In the best-selling book Baby X, Sgt Harry Keeble* recounts how, shocked by the Victoria Climbié case, he rejects a promotion to head a high-profile drugs taskforce and transfers to the “cardigan squad” – or child protection team – in Hackney. Here’s an extract from the book.
I was learning that all my impressions (and I suspect most of the Met’s) of social workers were completely wrong. “You guys have such a bad reputation,” I said to Dev. The police are always moaning about social services, how they never come out, and if they do they’re only available for five minutes.
“You need to be in our shoes to understand why,” he told me. “Every day of the week we’re screwed for a whole skipful of misery. Many of us crumble, some more quickly than others. Others resort to defence mechanisms; a sort of survival whereby they ‘shut down’, numb themselves so they don’t ‘see what’s right in front of them any more.’
The door was opened by the mother; she was clearly old before her time. The kids were all healthy, happy and very, very loud. After a quick chat and an eagle-eyed appraisal of the house, we were off again.
“That,” Dev said, smiling, “was a very rare thing. A success story. Dad was a violent junkie and small-time dealer, Mum was a user. The kids wanted for nothing, every latest toy was theirs, but alongside that ran a daily stream of domestic violence. Their job was to help Mum clean up the drug den, full of needles, vomit, bloody tissues and God knows what else. Then they were drug runners for Daddy, delivering the odd little packet. He wasn’t worried about the fact that his wife and kids were starving. They hadn’t eaten for so long they’d drawn pictures of food on pieces of paper and tried to eat them. That family was saved by the dodgy gear that killed him.”
He got into the car and I stared into space for a few moments. “Come on,” Dev snapped. “You’ve no idea what we’ve got to get through, have you?”
*Names changed to protect identities
How Baby X has been received by the press, police and social work
The policeman: *Sam, detective with the Flying Squad, London
Harry Keeble calls it the “cardigan squad”, but this is not comfortable work. It’s sobering and shocking. Surviving on crap coffee and long hours, they are tackling cases that even the most hardened police officers shy away from. Evil takes many forms and these police officers face them all – having to show sympathy to paedophiles to get a confession and counter religious beliefs that encourage abusing a child. Through it all, Harry shows compassion and humour and he doesn’t fudge. He gets the job done – and more.
The writer: Judy Cooper, Children’s Editor, Community Care
Harry Keeble is every inch the copper who loves to kick in doors and catch the bad guy. Part of the appeal of this book is seeing how his whole mindset changes as he discovers the complexities of child protection. The narrative is pacy and action-packed – particularly his dangerous overseas dashes to Africa and Jamaica to collect evidence. Keeble is a committed and caring cop and we must be grateful for his literary bent that has highlighted the positive work the police, social workers and teachers do each day.
The social worker: Jadwiga Leigh, child protection social worker in Cheshire
Detective turned author Harry Keeble entered the Child Abuse Investigation Team with the hope of making a difference. Although his desire to join the team was triggered by the failures in the Victoria Climbié case, Keeble soon finds he too is faced with similar situations to that of child protection social workers and recognises how hard it really is. Written like an American blockbuster, this book is hard to put down and shows the positive side of multi-agency working.
This article is published in the 11 February issue of Community Care magazine under the heading On the beat with child protection