Sunday, March 08, 2009


The big question; the awful question; the one we all avoid; because revenge/retaliation is so strong in some cases that we don’t want to consider right and wrong is, how do we deal with people who commit heinous crimes. Some crimes are so horrible that we sometimes can’t bear to read about the details; highest on this list of crimes are those committed against children and once again we find ourselves confronted with the awful; brutal murder of an 18 month old infant boy Brandon Muir from Dundee; by a drug addicted young man called Robert Cunningham who was his drug addicted mother’s partner. I call him a young man and not a monster and call her his mother and not a monster as the tabloids do, everyone knows that young people like this are part of our society, they; and the tragic broken child are great news for them. “If it bleeds it leads” that’s the motto of the gutter press who will embark on a campaign which will be predictable, it will blame in no particular order; the police, the doctors, the social work dept. it will demand corporal punishment, capital punishment and every other reaction they can come up with, what they will not do is attempt to prevent such things happening in the future, what they will do is maximise sales and others will “chase the ambulance” in a competition to look tough, sadly, very sadly we have been here before, and we seem destined to come back; why? because we don’t care enough to do something about it, that’s why.

Like it or not we have a legal/penal system which is charged with dealing with these cases and handing out punishment to the guilty; whether we think that the system is harsh enough is not an issue; the guilty should be punished and rightly so; in such a case the punishment will be harsh and rightly so but, it must always remain the job of the authorities to decide on the guilt and the punishment, not vigilantes inside or outside of prison. The thought of the life that the child must have led is unnerving and pitiful; I ask myself what kind of existence is it when a young couple can behave in such a way, how can they live like that? How do they become desensitised to such an extent that they are capable of this kind of behaviour, we of course could never descend to such a level could we? And here gentle reader is the part that my enemies have been waiting for, I won’t disappoint them, I will be consistent and say yes we are capable of such things; the reason? You will be ahead of me by now, the reason is circumstances, very few; if any people are born evil; that’s what I believe. The question which sticks in my mind here and I wish it didn’t is; if this young couple had come from different backgrounds, if they had followed a route which began in a stable loving home; to school and then university and on to good jobs, a nice home and stable loving marriage would they have done this to the child? Some people can answer that quickly and firmly by saying their backgrounds are nothing to do with it, I can’t and won’t because that’s the easy way out, no one to blame but them right? wrong.

I’ve been dealing with young people like these for approx. 10 years since I became a councillor and I long ago formed the opinion that we are a hypocritical society. There are lots and lots of young couples like these two and many of them are never more than a couple of hours or minutes away from some kind of catastrophe; society looks the other way and hopes that social services will continue to keep sticking plasters over the lives of those who have no stake whatsoever in normal society, for these people Thatchers maxim of “no such thing as society” has a cruel and unintentional meaning to it.

So then; punish them; make it tough they deserve that but, don’t try to tell me that there won’t be another case along shortly because I can promise you that there will be. There is a conveyer belt of them capable of unspeakable actions because they don’t care, that’s the world they live in, it’s the world we live in as well, just not at the same address, not on the same estate.

The horrible truth of the matter is that had the child lived and become an adult he might have grown into someone like his mother’s partner, lots of his friends as well face that kind of future, these are the facts folks, this is the world that we; all of us live in, we; all of us sustain it, we created it, people created it. When a child grows up in such an environment he/she might some day say “I’ve got F**k all; I’m uneducated, I’ve no job, no money, nowhere to stay, mums on drugs, dads in jail, I’ve got no future so, why should I give a f**k, I will drink or shove stuff up my nose to feel better and; if I fall in the river and drown, who gives a f**k, this is the society we live in, no point lying about it because tragic young victims like Brandon Muir will continue to come along and rub your nose in your own lies.

Either we genuinely start to improve life chances for everyone or we can resign ourselves to periodic outbreaks of synthetic rage and hypocritical breast beating about the monsters in our midst, the truth is that we know that they are there and we know how they got there, we also know the long term solution, can we grab it?


