Predictably, the news that Tracey Connelly is being freed from jail has been greeted with outrage. The mother of Peter, or Baby P as he came to be known, was jailed indefinitely in 2009 for "causing or allowing" her 17-month-old son's death. The mother-of-four stood by while her partner Steven Barker and his paedophile brother Jason Owen inflicted more than 50 injuries on the child.
We will never know what went through this woman's mind, but film of the interior of the squalid flat where they lived remains indelibly imprinted on my brain. Bare rooms with dog dirt on the floor, big television, little furniture. How could any woman bring up four kids here?
Earlier this month, the alcoholic Amanda Hutton was jailed for 15 years – the mummified body of her four-year-old son was found by police under a pile of rubbish in her home, starved to death two years earlier. Five children existed – because there's no other word to describe it – in rooms piled four feet deep with pizza boxes, empty bottles, cat s*** and filthy nappies. Neighbours said they had no idea how many kids lived there as some had never been seen in the street.
Extreme examples of modern "mothering" – these women lacked the necessary skills to nurture their offspring. Both have had their children removed to care and will probably never see them again. So has Karen Matthews, who imprisoned her own daughter Shannon in order to grab a £50,000 reward, doping the poor kid with temazepam and travel sickness pills for 20 months beforehand. Karen Matthews was released from jail in 2012. Her boyfriend was convicted of possessing child pornography and his uncle remains in jail convicted of kidnapping Shannon.
As a civilised society, what do we want to happen to these women when they have served their sentences? Tracey and Karen have not been given new identities – just advice about changing their appearances and using a different name when dealing with the public. Officially, they are classified as "vulnerable" – do they really possess the intelligence to fade into the background? What social skills have they been taught in jail? Karen had seven kids – five by different men and two with "father unknown" on their birth certificate.
We do not live in the Dark Ages – surely we've moved on from the lynch mob and public gallows – but 132,000 people signed an online petition demanding that Tracey and her partner "rot in hell", and she faces real danger from vigilantes. Very few people have been granted new identities on their release from prison – Mary Bell, who killed two boys when she was 11; Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, who murdered James Bulger; and Maxine Carr, who provided a false alibi for Soham murderer Ian Huntley – because of death threats and intense public revulsion over the case. Their crimes are heinous, but the law should be consistent. Tracey Connelly and Karen Matthews should have been given new identities and proper protection.
As it is, the internet is awash with rumours about what they look like and where they are living and there are photos of Karen since she left jail, with a new hairstyle. Tracey is said to weigh 22 stone – hard to disguise.
My point is these women are repulsive, but as a Christian I believe in forgiveness, not revenge, which achieves nothing and does not erase the past.
If either is attacked, then the outcome will cost the state money and won't bring back dead children. One female columnist thinks Tracey should have been forced to agree to compulsory contraception or sterilisation. To me, that's little better than sharia law.
'Do they really possess the intelligence to fade into the background?'