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Baby P - It will happen again

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Mark Easton | 10:41 UK time, Tuesday, 18 November 2008

We must never let it happen again".The phrase has been used again and again over the past week as more grisly details of the brief and tragic life of Baby P emerge.

But, sadly, it will happen again. In fact, it happened last night. And it will happen tonight and tomorrow too.

Baby P is not some isolated and extraordinary case of bestial cruelty. Small children are being beaten, tortured, abused and assaulted in Britain every hour of every day.

Looking at the figures for England and Wales, police recorded 5,300 cases of child cruelty and neglect last year. Ninety people were jailed for cruelty to children - 38 of them women.

Baby PThese are not incidents of a clip round the ear to which police over-react. We are talking broken limbs, smashed skulls, cigarette burns and worse.

And the numbers are only for those the police get to know about. Academic studies into the experiences of children suggest a truly horrifying level of abuse.

One piece of work published in 2002 found 16% (1 in 6) of almost three thousand 18-24 year-olds reported suffering "serious maltreatment" at the hands of their parents or carers as children. If the figure bears any relation to the general picture, it suggests millions are suffering severe physical maltreatment every day. Millions.

Asked about sexual abuse,1% said they were abused by a parent or carer, 3% by another relative during childhood and 11% by people known but unrelated to them.

The NSPCC calculates that a million children are being sexually abused at any one time.

Last year there were 27,900 children on the protection register or panel as it is now called.These are young people and babies that social workers deem to be at significant risk of harm.

But not all are rescued in time.

Child protection inspectors in England wrote to the government in July and revealed details of cases where local authorities had notified them of the possible need for a 'serious case review'.

"Between 1 April 2007 and 31 March 2008, 281 serious incidents were recorded, which related to 189 deaths, 87 incidents of significant harm or injuries and five incidents where the outcome for the child was not known, for example where a child was reported to be missing following a serious incident."

What makes the Baby P case different is not the cruelty. Not the fact that he died. The difference is that we have been confronted with the details.

The pornographic descriptions of his terrible injuries juxtaposed with the innocent little blue-eyed boy staring up into the face of an adult are almost too much to bear. But many, apparently, want this detail.

Perhaps by focusing and obsessing about one ghastly incident, we find it easier to ignore the pervasive and insidious nature of society's dark side.

Child abuse can be boxed up in a carton marked 'Baby P'. Inquiries will be conducted. Officials will face sanction. Systems and protocols will be tweaked. Fat reports will be written.

We have been here before and the consequence of a roll call of individual scandals has been child protection procedures that are already regarded as among the best in the world. However counter intuitive it might seem, other nations come to see how we do it and copy our systems.

That's not to say it is job done. Of course it should never happen again.Tragically, it will.


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