Jacob Crouch was 10-months old when he was murdered by his stepfather Craig Crouch, a court found last week. The court also found Jacob’s mother, Gemma Barton, guilty of causing or allowing the death of her son, which comes with a sentence of ten years, five of which must be spent in prison.

Every month, at least one, and sometimes two, children under the age of 12-months old are murdered in the UK. As a nation, high profile infanticides have become expected, and the names of our country’s dead children live on in infamy: Victoria Climbié, Baby P, Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, Star Hobson, and so on. Every year comes with the same story, and this time it’s Jacob’s.

Jacob Crouch had 39 rib fractures, Peter Connelly had a broken back and mutilated fingertips, Kyrell Matthews had 41 rib fractures, Victoria Climbié had 128 injuries, Arthur Labinjo-Hughes was poisoned before his head was caved in, Star Hobson had a broken leg, and Logan Mwangi had a broken arm. All of these children were tortured and killed by one of their parents’ new partners as one of their biological parents watched. Adults around these children watched on, too. 

Jacob’s death was predictable, terribly predictable. Children under one are the group most at risk of homicide in the UK. This is true every year and it was especially bad during COVID-19 in 2020-2021, when children younger than 12-months old were murdered at a rate of 44.4 per/million, more than 22 times as often as children murdered between the ages of 5-15.

The question is: how can we stop this? And if we can, why haven’t we already? Lord Laming knew the answer 20 years ago when he published his findings about the brutal death of Victoria Climbié, who died with 128 injuries and scars on her body: 

“Our existing system for supporting children […] is often poorly co-ordinated and accountability is unclear. […] information is not shared between agencies so that warning signs are not recognised and acted upon.”

Laming had the same findings when he investigated the death of Peter Connelly, better known as “Baby P”, who died on August 3rd, 2006, almost exactly 17 years ago. As well as suffering at the hands of his mother and her partner, Connelly was a victim of information gaps and shirked responsibility, which opened cracks through which he fell. 

No doubt, Derbyshire Constabulary and the local social services had endless material on Craig and Jacob Crouch. Enough information that it must not have come as a shock when Craig murdered his partner’s 10-month-old son. This will lead to the inevitable question, “why didn’t anyone do anything if they knew about Jacob?”  

If your job comes with a legal obligation to protect children in the UK, such as a teacher, nurse, or police officer, and you meet a child under 18 who may be at risk of maltreatment, you are required to file a report. Each agency has its own system for completing this, and every employee is told that making a report could save them their career. If they don’t make a report, and something (god forbid) does happen to a child they met, it will be their head on the block.  

When I was a frontline police constable with the Met, I would come into contact with young children more often than I would have liked to. Each time, I would write a report on a system called MERLIN. Some of the children I would report had hundreds of reports already written about them. Other children had reports written multiple times by the same officer – sometimes I was this officer. 

On and on the pages would go. Apparent circumstances the child was found in, allegations, counter-allegations, and suspicions – the biographies of Britain’s maltreated children. But I never knew who else was reading these sad stories, and – after a while – it was difficult to believe my reports were having a meaningful impact.

Officers don’t know where their reports are sent, who will read them, and what will become of their observations. The same is true for teachers, nurses, and other safeguarding practitioners. No doubt these procedures were designed by well-meaning civil servants, but they have become box ticking exercises. 

There is a solution to this. After children like Crouch die, there are child fatality reviews. Jacob’s has not been published yet, but it will probably find that opportunities for interventions were missed. The forensic pathologist for the trial compared Jacob’s injuries to a car crash (Arthur Labinjo-Hughes’s fatal injuries were also described as a car crash). Frontline agencies require better training and more accountability to prevent these “car crashes” from happening in the first place. Reports mustn’t vanish into the abyss. “It’s not my job,” can’t be an excuse any longer.

Too many children have suffered similar fates for us to put it down to a few bad apples or ineffective social services managers. Each year it is the same story, the same outrage, the same tough sentences for offenders, and the same inquiry. But nothing changes as the conclusion remains the same: agencies do not communicate, standards for child protection are inconsistent, and individuals are blamed rather than systemic failures. Fixing these issues has been beyond successive governments since the problem was spelled out 20 years ago.

Jacob Crouch, Peter Connelly, Kyrell Matthews, Victoria Climbié, Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, Star Hobson, and Logan Mwangi were all tortured and killed by one of their parents’ new partners as one of their biological parents watched. Adults around these children watched on, too. 

The deaths of these children is far from surprising, yet frontline training does not reflect reality. Adults who are believed to be dangerous go on to murder their children while society turns its head, and it is the youngest children – those who cannot speak up for themselves – who are most in danger. 

The easy response for the government is to give even harsher sentences for child killers. But what is actually needed is to understand why so many children are killed, and then to come up with a plan which can save them. 

Saul Glick is a former frontline Metropolitan Police Officer and Harvard Kennedy Scholar. He is currently a Senior Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Petrie Flom Center, and Harvard Medical School’s Center for Law, Brain & Behavior. 

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