Baby P was Peter Connelly. He was born on 1st March 2006, and died on 3rd August 2007. That’s him above. A lovely little blond haired, blue-eyed baby boy, reaching out to explore the big wide world and smiling for joy, as all children should. That was Baby P. He was called Baby P because he was tortured to death by his mother and her boyfriend, and his name couldn’t initially be released to the general public, so Baby P is who he became in death. But he’d probably prefer that now, if he’d reached the age of 16, just to rid himself of the stain on the name of Connelly.
Baby P is back in the news because his mother, or birthing parent (because she really was no kind of mother) is being released from prison on parole. She was given an indeterminate prison sentence, and has been released before but was returned to prison for breaching her bail conditions. There are some, of course, who would rather she never be freed, probably preferring to throw away the key and leave her to rot.
It’s easy to forget why Tracey Connelly evokes such a reaction. Baby P was the subject of a blogpost on 18th November 2008. The old Archbishop Cranmer ‘Blogger’ site had to be deleted many years ago, and all was lost. But it’s amazing what can be discovered and re-created. Read and weep:
Much has been written, much has been speculated upon, more is being revealed, and even more will doubtless be made known in the coming months.
But what we do know is that Peter’s mother and father separated; their marriage broke down, inflicting upon this child the most formidable of hurdles so early in his life. The mother then found another partner who had a brother, and there is mention of a penchant for knives, Nazi memorabilia, and animal cruelty. It seems that one of Baby Peter’s male role models was known to torture defenceless creatures, breaking their bones, battering them senseless in rather the same manner as Peter himself suffered. And then Peter was placed under the scrutiny of Haringey social services, who were – shall we say – somewhat divided on what was best for the child. There were some 60 points of contact, 60 opportunities to pursue an alternative course of action, but they decided to leave Peter with his mother.
The child was taken to hospital on a number of occasions with a variety of bumps and bruises, all of which his mother casually explained away. She said he was a child who bruised easily and who was clumsy. The police were not happy with this, yet they did not press the matter. Members of Parliament were written to about the shortcomings of social services child protection in Haringey, and ministers were warned. But they passed their letters on to dutiful civil servants, who do what civil servants do best.
But while all these adults manifestly failed this baby boy, Cranmer is incredulous at the appalling performance of the paediatrician who inspected Peter just two days before he died.
This child was found to have a broken back, eight broken ribs, numerous bruises, cuts and abrasions, including a deep tear to his left ear lobe which had been partially pulled away from his head. There were severe lacerations to the top of his head, including a large gouge which could have been caused by a dog bite. He had blackened finger and toenails, with several nails missing. The middle finger of his right hand was without a nail and its tip was also missing, as if it had been sliced off. One of his front teeth had also been knocked out and was found in his colon. He had swallowed it.
How in the name of Christ could a paediatrician not notice that this poor baby was suffering and in agony? Yet it is reported that a full examination was not undertaken because the child was ‘cranky’.
Well, most children in hospital might reasonably be expected to be ‘cranky’, and any medical practitioner who fails to carry out a full examination merely because a child is ‘cranky’ ought to be sacked.
This beautiful 17-month old boy had the briefest of lives, and it was evidently a life of loneliness, torment and misery. One cannot begin to imagine the pain he endured, the tears he cried, the yearnings in his little heart to be loved and cared for. And one cannot comprehend the deepest desire in one so young that he might crawl back into his mother’s womb, and curse the day he was born.
And where was God throughout all this?
He was right at Peter’s side, feeling every blow, every bruise, every broken bone. And God wept Peter’s tears, and lived every minute of Peter’s loneliness, and lay at his side in the depths of despair. God knows what it is like to lose a son, and the son knows what it is like to be forsaken by a father. The cup of suffering cannot always pass. The cross is the open wound of Christianity which forever asks ‘why?’. God’s silence, the hiding of his face, the eclipse of God, the dark night of the soul, the death of God, hell: these are metaphors for God-forsakenness; they are attempts to describe the abyss, the sinking into nothingness, the emptiness, the hopelessness.
But he died that we might live.
Jesus said, ‘Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’
Rest In Peace, Baby Peter.
The kingdom of heaven is yours.
And here we are, 14 years later, debating Tracey Connelly’s release from prison. The Justice Secretary (and Lord Chancellor) Dominic Raab is in no doubt:
But that’s his heart speaking: his head knows full well that a “ministerial check” in the administration of justice is the sort of judicial feature you tend to find in autocratic regimes. In a liberal democracy with a separation of powers, MPs ought to leave such decisions to judges and other experts in the law. The Parole Board which considered Tracey Connelly’s suitability for release has sat down for may hours, discussed, argued, reflected, and quite possibly lost a bit of sleep, but they came to a decision in accordance with the law.
And the rule of law must be upheld.
That is not, of course, to say that parole boards never make mistakes. Of course they do, as do juries in a court of law. But it is far preferable to have one’s fate determined objectively by a reasonable and informed group of people able to reflect on the facts in tranquility, than by a solitary middle-ranking MP who happens to have been appointed Justice Secretary (and Lord Chancellor) and is subject to all the hot-headed vicissitudes of public opinion (and his or her own constituency electorate).
