Nov 01 2013
Long before the tragedy of Baby P there was a little boy named Dennis O’Neill. Why has nothing changed?
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 innocent child is abused to a death that social workers ‘never saw coming’. Thank god though his story has been documented fully by the younger brother, Terence, who survived the shared horror that took his brother’s life. Terence, now in his eighties, has given Dennis a voice and a face and his death a place in the 21st century. All were denied to him during the horrific six months he and Terence spent, aged 12 and 9, at the isolated farm house of the two brutal foster parents into whose hands they fell in the closing months of 1944. Taken from their own parents, they were placed into the custody of a childless couple who proceeded to inflict inhuman treatment on the two brothers, they were left by social workers to suffer starvation and daily beatings until one freezing cold night in January 1945 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 punched repeatedly in the chest that night – his crime? he took a bite from a swede being so hungry. He weighed just 4 stone and was two months short of his 13th birthday. The two monsters responsible, Reginald and Esther Gough, spent no more than six years in total in prison for what they did.
The details of the suffering these two little boys endured came to light in more depth as I watched that TV show the other night, related by Terence himself. Their story has affected me deeply for I have two sons almost the same age as Dennis and Terence were at that time, it is difficult to get Dennis out of my mind right now. His death was the impetus for the Children’s Act of 1948 and was to ensure that such horror never happened again. But it continues to happen, day after day, year after year. Children abused by manipulative foster parents, children left in the custody of cruel and abusive parents, children killed by stepfathers. No lessons learned, children who are dying in vain. 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 Gough’s served a pathetic sentence for their deliberately sadistic behaviour towards Dennis and Terence O’Neill in 1945, our justice system is still placing as little value on the lives, suffering and deaths of our children today as it did on Dennis O’Neill’s 70 years ago. 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 © 2007-2013 Cultured Views. All rights reserved.