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The Editorial


Our home town made the national news.

John Benton, Editor

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A couple accused of child abuse had the charges against them dropped. They had taken their 6-week old baby to hospital worried about blood in the child’s mouth. Medical staff spotted what seemed to be bruises on the baby and X-rays appeared to show fractures. The couple were indicted. For three years they maintained their innocence. On 7 October, with the prosecution’s medical evidence proving consistent with rickets rather than violence, they were declared innocent.

However, meanwhile the local authorities had facilitated the baby’s adoption.

The couple, understandably, want their baby back. But legal experts believe it is extremely unlikely that such an appeal against the adoption would be successful. A Surrey County Council spokesperson said: ‘With any case like this we only have one thing in mind and that’s the welfare of the child.’ Imagine that. You take your baby to hospital out of parental concern and you end up having your child taken away from you.

But here’s the real sadness of the situation. There is no need to doubt that anyone involved acted with anything less than good intentions. They meant well. Yet the collateral damage is devastating. What a world we live in?

Bombs and VIPs

Recently there have been a number of news items with a similar theme of unintended consequences for innocent people. The most obvious and tragic was the mistaken US air-strike on a hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz which killed twelve medical staff and at least ten patients for which President Obama has apologised profusely. Another instance of ‘collateral’ surrounds BBC Panorama’s investigation into the alleged VIP paedophile ring said to have been operating during the 1980s around Westminster. Allegations have been made against well-known politicians, celebrities and men from the military. One cannot but be sorry for victims of child sexual abuse and no doubt this all needs investigating. But it seems that some totally innocent people are being accused too and lives and reputations are being unfairly tainted, not to say devastated – again by investigators who believe they are doing the right thing. How can right lead to wrong?

When challenged about this on Radio 4’s Today programme one spokesman for the victims of sexual abuse appeared to reluctantly admit that such unintentional injury to innocent people may be a necessary part of the process if the truth is going to be uncovered. And lamentably, he may be right. Our fallen world has become too complex, too interconnected. Often it is extremely difficult for justice to emerge precisely and cleanly.

Gerasene swine

What could we possibly say to the innocent victims of unintended injury? I’m not at all sure what the secular world could offer to those whose lives have been wrecked. When this life is all there is and it’s not directly anyone’s fault where do you go?

In the Gospels there is an incident in which Jesus permits collateral damage. When he expels the demons from ‘Legion’ he lets them enter a herd of pigs which instantly rushes into the lake and is drowned, Mark 5.13. Why did the Lord allow the evil spirits that devastating opportunity? Surely part of the answer must be that, through this, Jesus exposes the destructive power of the demonic compared with his own restorative omnipotence. And in a fallen world of terrible collateral damage we should be led to direct people to the gospel, ‘Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father’ Galatians 1.4.