Tracey Connelly’s cruelty toward her son was pure evil, says the Justice Secretary (and Lord Chancellor). And we can probably all agree. To remind you, again, of what she did or facilitated, here’s another writer’s account:
He died in a flea infested home littered with dead animals – food for a pet snake – with human excrement smeared on the walls. He had been attacked by a Rottweiler and left to lie in his own urine and faeces.
His stepfather sliced off his fingertips with a knife and wrenched off his nails with pliers, punched him in the face, pressed down on his windpipe, bit him, grabbed him by the throat, threw him into his cot and rammed a bottle into his mouth.
The heart says leave her prison, for the public outrage is still palpable. The head says…
Well, being considered by a middle-ranking politicians to be “pure evil” ought not to be the test of release. Even if she looks it.
Here is the considered view of Andrew Sperling, a public lawyer and parole specialist:
I’m probably going to regret this but here is a long thread about the Parole Board decision in Tracy Connelly’s case. This is a difficult case which arouses very strong feelings. It’s understandable that people are troubled by it.
I hope most people would agree that there are good reasons that we have a legal system. Decisions about parole are part of a legal/judicial process. Sentencing and parole are different things.
Tracey Connelly was sentenced to imprisonment for public protection (IPP). An IPP sentence (like a life sentence) includes a minimum term (‘tariff’) which is imposed by the sentencing judge.
Once a minimum term is served, detention is ‘preventative’ only. The Parole Board are the judicial body who have to apply the legal test set by Parliament.
The legal test is whether further detention is necessary to protect the public from serious harm. The revulsion or disgust people feel about an offence is not part of this test. It is about dangerousness at the time the case is considered.
Tracey Connelly’s minimum term of 5 years ended in 2012. She was released in 2013 but recalled in 2015. She had not committed another offence but there were concerns about her behaviour and she had breached the terms of her licence.
She has been in custody since her recall in 2015. Three Parole Board panels decided she did not meet the release test. Each panel is required to consider her case afresh and decide whether the release test is now met.
At her most recent hearing last month, oral evidence was given by four professional witnesses who gave risk assessment evidence on behalf of the Secretary of State. Their unanimous views were that her risk would now be manageable on licence in the community.
The Secretary of State’s officials who gave evidence were a prison psychologist, a prison-based and a community probation officer and an officer from a new specialised probation dept, the National Security Division (responsible for supervising her in the community).
Every one of the Secretary of State’s officials supported her re-release on licence with highly restrictive licence conditions. They had all concluded that she met the release test set by Parliament.
The Secretary of State had an advocate at the hearing. He was not present himself. He or his officials are free to make any submissions or call any evidence they wish at a parole hearing.
Very shortly after the release decision was circulated, he declared that he had issued a legal challenge. This announcement was timed to coincide with publicity for plans to ‘reform’ the Parole Board.
The Justice Secretary’s reform plans include a new appeal body to include himself. It is not clear what training or experience qualifies him to perform this task.
The Secretary of State’s application for reconsideration was rejected. This was a judicial decision made by a very experienced judge, applying a legal test. It is a detailed, reasoned decision. You can read it here: https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/PBRA/2022/57.html
The Secretary of State responded via Twitter: “Tracey Connelly’s cruelty towards her son, baby Peter, was pure evil. The decision to release her demonstrates why the Parole Board needs a fundamental overhaul – including a ministerial check for the most serious offenders”
What Raab is saying is that only he (or perhaps one of his colleagues) is really capable of making difficult decisions like this. He knows better than all of the professionals who have worked directly with her and witnessed her day to day behaviour.
Raab is saying that he is better placed to make this difficult decision than any of the Parole Board members who closely examined and interrogated the evidence.
It is hard to imagine anyone reacting with anything less than revulsion and disgust at the actions which caused this poor child’s death. Understanding how and why people commit such terrible acts should be the highest priority.
A government committed to minimising harm would pay close attention and plan their policies around an analysis of why people commit terrible, harmful acts.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that Mr Raab is using this case for political reasons. He is part of a campaign which is deliberately focusing on lawyers and their application of the law.
Presumably the Conservative party and their advisers hope that attacking lawyers and judicial decisions will help them defeat Starmer’s Labour Party and lay the groundwork for leaving the European Convention on Human rights.
I hope the Justice Secretary is spending as much time trying to understand why people commit terrible and harmful acts and supporting policies which really address this. This is a complex problem which requires long-term analysis and planning.
Building lots of prisons and blaming courts, Parole Boards and lawyers will not solve serious and complex social problems. But perhaps it might win some votes. Thanks for reading this. ENDS
This is reasoned, objective, considered legal expertise. And we are grateful that lawyers offer such insight gratis as a public service. And yet Dominic Raab’s assessment of Tracey Connelly’s evil remains unanswered: the legal head is suspended in tension with the human heart.
Christians are called to forgive and love, but Tracey Connelly shows no remorse, let alone repentance for her evil crime, which is a mortal sin.
“Lock her up and throw away the key” is a perfectly understandable emotion.
And so is “May she rot in hell.”
And then there is natural justice and the rule of law: she has served her sentence, so retribution must turn to restoration and rehabilitation.
The rigour of the law is tempered by the imperative hermeneutic of mercy.
But none of this brings back Baby P, whose little body lies in his grave.
‘Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’