Revenge can't erase the past

If Tracey Connelly is attacked now that she has been freed from prison, it will cost the state money and won't bring back her dead child
  • @The_Real_JSP

Predictably, the news that Tracey Connelly has been freed from jail has been greeted with outrage. The mother of Peter, or Baby P as he came to be known, was jailed indefinitely in 2009 for "causing or allowing" her 17-month-old son's death. The mother of four stood by while her partner Steven Barker and his paedophile brother Jason Owen inflicted more than 50 injuries on the child.

We will never know what went through this woman's mind, but film of the interior of the squalid flat where they lived remains indelibly imprinted on my brain. Bare rooms with dog s*** on the floor, big television, little furniture. How could any woman bring up four kids here?

Earlier this month, the alcoholic Amanda Hutton was jailed for 15 years – the mummified body of her four-year-old son found by police under a pile of rubbish in her home, starved to death two years earlier. Five children existed – because there's no other word to describe it – in rooms piled four feet deep with pizza boxes, empty bottles, cat shit and filthy nappies. Neighbours said they had no idea how many kids lived there as some had never been seen in the street.

Extreme examples of modern "mothering" – these women lacked the necessary skills to nurture their offspring. Both have had their children removed to care and will probably never see them again. So has Karen Matthews, who imprisoned her own daughter Shannon in order to grab a £50,000 reward, doping the poor kid with temazepam and travel sickness pills for 20 months beforehand. Karen Matthews was released from jail in 2012. Her boyfriend was convicted of possessing child pornography and his uncle remains in jail convicted of kidnapping Shannon.

As a civilised society, what do we want to happen to these women when they have served their sentences? Tracey and Karen have not been given new identities – just advice about changing their appearances and using a different name when dealing with the public. Officially, they are classified as "vulnerable" – do they really possess the intelligence to fade into the background? What social skills have they been taught in jail? Karen had seven kids – five by different men and two with "father unknown" on their birth certificate.

We do not live in the dark ages – surely we've moved on from the lynch mob and public gallows – but 132,000 people signed an online petition demanding that Tracey and her partner "rot in hell", and she faces real danger from vigilantes. Very few people have been granted new identities on their release from prison – Mary Bell, who killed two boys when she was 11; Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, who murdered James Bulger; and Maxine Carr, who provided a false alibi for Soham murderer Ian Huntley – because of death threats and intense public revulsion over the case. Their crimes are heinous, but the law should be consistent. Tracey Connelly and Karen Matthews should have been given new identities and proper protection. As it is, the internet is awash with rumours about what they look like and where they are living and there are photos of Karen since she left jail, with a new hairstyle. Tracey is said to weigh 22 stone – hard to disguise.

My point is these women are repulsive, but as a Christian I believe in forgiveness, not revenge, which achieves nothing and does not erase the past. If either is attacked, then the outcome will cost the state money and won't bring back dead children. One female columnist thinks Tracey should have been forced to agree to compulsory contraception or sterilisation. To me, that's little better than sharia law.

Blind faith

Owen Paterson, our hapless Environment Secretary, admits his controversial badger cull has been a total flop because the wily beasts "moved the goalposts". Badgers 1, Government 0. He told a BBC journalist "we're dealing with a wild animal … subject to the vagaries of the weather and disease and breeding patterns".

I'm glad the MP has illuminated me, because I'd previously thought badgers were exotic extraterrestrial aliens hiding underground. Now I know they are smart mammals with hidden strengths, capable of moving large pieces of white wood and re-arranging them at will.

Marksmen had planned to slaughter 5,000 badgers in Somerset and Gloucestershire, but they missed their target by 10 per cent and now an expert at the Zoological Society says the trial should be stopped. When asked if the carcasses of badgers which had been shot were being tested for TB, Paterson said postmortems "would not give an accurate reading". He would say that, wouldn't he?

So, thousands of badgers have been killed in a cull that had to be extended from two weeks to six, and it's not known if they were carrying TB. Well done, everyone!

Tell 'em, sister

I'm loving Jennifer Saunders' book promotion tour – this wonderful woman gives the best quotes. Her autobiography Bonkers: My Life in Laughs is published this week, and the creator of Ab Fab and Jam & Jerusalem has come up with some pithy put-downs. Describing changes in the culture at the BBC, Saunders said: "They just became a corporate, executive-run place for idiots... What are these titles? How is Alan Yentob allowed in the building? … Now they have things like workshops for heads of departments on decision-making and you think: 'If you're the head of a ******* department at the BBC and you don't know how to make a decision, why are you in that job?'"

She told the audience at a BFI gala it was extraordinary that the people who commission television shows still thought women were "looking for love and wanting a man". Go girl! This kamikaze strategy could either yield a new Jennifer Saunders series for BBC1 or she'll be condemned to writing another stage musical – perhaps one based on life in a rancid TV studio in Manchester.

Top of the Pops

Frieze London kicks off this week in Regent's Park and will be packed with dealers looking for the next hot artist, but a mile away, the Grand Old Masters of Britpop are still going strong. At the Waddington Custot Galleries, Peter Blake (81) and Joe Tilson (85) show work that still looks fresh in an exhibition of Pop imagery, which also includes a wonderful Patrick Caulfield.

British Pop art was out of fashion for years, but many of the themes that preoccupied Tilson and co back in the 1960s – counterculture and the environment – are back on the agenda. At White Cube in Bermondsey, my mate from the 1970s, Californian artist Larry Bell (73), is showing new work which reflects his lifelong obsession with light and surfaces. Grayson Perry – soon to deliver the Reith lectures – has hinted that he thinks some highly successful contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst won't stand the test of time. He should check out Larry Bell.