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Home > Culture and Society

Child Murder: No, daddy, don't write a book about me!

2 July 2004

'Buy Beyond Evil [book about the Soham murders] with Sara Payne: A Mother's Story today!

Total List Price: 33.98

Buy Together Today: 23.78

You Save: 10.20'

- Amazon.com


Amazon's ghoulish offer gives just a hint of the shamelessness of what is perhaps best described as 'the dead child publishing industry'.

Also available on Amazon is the jaw-dropping title 'No, Daddy, Don't!', 'the horrifying true story of John Battaglia... who committed the ultimate act of violence and betrayal by murdering his two young daughters'. Or you might want to dip into 'Hush Little Babies', 'the appalling true story of Darlie Routier... who, one night, coldly, calculatingly and brutally stabbed her two sons and watched them die in a pool of their own blood'.

It's easy to laugh at sensationalist pulp non-fiction. It's usually appallingly written (has anyone ever died in a pool of someone else's blood?) and aimed squarely at the enormous and undiscerning real-life crime market. The authors are hack writers or journalists who base their accounts on newspaper cuttings and highly dubious speculation about what killers *might* have been thinking.

But recently we've seen the emergence of an unsettling sub-genre of crime non-fiction: books by the parents of murdered children.

This week Kevin Wells was said to be planning to publish the diary he kept after the death of his daughter Holly. The book deal isn't confirmed, but at the end of last year it was revealed that Kevin and Nicola Wells signed a deal with the Mail on Sunday worth almost 500,000 to tell their story. The deal was believed to include serialisation rights to a book that Kevin Wells was writing about their ordeal, so it's likely his own words will emerge in book form before long.

In fact it seems to be the law that if your child has been murdered or died prematurely, you've got to write a book about it. Or at least allow one to be ghostwritten.

Sara Payne, mother of murdered Sarah Payne, has 'written' two books: 'Sara Payne: A Mother's Story' and 'Down Your Street'. Then there's 'Every Mother's Nightmare', written 'with the cooperation of the Bulger family' about the murder of Jamie. The vocal - some would say 'self-promoting' - father of ecstasy casualty Leah Betts, Paul, has written 'The Party's Over: Living without Leah', with his wife Janet. If the death of one child fails to move you, why not try mass murder? 'Dunblane: Never Forget' is by Mick North, whose daughter Sophie was murdered in the Dunblane massacre.

Two questions spring to mind: who the hell thinks up the titles of these books? And why do the parents 'write' them?

Some motivations are obvious. Many parents want to 'stop the same thing happening again'. Some have a specific point to make, such as Mick North, who justifiably blamed piecemeal firearms regulation for the Dunblane killings. Others say it is 'catharsis' (as Kevin Wells has done) to write about their loss. Other bereaved parents probably see a book as a tribute or memorial to their child, and some do it to raise money for charities, often ones set up as a result of the death of their own child.

But are all the motives really so pure? It would be callous to suggest that people are in it purely for the money, but there is the suspicion that suffering a high-profile bereavement allows some individuals to take their lives in a new direction, usually campaigning against whatever was the cause of their child's

Paul Betts is probably the best example of this, reinventing himself as a 'tireless campaigner' against drugs. However, it's questionable what Betts' angry, sanctimonious, 'just say no' campaigning actually achieved. Except ensuring that his daughter will forever be known as: 'Tragic Ecstasy Death Teenager Leah

In the case of murdered children, the benefits of publishing books are even harder to ascertain. Everyone knows Holly and Jessica were murdered and that there were serious failings in a system that allowed Ian Huntley to have contact with children and teenagers. What purpose does the book serve except providing easy-reading for the morbid and the mawkish? Is that a fitting tribute to your daughter, turning her death into holiday reading for people who also bought the death of Diana, Princess of Crocodile Tears?

Most high-profile child deaths are very rare. In terms of being able to prevent future deaths, the truth is that most of these books have no more value than blatantly prurient death- sploitation titles like 'RIPPER! Inside the Mind of a Maniac'. But God forbid anyone criticise those involved in this beyond-the-grave exploitation, whether it's parents or venal media outlets.

We rightly condemn people who cash in on the death of others - biographers who play fast and loose with the facts like Albert Goldman, and people like Paul Burrell who have made a small fortune by telling stories whose veracity can never be proven. But you can't question the motives of the parents and publishers who churn out books about dead children.

Kiddies are dead, end of argument

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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