Deborah Orr: It is not the dogs people keep that are so dangerous - it's the lives they lead

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The Independent Online

One struggles to work out whether it's mere reticence and sensitivity, or just brutal, head-in-the-sand hypocrisy. But something has governed the elephant-in-the-sitting-room partiality of the reporting around the horrific death of Cadey-Lee Deacon.

She is the baby who was mauled to death by a pair of Rottweilers in a pub in Leicester. Her father, Ryan Brightwell, in what has been described as an astonishing coincidence, suffered another awful family tragedy hours afterwards, when his father's girlfriend, Debra Larn, was murdered and his father, John Brightwell, stabbed. "I'm living in a horror movie," this poor young man told the press. There's every indication, however, that for most of us, the milieu that generated these events would be considered pretty horrific anyway.

The debate over this upsetting vignette has focused on the guard dogs that killed the child, and specifically on the question of the adequacy of the laws on the ownership of dangerous dogs. This is perfectly reasonable. But it's also extremely circumspect. Many people have make the point that the problem is not with dogs but with owners, and how they look after dogs. Again, though, this is a gentle hint at the reality of the situation.

The fatal knife attack has been treated more as a macabre curiosity, a weirdly awful postscript to a weirdly awful event. It's well known that there's a problem with knife crime in Britain, and there's plenty of why-oh-why background noise on this issue already. But what ought to be pointed out is that what we have here is a sharpened example of the chaotic, dangerous lives that many British citizens live. These events may be extreme and unusual. But they are not isolated visitations into otherwise ordered existences.

The BBC reported the area in which the Rocket pub reposes as having "its share of crime". Actually, both the Beaumont Leys estate, where John Brightwell lives, and the New Parks estate, where Cadey's mother Amy Deacon lives, are notorious. On the margins of booming, confident Leicester, people try to get on with their lives around fearful animals, whether four-legged or two-legged. All the social indicators suggest that they have an uphill struggle in doing so.

At the local school, which caters for children only until the age of 16 but is still allowed to describe itself as "comprehensive", just over 20 per cent of the pupils have special needs. The school does well, under its circumstances, to turn out 30 per cent of its pupils with five GCSEs.

Drugs are rife. The block in which Brightwell's father lives is nicknamed "smackhead corner". The dead woman was an addict herself, who had preciously been jailed for stealing a large sum of money from her daughter to spend on her habit. Debra Larn's life, as well as her death, was probably pretty grim.

As for the complex family arrangements to which Cadey herself was subject, at only five months, well, it is an awful thing for a baby so young already to be living under the care of a man who is not her father. Whatever the dynamics of these private matters, the harsh fact is that, statistically, such an environment is less safe for a baby. It is not kind to bring a child into a world that is so unstable. Poor Amy Deacon is living according to the lights of her time and her circumstances. But these times and circumstances are perilous.

It may seem scandalous to make these points when people have such awful experiences to bear. But the conditioned response to tragic events - soft toys, sentimental notes, expressions of neighbourly shock - are a distraction, an attempt to normalise existences that are not normal. When the shock has passed, is it easy to forget that children and young adults continue to struggle in their socially excluded communities. Brutal dogs, brutal owners, brutal lives, brutal places. It'll take more than recasting the Dangerous Dogs Act to fix all that.

* The children's laureate, Jacqueline Wilson signed the "toxic childhood" letter in The Daily Telegraph that upset the middle-classes horses so badly a few weeks ago. Now she's worried things have got out of hand, and is suggesting that if junk food advertising is banned for children, then there will be no money to make quality television drama series for them. We're definitely going to have to think about this one. Maybe some sort of state-owned organisation, that could raise money by licensing televisions, and wouldn't have to rely on advertising? Could that ever work? Probably not.

The night I murdered Bryan Ferry

The estimable Jay Jopling is as justly celebrated as the premier party-thrower of his generation as he is as its most influential art dealer. So when he opened his biggest gallery yet, a two-storey behemoth in a yard in Mayfair, the after-show stakes were high. Even so, having Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music play an unannounced set in the ballroom at Claridges was surprising. Especially for me, as I can never quite shake the enduring impression that I killed Mr Ferry a good decade ago. In my dreams anyway.

I don't dream a lot, or maybe I just don't remember my dreams. The ones I do recall are embarrassingly prosaic. Except for one. I was editor of The Guardian's Weekend magazine at the time, just at the point when PR people were really beginning to put the bite on journalists. I spent all my time in incandescent fury, as one agent asked for copy approval, or another insisted their client must "have the cover".

In my dream, I'd agreed that Bryan Ferry could have copy approval - out of the question in real life - and was waiting around in the evening for him to come and sign things off. A formality, I assumed. But the songster turned up and demanded that everything be changed. A push and a shove got out of hand, and Bryan was lying in a pool of blood on the floor. Coolly, I dragged his body into editor Alan Rusbridger's office, covered his corpse in old Guardians - full size then, thank heavens - gave the go-ahead to the printers, and went home satisfied at a job well done. In the morning I woke up (in my dream) to realise that everyone knew I'd been meeting Bryan, so I'd never be able to pin his death on Alan. Damn! Then I woke up for real, grateful that none of this had happened (especially the bit where I got caught).

When I started wondering why a dreamer of dull dreams such as myself should have been so inspired, I realised I'd been reading an Irvine Welsh in which the protagonist, called Roxy, killed a man by accident. Prosaic again, after all. Oh yes, and I realised I was an incipient sociopath. I've barely slept since - which is why it's always so very nice to hang out half the night at Jay's parties instead.

Tom walks tall

Astounding news from the celebrity front line. Tom Cruise is an extremely confident person. Who'd have thought it?

A discussion of sorts has broken out over the fact that his child bride, Katie Holmes, was "allowed" to tower over the movie star in four inch heels, left. Like earning more than your husband, seeming cleverer than your husband, making better jokes than your husband, or being unwilling to fake an orgasm for your husband, this is, apparently, something that a girl just shouldn't do.

Both Nicole Kidman and Diana Spencer were said to have rejoiced, when their marriages ended, in their freedom to wear high heels again, without fear of emasculating their men. Now it looks as if Nicole at least was being just a little too sensitive. Just think. If only she'd twigged that what Tom really needed was a big, tall, physically dominant she-male, then maybe she'd still be a Scientologist now.

Take those sharp stilettos off before you kick yourself, lady.

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