Amanda Hutton Is Not Like Us

When Amanda Hutton, mother of little Hamzah Khan, was sentenced to fifteen years in prison on charges of manslaughter and neglect, there was uproar in some quarters of the press and internet. The general consensus seemed to be that hanging would be too good for her. Here was a woman, a mother, who had allowed her own child to starve to death in the most appallingly squalid conditions while she drank herself to oblivion. If you followed the trial reports, other details emerged that were almost equally troubling. She was the mother of eight (how feckless) and had claimed child benefit after Hamzah’s death (a benefits cheat). True, there was the fact that the child’s father had beaten her up and actually been prosecuted for doing so, but what is that in the general scale of things? He had pleaded with the authorities to look after his child and they had failed to do so. The fact remains that Amanda Hutton was a selfish and cruel woman, an unnatural mother, who deserves to die for what she did. Or so the mob would say.

I must admit I am uneasy about the reaction to Amanda Hutton. It strikes me as being rather like the reaction to the Mick Philpot case or those convicted of paedophilia. It seems as though we all need to be able to say, ‘Bad as I am, I am not as bad as he/she is.’ We may want to say it, but I wonder whether it is true. I am never convinced by those who say they would be incapable of doing such and such a thing for the simple reason that I know myself to be capable of any enormity or sin. Law, custom, a sense of shame or even self-preservation may hold us back, but we none of us have perfect control over our thoughts and feelings. It takes only a sudden flare-up of anger, the presence of a weapon and the potential to harm another is there — even a well-aimed dishcloth can deliver a surprising sting, though the effects are not usually deadly. Add to the mix illness, addiction, financial pressure or what have you, and the potential to harm becomes greater still. In Amanda Hutton’s case, she has committed the ultimate sin of failing to live up to our ideas of motherhood and we damn her for her failure as much as for her crime.

Of course, most people don’t do such dreadful things as Amanda Hutton has been convicted of. Most mothers do not neglect their children or allow them to live in squalour. Most fathers do not expect the State to exercise the duty of care in place of themselves as Aftab Khan did. But in the midst of all the vicarious anger Hamzah Khan’s death has provoked, one important fact is in danger of being lost sight of. Unless or until we each of us understand that the greatest gift of all is life itself, we shall go on experiencing such tragedies because, in a way, we are all implicated. We each of us have a duty to help others, never more so than when they seem to be failing in some way. It was not only Amanda Hutton who stood in the dock but, in a sense, all twenty-first century Britain, with its plethora of laws and regulations designed to make life safer and and better for all. Ultimately, however, it is the personal that counts. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ is one of the oldest questions in the world, and still one of the most difficult to answer.

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31 thoughts on “Amanda Hutton Is Not Like Us”

  1. So true, in so many ways. Before my retirement a few years ago I worked in special educational needs administration. Cases of quiet heroism in families abounded, but cases of its opposite were more common than one might have hoped and it was constantly apparent that they had their roots deep in the society which we’ve all had a hand in building. Had we ourselves done more to protest and, where appropriate, act against the more pernicious of society’s choices, some of the horrors one came across might conceivably have been headed off. Let him who is without sin, and all that.

  2. Lovely article but there is never anything other than evil present when people harm kids to this degree. The worst of sins. We can assume levels of blame, sure, and we should, but ultimately sin is individual thanks to free will and she carries that sin forever. And no punishment we can mete will beat the pain she’ll now suffer until her dying day. I don’t believe in capital punishment under any circumstance; why deny the universe the chance to enlighten them slowly. Is there a punishment worse than recognizing evil in oneself? I think not. May her soul find peace. I can’t think of a more painful punishment for her than that. The horror. The horror.

    • I am not exonerating Amanda Hutton, nor denying the reality of evil or belittling personal responsibility. The problem comes when we judge that another person is evil, as distinct from having performed an evil act. The case of Amanda Hutton is surely a tragedy all round. The kind of remarks we have been seeing on Twitter say more about us than they do about her, in my opinion.

