Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Some Good News!

It was the last thing I thought of before going to sleep last night and the first thing in my mind this morning.

The five year old boy missing in Middlesborough.

They found him - eleven hours after he went missing. What his family must have been through in those eleven hours doesn't bear thinking about.

It is amazing the distances small children can travel and how quickly they can vanish.

I was reminded of a day at the beach when my two oldest children were aged 2 and 4. It was quite a busy day, lots of people about, but we found a quiet spot in front of the long row of beach huts.

I noticed a man leaning on the sea wall watching us. He made me feel uneasy. There was something about him at odds with the other people at the beach. I tried to tell myself he was just someone out for a walk, but he stood there watching my kids for far too long.

You just know when someone doesn't fit in don't you? When they don't feel right.

In the end I decided to pack up and go home. I dried my son off first and dressed him then I stood him beside his push chair and said, "Don't move." Yes I know, telling a two year old not to move - I should have known better.

I then dried and dressed my daughter. When I turned round, my son had gone. I ran up the steps just as he was about to walk through a gap in the beach huts much further along the prom - and right behind him was the guy who had been watching them.

That scene is imprinted on my memory like a photograph. I could even describe the guy to you, every thing he was wearing, his scruffy dark hair, his height - his caramel coloured leather jacket (on a hot day!).

I think everyone on the beach and prom heard me yell. Heads turned. Thankfully my son heard too - turned around and came back. The man hurried on through the gap and disappeared.

The thing is, if I hadn't looked up when I did, I wouldn't have known which direction he'd gone in or where to start looking. It makes my blood run cold when I think about it. And this happened when I was acutely aware of danger. I still managed to almost lose him.

Maybe the guy really was just an innocent bystander. But surely an innocent bystander on seeing a two year old wander off would have told the child's mother, not walked off after him.

Around that time a man had been approaching children outside my daughter's school. The police were "aware" of him.

Those few seconds have haunted me for years. The what ifs and what could have beens.

I was just so very glad when I heard the news that they'd found that little boy safe and well.


  1. Reading this made me shiver, Teresa - I think every parent reading it would have been sympathising with the terror you felt that day. Probably all of us had similar experiences - although perhaps not quite so terrifying - when our kids were little, and we lost sight of them for even seconds ... I swear your heart stops completely during the time it takes to find them again. Thank God your son was safe, and thank God the missing boy has been found, too. Eleven hours! It doesn't bear thinking about.

  2. Thanks goodness for happy outcomes in both cases.

  3. I'm not of the mindset to see a pedophile round every corner. I know it happens but no more often than it did when I was growing up some (!) years ago.

    But I have had the experience of losing one of my twins on the beach at Southwold one year. Just for five minutes. But they were the longest five minutes in my life and the worst bit of it was when my husband ran to the water's edge and peered down into the water. It was like - if he thinks he might have drowned then it makes it a possibility, do you know?

    Then, suddenly, there he was, strutting down the beach towards us, this bloke in tow. "Is this your little chap?" he said. He'd just been strolling along the sea front, quite confidently, to see what he could see. Not realising the terror he'd been putting us through. I think he was two at the time. I still shiver to think of it.

  4. It's the universal fear of all parents isn't it? To lose a child - even for a few minutes. I go cold just thinking about it. We lost my daughter in Mothercare for a few minutes last year and even though I knew it was a store and the security guards and staff were aware and looking for her I couldn't get it out of my hed that someone had taken her out of the store - every time the store doors opened my heart flipped. It was horrid. But she was hiding in a rack of clothes, the little minx, giggling!

    I still think of little Maddy McCann and her family. That case really got to me and I still hope they will find her alive. But either way that family need to know what happened to her. Truly awful.

    Julie xx

  5. It's an awful feeling to lose a child if only for a couple of minutes. It happened to me years ago when we were on holiday in Tenby. I was walking through a large open air market with the children who were 4 and 2 years old. I had just bought a washing up bowl for the caravan and let go of my son's hand for just a couple of seconds to pay a stall holder. When I turned back he was gone.

    I was frantic. I yelled out his name and searched the sea of faces, but couldn't see him. Within a short while [although it seemed ages] an elderly lady walked through the crowd and brought him back to me. She realised he was mine when she noticed my daughter was wearing exactly the same striped t-shirt. I didn't usually dress them alike but for some reason that day they wore identical t-shirts.

    It turned out he had only wandered across to the next stall but I couldn't see him because of the crowds.

    I hugged him tight that day I can tell you.

    You obviously had some sort of intuition about that man, Teresa. It makes you wonder over the years how many people watch children on the beach without us even realising.

    It's nice there was a happy ending to both your story and the little boy yesterday.

  6. The heart definitely does seem to stop doesn’t it, Olivia! It must be one of the worst feelings in the world when you think they’re lost.

    I’m still smiling about them finding that little boy safe, Helen!

    I think you’re right, Geri, most people are fine and I’m so glad your little chap was found safe. Two year olds seem to think they’re invincible! But at that time we had someone known to the police hanging about outside schools and so on and I’ve no doubt it was the same guy.

    It’s a horrible experience isn’t it, Julie! It seems to be one we’ve all had at some time or another.

    I can imagine your panic, Lynette! I found a little girl in floods of tears in the market in Aylesbury a couple of years ago – didn’t know what to do so I thought if I just waited with her, her mother would turn up. She did! Poor woman was in such a state – the child has probably forgotten all about it by now, but the mum never will.

  7. I 'lost' my daughter years ago in a store for all of 5 minutes so know exactly what you're talking about. But now my husband and I are older (and perhaps wiser!), we are saddened that as we walk along the beach or in the park, we don't feel we can interact in any way with children - even to hold out the toy they're leaving behind. It's so very sad that children are being taught to be frightened of us.

