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Dead Children and the Law

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During the past week, people across the world were shocked and saddened by the story of the disappearance and subsequent death of three-year-old Mikaeel Kular in Scotland.

This shock then turned to disbelief after his mother, Rosdeep Kular, 33, was detained by police investigating the case on Friday night before being formally charged on Saturday. She appeared in private at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday and idiots on the internet had a field day.

Whilst there is a big public interest in the story and a clamouring for information it is worth remembering that an investigation in to the death of a child will take time and must be properly implemented. The lawyers have to approach the case with a cool head and the press must adhere to strict reporting restrictions so that proceedings are not prejudiced. This means that we have to wait for the evidence gathering to be complete and the law to be applied properly. Expressions of opinion on the internet makes that process much harder.

When a child is found dead, it is only the pathologist's opinion that matters. Scientific evidence can answer how the child died. It then has to be demonstrated on the evidence, not assumption, who did it and why? Evidence such as DNA and finger prints might identify a perpetrator but an injury or injuries, of themselves, do not.

It might depend on how long the child has been dead for timings to be sufficiently accurate, which enables investigators to find out who the child was with at the time.

Suspects do not always confess

In cases like these, invariably the best witness is dead and 'murder' should never be simply assumed. Criminal charges have to be proved. Sometimes children are killed without intention and then their bodies are concealed in fear. Investigators have to put a great deal of thought in to what may have caused the death. Was it a deliberate act? Was that act unlawful or an accident? Did the suspect intend to kill or cause really serious harm? These questions may or may not lead to an allegation of murder.

And it does not stop there.

To properly investigate a death, there has to be some focus on the suspect. Was there a loss of control or some form of abnormality of mind which might amount to a defence of diminished responsibility? This could make the killing something other than murder. These questions are not unusual and not easy to answer. The outpouring of grief for a dead child does not change the legal questions.

The answers can only come from the evidence collected from the scene and the witnesses and from inferences which may have to be drawn about the state of thinking at the time of death. The search in the woods is only one part of this particular puzzle.

In complicated and tangled family relationships such as this one, the police have to unravel the circumstances with care and compassion and we have to wait for them to do so without jumping to conclusions.

This compassion has not been demonstrated on social media as people speculate on the cause of death. Already two people have been arrested for alleged racist tweets. The law in Scotland has to be applied fairly regardless of race, gender or relationship.

Legal cases are heard in a court, not on the internet. Malicious communications are criminal. Uninformed malicious communications are based on flimsy opinion without any knowledge about what the evidence actually is. It makes the task more difficult for investigators, lawyers and judges when, in addition to a serious criminal case, there is a maelstrom of online gossip.

Nothing can bring Mikaeel back to life but justice for his death has to carry on, which includes charging the idiots who posted the racist tweets.

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