  3. Hmm. I’m not sure. I worked in a rehab for 6 years, and yes we would get addicts who were mothers and had been charged with neglect. This tended to be things like falling asleep drunk when breast feeding, oversights in supervision, lack of attention to hygiene and clothing. They all loved their children, they just hadn’t been very good at looking after then, and in most cases the children had been removed from their care. I do think society judged these women much more harshly than men in a similar situation. Being women was somehow supposed to make them better than that and this their failures were worse.

    However in Amanda Hutton’s case she effectively tortured a small child for what must have been months, and then left his body to rot. This isn’t a case of an addict not being able to cope, or her parental responsibilities being to much for her. There is a level of intent to consistently not feeding a child. For whatever reason, she wanted that child to suffer.

    Yes, the media are all over this and people read the horrific details in vicarious indignation. I don’t think this is really a case of ‘cast no stones’ though. What Amanda Hutton did had a degree of malicious intent. It was an evil act, and perhaps she was mad. It is not however an act most people would commit, no matter their circumstances, no matter how badly life had treated them. I agree we have a duty to look after people, but how could one possible foresee something do very alien to our very natures.

    • Thank you for your comment, which is very helpful. Can a mad person be capable of malice? Or, to put it another way, what is the degree of moral responsibility of someone whose mind/emotions are not working in the way society considers ‘normal’? I agree the Amanda Hutton case is very complex and I trust the Judge and all those involved in the legal process arrived at their conclusions after much reflection, but I think one may still query the reaction of those who have called for a stiffer penalty and question whether we are ore and more living as strangers to one another.

  4. Last week I did something of which I was deeply ashamed and it was a grace to be reminded that I, too, can be guilty of things for which I can judge others.

  5. I don’t profess to understand how or why Amanda Hutton did what she did, her failures of care, parenthood or even her addictions. Nothing can excuse her neglect of her child(ren), but you quite rightly point out, where was the father in all of this?

    And, I wonder in these days, when officialdom seems all to ready to pry into our privacy and lives and to regulate how we behave and even to think in some cases, did this case escape those authorities, which they knew about, but failed to act on? It’s beyond belief that given the history of the abuse of vulnerable children and adults, and the subsequent inquiries and changes in law and advances in Child and Vulnerable adult protection, that yet another case could go unchallenged.

    I’m not suggesting that the ‘nanny state’ is the answer. We all need to take responsibility for our own actions, but in this case, I wonder if a subsequent inquiry will attach all the blame to the mother, without examining the background culture that allows such cases to arise, continually and regularly.

    Prayers for Amanda Hutton, for her husband and remaining children, who have to go through the rest of their lives carrying the secondary burden of association with this case.

    • Yes, as some have suggested, at the moment all responsibility in this case is being placed on the mother and we may learn more that may modify our views. However, using this tragic case as an illustration, we can all find much to reflect on. That was my point in writing, anyway.

  6. I am confused by the whole case and the reaction.

    It is desperately sad that someone lived in such a state that, despite having a roof over their head and money for alcohol etc, they were able to live in such squalour. That in itself is a great sadness. My personal suspicion is that there was no malice intended towards her son but that this was a sign (perhaps with neon flashing lights) that she could not cope with her life and did not know how to effect change so simply continued in the only way she knew which happened to be the path of self destruction.

    Whatever the truth, whether she was an evil, feckless woman who cared for no-one but herself or whether she drank herself into oblivion as the only way she knew of dealing with her circumstances, it is a tragedy for all involved. A child has lost their life in a manner which should not be happening in a first world country, a woman has been vilified as evil personified and condemned by the public and various agencies accused, yet again, of not stepping in sooner to save the child’s life.

    This case provokes so many questions but few answers. There may be all sorts of protocols, rules, laws etc in place but there will always be cases where people slip through the net and end up suffering. Should more protocols be created? Or should we, as individuals and as a society, learn to take more responsibility for our own actions and encourage others to do the same without the expectation that the state “owes us” protection, wealth, etc?

