Shannon Matthews was kidnapped after social workers dropped her from the child protection register because they decided that she was no longer at risk of harm. Social services became involved with her six years ago because of fears about her welfare. In late 2003, they ruled that no further involvement was necessary. Shannon was removed from the at-risk register even though social workers knew of reports that the Matthews children were being left alone at night, were not attending school and that there were problems with violence, alcohol and drug abuse in the home.
For at least 20 months before she disappeared in February, Shannon was being secretly doped with at least five different drugs, including sedatives, painkillers and antidepressants. Her mother, Karen Matthews, and her accomplice, Michael Donovan, were found guilty yesterday of a "dishonest and wicked" plot that led to Shannon, 9, being abducted and held captive for 24 days. Jointly convicted of kidnapping, false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice, they were warned by the judge to expect "a substantial custodial sentence".
Social services, which had compiled a huge file on Matthews and her children before the kidnapping, obtained an emergency court injunction on Wednesday that prevents The Times from disclosing the full details of its involvement with Shannon. Kirklees council, in West Yorkshire, also ordered staff at every school in the district not to discuss Shannon's case, which follows this week's damning report into Haringey social services and the Baby P tragedy.
According to a source close to the family, Shannon's former head teacher went "absolutely ballistic" during one meeting at which the care authority claimed to have received little information about the girl from the school. She was able to show that social workers had been warned of teachers' concerns "on a number of occasions".
A former neighbour, Claire Wilson, 32, said that she used to hear Shannon "crying through the wall" and reported the family to social services on at least three occasions in 2002. "Imagine living with a neighbour from hell and then double it," she said. "I once rolled the dirt off Shannon's feet. The mud was like glue, really stuck on. We had beetles and mice in our home which were coming from their house. "I think social services should be shot. I used to tell them time and again and all they would say was, `We'll look into it'."
Toxicology tests would later establish that Shannon was being fed a range of drugs before she was kidnapped. They included temazepam, a hypnotic drug with sleep-inducing effects, two powerful painkillers and an antidepressant. She was often seen to be drowsy and disorientated and was sometimes sent to bed hungry. Her teachers also raised concerns over low standards of cleanliness and hygiene.
The BBC Panorama programme claimed last night that Shannon was removed from the at-risk register despite a report warning that Matthews would require "constant monitoring and support throughout the lives of her children". The report, commissioned by social services, is said to have concluded that Matthews seemed unable "to place the children's needs above her own".
Before the kidnapping, Shannon and her three siblings were living at a council house in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, with Mathews, 33, and her boyfriend, Craig Meehan, 22, who was later convicted of possessing child pornography. Alison O'Sullivan, Kirklees's director for children and young people, confirmed yesterday that the authority was now "responsible for the protection of the children of Karen Matthews". She said: "Those children are subject to High Court proceedings where, among other very important issues concerning the children, the actions and plans of this local authority, past, present and proposed, will be scrutinised carefully."
Silence descended on Court 12 at Leeds Crown Court yesterday as the jury foreman stood to deliver the unanimous guilty verdicts. Matthews and Donovan, 40, showed no emotion. They will be sentenced at a later date.
Shannon was found in March in the base of a divan bed after police forced entry to Donovan's flat, a mile from her home. She had been drugged and tethered to a strap tied to an attic roof beam for parts of her imprisonment. Her disappearance led to one of the biggest search operations in the history of British policing. It cost 3.2 million pounds and involved more than 300 officers, who searched 1,800 homes. Donovan later admitted taking and holding Shannon but claimed to have been acting under duress after being threatened by Matthews.
In court she sobbed repeatedly, claiming that she played no role in the kidnapping and had not known who was holding Shannon. The jury was told, however, that she had "lied and lied and lied again". In reality, she hoped to earn the 50,000 pound reward offered for her daughter's safe return. Donovan was supposed to "find" Shannon and take her to a police station.
Speaking outside court, Detective Superintendent Andy Brennan, who led the search, said the experience had been harrowing for all involved in the investigation. "The vast majority of staff and officers were parents or grandparents themselves," he said. "On the day she was found alive, everyone was in tears. I've never seen an incident room like it. It was a very emotional time."
It's Time to Speak Out Against The 'Mormon Boycott'
Supporters of gay marriage have reacted with anger at the passage of California Proposition 8, which amended the California state constitution to provide that only marriages that fit the traditional definition (one man, one woman) will be recognized. The resulting protest movement has devolved into anti-Mormon bigotry which has been met with silence by liberal civil rights groups. The anti-Mormon fervor has become so nasty, and is growing at such a pace, that it is time to speak out against the "Mormon boycott."
