A mother was wrong to leave her three children alone while she went on holiday. But is justice served by jailing her for a year?
It's about this mother you have just jailed for a year for leaving her three children alone while she went off on holiday in Benidorm.

You say you realise that by jailing her you would be depriving her children of her care. You say that if you don't jail her, there would be a widespread sense of outrage and others may feel free to do the same thing. Leaving aside the fact that little children are often left alone while Mum pops out for a loaf of bread or a night in the pub, regardless of the law, what justice is being served by depriving these children of their mother?

Let me make it clear, as a mother myself, that I think she behaved atrociously. When I first read the stories of what she did, I felt like wringing her neck.How could she leave little boys of five and seven in the charge of a girl of 12, for a whole week? How selfish and stupid can you be? The two little boys even messed themselves. Children of that age don't fill their pants unless they are very frightened or anxious.

But I've read the details of the court case. It seems that she thought that she had paid the father of the youngest boy to mind the children. The man in question didn't live with her, but was called Dad by all the children. She went looking for him when he didn't show up. She couldn't find him, trusted to luck that he would eventually arrive, and caught the plane with nine other members of her family. The holiday was to get over the death of her own mother.

There is no suggestion that this is an abusive mother: one who beats her children with fists or words. She was described in court as a loving mother who cared well for her children and who acted out of character on this occasion. Disorganised and hapless yes, wicked no.

The court heard that the children fully understood that their mother was in deep trouble and were most anxious about what would happen to her. Maybe they are blaming themselves - children do that a lot.

They may now go to foster parents. The damage that will be caused to the mother-child relationship is incalculable. It won't ever completely recover. All three of those children need to be in their own home with their own mother, no matter how stupidly she has behaved. She is hardly likely to do it again.

As for justice being served, local justice will already have been meted out. She hasn't been named, but everyone who lives in her local community will know who she is. Mothers hate other mothers who behave badly. Even minor crimes attract opprobrium. Forget to put a hat on a toddler on a cold winter's day; arrive late for the school pick-up too often; use babysitters a bit too much, and you can guarantee the tongues will wag. Leave your kids alone for a week to go on holiday? You're dead meat. Beyond the pale. Someone to be cold-shouldered at the school gate. A bad mother. Justice has been delivered. The sentence is life.

WENDY BERLINER

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