It is hard to imagine a sadder story than that of Fiona Pilkington, who died with her daughter, Francecca, in a burning car on Oct. 23, 2007. They had suffered years of abuse from neighborhood roughs. Francecca had a mental age of only 4. Their cries for help, from police and the local council, went unheard. In the end, Fiona took the appalling decision to end it all.
There has been no lack of comment on the case, as the inquest jury returned its verdict on Sept. 28 and the police and criminal justice system were blamed. The mother and daughter lived in Barwell, about a hundred miles northwest of London.
It is hard to argue with the grim fact: the phone calls not taken seriously, the complaints not followed up, the terror not acknowledged – and there is no particular reason to argue. The plain truth is that if this family had been more articulate, better connected, better educated, wealthier, more able to make a fuss, two people would still be alive today.
This is not to say that anyone deliberately neglected them. The various agencies that failed in their responsibility would be horrified at the accusation. But they didn’t matter enough for anyone to ask, “Now what do these people actually need?”
And let’s be clear, too, that this doesn’t represent some unique wickedness that would never have happened a generation ago. It would and it did. In all sorts of ways, our society’s gotten better; that’s why an event like this is news. But still, Fiona and Francecca were utterly failed.
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Two things, then, we can say. First, there’s a verse in Proverbs 31 which, coincidentally, was revealed as the nation’s favorite anti-poverty verse recently. It says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
This is a clarion call to Christians to act in such a way that such things do not happen. These are gospel matters, first and foremost. As churches and individuals, we cannot do everything. We are condemned, however, if we do not do what we can.
Second, we are in the middle of the party conference season. The parades of politicians across our TV screens can become wearisome. Thanks to the expenses scandal, it is probably 200 years since the class as a whole has been held in such low esteem.
But the great advances in the fight against poverty and lawlessness have been made when the principles articulated in Proverbs 31 have been given flesh and bones through the transformation of whole societies.
This is not done by people carping from the sidelines at those with their hands on the levers of power – and there is no shortage of Christian lobby groups doing that. It is done by men and women with the courage to grasp those levers themselves, facing not just the intransigence of the issues themselves, but the criticism of those who do not understand them and will not give them the credit that is their due.
The life of a politician – a politician with integrity – is a hard one. But it is an honorable Christian calling. With more Christians in politics, there might be fewer Fiona Pilkingtons in the news.