The use of boycotts in support of gay marriage, including by some law professors, preceded the passage of Prop. 8. These boycotts, which aim at suppressing political speech, are distinct from the boycotts of the black civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The civil rights boycotts sought not to suppress speech, but to provide access to goods and services by targeting those people withholding the goods and services.
Regardless of whether one supports the use of boycotts in the Prop. 8 context, the targeting of Mormons is gross hypocrisy considering that other groups, such as Blacks and Latinos, likely were the decisive electoral factor. A persuasive argument can be made that Mormons have been singled out because they are a relatively small group with political power mostly in one state. The irony of singling out a religious group which has itself been the victim of discrimination appears lost on anti-Prop. 8 boycott groups.
The anti-Prop. 8 boycott efforts have not been limited to Mormons, but Mormons have been the primary focus of public vitriol and at the center of the boycott movement. The evidence is mounting daily that the "Mormon boycott" efforts of pro-gay marriage groups have gone too far, and have devolved into anti-Mormon hate speech.
While the web is filled with hate speech by fringe elements directed at many groups, the anti-Mormon efforts are openly embraced and promoted by a wide range of anti-Prop. 8 groups. Anti-Mormon hate speech no longer is on the fringe, it is at the heart of the post-election anti-Prop. 8 campaign. The examples are too numerous to list completely. This sampling reflects the breadth and increasing scope of post-election anti-Mormon activities:
The creation of a boycott list of Mormon-owned hotels. The creator of the list states as follows: "I personally won't do business with any Marriott hotels, as they are owned by Mormons. I'm done with this shit. They just use the money against us."The singling out of Mormons, and the hateful nature of the boycott, is not coincidental. Prop. 8 is being used as an excuse to vent pent-up anger at the Mormon Church, and the traditional lifestyle of Mormons. With each passing day, it seems that the web is filled with more and more hate speech directed at Mormons. As others have noted, the attacks on Mormons would not be tolerated if directed at other religious or ethnic groups.
Additional calls for a boycott of all Mormons: "While much ado is being made about the overwhelming support of prop 8 by black voters in California, there is little ado being made about getting even with the Mormons...."
A boycott of the entire state of Utah because of the high percentage of Mormons, and other efforts targeting Mormons as "hate's banker, and we need to make sure that their moral bankruptcy becomes a fiscal one as well."
Protests at Mormon churches around the country, including New York City, Salt Lake City, and Los Angeles.
Postings on Daily Kos and elsewhere calling for boycott of Mormon owned businesses: "Businesses owned by Mormons, who tithe to the Church, should also be boycotted. Large amounts of Church income comes from tithings. Vote with your wallets! Every dollar less that you give to a tithed Mormon is a dollar less that can be tithed and spent on anti-gay activity."
Postings on YouTube of blatantly anti-Mormon videos calling on people to "Boycott the Utah Hate State and the Mormons."
The creation of high profile websites devoted to portraying Mormons as having betrayed the U.S. by taking control of the Boy Scouts and other devices: "The Mormon people have been able to flourish because of this country's generous spirit. But now, history has reversed, and it is the Mormons who have become the oppressor."
The production of an anti-Mormon musical by the creators of South Park, which is expected to start rehearsals soon.
Calls not to tip Mormon waiters: "Now do not tip, hire, or do any business with a Mormon. 10% of their income goes to the church that worked tirelessly to take the civil rights away from people. They are a Nazi organization who only what their point of view followed. I asked my waiter if he were a Mormon, when he said he was I did not tip him, telling him, I was sorry but I can not support bigotry."
Suggestions that Mormon businesses that do not wish to be harassed should post signs in their windows against Prop. 8: "Any business, Mormon or otherwise, can take the simple step of posting a sign on the premises urging the repeal of Prop 8, or make a public statement against it."
Calls to fire a Mormon employed by the American Jewish Congress because he supported Prop. 8.
The forced resignation of the Mormon director of the Los Angeles Film Festival for support of Prop. 8.
The investigation by the State of California of the Mormon Church's tax exempt status, even though religious organizations routinely support or oppose political causes without losing their exempt status.
A hotel in New Mexico luring visitors away from Utah by using a web address that incorporates the words "mormon-boycott-utah."
