Nov 01 2013
The circumstances of his terrible death were supposed to lead to changes that meant vulnerable children would never again suffer the pain, humiliation and degradation that he endured before he died. Changes that saw those who torture and kill children served appropriate sentences in prison, changes that would see that no adult unfit for parenting would again be allowed to inflict damage and terror on a child in their care. Had such changes been implemented, had such lessons been learned Baby Peter Connelly might not only still be alive but alternatively his mother and the two men who killed him would never be walking free today, having served just a handful of years for causing his death. So why then has so little changed since the tragedy in 1945 of 12 year old Dennis O’Neill?
I have read about Dennis, pictured here standing between his two younger brothers, I have even written about him here in the past but until I watched a documentary on TV a couple of nights ago I realised that this little boy, whose suffering and death shocked so many British people, had all but been forgotten. His name exists today in all those historical reports, his name comes up now and again in print when yet another child dies a death that social workers ‘never saw coming’.
Thank god though his story has been documented by his younger brother, Terence, who survived the horror that took his brother’s life. Terence has given Dennis the voice in the 21st century that was denied to them both during the six months they spent, aged 12 and 9, at the isolated farm house of their two brutal foster parents in the closing months of 1944. Taken from their parents four years earlier, they stayed with a series of kind, loving foster parents in warm, caring homes until the day in June 1944 when they were left in the custody of a couple who subjected the two brothers to sadistic abuse.
After only one follow-up visit by the council they were abandoned to endure starvation and daily beatings until one freezing night in January 1945 when young Dennis’s undernourished and brutalised little body succumbed to one beating too many. He died in his bed, beside his brother, from cardiac arrest having been whipped and punched repeatedly for taking a bite from a swede. He weighed just 4 stone and was two months short of his 13th birthday. The couple responsible, Reginald and Esther Gough, spent no more than six years in total in prison.
The details of the suffering these two little boys endured were described by Terence himself in a BBC documentary ‘Disowned and Disabled’. The outrage at Dennis’s death led to the Children’s Act of 1948 and much needed change in the fostering system. But it continues to happen, year after year – children abused by manipulative foster parents, children left in the custody of cruel and abusive parents. One would have thought that in the time between young Dennis in 1945 and 17 month old Peter Connelly in 2007 those charged with ensuring the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable children would have had ample opportunities to get it right, to remove injured and starving children from horrendous and chaotic homes and to place them in the care of decent caring people.
So why are our children still dying from abuse and why the hell are those abusers, like Tracey Connelly and the killers of 2 year old James Bulger, walking free as I write. Just as the Goughs served a pathetic sentence for their sadistic treatment of Dennis and Terence O’Neill in 1945, our judicial system is still not placing enough value on the suffering and deaths of children today and abusers are not being punished harshly enough. When the hell will this change? when will inhuman treatment and murder of our children warrant more than a short spell in prison?
Please remember Dennis O’Neil.Copyright © 2007-2014 Cultured Views. All rights reserved.