Teenager whose baby died in jail was ‘criminally abandoned’

Her cries for help went unanswered. Screaming with pain, she passed out.

When she came to, her baby daughter had been delivered. She bit through the umbilical cord.

She cleaned up some blood, put the placenta in the bin and crawled into bed with her dying baby.

But still nobody came. Until it was too late.

Her baby was already dead.

Baby A was born and died on September 27, 2019, in Europe’s biggest women’s prison.

The pathologist can’t determine whether the baby girl was born alive or stillborn but the fact remains – her vulnerable 18-year-old mum was forced to give birth alone and scared while in the care of the state.

Despite calling for a nurse twice, Ms A was ignored and forced to endure hours of agony and pain while officers at the private Bronzefield prison in Middlesex went about their business.

The report from the Prison and Probation Ombudsman makes for grim reading.

Ms A made two internal phone calls and pressed her bell twice to ask for a nurse before giving birth. Her first call lasted a minute while her second, 25 minutes later, was immediately disconnected.

A prison officer shone a torch into her cell and “didn’t see anything out of the ordinary” but Ms A said she was on all fours on the floor.

The report said: “Ms A was failed.”

It’s all too easy to dismiss what happened to Ms A with a shrug of our shoulders and think whatever happens in prison doesn’t matter to people outside and why should we care?

We should care. Very much so. Not all crimes are equal and not all prisoners deserve to be banged up.

Quite often, too, prisoners will come out worse than when they went in – which means, for you and I, more likelihood of more victims due to reoffending.

At the same time, prisoners retain key human rights we are all entitled to – the right to live, the right to a fair trial and the basic right to be free of inhuman treatment and access to rehabilitation.

Of course there are always going to be those who will try to use those policies to their own advantage. Limbs in the Loch killer William Beggs has gamed the system for years with numerous human rights fights with the authorities, including wanting to be able to buy a laptop to use in his cell.

William Beggs

Ms A was on remand accused of robbery – she hadn’t stood trial and was, to use the old axiom, innocent until proven guilty.

She wasn’t manipulating the system. Ms A and her baby daughter are victims of the state. They weren’t just failed by the system – they were criminally abandoned.

Detectives or fishing for likes?

Hundreds of thousands of people go missing in America every year but none have been quite so high-profile as Gabrielle Petito, who vanished while on a cross-country road trip with boyfriend Brian Laundrie.

The young couple had been documenting their trip on their social pages and You Tube before Laundrie returned home alone on September 1. Gabrielle’s family reported her missing 10 days later.

A handout photo made available by the FBI shows Gabrielle 'Gabby' Petito, 22.
A handout photo made available by the FBI shows Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito, 22.

I became aware of the case due to the attention it was getting on Twitter. Tik-Tokkers, Instagrammers and bloggers turned detective as theory after theory was being debated and debunked. And it would seem it was an “influencer” couple who helped locate her body.

The 22-year-old had, of course, been the victim of a homicide and her boyfriend, who has now himself disappeared, is a person of interest.

Internet sleuthing isn’t new of course but this all felt a bit voyeuristic – even to someone like me. It felt more like a rush to get millions more followers than any real desire to be helpful to the police.

It may well be the case that some of those internet detectives did help locate Gabrielle’s body but at the same time there were hundreds of confusing and misleading pieces of information being pushed online.

With Laundrie missing, it’s clear this story isn’t over yet. After all, the whole internet is looking for him.

Winner Craig is in great company

Congratulations to Craig Russell who won the McIIvanney Prize for Best Crime Novel of 2021.

The Stirling festival was back last weekend in hybrid form and was a massive success, as always.

Big names such as Stephen King, Val McDermid, Denise Mina and Ian Rankin ensured a great time was had by all.

I’m just gutted I was unable to make my debut appearance chairing a panel due to Covid-19. Well done to all involved.

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