He Said She Said
Bob shut the door to his room in the bed sit and let his shoulders slump as he noticed, not for the first time this week, a rubber-tailed lodger hiding under the sofa bed. How could he have married someone he really didn’t know at all? For the first time since his divorce, shock and confusion filtered their way through his body as he dragged the terrible weight to the window. Lifting a leaden finger to the pane, which almost winced as it tried to move the stale lace curtain, Bob flicked the moulding material to afford him a view of the greying sunset in East London. And then he saw the light flickering and tearing up the corner of his eye. His answer machine had a message.
Hello Daddy. It is Sally. I am okay. I had my tea. Have to go now.
The sound of a receiver not quite latched was then followed by a voice which wasn’t his daughter’s. Have you put that phone back properly? Well? Um. Well bloody go and check it. Oh, for Fuck’s sake. That’s the last time you get to call your Daddy, you fucking waste of space. And don’t think you’re getting any tea, either. Go on, get out! Bob could hear the sound of footsteps marching closer over delicate and frightened patters fading. The phone’s receiver flatlined.
No-one told Dad she was going to call, Pete bellowed at the local authority social worker on the other end of the call. I’m sorry Bob missed Sally, we’ll try to set up another call and make sure he gets notified in advance. That’s what you should have done in the first place. Pete wasn’t finished. And the foster family you’ve got taking care of her are abusing her. They need to be investigated. Oh, that’s not possible, the foster family Sally’s with have been fostering for us for years. We have a voicemail recording. Are you going to take the allegation seriously or not? Look, it’s very easy to get emotional about these things, we just need to stay calm until we can find out what’s best for Sally. Don’t fob me off; if you’re not going to investigate my client’s concerns I’m going to go over your head. If you go over my head, Mr Hallot, you’re just going to make it harder for your client. What exactly do you mean by that? Hello? Hello?
Bob, it’s not good news. The LA are threatening to go for a placement order if we push on with the position that you haven’t abused Sally. Mum’s gone awol. One of Sally’s medical examinations has come back saying that her hymen looks like it may have been compromised, but the examining doctor says he can’t be sure as Sally was sent to him some time after mum made the allegations. Social services are treating this report as firm evidence of abuse.
And that I’ve abused her. Pete could hear Bob wilt through his mobile. Why won’t they have me analysed again? Why can’t we find Sally’s mother and ask the judge to order a report on her? Because it costs time and money the system just doesn’t have, not to mention the embarrassment it might cause the LA if they have to admit they’re wrong. The compensation in these kinds of cases can be massive. It’s not good for them, or their insurance policies. Are you saying that the LA would rather cover up a life-threatening situation rather than focus on fixing it just because they don’t want to be wrong? Oh, but there’s lots at stake, Bob. Forget the welfare of the child; it’s all about the welfare of the system.
Bob wished Pete wasn’t always quite so blunt. Is there any good news, at all? That depends on how hard you’re willing to fight. We might have to take the case all the way up to Strasbourg if we can’t get relief from any lousy decisions along the way. How long will that take? The European Court of Human Rights is jammed up with thousands of applications, the process is really slow. By the time we’ve made our way through the British courts and we’ve gotten to the point where we’re filing at the ECHR and assuming we get heard there, that could take anything from five to ten years. But Sally’ll be grown up by then.
Welcome to justice in the twenty-first century.