In 1968, ten year old Mary Bell killed two small boys. The horrified nation sighed with relief when psychiatrists said her behaviour was psychopathic and she was therefore not responsible for her actions. No-one wanted to believe a child could be responsible for cold-blooded murder. The next great shock was in 1993, when two year old Jamie Bulger was abducted and murdered by two ten year old boys in Liverpool. These cases, twenty-five years apart, were headline news for months; ten years ago the killing of children by children was a rare occurrence in Britain.
Earlier this month there were eight fatal stabbings of schoolchildren within four days and a non-fatal stabbing perpetrated by a seven year old. While the media shows grieving families and conducts debates on 'the new knife-carrying culture', there is not the same sense of horror about these crimes. Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary (whatever that is) said on television: “These are still, even though they are more prevalent than we’d like, relatively isolated incidents which cause extraordinary grief and agony in particular communities.” Perhaps she will become more concerned if the next stabbing occurs in her own 'particular community'. The whole of society should feel extraordinary grief and agony over the violent death of a child, especially when the killing has been carried out by another child.
Not all the youngsters who have committed these crimes are psychopathic, they are responsible for their actions. How have they come to consider that life has so little value? Gang rivalry, bullying and intimidation are not new but killing the rival or outsider is, at least in 'civilised' societies. Is it the fault of parents, schools, television, video games, consumerism? Is there a moral vacuum left by the decline of religion? Whatever the causes, we need to address the problem before all our children are going to school in stab-proof vests.