A Victory for Children: The Closing of a Legal Loophole

02/07/2012 17:36 BST | Updated 01/09/2012 10:12 BST

Today (2 July) a new law will come into effect, extending the 'causing or allowing' offence to cover serious physical harm, such as inflicting brain damage or broken bones.

This sees the final act in 20 years of NSPCC campaigning on the issue, a campaign that was inspired by a baby called Kim Griffin, who was born in East London, 20 years ago this month.

Just eight weeks later she was taken to hospital with a six inch skull fracture, shattered rib cage, broken arm and broken collar bone. She died after three days on a life support machine. Her parents were arrested but refused to talk, using the centuries-old right of defendants to remain silent.

The police were unable to press a murder charge because they could not prove which one of them did it. Even a charge of cruelty was dropped because of lack of evidence. The couple walked free.

Outraged that parents were getting away with murder, the NSPCC demanded action. Our then chief executive Chris Brown wrote to the national newspapers. We gave evidence of a dozen similar cases to a Royal Commission on Criminal Justice and called for the loophole to be closed. Nothing was done.

Four years later another couple escaped a murder charge after a couple tortured their 18-month old baby to death. They taped the screams of their toddler as they hit and bit her and forced her to drink bleach and paint.

Again the NSPCC spoke out, saying: "People who torture and kill little children must never be allowed to get away with it." We slammed the government for ignoring our calls for justice and again called for the law to be changed. Again nothing was done and the roll-call of killings went on.

With the launch of Full Stop Campaign in 1999 we stepped up our efforts. We focused media attention on the killing of children and wrote to the government whenever another horrific story hit the headlines. We published reports, organised conferences and ran seminars with experts from different professions. We set up a working group, headed by Judge Isobel Plumstead. In 2003, the group published its 'Which of You Did It?' report, with recommendations for reform.

Finally, the government acted. In 2004, it introduced a new offence of 'causing or allowing the death of a child', if parents refused to admit their guilt or blamed each other. Between 2005 and 2010 the new law was used successfully to prosecute 31 people, including Baby Peter's mother and her boyfriend and lodger. It is thanks to the NSPCC that Baby Peter's killers are behind bars.

However, while this was a big victory for children, the law only applies to cases where children are killed. It failed to cover cases where parents beat their children to within an inch of their life or leave them seriously and permanently disabled.

The NSPCC has continued to lobby to close this terrible loophole. So I'm delighted to say that from today, far fewer child abusers will escape justice and many more vulnerable babies and children will be protected.