Anonymous said...

For once I am in partial agreement with you councillor.

Taking revenge vigilante style would lead to a downward spiral in law and order and it is not the answer.

I do believe that we have become a society where tolerance has gone mad and where society itself takes the blame for all ills.

I totally agree that people are not born evil and that their parents, peers and environment have a bearing on their personality and view of the world.

Everyone, however, has choices to make as they go through life and there is always the choice between right and wrong. That is a personal responsibility.

Is it not true that there are a great many people that come from underprivileged backgrounds that do not turn to crime, abuse and drugs. Of course there is. These people made the choice not to be involved in these things and have chosen not to blame society for all of their problems.

Not everyone believes that the world owes them a living.

I have a very close friend who works with young people in an under privileged area that you know very well and it has amazed me how they have changed the lives of a number of people by encouraging them to become involved in a range of activiies that don't involve the negativities previously mentioned.

The trouble is that many politicians don't offer the right kind of encouragement to people in this situation and are happy to keep people thinking that they are downtrodden. For many it is their core vote.

It has been proved that simply throwing money at the problem does not work. A more radical "hands on" approach is required.

Cllr Terry Kelly said...

(Anonymous) 13:14

“Everyone, however, has choices to make as they go through life and there is always the choice between right and wrong”

This is a distortion, your background has an enormous influence on the choices available to you and your attitude to them.

“For many it is their core vote”

Absolute nonsense; the vast majority of young people like this couple wouldn’t know how to vote.

“It has been proved that simply throwing money at the problem does not work”

This is the standard knee jerk response; it is money which can change lives if it provides better education, housing, health and employment etc. that is the reason we are where we are because our society tolerates this situation where hundreds of thousands are born to fail.

There is a considerable load of money being thrown around at the moment at failed banks and financial institutions; why is that OK and helping the poor change their lives is not?

If we are serrious about changing these things we first have to accept that a massive redistribution of wealth frrom rich to poor isessential.

Anonymous said...

Children just do not seem to be a priority in government/council spending. From experience in working with the children of drug addicted parents lack of resources mean that only the most serious cases of neglect/abuse will lead to the children being removed from the home- something that does not happen nearly enough. The truth is that many children are living in circumstances that are totally unacceptable but are left where they are because they're just about being fed and barely cared for. To be honest if it wasn't for the amazing love and care shown by grandparents and other family they're would be many more Brandon Muirs out there.

btw I do not say children should be removed from a home lightly but the policy of keeping failing families together just doesn't work.

There is an orgaisation in the area where I work that provides basic for drug using families. For example selling single nappies at cost, giving children free soup etc. Whilst I admire the staff and volunteers of the organisation the fundamental point is that a parent who is putting their desire for drugs before their child's need for food is not providing adequate care and a child should not have to live in such a household until such time as the family has sorted itself out. Yet children are left there. We desperately need more foster carers and a great deal more help available to granparents and other family to help them care for the children if they are able to.

There is also a major problem with men who see latching onto drug addicted mothers who they can prostitute as easy money. The presence of children in such households is seen by them as a way to keep the mother in line and out earning to feed the couples habit as they can be threatend at any sign of defiance from the mother. Feminism cuts about as much ice as human decency in these households.

As you quite rightly point out there is a lot that needs to be done to prevent these situations arising in the first place. But a re-think on policy and a good deal more help with the situation now is urgently required.

Cllr Terry Kelly said...

(Anonymous) 09/03/09

“Children just do not seem to be a priority in government/council spending”

I can’t agree with that; our priority is to change society and with it the lot of poorer children and families. You can’t just take a child away and make it better, the circumstances that created the problem will still exist.

“children being removed from the home- something that does not happen nearly enough”

The fact that these things happen lends a degree of support to this but, it is a highly complicated business and social services are constantly striving to improve, as I said before a transformation is required
in our society.

