It's only common sense - hitting children is wrong

to sympathise is not to approve

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COMMON sense says you can hit children when they misbehave. You can cuff them, grab them by the neck, encourage them to hit each other with rulers. There is nothing like a good clip round the ear to sort them out, whether the child in question is five or 15. Roger Hately , the policeman with an "unblemished career", who was convicted of cuffing a 12 year old, is to keep his job. "Carry on Constable", read one jubilant headline. Carry on what? Cuffing obnoxious 12 year olds?

Poor Roger Hately. He lost his rag when called to a school to investigate a burglary. A 12-year-old boy showing off in front of his mates called him "a slaphead" and started making grunting noises. Hately "tried to grab the boy ... he made contact with his neck and jaw causing reddening". The boy's parents made a complaint, though they claimed they never wanted Hately to lose his job. He was found guilty of common assault and suspended, but Chief Constable Edward Crew of the West Midlands has decided that Hately can return to his duties after a reprimand. Hately has suffered immense stress throughout all this and lost a stone in weight. He has, however, received over 20,000 letters of support and his local newspaper campaigned vigorously on his behalf and is now celebrating this victory for common sense.

Another person filled with common sense is Brenda Davies. Again, she has suffered for her sins to the point of feeling suicidal. Her crime was administering corporal punishment "by proxy". When a hyperactive child with learning difficulties was bullied by six other children, she asked him if he wanted to forgive them or hit their hands with a ruler. He chose the latter. Parents of five of the boys complained. The headmaster of the school concerned made it clear he was backing the parents, so she is now claiming constructive dismissal against the governors of the school. Like Hately, after the incident was reported, she received letters in support of her action alongside money, flowers and a medal.

Jenni Watson, acting for Davies at the industrial tribunal, claimed that this was really "a battle between political correctness and common sense". No. It is a battle between those who feel it is acceptable to hit children, or to encourage them to hit each other, and those who do not. Is it only politically correct types such as myself who think that policemen and teachers shouldn't hit children?

Of course, I have sympathy with a policeman who loses his temper or a teacher who is appalled at the sight of bullying. But ... and this is a big "but", this does not make it okay. It is easier to understand the mistakes of two frayed individuals than it is to understand the behaviour of their supporters. On the few occasions when I have slapped my own children I have felt this to be indicative of my own lack of control rather than ever being a good a way of controlling children.

I gather from a male colleague that being called a slaphead constitutes extreme provocation if you are a middle-aged man. Nonetheless, I expect policemen to be able to control their tempers whatever the provocation. That is what they are paid for; otherwise we can expect to see more deaths in police custody.

Our peculiar attitude to children is once more on full display. While there is a huge and hysterical reaction to the release of paedophile Sidney Cooke, and everyone is concerned about how we protect children from these ordinary monsters, it is also deemed acceptable that those we entrust with the care of our children may sometimes hit them.

The gradual move away from corporal punishment is something we should be proud of. Last week in the House of Commons, Lib Dem Phil Willis spoke of his own experience, as a former headmaster, of caning children. He called it "the legalised abuse of children". He went on to say to the barracking of Tory MPs: "If Honourable Members feel that caning is a worthwhile activity, they are, in fact, saying that they cannot be bothered to examine the real reasons why children are naughty."

We now recognise bullying as a severe problem in schools and we also recognise that children who are violent have often experienced violence as the norm. These ideas are not "politically correct", simply part of mainstream thinking. Most parents would prefer to send their children to schools that do not assault them. The recent apology by the Christian Brothers for their disciplinary methods has resulted in Dublin's Rape Crisis lines receiving three times as many calls as usual. Some of the cases reported go back 60 years or so, when the thrashing of children was also deemed part of common sense.

The systematic abuse of children in schools and children's homes is a national scandal, though we would rather concentrate on the spectre of a handful of paeodophiles than face up to the institutionalised abuse that has gone unchecked for years. This, you may say, is an entirely different matter from a harassed policeman hitting out. Yet, there is a principle here and it is a principle enshrined in law, which is why the policeman was found guilty of common assault rather than common sense. Hitting children, whatever the circumstances, is not right.

Common sense has changed over the years. Once it was common sense that poor children were sent down coal mines. The new common sense tells us that violence begets violence, that there are more effective ways of disciplining children, that those who cannot control their own anger are unlikely to set a good example to children.

To ask that children, mine or yours, are not subject to random violence from strangers or authority figures is not to do with some politically correct, touchy-feely stand, it is not to say children are always angels, it is simply an attempt to protect them. If you disagree perhaps I could come around and knock some sense into your head, for presumably that's the only way to get through to you people.

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