  7. Thank you, dear Sister, for what you wrote. It helped to release my own feelings and thoughts, frozen by the horror of it all. May it spur us to greater love and brokenness of heart, and to prayer, always prayer, for all involved. Remember too the police and ambulance workers who had to see such things.

  8. I do not know the details of this case. Often in such cases the parent had a childhood without love. I think that people need to experience love and learn about human relationships as children so that they can form relationships with their children. Expect in this case there was just nothing there

  9. Thank you so much for such a thoughtful article. Inside each of us there seems to be a tendency to ‘point the finger’ at others who are ‘worse’ than ourselves. It is right that justice is done and that the mother goes to jail but surely wrong that this is relished by the press. Has society lost sight of the fact that, as you point out so well, the propensity for evil is in each of us? It is not a very fashionable message but it is not inherently a negative one, because of the deep joy of knowing that we are forgiven.

  10. Probably not one good relationship with anyone in her life, her children conceived in violence and despair, living in a society that colludes with that violence and despair and susceptible to the illness and addiction of alcoholism. I’m not convinced that I or many of us would be able to climb out of that to live as a reasonable and contributing member of society. She and all her children are victims and will continue to be so. Please spare some thought for her beginning her prison sentence because if open society’s response has been this the closed society of the prisons she will serve her punishment will deliver much much worse.

  11. Amanda Hutton finds herself in a position of harsh scorn and condemnation, just as The Lord did on the cross. He bore the shame and the condemnation of us all and in particular for me!
    This is a true saying worthy of full acceptance Christ Jesus came into the World to save sinners of which I am the chief.
    Prison will not change Amanda Hutton nor will her punishment fully satisfy the wrong she did to little Hamza. There is however hope in the gospel that if she turns and comes to The Lord she will find Love, acceptance and mercy, of which she can only dream! There will also be rejoicing in Heaven . Jesus also died for her if only she can see it.
    Our payers therefore should not be to add to the condemnation. We should not call for fire from Heaven to destroy her, rather we should stand in the gap and intercede on her behalf, that the Love and mercy of God will also avail for her.
    This is not idealism! I have found the truth of this through personal experience
    May The Lord bless Amanda Hutton, and if The Lord feels absent for a time I will know that he has gone searching for her.

  12. I think many people feel uncomfortable with the concept of evil. It exists and, I think , has a real influence on people. Some of us are given the grace (and perhaps follow a regime that strengthens us) to resist the worst it can bring about. A person may be enveloped by evil and through various means allow it in to their lives (substance abuse/illness/lifestyle) but they are not evil themselves.
    Having a personified force of evil (Devil/Satan/Lucifer) can help Christians come to terms with this but does not let us off the hook. We all have the capacity to do terrible things. We can not sit back and judge. Help victims and pray for them all instead.
    As awful as these events are, there but for the grace of God go I?

  13. The sight of poor little Hamzah’s eyes and their expression of bewilderment and pain will stay with me for a long time.

    The facts are that an innocent child was effectively neglected to the point of death, and his siblings also abandoned to live in squalor. It isn’t easy to report things to the authorities and sometimes people just don’t “see” what is before them as though they can’t piece together the horror unfolding before their eyes.

    If we root around in Miss Hutton’s background, I wonder what we would find? Pictures of her in her younger days show an attractive, pleasant-looking young woman, so what went wrong? I wouldn’t venture to say, nor to pretend that I can look into her soul. What she did was very wicked indeed, and she has been properly judged by competent authorities. I hope her remaining children will grow up well-adjusted, happy and educated people. I hope Miss Hutton will be able to come to terms with what she has done, to repent and amend her life.

  14. Tragic for little Hamza but also for his brothers, sisters, father and mother. Didn’t anybody help Amanda with her eight children? Didn’t the children have friends who visited? Were there no neighbours who noticed what a mess things were getting into? I feel we are all responsible when something like this happens. We’ve all got to look after our neighbours better, especially anyone vulnerable – the elderly on their own and those with children. I’m praying that Amanda and her children get good support now and manage to rebuild their lives. And I’m praying for other single mothers that are struggling to cope – so something like this doesn’t happen again.