“Feminism cuts about as much ice as human decency in these households”

These households should not be judged as if they are normal, if they were we would not be having this discussion.

I agree in general terms with most of your comments but; until we see huge changes we will see more and more tragedies like this one; it takes the political will to do it, we are not a poor country, we have no excuse.

Nick said...

"You can’t just take a child away and make it better, the circumstances that created the problem will still exist."

According to this 40-year-long social study carried out in in New Zealand, it could be a solution.

The report looked at whether or not kids born to teen mothers were at risk of adverse outcomes in adulthood. It found that, for various reasons, they were. It also found that the best way to prevent these negative outcomes was non-negotiable and intensive work with the child before it reached the age of 8.

Various social studies have found it's hard to change people's ingrained attitudes the older they get. If at-risk kids need intensive intervention before the age of 8, might it be better to remove kids from an environment which instills negative behaviours and put them in one which reinforces positive ones?

The unpleasant subtext of the argument is that, despite being partly to blame for creating the parents' problems, society is effectively giving up on them and refocussing its resources on the kids. But if this policy gives a better long-term outcome, is it justifiable?

I know I'm conflating teenage pregnancies with drug-related problems and so on - but I think the point stands. What do you think? I'm curious to hear your thoughts!

Cllr Terry Kelly said...

(Hemmerfru) 10:15

I think you’ll find that the Jesuits got there before the New Zealanders.

“The report looked at whether or not kids born to teen mothers”

Does this mean teen mothers who have rich parents, who live in a loving caring family, who have access to good education, who are in no way needy etc. or does it mean teen mothers like this baby’s mother, have I missed something?

“Was non-negotiable and intensive work with the child before it reached the age of 8”

“Non negotiable” has a very disturbing ring to it.

“Would society be justified in giving up on the parents and focusing on the kids?”

In a word no; it’s society’s problem.

I feel that the cure here would be worse than the sickness; what do you do with the now well adjusted 8 year old?
How do the parents feel? Or do you not credit the parents with feelings? You should check on the reactions of this pitiful drug addicted young mother to what has happened.
Are you or they really suggesting that we turn our back on a 15 year old mother who is addicted to drugs because we judge that her child might turn out bad? That sounds like a philosophy of despair to me, whatever happened to “love the sinner, hate the sin”

Nick said...

The Kiwis are obviously less efficient than the Jesuits - they need an extra year...

But seriously, from what I can make out if was all teen mothers surveyed, irrespective of class/background/circumstances. They found that kids born to teenage mothers were more at risk of adverse outcomes in adulthood than those not born to teenage mums. The set of attitudes they inherit aren't ones that encourage them to achieve in areas such as education, and so lowered their long-term prospects. They're also more likely to have children while in their teens.

Other factors do intersect the finding: poor/drug-addled/uneducated kids are more likely to become teen parents. But if you accept kids learn their behaviours by the age of 8, this just means they'll learn more bad ones.

Non-negotiable does sound scary, I agree. As someone with a liberal mindset, it makes me quite nervous, especially as I don't think we could trust the state to efficiently judge who would enjoy these interventions.

"It's society's problem"
I agree: but could an argument be made that improving society by diverting resources into preventing a problem from continuing rather than ameliorating it's symptoms is a better course of action?

The report doesn't make a judgment on whether this would be good, and neither do I. But it's an interesting debating point, isn't it?

"Love the sinner, hate the sin"
As the Jesuit said to the actress...

Cllr Terry Kelly said...

(Hemmerfru) 14:21

I find the statement that the background of those who were monitored did not influence some findings really strange but; as I have repeatedly said I’m no expert, most research seems to say that it is very important.

“But could an argument be made that improving society by diverting resources into preventing a problem from continuing rather than ameliorating it's symptoms is a better course of action?”

Absolutely; better education, housing, jobs, health care etc. etc.

“As the Jesuit said to the actress” ?

Is it “If I’m not there on time start without me”?