Shake-up in laws to prevent child killers getting away with murder

The laws on child killers are to be tightened, Home Office minister
Paul Goggins has promised.

It follows a Law Commission report recommending changes in the law
to prevent parents and carers who kill their children escaping
murder convictions.

Goggins made the commitment during a debate at Westminster, and a
Home Office spokesman later confirmed that the government would
legislate at the “earliest opportunity”.

The report is the culmination of a five-year debate on the issue.
It proposes two new offences: killing by cruelty, which would carry
a 14-year sentence, and failure to protect a child, which would
carry a seven-year penalty.

The move is intended to help juries in cases where it cannot be
determined which of two or more people might have struck the fatal
blow leading to the death of a child.

In such cases, suspects are often convicted of child cruelty
instead of manslaughter or murder, a crime which carries a lighter

Shadow health minister Tim Loughton said he supported the
proposals, adding that there was a gap in the law which amounted to
“adults getting away with murder”.

According to the report, about three children a week – half younger
than six months – died or suffered a serious injury between 1997
and 2000. But 61 per cent of these cases resulted in no

Of those that did go to court, few were for murder, manslaughter or
grievous bodily harm.

The killers of John Smith, a four-year-old who died after six
months of abuse at the hands of the foster parents he was placed
with by Brighton and Hove social services, received eight-year
sentences for cruelty instead of murder because each denied

Loughton said professionals such as social workers were “doing
their best for young people in their care”, but were becoming
frustrated and demoralised by the number of people facing lesser

– Criminal Responsibility for Non-accidental Child Deaths or
Serious Injuries

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