The tragic casualty of a flawed cash-starved system

Thursday, 27th May 2021

THE appalling murder of a mother by a man, who had killed his former partners twice before, barely registered on the national news agenda when it happened.

Angela Best was beaten with a claw hammer and strangled by Theodore Johnson. Incredibly, her killer already had two manslaughter convictions that Ms Best was unaware for much of their relationship.

Clearly, not enough was done to ensure he was adhering to the conditions of his release. Shortly after the murder, in 2016, the authorities were panicking about the fallout from this sickening tragedy.

But despite the shocking details of the case now being heard in the public domain at inquest, few people will know her name. Why did Angela Best’s death not become a Sarah Everard moment at that time?

The cold fact is that, in this country, the brutal murder of a black woman does not trigger the same level of outrage.

There were no real statements from leading politicians in the House of Commons. No phone-in debates on the radio, or special features on the TV news.

Social workers – often overwhelmed with cases following public sector cuts – may catch some blame. But the problem is surely far bigger than any individual.

We have for many years now been living in a world where public sector workers are so stretched that the kind of stringent scrutiny, which was required in this case, is not even close to being possible.

Outsourcing and privatisation has left probation and mental health outreach teams fractured and lacking in resources. No doubt many, many other cases have slipped through the net – fortunately without such terrible consequences.

The vast majority of people who commit crimes are not terrible people. They should be allowed to get on with their lives after serving sentences, and not be forever followed around and haunted by their past. Those with severe mental health problems deserve our time, compassion and better understanding.

But surely a woman has the right to be told that her current boyfriend has convictions for killing two previous lovers?

Surely some better system must be in place, for cases of this magnitude where a life is literally at stake, other than simply “self reporting”.

The inquest is ongoing. But judging by the evidence heard so far, the coroner is likely to make some findings about systemic failures.

Too little too late for Ms Best’s relatives. But we can only hope that the scarcely believable sequence of events leads to some kind of meaningful reform.

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