PROTECTING LIBERTY BY MEANS OF INTERFERENCE

 

January 1996

 Reactions to the Cromwell Street murder trial show the human race reacting to the violation of liberty by demanding that much more effort shall be put into curtailing liberty.

 One may certainly be surprised at the failure of the local police to detect what was going on for so long in a house which was advertised as associated with prostitution and sexual perversion of various kinds, and where people with criminal records were known to live, whose past offences included kidnap and sexual torture. Clearly there were several disappearances within a certain radius of this house and sometimes fairly elaborate and expensive searches were made which, however, failed to focus on the Wests. This seems to be a reminder that if personnel are unmotivated no amount of training, rules of procedure and funding are an adequate compensation.

 Shock-horror has been expressed about the teachers, doctors and other social informants who failed to notice that the children of the household were being abused. The case has led to energetic demands that there should be better co-ordinated tale-telling between various branches of the so-called social services. Such things are for one thing expensive and for another they tend to involve harmful interference which arises from suspicion being cast on people who have done nothing wrong, but whom it is found attractive to harass.

 We may wonder how much the long immunity of the Wests owed to their appearing to be acceptably stupid and demoralised people. A recent murderer, who apparently disliked his school so much that he felt inclined to re-enter it in order to kill and wound a few pupils, was described as "a loner with a high IQ". It doesn't appear that anyone could accuse either of the Wests of having a high IQ, and Fred West was described as "a good neighbour".

However elaborate the rules for interference and busybodying may become, and however much money may be spent on it, we may suppose that there will always be a tendency to use the procedures to harass those who arouse jealousy by appearing to be superior in some way.

 And then we must always remember that the West children, who were victims of abuse in the situation, did not wish to fall into the hands of the social services. However bad their home situation was, they preferred to stick together as a mutually supportive group. They did not have confidence that the social authorities would respect their wish to stay together, and in this they were evidently right. So one improvement which might be suggested to prevent a recurrence of this situation might be that the social authorities should gain a better reputation for respecting the wishes of individuals who fall into their power, or care. If it was believed that they were reluctant to break up families which did not wish to be divided, and that they provided such families with situations which corresponded to their own wishes, then perhaps the members of abused families would be less inhibited in appealing to them for help. This approach does not appear to have been suggested; instead it is proposed that social authorities should exert themselves more energetically and coercively in prying into the affairs of families without consideration of the wishes of either parents or children.

 They have made a start by examining the children of Ann-Marie West, surely an unpleasant experience for both parent and children, to ensure that she was not abusing them herself - a useful reaction to the past abuse from which they failed to protect her.