Editor-At-Large: Jail is pointless for Baby P's callous mother

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The Independent Online

"Dear Judge," she snivelled, "by not being fully open with the social workers, I stopped them from being able to do a full job. As a direct result of this my son got hurt and sadly lost his short life. I am truly sorry."

What Baby Peter's mother wrote and what she meant are totally different. An uneducated 27-year-old doesn't use phrases like "direct result". Like everything else in this pathetic letter, it doesn't ring true. Her lawyers probably thought that a heartfelt note might get her sentence reduced. But it didn't impress the judge, who called her "manipulative and self-centred... with a calculating side and a temper". The only thing you can say in favour of this note is that at least she uses the S word, although in this context it means nothing because she also implies Peter died because social workers didn't intervene. That is factually correct. They didn't act until he was dying.

But she clearly didn't intervene on the dozens of occasions when more than 50 injuries were inflicted on her baby. How can a child suffer a broken back, eight broken ribs, a torn ear lobe and lose the tip of his finger in a small flat without making a sound? What sort of mum watches television or plays computer games while her child is being harmed?

In her defence, lawyers described her childhood as "traumatic", claiming she hid the existence of her boyfriend because she did not want to lose her benefits. They claimed she was a careless but doting mother who would never harm her children. I beg to differ. She wasn't careless at all, but highly devious – concealing the existence of her boyfriend and creating a complicated series of lies to cover up her child's injuries, deceiving everyone who visited on dozens of occasions. If standing by while your son lies bleeding to death doesn't constitute harm, what does?

She was also a coward (like her boyfriend) who denied she had injured Peter, and, because she would admit no responsibility, was convicted on the new criminal offence of causing or allowing a death. Her lawyer said she was "an inadequate mother who had allowed herself to fall in love with the wrong man".

What planet are they on? Not inadequate – callous, self-centred, delusional. Her letter demonstrates she doesn't take responsibility for what happened. The first person in her life was herself, and then her repulsive boyfriend. Peter came low down in her priorities. The second review into the case published its findings on Friday. The report castigates professionals who believed her stories about how Peter got hurt, and says everyone involved should have challenged her version of events. Instead, they stood by and did nothing, believing her lies.

Contrast her sentence of "at least five years" with that of another failure of a mother, Karen Matthews, serving eight years for kidnapping her daughter Shannon. There's an outcry because Peter's mother could be released within a couple of years, as she's already spent almost 650 days in custody. In reality, she has a life sentence, and her release will depend on her rehabilitation.

But what is achieved by locking up failing mums? Contrition? Social skills? The education to morph into a useful member of society holding down a job? Don't make me laugh. Karen is 33, Peter's mum 27. Neither are teenagers, and yet that's what they behave like, falling for a series of unsuitable boyfriends and neglecting their kids.

Karen Matthews, who fed her kids crisps and pop and couldn't even clothe them properly, told an interviewer all she missed in jail was sex, shopping and coffee with her neighbours – still refusing to take responsibility for her child's drugging, kidnapping and imprisonment. She is reported to have said: "If you do courses, I was told you get on day release eventually." The mindset is shocking.

There have always been failing mothers and there always will be. We have to have the courage to report them and act on our instincts when we see children who need help. Locking up these mums costs a fortune and won't necessarily give them better parenting skills or a moral compass. Better to place their kids with foster parents, make the mums go back to school and then give them work in old people's homes so that they can contribute to society in a way that doesn't involve breeding.

Saint Joanna: Let's hear it for the other grey panthers

Nothing like a posh voice and an imperious manner to make men go weak at the knees. Look at the headlines after the Gurkhas' triumph and you'd think Joanna Lumley was the answer to every problem facing beleaguered Britain.

She's been described as Dame Joanna, General Lumley and – in an over-the-top burst of patriotism comparing her to Dame Vera Lynn – a new forces' sweetheart. There are calls for her to be awarded a damehood, be elevated to the House of Lords, stand for the House of Commons, or even step into the Prime Minister's shoes.

Sure, Joanna did a brilliant job, but let's also thank the 250,000 people who signed a petition supporting the Gurkhas, and the unsung helpers who orchestrated the campaign. Sixty-three-year-old Joanna is just one of the pensioners who made the news last week: Esther Rantzen, 68, Lynne Faulds Wood, 61, and Martin Bell, 70, are considering standing as independents against dodgy MPs. Sir Ranulph Fiennes, 65, finally climbed Everest, despite failing in two previous attempts.

They've all clearly got the fortitude, the single-mindedness and the guts to sort out the country. Let's abolish the House of Lords and make it an elected chamber made up of senior citizens.

Palace stunt deserves to be ignored

There's been a tremendous fuss because London Assembly member Richard Barnbrook, of the British National Party, plans to take his party leader, the odious Nick Griffin, to a royal garden party as the "plus one" on his invite.

London Mayor Boris Johnson has stepped in, saying he doesn't want the Queen to be embarrassed. I hardly think she'd notice. The year I went (as someone's date) all I could make out was a tiny pink dot on the other side of a vast lawn, which I was reliably informed was HM. Anyway, all the best parties have several highly unsuitable guests. This is just a BNP stunt and is best ignored.

Green Trudie and the jet set

Environmental campaigner, organic gardener and rock star wife Trudie Styler takes herself very seriously, writing in a newspaper last week after she had taken exception to a light-hearted article it ran which questioned how she balanced her "green" credentials with copious use of jets to Washington DC.

Trudie talks of her unstinting efforts to alert us to the damage caused by Chevron exploiting its drilling rights in Ecuador, although you can't deny the worthiness of the cause. Sadly she undermines her position by using such pompous prose: "I am fortunate enough to receive occasional access to world leaders ... hence trips to affluent world capitals."

I went to the same White House dinner a couple of years ago, and, funnily enough, I didn't take a private jet. It's just a boisterous bunfight where no serious business is on the agenda.


'Poor Parky.

It can't be pleasant to have your

version of reality




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