Baby Peter and the incompetent adult world which failed him
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.