A call to boycott businesses, including Macy's and Nordstrom, which plan to open stores at a shopping mall owned by the Mormon church: "The Mormon Church came after our rights, and if we don't stop them, they will be back again and again."
A call to boycott businesses which have Mormons in senior positions: "Universely [sic], we need to avoid putting any more money into the Church's coffers by boycotting all companies where a Mormon church member holds an officer's position or a large majority interest."
Efforts to create and distribute lists of businesses "either owned by the Church, owned by Mormons, having a Mormon in a high executive position, or generally benefiting Mormons," including on Facebook and elsewhere.
The boycott of Mormon business has been likened to a war: "There is a war cry being sounded in gay communities all across America - Boycott Mormon owned businesses. This is a war cry that should be heeded."
What is most disturbing is that there has been complete silence from groups that normally defend religious freedom. The Anti-Defamation League has not stepped forward to defend Mormons against the current boycotts, even though the ADL has spoken out against anti-Mormon hate crimes in the past.
The silence of the ADL and other Jewish groups is unconscionable. Economic boycotts of Jewish businesses in Germany starting in 1933 were a precursor to the Holocaust. Boycotts aimed at Israeli goods and academics have been condemned as veiled anti-semitism by ... the ADL.
In the end, the supporters of gay marriage who engage in anti-Mormon hate speech will realize that they have damaged their own cause. Lashing out at others and engaging in religious bigotry does not constitute an argument in favor of gay marriage. Regardless of one's position on gay marriage, it is time to speak out against the "Mormon boycott." There simply is no one else who will, if we don't
Religion not so foolish
By Jeff Jacoby
At the age of 12, David Wolpe lost his religious faith. Shaken by a film on the aftermath of the Nazi atrocities, he concluded there could be no God in a world that harbored such evil. His efforts to understand a godless universe led him, in time, to Bertrand Russell's biting essays against religion, which he keenly read and reread. That is what he was doing one day at the Jewish summer camp he attended as a teen, when one of the staff rabbis strolled by and asked what he was reading. To Wolpe's defiant answer -- "Bertrand Russell" -- the rabbi made a surprising reply: "Good." Startled, Wolpe asked what he meant.
"David, how old are you?" the rabbi asked in return. "Seventeen." "Well, I'd rather have you grow out of him than grow into him."
Grow out of him he did, and one result of that growth is Why Faith Matters, a wonderfully tender and engaging new book in which Wolpe -- for the past 21 years a rabbi himself -- makes the case that religion is an indispensable force for goodness and meaning in the world.
It is interesting to experience, in the same week, both Wolpe's book and Religulous, Bill Maher's cinematic assault on organized religion. Maher, a caustic comedian and TV host, also turned his back on religion in his teens. "I hated church; it scared me," he says near the start of Religulous. He also says, somewhat inconsistently, that he found religion "boring" and that it "wasn't relevant" to his life.
Like Wolpe's book, Maher's movie raises questions about faith; unlike Wolpe, Maher isn't interested in answers. Religulous is a profane, condescending, and often funny rant against religion -- Christianity especially, but also Judaism, Mormonism, and Islam. Maher's mocking documentary promotes the idea that only oddballs, cranks, and nincompoops can take religion seriously. That's a fairly easy case to make if you focus, as Maher's interviews mostly do, on oddballs, cranks, and nincompoops: the Puerto Rican cult leader who claims to be the Antichrist, the pothead in Amsterdam with his marijuana "ministry," the misfit rabbi who embraces Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the young-earth creationist who teaches that human beings and dinosaurs co-existed.
It's also easy to portray faith as a goofy fairy tale if you spend your time deriding tales of ancient miracles -- a burning bush! A virgin birth! A prophet swallowed by a fish! -- but never pause to acknowledge the far-fetched improbabilities inherent in atheism.
Maher characterizes religion as "fantasy and nonsense." Yet atheism is no guarantee of enlightened rationality. In a study released this past September, researchers at Baylor University found that adherence to "traditional . . . religion greatly decreases credulity, as measured by beliefs in such things as dreams, Bigfoot, UFOs, haunted houses, communicating with the dead, and astrology." By contrast, those who reject traditional religion -- "self-identified theological liberals and the irreligious" -- are "far more likely" to believe in superstition and the occult. Or other nonsense: Maher, for example, claims that aspirin is lethal, doubts that the Salk vaccine eradicated polio, and has praised the horse that threw Christopher Reeve.
