Mary Flora Bell at the age of 11, strangled to death two little boys in Scotswood, an inner-city suburb of Newcastle upon Tyne. She was convicted in December 1968 of the manslaughter of Martin Brown (aged four) and Brian Howe (aged three). In this book Gitta Sereny controversially collaborates with Mary to provide a thought provoking biography that sheds some light on one of the most infamous child-killers of the 20th century.
I went into this book not having read her other book on the case (The Case of Mary Bell: A Portrait of a Child Who Murdered). The book was well written with a relatively easy to read journalistic style of writing. The book is structured in a way that Gitta writes a factual summery of a period of time which is followed by the reflective memory of Mary ad those who worked with her. I have two main criticism of Gitta, one is that there is almost an air of hero worship in the tone of her writing, this could be because she has spent so much time covering the case. The second is how she related the lack of religious faith to the fall of morality. If you need the fear of hell to behave in a good way then you’re not the nicest of people to begin with.
Mary comes across as a really articulate and intellectual, especially considering her start in life and the time spent in the system. One thing that strikes me as really interesting is her writing ability which can be seen in her letters.
The inadequacies of the UK judicial system, when it comes to youth offenders, is shocking. There was a clear bias by all involved to put the blame on Mary while Norma Joyce Bell was treated with protective gloves. From where she was held on remand to the way the prosecutor omitted evidence. It may be controversial to say but the evidence shows that Norma played on her ‘slow’ status.
There seems to have been many opportunity to remove Mary from her mother’s care and i can’t help but think how different life would have been for her and more importantly for Martin Brown and Brian Howe.
Reading this book with an open mind and the belief that there must be something that has happened to these children to make them commit these horrendous crimes. I must admit that I now stand by this view with even more conviction. This does not take away from the horror and torment she caused to those two children and their families. The revelations about Mary’s childhood and the physical, mental, and most of all, disgusting sexual abuse suffered at the hands of her prostitute mother. Her mother, Betty, clearly demonstrates a clear narcissistic tendency of needing to be the centre of attention and this came at the cost of Mary’s parental ‘safety blanket’.
Overall it is a really interesting book which shows how not everything is black and white when it comes to these cases.
If your looking for a book that condemns child killers without a thought, then this is not the one for you. But on the other hand if you want a book that makes you think long and hard about what can cause these acts, this is it.
I give it 4 out of 5.