The tragic faces of Fiona Pilkington and Francecca (Frankie) Harding look out from a number of newspapers this morning. Fiona and her 18 year old daughter, Frankie died when Fiona set lit to a car they were both travelling in.
It is well-documented that one of the sparks that set fire to the flames of the car was the torment and abuse that Fiona and Frankie had been subject to over a number of years.
The inquest into their deaths closed yesterday. The deaths were deemed to be unlawful death and suicide but it is the circumstances leading to a mother taking such a desperate action with her disabled daughter, which has become the focus of media attention.
33 complaints had been received by the local police force about the abuse that the family had been suffering at the hands of youths in the area. These complaints which included kids hurling objects at the house, unfurling torrents of verbal abuse and urinating on the walls of the house, we seen to be of ‘low-grade’ crime that the police wouldn’t necessarily prioritise.
A senior police officer stated at the inquest that it would be the local council’s responsibility to deal with low-level anti-social behaviour.
Obviously, among the agencies blamed, the local social services are also brought into the equation.
But in the end, what will make people feel more safe? Perhaps it is the neighbourhood police teams – but that is always a question of resources. Perhaps it is the housing offices being sterner with families where children are partaking in anti-social behaviour, but it’s not always local families involved and if people are moved on, then the problem is just moving with them. Perhaps it is social services support and intervention to those who are being victimised so that they can be heard and helped as necessary.
The police in Leicestershire are being subject to their own investigations about how they dealt with the case of Fiona and Frankie. Gordon Brown is apparently making a speech today which will address some of these issues of anti-social behaviour.
We can look at wider societal moves away, perhaps, from a parental responsibility and discipline and kids with ‘nothing to do’ who clearly find the most vulnerable to victimise and the most visibly vulnerable at that.
In the end, though, I think the lesson is about empowerment of those, like Fiona, who had no voice and even when they shouted and shouted louder to the police, they met with little response. Ultimately, whose responsibility is it to ‘do something’? In situations where different agencies don’t always speak to each other and certainly don’t speak with clarity to the complainant, it’s easy for the blame to be pushed around on the table with every agency saying that they were not responsible.
Available channels to use to tackle behaviours that may not rate very highly on the a stretched police services’ level of ‘crime to tackle’ but often it is these smaller petty criminals that are able to make a society and a community much more miserable.