So it is unsurprising that Maher sees only the foolishness and evil that religious people, like all people, are capable of, and misses entirely the extraordinary good that religion engenders. As Wolpe notes, numerous researchers have found that "religious people are happier, more charitable, have more stable families, and contribute more to their communities." They are less likely to suffer depression or commit suicide, to use drugs or be involved with crime, to drink to excess, or to smoke.
The Los Angeles Times reported last year on research showing that people without faith were less likely to help a poor or homeless person than religious believers. While both were equally likely to describe themselves as "good citizens," their charitable practices were strikingly different. Americans of no faith donated an annual average of $200 to charity; active-faith adults typically contributed $1,500. Even when church-based giving was subtracted from the mix, religious Americans donated twice as much to charity as the nonreligious.
It is no coincidence that so many hospitals, schools, homeless shelters, and aid organizations have been started and sustained by religious groups. "We are creatures designed to flourish -- to heal and to help -- when we believe," Wolpe writes. Religion makes the world better, notwithstanding all the ways in which it has been perverted. A world without God and faith would be hellish and lonely. Perhaps it is also no coincidence that Why Faith Matters ends with the word "love," while the final word in Maher's film is "die."
BEING GOOD FOR GOD'S SAKE
By Jeff Jacoby
Bill Maher is a secularist who derides not only religion, which he calls "a neurological disorder," but the good deeds of religious people. There is nothing moral about doing the right thing, he contends in his new movie, Religulous, if you think God will punish you for doing the wrong thing. Early in the film, Maher visits a North Carolina truck-stop chapel so he can scoff at the drivers and pastor who worship there. "If you're being good just to save your" butt, he tells one of them, "that's not a good reason."
The argument has been framed more thoughtfully. In the last of his Letters to a Young Lawyer, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz puts it this way: "It is easy to understand why a person who believes in a God who rewards and punishes would want to try to conform his or her conduct to God's commandments. A cost-benefit analysis should persuade any believer that the eternal costs of hell outweigh any earthly benefit to be derived by incurring the wrath of an omniscient and omnipotent God." Consequently, says Dershowitz, "doing something because God has said to do it does not make a person moral: It merely tells us that person is a prudential believer, akin to the person who obeys the command of an all-powerful secular king."
So what does make a person moral? Answers Dershowitz: Doing a "good act . . . simply because it was deemed by the actor to be good." To be truly moral, he suggests, one should act as if there is no God, no punishment, no reward. "You should be a person of good character because it is right to be such a person."
To someone who denies the existence of God or the legitimacy of religious authority, this is an understandably appealing argument: Not only don't we need God to be good, it's better -- it's moral -- to be good without God. But the argument doesn't stand up to scrutiny. For one thing, most religious people don't go through life subjecting their every move to a calculus of divine justice. The belief that there is ultimate reward and punishment in an unknowable afterlife does not convey immunity from the temptations, fears, and desires of this life. If it did, the behavior of religious people would always be exemplary -- which, alas, it isn't. It is one thing to believe that God eventually rewards good and punishes evil. It is something very different -- something much more difficult -- to act in accordance with that belief.
Moreover, many Christians believe that salvation is won through faith alone -- that their good works, however commendable, will not get them to heaven, and their sins will not keep them out. And even for those who believe that behavior in this world does determine reward in the next, there is always atonement -- the ability to earn God's forgiveness through repentance.
What is it, then, that accounts for the good deeds of believers? If dreams of heaven and fears of hell don't motivate them, what does? "I have known religious people all my life," writes Rabbi David Wolpe in Why Faith Matters, his new book on the joys and gifts of religion. Some have been unpleasant or selfish, but "most . . . engage in innumerable activities of kindness, charity, and selflessness. They set up soup kitchens, create networks of volunteers to visit the sick, contribute money and skills to help the poor, and pray for others in need. Few of them do it because they fear death. Far stronger is the impulse to responsibility, to living a sacred life, a life of service."
This is what so many secularists fail to understand about religion: Its greatest power to change lives comes not from promises and threats, but from closeness and love. The deepest purpose of religion is to inculcate decency in human beings -- to encourage behavior that is ethical and compassionate not because God will reward it, but because God wants it. That is a calling as contemporary as this morning, and as ancient as the ages. "What does God require of thee," the prophet Micah urged long ago, "but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
At its best, religion elevates men and women, prompting them to do good out of an ennobling sense of obligation -- and with the joy that comes from acting in harmony with God's transcendent design.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, OBAMA WATCH (2), EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.