Monday, December 01, 2008

Acts of God

An important part of our culture has disappeared. Exactly when, I'm not sure; but it now seems no longer possible to attribute disasters to that convient catch-all category of Acts of God. No. Someone must be blamed.

This is, in many cases, a backward step.

Nothing so gut-wrenchingly demonstrates this as the murder of Baby P at the hands of those who should have been caring for him. Already much of what has been written about this case is at best well-meaning clap-trap and at worst diabolically unhelpful recommendations masquerading as potential explanations.

The facts are horribly unavoidable. Baby P was tortured and murdered by adults whose actions cannot be accounted for rationally. Biologically we are programmed to protect and nurture babies. Our own off-spring certainly, but in a wider sense we are drawn to see every baby as something to be cherished. That's why we find these cases so alarming. We have no comprehension or understanding of the motives or actions of the perpetrators and this makes us rightly disturbed.

When the Director of Children's Services in Haringey seemed to say that this tragedy was chiefly the fault of the adults who killed the baby, she was pilloried in the media and, I expect, in many living rooms across the country. But, in some respects, she was right.

In a gentler more accepting time this tragedy might have been termed (no matter how obscene it may sound) as an Act of God.

Traditionally this terminology has been used when tragedies happen without the direct cause being some human action. We walk to the shop to get a newspaper. The pilot of a light aircraft flying overhead opens the window and, as he leans out, accidentally drops his clipboard. The clipboard hurtles earthward and strikes us on the back of the neck as we stop to tie our shoe – decapitating us in the process. An Act of God because the process by which we become an ex-person is only casually related to the acts of the people involved. Traditionally, society would adjudge that no-one is to blame. It is an Act of God.

Unfortunately, now-a-days our surviving spouse would be encouraged to ring Injury Lawyers For You and sue the pilot (he should have followed Health and Safety Guidelines and had the clipboard on a string tied around his neck), the aircraft manufacturer (they should have made it impossible to open the aircraft window sufficiently to drop a clipboard out of it), the CAA (they should never have certified such an aircraft in the first place), Uncle Tom Cobley and all. It's the compensation culture gone mad.

What's worse, this kind of culture colours how we look at the tragedy of Baby P.

Now, of course, the aircraft and Baby P are not exactly the same. No matter how rapacious the solicitors for the wife of our unfortunate late newspaper buying friend it seems unlikely that the court would award damages. Unlikely, perhaps – but not unheard of.

Example: “A teacher collected £14,000 in compensation for injuries suffered when she toppled off a toilet seat at a primary school.

The woman dislocated her hip when she fell off the under-sized bowl that was designed for use by children aged under eleven.
Liverpool City Council paid £12,958 to settle out of court her claim for compensation that was back by the National Union of Teachers and details emerged in the union's annual report.”
“Lancashire education bosses have been hit by more than a hundred compensation claims after children were injured in the playground.

A catalogue of accidents such as youngsters slipping or falling in the school-yard, trapping fingers or being hit by swinging doors have led to 114 claims against Lancashire County Council over the past five years.

In total, 24 were successful, with County Hall paying out £105,596 in compensation. It is estimated that much more has been paid out in legal fees to "ambulance chasing" lawyers.

Headteachers told the Evening Post pupils suffering injuries during a football match, staff walking into doors and youngsters scraping their knees in the school playground have all led to claims being made.

Fractures after falling off school walls, or injuries from slipping in canteens have also led to claims.

But one MP said the startling figures suggest many of the claims are spurious, with little or no evidence to back them up.

And today community leaders and teachers predicted the growing "no win, no fee" compensation culture would spark an explosion in future claims.”

Perhaps there is more hope for our now husband-less wifely clipboard survivor than you thought.

Before you switch off, dear reader, I confess that the Baby P case is not much like the supersonic clipboard. Paby P was killed by adults who (and you may find this hard to believe) were convicted of “causing or allowing his death”. That is to say they were not even tried for or convicted of murder. The implication here is clear: there are some features of this case that we just don't know about. Some features that may move the case uncomfortably more towards the Act of God than the murder of a toddler.

However uncomfortable, this needs to be addressed.
Last word to the Telegraph – who report:
The mother of Baby P, the toddler who died after a catalogue of horrific abuse, has given birth to another child in jail and wants access to the baby, according to reports.

This is not normal and certainly Baby P's mother should not be allowed to have any children with her. Ever.

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