Society should learn some hard lessons from the terrible case of the young Islington couple who were wrongly accused of shaking their baby son to death. The ordeal suffered by Rohan Wray and Chana Al-Alas shows just how destructive the modern-day obsession with child abuse can be. Here was a couple who took their four-month-old son to the doctors in 2009 because he had a fractured skull, which later caused him to die from brain damage. But instead of working out that this baby was suffering from severe rickets, which can cause bone and skull tissue to weaken, the medical staff and police presumed that Wray and Al-Alas had shaken him violently. And so they were arrested.
It gets worse. While awaiting trial for something they didn't do, the couple's second child, a baby girl born in 2010, was snatched from them in the delivery room by Islington's social workers and taken into care. Their first son dead, their second child taken away, the couple had to wait more than a year before being cleared of all criminal charges and finally having their baby daughter returned to them.
This is more than a story of gross incompetence on the part of hospital staff and Islington council. It also reveals how rotten and destabilising the contemporary obsession with child abuse and suspicion of parents can be. Today, in our post-Baby P world, where you are never far from an NSPCC poster informing you that children are being abused all over the place, we are all encouraged to be constantly on the lookout for depraved parents and abused children. Medical staff and social workers in particular are trained to view every cut and bruise as a potential sign of parental wickedness – that is, they are invited to be permanently suspicious of every family they see.
Officialdom's cultivation of suspicion has dripped down into society at large. Sensationalist newspaper articles about isolated cases of depraved parenting, feminist-led campaigns against the allegedly dangerous "patriarchal" family, NSPCC propaganda about an unseen flurry of child abuse – all of this contributes to the pretty warped idea that every parent is a potential abuser and every child a potential victim. In the case of Rohan Wray and Chana Al-Alas, we can see where this culture of suspicion and thirst to uncover evil leads us – to doctors who are more keen to catch "abusers" than diagnose a disease and social workers who will take newborn babies away from innocent parents.
People often say that child abuse in the family home has a destructive impact on society. But you know what else screws up society? A culture of mistrust and parent-bashing, where, Orwellian-style, we are all encouraged to assume that if a child is hurt, then it must have been abused.