When you’ve a feminist and a writer and an all round nosy person, you hear a lot of sad stories. Stories that as a fiction teller I’ve assimilated into my mind, filed away in a box marked ‘Tragedies’, until they subconsciously snake into my work, through the words and deeds of characters, and through plots that stretch credibility, but never quite as much as fact does. The trick about hearing a lot of sad stuff, if you’re inclined towards empathy, is to not think too deeply about any one tale. Listen, assimilate, sign the petition, move on. If I sound hard, it’s because my story’s made me hard, and I hope you’re hard too, else how you gonna make it?
Every now and then, the ‘passive listening, planned exit’ strategy goes awry, and someone’s story follows you, stalks you, almost. The more you try to escape it, the more it calls to you, demanding attention ‘What if this happened to you?’ it asks, ‘Wouldn’t you want someone to care?’ .
The story of Samantha Baldwin has done such a number on me.
I keep trying to get past what it must be like to wake up, every day, believing your sons to be in grave danger, and being forced to accept how powerless you are to save them. Here’s a link to Sam’s story.
In a nutshell, Sam’s young children alleged their Dad was drugging them and several of his friends were raping them. Sam told the police who talked to the children who corroborated Sam’s statement. An investigation went nowhere. Sam moved away from the Dad. Dad applied to family court for custody. Sam repeated her children’s allegations and provided corroborating evidence of hair samples from her boys that proved they had been been given sedatives. The family court judge found that Sam was a nutjob, so determined to vilify her ex, that she would drug her own kids, and removed both boys from Sam’s care. It should be noted that in all the years Sam was her children’s sole carer not one agency, or individual, ever raised concerns. Anyway, after that it just gets weirder, and I don’t want to spoil the ending, which I can’t anyway, because this story’s not over yet.
It has elements of all the best narratives combining the big themes like good vrs evil and truth vrs reality, with an entirely plausible heroine and a plot that unfolds seamlessly, exposing the corruption and ineptitude of the British criminal justice system and the British family law courts, in a post Saville, post Rochdale era, when we were promised lessons had been learned.
A publishing deal would have been forthcoming, but for embargo on the telling placed by the family courts, and instead of fame, fortune and the high status of a paedo defying, children protecting Super Mum, Sam is reduced to running a full time campaign to draw attention to her plight in the desperate hope that somebody, somewhere, in a position of power and influence, might help.
So far, in three years, some have. But not enough.
And I know why. Because it’s not an easy resolve. There are a lot of players and a lot of pieces and a lot of money and power invested in protecting itself as money and power often does and a lot of public faith invested in the idea that we have learned lessons, and then there’s the law itself, doubling down and protecting itself from the outside scrutiny this case is screaming out for. And it becomes infinitely easier to walk away then to wade in.
I only remain focused on this story because… Sam.
She got under my skin, didn’t she? When I wasn’t looking, with her refusal to be typecast as broken woman, with her rejection of her role as bad mother, with her relentless repeating of all the available facts to anybody and everybody who’ll listen and many who cry deaf.
I want to be trademark cynical and mention how life’s a bitch and family court’s a pack of them. I want to say Sam’s got about as much chance of getting her kids back as N.H.S. cleaners have of securing a fair working contract. There’s no friendship so sacred as a paedo friendship and Sam’s trying to break up a whole gang so…
When you’re a feminist and a writer and all round nosy person, you hear a lot of stories. Many sad, because people feel more comfortable sharing grief and because most of us have known sadness. But you also hear joyous events recounted, and surreal happenings that defy conventional understanding, and those glorious gems of human experience where the little guy wins, where Truth was spoken to power, in the right way, at the right moment, and power had no option but to listen.
And isn’t it grand to imagine that Sam might have her moment, and whilst there’s not limitless gold at the end of the rainbow, there might be enough humanity and compassion within this otherwise broken system to reunite a loving Mother and her beautiful boys?