The victim of a victim

June 9, 1995

Claire Sanders reports on the aftermath of the traumatic discovery of a dead baby in a university lavatory. On April 10 a cleaner from the private cleaning company, PHS Ltd, noticed that a sanitary disposal bin in one of the toilets at London Guildhall University was particularly heavy. She peered inside and discovered the remains of a baby.

The find sent shock waves throughout the university and was reported, briefly, in the national press. It plunged the university into a series of ethical dilemmas, not least how to protect one of their students in what is being treated by the police as a case of infanticide.

Roderick Floud, provost of LGU, has described his institution as "straddling a geographical and cultural fault line between the City and the East End". The university attracts huge numbers of mature students from this impoverished area of London. In fact, two-thirds of the its full-time student population of 7,075 are locals. Its percentage of ethnic minority students is also high, with more than half its full-time students and 40 per cent of part-timers declaring themselves to be non-white. About 4 per cent of the university's students are Bangladeshi.

But the university also attracts large numbers of students from the financial empire which is the City of London, particularly on its continuing professional development courses. In all the university has 5,639 part-time students, 70 per cent on professional courses.

The baby was found in the university's Moorgate building, which houses its business faculty, in the heart of the City. The faculty is used by students living in the East End as well as those working in the financial district.

Ray Angel, director of the student affairs department at the university which includes the student counselling and advice centre, says: "We obviously cannot be sure that the mother of the dead child is a student, but that is clearly a strong possibility."

The details of the child's death, as the police have been able to piece them together so far, are traumatic. On the evening of March 30 blood was found in the same toilets that the child's body was eventually found in. It appears that the woman gave birth there. It is also believed that witnesses have reported hearing a child crying in the toilets on that day.

But Detective Inspector Morgan, who is leading the inquiry, has little more to go on. Despite extensive inquiries among lecturers and students alike, no one has a clear recollection of a student being pregnant one minute and not the next.

By the time the child was found it was impossible to be precise about the cause of death, although there is some evidence that the baby may have been suffocated. But forensic inquiries are continuing.

Anna Hellman, manager of the student counselling and advice centre, says that it is not inconceivable that a woman could hide her pregnancy from her nearest and dearest - even from her partner.

The case of Caroline Beale, who has been arrested in America and charged with "murder two" - acting with depraved indifference to human life - after trying to take her dead baby on a flight back to Britain, illustrates this. Beale who kept her pregnancy a secret from all her close friends, including her common law husband of ten years, claims that the baby was born dead. The prosecution say otherwise and Ms Beale faces a 15-year prison sentence if her plea that she was suffering from post-partum psychosis is not accepted by the court.

If Beale had made it back to Britain she would have faced a lesser charge. Under the 1938 Infanticide Law she would face a charge equivalent to manslaughter and would probably have received prompt psychiatric treatment.

One of the first actions of the police in the LGU case was to ask both the counselling service and the health centre if they had been approached by a woman concerned about pregnancy in the past few months. For both services this raised vital questions around confidentiality.

"We always explain to people who come to us for counselling that what they say to us will be treated with the strictest confidence unless they represent a danger to themselves or to others," says Angel.

Both the health service and counselling service scoured their files for a student fitting the police's description - they found none. However, if the police had wanted to see an individual's file they would have had to get a court order.

"We didn't really expect to find such a case on our files," explains Hellman. "If the woman had come for counselling it is very unlikely that this death would have occurred."

The advisory service has had to expand in recent years, mainly in order to deal with the huge numbers of students in need of financial advice. However, a third of students who approach the service still come for personal rather than financial counselling. The service attracts few part-time students, but large numbers of mature students. In 1993/94 appointments were made for 1,406 students, and a large number were dealt with on first contact without needing appointments.

Following the murder the police put up notices throughout the university appealing for witnesses. A front-page article in City Reflections, the LGU's students' union newspaper, also contained a quote from Daniel Affat, vice president of the union: "There are trained counsellors at the university who can help this woman deal with this situation. I can imagine she is going through something of an ordeal."

The problem is that if the counselling service was specifically to encourage the woman to come forward, they could be guilty of entrapment. Should the police discover for certain that the baby was alive at the time of its birth, and that it did die through suffocation, then the woman would face serious charges.

In the meantime, while witnesses have come forward, the woman herself has not - and neither Hellman nor Angel think that she will. This means she cannot receive the treatment that she needs. Treatment that could have saved her child's life.

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