Don't turn a crisis into a drama

A TV `show' is no way to mark the sad, unfinished story of the parenting of Jade and Hannah

THE SAD tale of Jade and Hannah Bennett and their abduction by their foster parents, Jeff and Jennifer Bramley, is certainly a parable for our time. How fitting then that their story is to be made into a pounds 1m drama by Granada Television. In keeping with the tone of the times, this story will be, says the production company's drama boss Simon Lewis, inspired by the story of the Bramleys - "but would not be a faithful account of their experiences".

Presumably, this two-hour entertainment, like everything else surrounding the troubled upbringing of this young pair, will be "in the best interests of the children". While the "show" will presumably be screened after these young children's bedtime, they will almost certainly hear about it from other children, and will inevitably view it at some point in their childhood or adolescence. Will this be helpful to them in their pursual of a normal life? Will it add another layer of confusion to childhoods which have already suffered confusion enough?

Maybe, since they have already experienced life with various foster parents as well as their birth mother, it will not be at all traumatic for them to see yet another woman playing mummy, this time Niamh Cusack.

Maybe, since their difficulties in forging an identity for themselves will already have been deeply compromised by the maelstrom of adult activity around them, there will be no further damage caused by the enactment of an idealised version of the events they have experienced, with two other little girls playing them.

Will the film be made with their future viewing borne in mind? How will the brief relationship of Jacqueline Bennett and Paul Duckett, Jade's father, be portrayed? The couple managed to stay together for a year after the birth of their daughter, Duckett citing Jacqueline's dissolute habits as the reason for the break-up. Will the film fob Jade off with the same excuse that many parents give to their confused children when they cut and run, that mummy and daddy were "having too many rows"?

Or will they portray Jacqueline's "dissolute habits" as being more than any young man could be expected to bear for a year? Maybe they will home in on Jacqueline's depression instead, leaving the viewer to conclude that Duckett wasn't compassionate and sensitive enough to look after his child and her mother during a period of mental illness, and instead walked out on them during this awful time.

What of Hannah's conception and birth? Who will be playing Craig Nott, whose support of the Bramleys as suitable parents of his daughter has been hawked in the press as somehow valuable? Will the film touchingly portray Nott's journey back to Hull, having left Jacqueline pregnant, and, as far as he was concerned, busily going about organising a termination without his support?

Will we meet fictional versions of the four other half-siblings Hannah has, all also illegitimate, all the progeny of Nott, all the children of different mothers? Will his stunning irresponsibility be portrayed sympathetically to save the feelings of Hannah and his other children, or will Granada belatedly decide to be socially responsible and advertise a hotline for men who don't know what contraception is at the end of the programme?

Is it right that the family background of these two children, still too young really to understand it themselves, should have been made public property, to be paraded in the press then picked over, edited, rewritten, primped, primed and pumped up for the delectation of the British viewing public?

No it is not right. So who is responsible for the enormous level of public scrutiny the lives of these children have been and will continue to be subject to? Jeff and Jennifer Bramley must themselves bear much of the responsibility for the blowing away of the privacy of these girls they had known for only six months.

By abducting the children they acted not lovingly but selfishly, exposing them to a police operation which necessitated the unleashing of information about the children that would otherwise have remained private. That done, they contacted PR man Max Clifford and courted more publicity by sending their much-quoted appeal for understanding to various national newspapers.

While public sympathy is very much with the Bramleys, we do not know of all the circumstances behind the decision of Cambridgeshire social services to deny them legal adoption of Jade and Hannah. We do know however that they lied by omission to gain custody of the children, Jeff neglecting to declare that he had experienced care himself and Jenny failing to mention that she had recently lost twins through miscarriage. We do know as well that the Bramleys may have felt compelled to lie because of the notoriously and inflexibly idealistic criteria that prospective adopters have to comply with.

But some of the Bramleys' other foibles, such as insisting that the girls addressed them as Mummy and Daddy while they were still only foster parents, refusing to let them have contact with their previous foster parents, and spoon-feeding the younger child when social workers considered she was too old for such infantile attentions, do suggest that the Bramleys' enmeshment with the children was far from perfect. The abduction itself confirms this view.

And while we know that social workers must be cautious when placing foster children, common sense tells us that apart from those facts which are dependent upon a foster relationship, there are no grounds in the behaviour of the Bramleys which would justify the removal of children from the care of natural parents. It is an odd world in which so little is expected of natural parents, and so much is expected of the people who are so much needed to take over as a consequence of this. In the case of Cambridgeshire social services, this is made abundantly clear in the contrast between their cautiousness over Jade and Hannah Bennett's adoption, and their insistence on keeping Rikki Neave with a drug-addict parent who was eventually jailed for child cruelty after her child's death.

A television drama is not a suitable way of marking the sad, unfinished story of the parenting of Jade and Hannah Bennett. Instead, a more suitable tribute would be a lessening in the strictures of the adoption laws whereby there are no limits placed on prospective adoptive parents that would not apply to natural parents.

A white woman can bring up her own mixed-race child alone, and if a white woman is willing to bring up a mixed-race child who would otherwise remain among the 50,000 and rising children currently in care, then why not? A 50-year-old woman and a 60-year-old man are capable of conceiving a child together, so why can they not adopt one together? A couple who long ago broke some piddling law and therefore have a criminal record can have a child of their own, so why can they not adopt one?

Until the fertile stop creating children they are unable properly to parent, we cannot be quite so choosy as we are now about who among the infertile is capable of bringing up a child. That view does not vindicate the Bramleys, for what they have done will doubtless scar the children they love so much. But it does not mean that they have no right to be the children's lawful parents either, for natural parents do things that hurt their children too. Contrary to popular opinion, there are no loving heroes in the Bennett case. No one can rewrite this awful episode in a way which will make growing up less difficult for Jade and for Hannah. Granada Television is taking a terrible liberty in rewriting it at all.

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