Heroin Addicts Like Kate Walsh Show That The Grey Areas Of British Law Need A Black & White Reform
We read, this week, of a situation which has complied with British law but which is, nevertheless, a grave miscarriage of justice. Kate Walsh’s parents, when their sixteen year old daughter died of heroin in a dirty squat, were denied the protection that the law is supposed to provide. They are not alone. British law in the area of adolescents is a mess.
“I have lost faith in the police, in doctors, in the Government; they have shown a shocking level of incompetence,” Kate’s father, Anthony Walsh, is reported as saying.
A "GREY AREA" IN BRITISH LAW
He’s right! And the sad thing about it is that there’s nothing new in this. Kate’s parents asked, repeatedly, for help from social services and the police, but were told, at their daughter’s Inquest, that she had fallen into a “grey area”. Let me tell you, that grey area has been around for far too long, and, as my book, published in 1987 suggested, it’s high time it was resolved!
It was 1979 when my daughter, like Kate Walsh, became obsessed with a man. Like Kate, she was only sixteen. He was a biker, and was on a charge for participating in an alleged abduction and gang-rape: a charge which resulted, later, in a prison sentence. When my daughter ran away from home - as a result of my expressing concern about the unsuitability of her friendship - naturally, I turned to my local bobby. Yes, we had them back then! And he knew both me and my daughter. But as the following excerpts from my book show, we ended up in exactly the same situation as the Walsh family.
POLICE & SOCIAL SERVICES ARE NO HELP
She ran from the house, her hair streaming behind her. In the time it took me to collect myself and hurry up the path to the gate, she had disappeared. Breaking into a run, I raced to the end of the road. There was no sign of her. I had no idea which direction she had taken. . . Wearily, I returned to the house. Where could I turn for help?
You can’t just watch a sixteen-year-old walk out of your life and do nothing, but where do you go for advice? . . . Remembering how big a part our family doctor had played during my childhood . . . I dialled the surgery.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I couldn’t possibly get involved.”
Social services – surely they would give me some help? There must be laws to protect children and Vicky was still legally a minor. Feverishly I searched through the directory for the number. Nearly three-quarters of an hour had elapsed since she had left. Memories of snippets read in newspapers crowded into my mind: heartbroken parents whose children had simply walked out of their lives, never to appear again; girls who were abducted, kidnapped, raped and murdered.
Connected, at last, to the social services, I blurted out my story.
GOVERNMENT BENDS ITS OWN LAWS
“I’m awfully sorry, Mrs Menzies.” The voice sounded like that of a young man and, although there was sympathy expressed in its tone, it was clear that he was about to offer cold comfort. “Sixteen you said your daughter was? I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do.”
“But surely – she’s a minor. I thought children couldn’t leave home without their parents’ consent?”
“Technically, no. Not if they can’t support themselves.”
“Well there you are then! She can’t. She’s no job; no savings.”
“That’s true – to some extent. But you see – they can claim Supplementary Benefit at sixteen. So . . .” He paused. I could almost imagine him shrugging his shoulders.
MORAL DANGER? WHAT’S THAT?
“So the Government actually helps children who should be at home with their parents to be ‘self-supporting’ on tax-payers money?” I said, full of sarcasm and disbelief. “Vicky’s never paid a penny to the Inland Revenue. Are you telling me that the tax her father and I have paid is used to help our child run away from home?”
“I’m sorry, Mrs Menzies. Believe me, I do sympathise.”
“She’s planning to go and live with an alleged rapist,” I said, abruptly. “What does the State have to say about that?”
The young man sighed. “Technically, Mrs Menzies, a young person of sixteen is considered to be . . . ‘out of moral danger’ . . . that’s the term used. Once they pass that age they’re out of our jurisdiction. She can, therefore, live with whoever she wants.”
“Out of moral danger?” I was incensed. “That’s ridiculous! The law of the land says that a child under sixteen shouldn’t have a sexual relationship. Why, suddenly, the day after your sixteenth birthday is it okay to live with someone awaiting trial for rape?” I rang off.”
Frantic, and with no idea what else was open to me, I tried the probationary service. It was a naïve action on my part and confirmed only what I already knew: they could do nothing for my daughter until she had got into trouble. Which she rapidly did!
PARENTAL AUTHORITY USURPED
“Once upon a time,” the mother of an errant boy complained to me, “when your children were financially dependent until they were twenty one, you had some leverage. Now it seems anything goes.”
She’d had my sympathy when she recounted her son’s story; now she had my understanding. Parental authority had been eroded and usurped for years by successive governments. But we were not blameless: they’d been democratically elected! Society was now reaping the consequences of giving responsibility to youngsters too immature to know how to handle it. The ‘right to freedom’ advocated in our era had become a sheep in wolf’s clothing. What greater right could a child have than to be a child?”
Like the Walsh’s daughter, Kate, my daughter lived in squalor and filth, moving from one sordid squat to another, and progressing swiftly from cannabis – the gateway drug over which there has been so much controversy of late – to heroin. When my daughter began to visit her rapist “boyfriend” in prison, did anyone stop her? No! And when I complained about her visiting rights, was my complaint upheld? Not at all! On the contrary, I was made out to be a fussy mother.
Kate Walsh was helped, by her parents, to kick her drug habit. So was my daughter, by me. Kate Walsh relapsed because there was insufficient support to see her through. So did my daughter, for the same reason. And so have countless other sons and daughters.
In one respect I was “luckier” than the Walshs. My daughter didn’t die at sixteen. Instead, she spent thirteen years dodging death as a drug addict. During that time she funded her habit in the usual sordid manner – but always, always, desperate for help to come clean. Waking up in a doorway alongside the friend you fell asleep with and finding them slumped, dead, beside you is a wake-up call for anyone. As were the times she was taken into hospital having overdosed. These events signal your own ultimate end.
AN UNSATISFACTORY INQUEST
And when that end does come – when you’ve been let down by one government body after another – you think, you expect, as a parent, that the final official service from the authorities will be – well, helpful. Not a bit of it! Just as the Walshs found nothing in their daughter’s Inquest to help them lay their grief to rest, so I was subjected to the biggest travesty of all when my daughter died in 1994. The people who were arrested in connection with her death were warned, by the Coroner, to say nothing that would incriminate them.
SONS AND DAUGHTERS: OUR FUTURE
That, I am told, is par for the course with British justice. To allow suspects to tell any sort of truth that might instigate a criminal case would be too expensive. Our policemen are tied up with paperwork. Our social workers are either understaffed or over-zealous. And everyone, everywhere, is constrained by the pressures of meeting targets. But can we get justice, help and support for our kids? Can we heck!
How many more sons and daughters – the future of our once proud and dignified country – will suffer and die as a result of a lack of support? Too many I fear. And who will care? Well, the Walshs will. And I certainly shall.
A PAINFUL POST MORTEM
You can read my daughter’s story here, in all its harrowing detail. A sequel to the original book published in 1987, it is told as a novel rather than a biography. The only happy ending is that I have no bitterness. Anger, yes. Sorrow, certainly. But as half the proceeds from sales of my book go to a charity which educates British teenagers about the effects of drugs, and the other half to a charity supporting children orphaned by AIDS, I at least have some hope that my daughter’s death was not completely in vain.
Send me your story and I'll print it up here. Perhaps, who knows, we might be able to make a difference. It's worth a try.