  15. I can’t say that I was aware of the case down here in Australia, but your general point is entirely valid and a timely reminder.

    How often do we see people condemned as evil because of something they have done that is truly evil. The act, however, does not equate to the person. If that were the case, then we’d surely all be in trouble…

  16. This comment has been deleted by the moderator. Racism of any kind is unacceptable on this blog. If you wish to recast your comment, you are very welcome to do so — but please bear in mind that personal attacks/accusations are not consistent with what this blog aims at.

    • I will honour your right to delete my comments but we are all sinners and do make comments about our feelings which often borders on personalites like Amanda and Aftab. To point out that Allah brought them together but if both had the same skin colour would that have made any difference to the sad episode, I wondered. The SS chief as the figure head sould bear responsibility as that is why she is paid to do. May Allah be pleased with you.

      • Mashud, thank you for recasting your comment. You are perfectly entitled to think and say that skin colour is important to this case (although, as you can see, my post was not about the case as such but about the reaction to it, especially the vicarious anger to which it gave rise). However, no one is entitled to make hostile and derogatory remarks about other people on the basis of skin colour —whether the skin colour in question is black, white, brown or ‘whatever’. This blog is meant to be a space where we can share opinions respectfully. Thank you for honouring that intention.

  17. Thank you for all your comments. Those who have followed the case know what a sad case it is. By raising the question of vicarious anger expressed by many, I had hoped to stimulate debate about public attitudes and personal responsibilities. Interestingly, in some cases, notably on Twitter and in emails sent to the monastery, that has been lost sight of. It raises another question. Do we just read the headlines and react to them, rather than reading what is actually written, and if so, does that contribute to the intensity of emotion displayed? I don’t know, which is why I ask.

  18. The reporting of this case has been so one-sided. Has anybody else felt that the press have been very harsh on this woman – she has been vilified in a way that even the cruel mother and partner of Daniel Pelka were not. I have scarcely heard a single word in defence of Amanda Hutton.
    I strongly fear that we will discover in time that Hamzah’s death was not caused by starvation but by some form of eating disorder/illness. I’ve heard reported that he was only fed bananas and milk – well, that doesn’t sound so bad to me, I’ve heard of other children with a very narrow diet in their early years. I do believe that his death was unexplained – we have heard of cases like this before. Remember Sally Clark?
    I do not think Amanda Hutton was an evil monster or even an uncaring mother. Where was she on the day Hamzah died? Out buying stuff for one of her children’s school project. Uncaring?
    Now try to imagine yourself in her shoes. She got together with a violent man when she was only 16 or 17 and went on to bear 8 children in a household where she was beaten, to the extent of needing hospital treatment. Finally she managed to leave this bully but she still had to cope with 8 children, hard enough for anyone let alone a woman without support trying to put her life together after 20 years of violence and fear at the hands of her husband. Remember, one of the older children ran away and asked for police protection because of the violence at home, he too had been attacked.
    I have been appalled at the condemnation of this woman – how many of us could have coped with what she went through? The son who testified against her sounds as nasty a piece of work as her husband – why didn’t he feed the child? He was an adult and could have helped his brother ….. if what he says he saw is true.
    I believe that Amanda Hutton’s drinking started after Hamzah’s death. Surely the state of the house should tell us that this woman was not coping – does anyone think that she was living in that squalor by choice and that she could have pulled herself out of that pit if she’d only wanted to? This woman needed help but there was no-one to give it. I, for one, refuse to cast a stone.

    • As I hope you will have gathered from my first paragraph, I don’t share the sense of public outrage directed at Amanda Hutton because, like you, I believe there are many mitigating factors. However, I do not think one should defend her by casting aspersions on others — not least because of the possibility of damaging another person’s good name (libel). The sad fact is, a child has died in tragic circumstances; a woman has gone to gaol; and a family has been torn apart. The baying of the mob only serves to underline the sadness and our own involvement.

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