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Two sides to every story?

Over the weekend I watched a programme called Met: Policing London. As a trainee within a Criminal Law department programmes involving police, crime or the law are always of interest.

The series follows the Metropolitan Police in their day to day activities policing London. The main story featured in this particular episode, was a tragic story of a young mother whose baby was found dead in her flat. She was arrested for murder and questioned by the police. The story unfolded where we learnt that the woman in question was forced into an arranged marriage at the age of 12 and moved abroad to live with her husband. She suffered domestic abuse and eventually fled to the UK. At 18 years old, she had a young baby and a toddler and was living alone. Particularly difficult to watch was the state of her flat, which showed mould, faeces and maggots amongst the baby’s cot and throughout the flat. We learnt that the baby died as a result of neglect and a post mortem showed the baby had had no food whatsoever in its stomach and weighed less at time of death than at birth. The highly emotive story concluded with the defendant pleading guilty to manslaughter and child neglect. She received a 2 year custodial sentence, suspended for 2 years.

Whilst difficult to view, it was also extremely interesting and provided an insight into how an investigation into such a harrowing death was run. What I also found intriguing was how the result was perceived. My own perception was a tragedy two fold. The unquestionably tragic death of a baby but also the tragic life of the young mother; a child herself when she was married and then a single mother with 2 young children, living alone. It certainly sparked a debate with a friend who had also watched the programme and could not see how a 2 year suspended sentence was justice. What about that poor baby though, she asked. I can see how such neglect is unthinkable, how someone can allow their child to be subject to such conditions is difficult to comprehend. To the same tune however, is it not unthinkable to imagine being married at twelve years old and moved abroad, to suffer abuse at the hands of your husband and have to flee to another country, possibly with no friends, no family and no support.

Obviously having only had the benefit of an hour long overview, we will never know the full details of the story nor the full back ground to what happened. Perhaps there was an element of wilful neglect and therefore some level of blame. Alternatively, can and should society really punish somebody who is a victim of circumstances themselves? There will always be those who consider the facts of this case and the death of a baby unforgivable, regardless of extrinsic factors. I for one however cannot simply condemn those who commit even the most serious of offences. For me, there is almost always two sides to a story.