In a case which has shocked one of our most senior family law judges, a father who was found responsible for systematically injuring and abusing his daughter and a mother who ignored these acts and failed to protect her baby now face criminal prosecution for their actions.

The father, who is twenty, has recently been jailed for 12 years for his actions, spending the first year in youth custody, and will remain on license checks for 17 years. Their daughter has been placed in care and is developing well, but slowly due to the many life threatening injuries she suffered. To date, there appears to be no further news regarding the mother.

In his statement to the court, the father referred to himself as a monster.

The injuries inflicted on his daughter, who was born in January this year, were as follows (warning: contains graphic descriptions of injuries sustained):

(a) squeezing her very tightly around her torso;
(b) pressing his thumb into her eye causing bleeding;
(c) picking her up by her legs and flicking her up in the air and catching her, and on one occasion dropping her on the floor;
(d) placing his hands around her neck and throttling her so that she would if not actually lose consciousness then nearly lose consciousness;
(e) when sitting on his lap, forcefully pulling her legs up, and pushing her head down so that she was bent double;
(f) holding her upside down by her ankles and shaking her;
(g) twisting her head so she was looking right over her shoulder;
(h) thumping her on the top of her head;
(i) pushing her toes backwards towards her legs;
(j) squeezing her hands very tightly;
(k) pushing hard down on her vagina to make her cry;
(l) inserting his finger into her anus in order to hurt her;
(m) pinching her cheek, causing a bruise;
(n) bashing her head against a cupboard, causing a bruise and a cut;
(o) scratching her hands;
(p) bruising her jaw;
(q) forcing her bottle into her mouth, causing it to bleed;
(r) pushing down on her tongue, thereby causing bruising; and
(s) submerging her in the bath, giving her the sensation of being drowned.

By all accounts, the judgment paints a picture of two young adults: a man who did not wish to be a father, and a woman who wanted to have a baby but did not wish to care for it. The resentments that flowed from this regrettable scenario appear to have culminated in the father physically abusing his daughter and the mother ignoring her injuries and delegating the lion’s share of the duties to the father, who washed, changed and fed their baby daughter, even at night, leading the father to feel fraught and angered by his lot. And although Mr Justice Mostyn took to calling this case “macabre and chilling” and the father “diabolical”, there is, sadly, nothing unexplainable, or mystical, about this turn of events.

One of the great difficulties the family court as a whole faces is working without a clear knowledge of and access to cutting edge psychiatric knowledge. Whilst Mr Justice Mostyn laments that if “ Freud or Jung were alive today and able to advise me, [I doubt] they would be able to give me an explanation for conduct…so completely at variance with any understanding of human nature…which has no basis rational or irrational… [and] which violates the most basic and elemental taboos which govern our society,” it is clear that what happened to this baby can be explained and indeed warrants further consideration.

Both parents though not from deeply troubled backgrounds exhibited violent and conflicted behaviours. There was a history of self harming amongst one of the parent’s family members. Both experienced multiple parents and homes but may not have experienced the smooth transitions which are an ideal feature of such phases. The mother, it is alleged, was controlling and dictatorial and would seek to anger the father often – perhaps a symptom of the difficulties present within her own childhood. There is no indication either that these parents were given the opportunity to further their education or improve their way of life such as it must have been in cramped accommodation with minimal interaction with the outside world.

Of course none of this excuses harming a child or is always a cause of crime, but if the family courts don’t start to look at, and try to understand the reasons why people abuse and physically injure children, we cannot hope to protect children from harm in the future. Though we have yet to see whether the mother is tried for neglect, doubtless neither parent will receive the clinical help they need in prison and they will simply be let out into the world to continue living their lives as before, in a cycle of conflict, and violence. If we agree that most people who cause pain and suffering would rather not do so, then we must also accept that they too must be victims of their own circumstance. Difficult though it is to accept, the reality for most of us is that given the choice, we would choose to be good. So what happens to those who choose not to be and is it really a choice they make?

Most of the time men and women who injure children with intent get thrown into jail and left to languish in their own un-natural state, only to be released into the world free to continue the cycle of pain and injury. These parents may not have experienced physical abuse as children themselves, but they were young, without the coping mechanisms they needed to communicate well with each other and their baby and appeared to be, despite a large and varied family, on their own.

Sometimes, victims of child abuse sit on both sides of the table – but we can only protect the most vulnerable if we commit to uncovering the cause.

Thank you to the lovely Jerry Lonsdale for alerting us to this story.