Absence is not an alibi in child abuse

Yvonne Roberts argues that Lauren
Wright’s father has been too leniently treated by the judiciary absence is not
an alibi in child abuse.

Lauren Wright died, aged six,
malnourished and patterned with bruises. According to Judge David Mellor, in
court last week, even without the fatal blow that caused the collapse of her
digestive system , Lauren would have died from hunger and thirst, as certainly,
“as if she had been cast out alone in the farthest desert.”

For two years, Lauren, had been, “isolated,
scapegoated and humiliated” by her stepmother, Tracey Wright, resentful that
she had to care for another woman’s child. At the same time, Lauren’s natural
father, Craig, claimed: “I didn’t know what was going on….” The judge
criticised Craig Wright for having “quite extraordinary self-centredness”.

While Lauren had suffered, Craig
Wright, 38, a mechanic, had been in the pub or fishing or: “Enhancing his
reputation as a gentle giant or a general good bloke.”

As always when a child dies from
cruelty, culpability is widespread. In Lauren’s case, social services,
education and health authorities were remiss.

What is also depressingly familiar
is the pattern of sentencing. Tracey Wright, the “wicked stepmother”, the
archetypal subversion of the “good” mother, correctly received a 10-year
sentence for manslaughter and five years to run consecutively for wilful
neglect. In contrast, Craig Wright, a mechanic, sane of mind, equipped with
average intelligence, who had shamefully abdicated his parental duty to protect
and nurture, received only three years for manslaughter and three years for
wilful negligence to run concurrently. In eighteen months he could be a free

Can this huge discrepancy – 15 years
for the stepmother; three for the biological father – really be an example of
justice being seen to be done? Why should damage to an idealised version of
motherhood exact a far higher penalty than a gross failure to live up to the
duties of fatherhood?

John Smith, aged four, was also
tortured to death. Last week, Simon and Michelle Williams, the couple who
adopted him, were sentenced to eight years for child cruelty. It couldn’t be
proven which of them had inflicted the injuries, so neither could be charged
with manslaughter. James Sweeney, John Smith’s grandfather, who had tried
desperately to win custody of his grandson, wants a change in the law to create
a new offence of causing death through cruelty or neglect, carrying a maximum
sentence of 14 years.

It’s a measure which deserves to be
supported. Even more so if it applies to a parent, most usually a father, who
is sane, able and allegedly involved with his child, but who, as in the
horrendous case of Lauren Wright, still reneges on his duty to rescue.

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