Britons got their first look Tuesday at the mother behind a horrific child death that shocked the country.
The face of 28-year-old Tracey Connelly, who stood by as her
infant son Peter was tortured for months on end, stared out from
the front pages of Britain's newspapers under headlines which read:
"Unmasked" and "Out of the Darkness." Accompanying articles
described the hideous abuse suffered by her son at the hands of her
boyfriend Steven Barker, a Nazi memorabilia collector who tortured
animals and was convicted of raping a 2-year-old girl.
To the sickening details was added the suggestion that Connelly,
Barker, and his brother Jason Owen - all three of whom were
sentenced for causing or allowing Peter's death last year - could
receive new identities and years of police protection to protect
them from an angry public. The Daily Telegraph newspaper estimated
such a program might cost the taxpayer 1 million pounds ($1.6
million) a year.
"If either of them is still notorious, then there will clearly
be a risk that they may be the subject of a vigilante-style
attack," said Harry Fletcher, the assistant general secretary of
Britain's probation officers' union, Napo.
In such a case, Fletcher said, "the probation service and
police will have no choice but to put in place a protection plan."
The details of Peter's death chilled the nation when they were
first reported last year. The 17-month-old's lifeless body was
found by paramedics in his blood-spattered cot. He had suffered
dozens of injuries, including bruises, fractured ribs, and a broken
back. The last, fatal blow to his mouth had knocked out a tooth.
When it emerged that the Peter had been visited some 60 times by
doctors, police and social workers before his death, public fury
exploded at the child welfare services in the north London borough
of Haringey where he lived his short life.
Britain's tabloid press accused child welfare workers of having
blood on their hands, and the anger spilled into the political
arena. Tempers flared in Parliament, two top Haringey officials
resigned, five more were fired, and two doctors who inspected Peter
"I think the whole country shares the outrage," British Prime
Minister Gordon Brown said at the time.
Although a court order had banned the publication of the
mother's name and that of her boyfriend, it expired Tuesday.
With the reporting restriction lifted, media were free to
publish more grisly details about Connelly and her dysfunctional
family. Press accounts described how Connelly shared her filthy
home with Barker, 33, Owen, 37, and Owen's underage runaway
girlfriend, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
Connelly browsed the Internet for pornography as the Barker
brothers - Owen changed his name after Peter's death to try to
insulate himself from the outrage - brutalized her young son.
Screams coming from his room were explained by Barker as attempts
to "toughen him up." Barker's dog Kaiser was allegedly used to
terrify Peter - and some marks on the toddler's head looked like
they had been caused by the dog's teeth.
Details of the brothers' past record were dredged up: Barker and
Owen had been charged with assaulting their grandmother in an
attempt to get her to change her will, although the case was
dropped in 1996 because she died of pneumonia before it could go to
trial. In May, Barker was found guilty of raping a 2-year-old girl.
A court order has placed tight limitations on what can be published
about that case.
Campaigners said the death had been a wake-up call - and that
members of the public were increasingly vigilant about child abuse.
Britain's child protection agency said the number of calls to
its telephone help line had increased significantly since Peter's
Christine Renouf, the help line's director, called it "a
wake-up call for some people to look out for children."
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