When the mediaeval peasant saw his oxen stricken, his milk-cow dry and his crops struck by pest and disease the most proximate cause in his mind was the malign influence of witchcraft. The solution was simple; find a middle-aged single woman, preferably one skilled in herbs and poultices, and with a pet cat, and burn her. If the oxen, the cow and the crops didn't improve, it meant you'd burned the wrong one or there was more than one; either way, burning another witch would be sure to improve things.
News this morning that 'experts' have evidence that 10% of children are chronically abused reminds me of the satanic ritual abuse fad of a few years ago in - where was it? - the Orkneys? Huge squads of social workers descended on the remote place to examine infants' anuses and a star of David was triumphantly produced as evidence of witchcraft. A score of children were removed from their parents and lodged in care homes. We're really not that far advanced from the superstitions of the mediaeval peasant, are we?
Where the State has taken responsibility to itself for the care, upbringing and welfare of our children, displacing family, neighbours, church and community from such responsibility, then when something goes wrong a witch must be found for burning from amongst the ranks of the State's functionaries. No point in asking whether a smaller State and a bigger society could have prevented the horror in the first place - we reach for the pile of faggots and the matches. And Sharon Shoesmith, her drawn-on eyebrows being the modern equivalent of a pestle and mortar and a cat, made a fine victim. Will it improve the welfare of children in Haringey? Probably not.