Hazel McHaffie

April Jones and other children

WARNING. Today’s blog is wall-to-wall serious stuff. If you’re feeling a bit low or weepy probably best to leave it for another day. Apologies.

I’ve been much exercised this week by the abduction of little April Jones. You too? Five years old. Still missing. Said to have been murdered. As the police say, every parent’s worst nightmare. Made more poignant by the fact that she was allowed out later than usual to play as a treat because her parents had just had a glowing report of her progress at school.

Preoccupation with this tragedy has taken my thoughts to stories that have similarly gripped my attention in the past.

Since there’s a possibility I might – repeat might – one day write a novel about the deliberate harming of children, I’ve been collecting information on the subject for years. The file includes some harrowing stories, particularly those involving miscarriages of justice.

D’you remember the high profile cases of Sally Clark, Trupti Patel, Angela Cannings; all suspected of harming their own children; all later exonerated? And the scary discoveries that discredited the forensic evidence against them given by the renowned expert witness, Professor Sir Roy Meadows? They’re certainly engraved on my memory.

Try as we may to keep an open mind and reflect on all these cases involving children in a measured and reasoned way, inevitably media coverage influences reactions. Vulnerable youngsters suffering at the hands of those who should be their principal protectors and advocates … happy children being taken away by social services … innocent parents being accused of abuse … miscarriages of justice …  Stirs profound and troubling emotions, doesn’t it? And that’s from a safe distance. How do the wider families of these victims cope in such circumstances? How do they live with such knowledge, whether or not the accusations are true?

And then there’s the recent spate of cases where children have been found murdered by a parent – suffocated, stabbed, shot, burned, thrown. Beyond imagination.

But in the midst of all this stark reality in my file is a most unusual snippet relating to one of these incomprehensible crimes – something that impressed me greatly. It’s a letter that was reproduced in several newspapers a couple of months ago (in mid July), written by a grieving grandfather. This man’s son-in-law, Ceri Fuller, is believed to have driven his three children, Sam, 12, Rebecca, 8, and Charlotte, 7, to a secluded woodland 75 miles from their home, where he stabbed them to death before jumping 65ft to his own death. To date the motive remains unclear although salacious snippets of information have been offered as ammunition for speculators.

Whatever the rationale, whatever the turmoil in this man’s head, the fact remains that the mother, Ruth, and grandparents have lost three children in brutal circumstances. And yet Ruth’s father, Ron Tocknell, an artist and illustrator from Gloucestershire, has insisted there were ‘no villains, only victims‘.

He wrote an open 1,800-word letter to his local paper which is so moving and thought-provoking that I’m going to reproduce some of it here and leave it as its own testimony.

‘Perhaps some of you feel anger toward him. You know him only as the man who did this.

I know him as the man who fell in love with my daughter. I know him as the man who worked tirelessly to support the family he worshipped. I know him as the man who, together with my daughter, raised my beautiful grandchildren in an environment of love and joy and laughter …

When he had to address misbehaviour he did so with reason and never with punishment.

Perhaps we will never understand the torment in Ceri’s mind that drove him to such an act but I know that this is not an act of malice or spite. I weep for my daughter’s pain. I weep for the loss of my grandchildren and I weep for Ceri’s pain and confusion in equal measure. There are no villains in this dreadful episode.

There are only victims. He will always remain the man I am proud to have called my son-in-law …

We cannot dictate the random paths our lives take. I would ask you all to suspend judgment and find compassion for all.’

Puts a very different complexion on things, doesn’t it? And a salutary reminder that the stories that reach us are only partial pictures.

Sobering, lowering, troubling stuff. Just thinking of these children and their families makes me wonder if in reality I could bear to write a book on the subject. And if I did, if anyone would ever want to read it. Probably not.


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2 Responses to “April Jones and other children”

  • Roslyn Edwards says:

    I want to thank you for giving up your time to attend our Book club last night, where I met you. It was a really interesting discussion and after reading your brilliant book I found it added such a lot to my understanding to hear your additional insights into the characters.
    It has been a revelation to me to know you are writing on topics which really interest me and I’ll certainly be reading more.
    As a Social worker of thirty years, mainly in child protection, I’m also looking forward to seeing how you tackle this subject if and when you choose to focus on it. It is not an easy topic, but then none of the issues you have approached is!

    Thanks again.
    Best wishes

    • Hazel says:

      Why thank you kindly, Roslyn. I had a marvellous time myself and plan to comment on the experience in next week’s blog. So watch this space!

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