Letter: Learning the lessons of criminal behaviour

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The Independent Online
Sir: The terrible case of the child killer Robert Black must make many of us ask 'How on earth does a man become like that?'. Your article ' 'Tough wee boy' turned killer' (20 May) gives us some clues.

He was an illegitimate child abandoned by his mother and placed with foster parents. His foster mother died when he was 13. He was moved into a hostel for the homeless where he is said to have been sexually abused. 'He was neglected, had virtually no friends and often inspired dislike.'

The early life history of another child killer, the 'Moors murderer' was very similar.

These facts do not, of course, excuse the awful crimes committed but perhaps they give us a little understanding of how some few persons develop in that way. Perhaps they also indicate an approach that might reduce the number of such criminals.

Fortunately, only a minority of children who are abandoned and have to be taken into care or are fostered develop into criminals but such children are at special risk. They should be identified by the social services at the earliest possible date and recognised as casualties in our society.

'There but for the grace of God go I'

Far more money and resources should be put into efforts to find them good foster homes where they will be cared for and, hopefully, loved. Prevention is better than cure.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN PEMBERTON

Sheffield

20 May

The writer is Emeritus Professor of Social and Preventive Medicine (Queens University, Belfast).

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