Saturday morning. I’m on duty. My three children – a five year-old, and three-year-old twins – announce that they are going to a neighbour’s house to play. We know the neighbour well. As they put on their shoes, I surreptitiously take hold of the Saturday papers and pick up my cup of tea. This, I think, will be a welcome break.
Then something stops me. The neighbour lives only three doors down; the children will be there in seconds. But the face of April Jones has appeared in my mind and isn’t going away. I find myself putting down the papers. Knowing I am acting irrationally, I accompany my children to the door and keep an eye on them until they are safely inside. Even then, my mind is not at rest.
David Cameron does not very often come up with phrases that resonate. When he referred to the abduction of April Jones as “every family’s nightmare”, however, he hit a nerve. The abduction has certainly exaggerated my insecurities about my children. It’s one thing to know that one shouldn’t overreact. It’s quite another to have the self-control to quell the nagging sense of panic.
A friend of ours, however, remains laissez-faire. She has always allowed her children to roam freely outside, and maintains this as a point of principle. “You can do more damage to your children by mollycoddling them,” she says. “Nobody wants to live in a paranoid world, but we’re making the world that way by panicking.” She’s right, of course. But for many of us, the feeling of “what if” is difficult to ignore.
What makes it even harder to strike a judicious balance between free play and safety is that the authorities do not collate data on abductions (as opposed to murder) in any meaningful way. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), a department of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), says that there are about 550 child abductions a year. But they do not know how many of these are perpetrated by strangers, and how many by family members or friends. They do not record motives, the sex of the victims, the length of the abduction, or whether it led to a serious crime or not. They do not estimate how many abductions, or attempted abductions, go unreported. This makes it difficult to get a handle on the true risk, and difficult to believe that the police have things under control. Continue reading on the Telegraph website