  8. That's a shame anonymous, very sad that you have been made to feel that way.
    My grandchildren love it when adults stop to chat with them - my children did too. I'd hate them to grow up afraid to talk to people.

  9. I have chills. The hairs a sticking up on my arms. I was watching this thing on Oprah and there was a specialists saying that you should always listen to your instinct. Women would return to empty houses and something wouldn't feel right, in that case, you shouldn't go in. That's when they've been attacked. The same thing applies doesn't it. You wanted to get away from that man. Thank god for that "funny" feeling :)

  10. Thanks Lacey - sounds like sensible advice from that specialist!

  11. To lose sight of a child even for a second is a nightmare, so I can't begin to think how that little boy's parents must feel to have him back safe.
    I have to agree with'Anon' in that I too check myself everytime I smile or chat to a child.
    We own a corner shop and when we started out 25 yrs ago we'd think nothing of handing out lollipops or penny sweets to the customers' kids but nowadays we don't do it. Why? Because my hubby handed out a 10p choc bar to a little boy (after consulting his mum first) and though she seemed grateful at the time - he'd been screaming the place down - we later heard she'd thought it 'creepy'.
    I can tell you, we were deeply offended and hurt. It's so sad when every act of kindness towards children is suspect. But, I suppose, better safe than sorry.

  12. I have never and never will change my behaviour towards small children and would advise others not to do so either. By changing it it only helps propagate the myth that everyone is a pervert until proved otherwise. Remember, that most child abuse occurs within the home at the hands of parents, friends of the family and relatives.

  13. Meant to add, Sue, that that customer of yours sounds really creepy to me. I feel sorry for her.

  14. What an appalling woman, Sue! I agree with Geri – it is the customer who sounds creepy! No wonder you were hurt.

    The guy who had our corner shop was always handing out lollipops to the kids – he and his wife were a lovely couple and everyone was very fond of them. They still talk about them now with fond memories, so don’t let that awful woman change who you are, Sue!

  15. 11 hours is a very long time for a small boy to be lost. Like everyone else, I’m so relieved that he was found alive.

    You were definitely right to be wary of that man, Teresa, it all sounds very odd. And I'm so glad you caught up with your little boy in time. We've all had those heart-stop moments when things might have turned out very badly.

    My own happened fairly recently - a car accident. We hit a tree on the way to school one morning. The tree had blown down into the road in the night (I didn't drive into a field or anything) and it was still very dark so I didn't see it in time (but, thankfully, I was going fairly slowly because of the conditions). The passenger side (where she was sitting) was badly damaged and my daughter arrived at school covered in shattered windscreen and thoroughly shaken (a branch having missed her by inches), but thankfully unhurt. I still have nightmares about what might have happened had I been going a few mph faster. Obviously, this has nothing to do with stranger-danger, but my blood still runs cold when I relive it. And I still feel guilty, even though it was an accident and there was nothing anyone could have reasonably done to avoid it.

    Geraldine's right that the statistics prove that most abuse is at the hands of someone known to the child. However, knowing that, I'm sure, wouldn't make it any easier if it's your child who's being targeted by a stranger. There are some very evil people out there who’ll go to great lengths to lure children or obtain images of them. And these days it's not just the monsters you can see - forget the advert of the 70s where the young lad's being offered the chance to see some puppies and Charlie the cat reminds him that his mum wouldn't want him to go - paedophiles these days have much more sophisticated means at their disposal. Some have software that can infiltrate a child's computer (a lot of children have computers in their bedrooms) and remotely operate the webcam when the child thinks the computer's turned off. The images obtained can then be sold on and the child will be unaware, or even used to blackmail the child into provide more lurid footage ("if you don't do what I ask, I'll show your mum this film"). One very simple way to protect a child from this is to insist that any computer with internet access remains in a common area of the house (such as a living room).

    It's scary stuff, but I did get this from a very good source - a child protection course for a national children's charity (I left that job before I was obliged to do part 2 of the course – too upsetting).

    Thankfully, as has been said, child abuse is very rare and the danger posed by strangers ever rarer. It’s important to remain aware, but also important to allow children the room to grow and interact normally with people in the outside world.

    As adults, though, it's becoming increasingly necessary to be careful not to put ourselves, quite innocently, in the firing line. It's sad but true that a very kind gesture can be turned into something unsavoury by malicious people. I would have viewed Sue and her husband handing out sweets to local children (particularly with parental permission) as nothing more than a very kind gesture and it’s so sad that they had to make the decision to stop doing this in order to protect themselves from mean-minded individuals. It's such a shame that others who would have been appreciative of the gesture have to lose out and an innocent couple have been hurt. Most people in society are lovely, but that message seems to have been lost and, while I’d do anything to protect my child, I hardly think a kindly shopkeeper offering her a sweet in my presence poses any threat.

    Sorry, I seem to have gone off on a mega rant there.

  16. How awful – your car accident Suzanne (but I liked the fact you said you hadn’t driven into a field or anything!) I’m so glad neither of you were hurt. It’s never what actually happened at times like that but as you say what might have happened – and the guilt is perfectly natural even if you’ve nothing to feel guilty about - as you haven’t!

    You should put your comment up as a blog – it’s very good and balanced, if disturbing to read.

  17. I'm shivering too. I've mislaid my children on occasion and it is the most frightening thing ever.

    Your man at the prom reminds me of something that happened to a friend. He was (briefly) employed as a private investigator. One day he was involved in a custody case, and had followed a man and his child to the beach, watching for evidence that the man might not be adequately looking after the child. He was there so long watching, people got suspicious and called the police, and he had to explain his actions with a very red face.

  18. Poor bloke, WW! How embarrassing. At least he could explain what he was up to!