Page last updated at 19:23 GMT, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 20:23 UK

Why Baby P names were kept secret

Tracey Connelly and Steven Barker
Names and faces have finally been put to Baby Peter's mother and her lover

The Baby Peter case has become notorious, but it is only now - two years after the 17-month-old's death - that the public has officially learned that Peter's surname was Connelly, his mother is Tracey Connelly and her boyfriend is Steven Barker.

So why were the names of the pair - both guilty of causing Peter's death - kept secret until nine months after their convictions when other defendants in child cruelty cases have been named from the outset?

The mainstream press has eventually been able to reveal the identities of the couple because a court order protecting the anonymity of the couple expired at 2300 BST on Monday.

Up until May this year, the baby boy, who suffered months of abuse at his home in north London, was known only as Baby P.

However, the public knew about and had seen pictures of Jason Owen - the lodger who was also found guilty of causing Peter's death.

But what was not made public until now was his connection to Barker - they are in fact brothers. Jason Owen had earlier changed his name.

Jason Owen
It has been revealed that Jason Owen is Barker's older brother

There were two reasons behind the veil of secrecy. The first being the need to protect the identity of Baby Peter's four siblings.

Connelly has three other children by Baby Peter's father and gave birth to her youngest, who is Barker's child, in prison.

The anonymity order was lifted because all four of Connelly's remaining children are now being cared for.

Barker and Connelly could also not be named initially because they were involved in another trial and there was a risk of prejudice.

On 1 May, Barker was convicted of raping a two-year-old girl but Connelly was cleared of a child cruelty charge.

With the second trial complete, the trio were then sentenced for causing the death of Baby Peter.

Consequences and costs

The judge who imposed the anonymity order, Mr Justice Coleridge, said the identities of those involved had to be released to maintain public confidence in the judicial system.

And while the legal presumption is that guilty people should be named, the lifting of the anonymity order has proved controversial.

Harry Fletcher, from the probation officers' union Napo, said it was right to publish the names, but warned there would be consequences and costs well into the future to supply protection and new identities if the three are released.

Baby P
Baby Peter's death received a lot of media coverage

"The first consequence falls to the prison service," he said. "They will have to try and keep these three people safe within the jail environment."

Lynne Featherstone, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green in north London, where Peter died, said people needed "to know the names and see the faces to understand that justice had been done".

"The anonymity should extend to them (the children) through to adulthood and perhaps beyond but not to their parents," she said.

"Those children have now hopefully been carefully placed in other families or in care where they will live a different life and their anonymity should be protected."

She added she feared "revenge attacks" especially given the further "horrifying" details which emerged with the names.

'Prurient interest'

Others wonder what revealing the names has achieved.

David Barnes, from the British Association of Social Workers, told the BBC the interests of the other children "have to come first".

We have an issue about their identity which I think is in danger of being smothered by all the anger about Tracey Connelly and the two men
Roger Smith, director of Justice

"There are some disadvantages in that it may lead to yet another storm of opinion that actually doesn't get to a real understanding of the case," he said.

Wes Cuell, director of children's services at the NSPCC, said there was a danger of the children being scrutinised by the press and perhaps bullied later on in life.

"We have to accept that the Baby Peter case is extraordinary in terms of the interest it has generated," he said.

"There are children in the family who still have to grow up and what we need to make sure is that our interest in the case doesn't lead to an unnecessary and prurient interest in their lives that is going to get in the way of their development."

Roger Smith, director of Justice, the law reform and human rights organisation, said while the judge was right in law, the public did not need to know the names.

"The real issue is about the siblings," he said. "We have an issue about their identity which I think is in danger of being smothered by all the anger about Tracey Connelly and the two men."

Internet issues

While the mainstream press has abided by the gagging order, the couple's names and pictures have been all over the internet for months, and Mr Smith said "technology had run ahead of the law".

"If there is to be a period of catch-up, it will take international co-operation at an advanced level and a long time," he said.

Peter Garsden, president of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, also told the BBC he believed releasing the names had little benefit.

"In some cases where you have stranger abuse, the publication of the accused's name can bring forward further victims," he said.

When in practice some information... can be reached by millions at the press of a button, and those millions know the information is there, the law risks making itself look foolish
Media lawyer Rosalind McInnes

But in this case, where the abuse took place within a family, he went on, "the publication of the name is only likely to exacerbate feelings of anger amongst the public and possible vigilante activity if they're ever released from prison."

The legal restrictions concealing the names of Tracey Connelly and Steven Barker provoked a backlash on the internet.

Blogs, websites and chatrooms almost wrecked their second trial for rape and child cruelty.

Defence lawyers argued any jury trying the mother and boyfriend would be prejudiced if they knew who was in the dock in front of them.

They were tried under the names of Young and Wilson to avoid the jury linking them to the Baby Peter case but even those leaked out.

Juries 'trusted'

The trial came to an abrupt halt and police were ordered to investigate the source of the information.

Finally, it was decided it could continue, but only once the jury were given firm instructions not to do any research on the internet.

Media lawyer Rosalind McInnes, who lectures at Glasgow University, said the fact the identities were available on the web meant the law risked being undermined.

"When in practice some information - whether it's a name or a photograph - can be reached by millions at the press of a button, and those millions know the information is there, the law risks making itself look foolish," she said.

Consequently, "more and more judges" were trusting juries to come to a verdict based on the evidence in court, directing them to disregard anything else they may hear about the case outside the courtroom, Ms McInnes said.

The Baby Peter case also meant the media were much better placed to push to name adults convicted of similar offences in the future "where an order has been substantially undermined by publication on the internet", she added.



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