been dealing with the messing of our communal steps and lobby for years and although it’s nothing like what the poor Pilkingtons went through, the feelings of anger, distress and frustration at the lack of action by the authorities to deal with it are all too real. If you have neither the wealth nor clout to get the matter sorted, in the absence of being allowed to slap them sensible, you can whistle for your right to a peaceful and safe existence. Of course the politicians clambered over themselves in unseemly haste to say what a terrible business it was. They can say that knowing they’ll never have to experience it because they are well protected. The Home Secretary Alan Johnson said,

“We have to ensure there are no excuses and that lessons are learned.”

Ah, those magic words, “lessons are learned”, or the variants, “lessons will be learned” and “we must ensure that this never happens again”. How often have we heard that? And yet it does happen again. In the case of extreme child neglect and abuse, Victoria Climbie and Baby P from the same local authority in London. One piece of good may come out of this tragic case. Although some people will continue to be disruptive and destructive, unencumbered by such a trivial thing as the law of the land, this case has highlighted hate crimes against the disabled and I expect changes will be made to improve on that situation. I thought it was included in the general hate crime list, but apparently not.

We can rely on the Police and our local authorities to sort things out for us (or not). But perhaps we need to regain the sense of community where we look after each other and put paid to this nonsense (and here’s the new magic word now), collectively.

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