Shaken Babies

Last night Panorama featured the case of Keran Henderson, convicted of the manslaughter of Maeve Sheppard by violent shaking. Unfortunately I managed to catch only part of it but the programme clearly covered an important and controversial topic – shaken baby syndrome.

Although the programme included footage regarding apparently credible evidence that suggests that shaken baby syndrome simply does not exist – that is to say that the violent shaking of a baby cannot produce enough force to cause the types of injuries with which it is associated (brain and retinal bleeding) – it is apparent from the BBC article linked above (and probably from the section of the programme that I missed) that the research in question has yet to be peer reviewed or indeed even published. We will have to wait and see what its significance really is, but if this research is correct it will probably not just be Keran Henderson who launches an appeal.

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And either way it is not just Keran Henderson and her friends and family that this affects. I have perhaps been more conscious of this case than I would otherwise have been because those involved live so close by to my home.

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For months hundreds of yellow ribbons have festooned the streets, houses, roundabouts, street signs, windows and cars of Iver Heath. It was frankly rather ghoulish. And I for one was more than a little uncomfortable with a campaign that blithely took it upon itself to speak on behalf of ‘the community’ as if it were unanimously accepted that the conviction was in fact a miscarriage of justice. Although I don’t live in Iver I live very close by and although I have an open mind about this case I felt that the insinuation of the ribbons was that whole community was a convert to the campaign. Pity those who have faith in the criminal justice system and are prepared to accept a conviction at face value, one guesses it would not be a wise thing to express such a view in the local pubs around here.

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I was more uncomfortable still that again apparently on behalf of some notional ‘community’ it was thought appropriate to emblazon the whole village and all the streets into and out of it with such potent symbols. The fact that yellow ribbons had so recently been used by the McCanns as a reminder of their lost child made it for me so much more inappropriate – the bereaved parents were (or had been) members of this community too. What saddened me most about last night’s Panorama programme was the fact that as a result of the campaign and the fact that it was ‘rubbed in [their] faces’ the Sheppard’s have decided to move to Australia.

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It was said by the spokespersons for the campaign on Panorama last night that they had not intended to cause upset to the parents of Maeve, and Panorama reported that the yellow ribbons are now gone. In fact they aren’t. One or two forlorn ribbons are still flapping away on the main road just outside Iver Heath and this morning in the car park where I walk the dog was a car covered in yellow bows with posters in the window.

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The campaign website contains a sort of postscript or afterthought explaining that they are campaigning on behalf of all those affected by the case, including Maeve’s parents who ‘have been led to believe that their precious little girl was killed by the lady they entrusted with her care’. For me its too little too late. And it slightly misses the point – they are still professing to act on behalf of the parents of Maeve.

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I don’t know if this case is a miscarriage of justice. It seems to me there is a reasonable possibility that it is and it is right that it should be properly explored. And there is no doubt that the supporters of Keran Henderson should have every right to campaign for justice on her behalf and to do so publicly through the press and through websites etc. But the very public displays in the local community have been stifling and inappropriate, and hugely insensitive to the Sheppard family. I’m sure that it will have been difficult to gain an objective perspective on those facts for the family and friends caught up in the campaign, and I’m sure their clumsy attempts at drumming up local support have been well intentioned. I wouldn’t want to be overcritical of them for those reasons.

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But. The campaign should now concentrate on gathering concrete evidence and pursuing the case through the appeal system – no amount of yellow ribbon can win Keran’s appeal or right any wrongs that have been done. All it can do is fracture the local community, and the campaign for Keran would do well to remember that it is not up to the local community but the courts to dispense justice in this case.

2 thoughts on “Shaken Babies

  1. Good post. I particularly enjoyed the blank lines between the paragraphs. 😉

  2. enjoy those blank lines, they were a challenge to include. having acquainted myself with various technical fora I now know that its a wordpress glitch which requires a little creativity to surmount. you see to what lengths I go for my readers?

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