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Frances Crook's blog · 8 Aug 2017

Girl X

Frances Crook in front of office bookshelves

I don’t know anything more about the background story of Girl X than anyone else, but I think what we do know raises some serious questions for various authorities about the decisions they made and their responsibility for her plight.

First off, she is far from alone. Over the years Howard League lawyers and caseworkers have represented and fought for many boys and girls whose mental illness was diagnosed and palpable and yet were still placed in unsuitable environments unable to cope with their distress and challenging behaviour. Indeed, prisons make things worse.

We recently represented child AB, who was held in solitary confinement for months. I remember the case of a child, a young boy, who was repeatedly punished by the prison for misbehaving. He appeared in front of the governor to be given yet another punishment and the Howard League lawyer representing saw he had a pen embedded in his arm. His self-injury was so serious he slashed himself, harmed his private parts, swallowed objects and repeatedly banged his head. The prison thought it could punish him out of it.

Girl X has raised public awareness about these children, our children. I hope the lessons are remembered

I am fiercely proud that the Howard League has the country’s only dedicated legal team fighting to get justice for children in custody and decent care and support for them on release – but it is a real struggle. Girl X has raised public awareness about these children, our children. I hope the lessons are remembered.

A string of the great and good authorities made decisions about Girl X and, until Sir James Munby intervened, they appear all to have been the wrong decisions. Questions abound.

Why did the CPS prosecute her, was that really in the public interest? We don’t know what her offence was, but it seems to be clear that she was so mentally ill she should not have been taken through the criminal justice system.

Why did the youth court or district judge sentence her to a punishment? A period of detention is a punishment and it was obvious that no penal custody could address her needs or indeed keep her safe.

If you do something you know is wrong and will seriously harm a child, you are culpable

Why did the Youth Justice Board place her in a secure unit that could not cope and could not supply the clinical therapy this child needs?

Why did politicians construct a system that punishes children who are ill? That’s Labour, who legislated to introduce the detention and training order that sucked tens of thousands of children into penal custody; that’s the Coalition and now Conservative governments that bleat on about setting up ‘secure schools’ which are patently not the right answer to distraught children.

All of them will reply by saying their hands were tied, they could do no other. Balderdash. If you do something you know is wrong and will seriously harm a child, you are culpable. You should not sleep at night.

These bodies have questions to answer. More children are being put at risk by them and they must not get away with saying it’s not their responsibility. It is.

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