In the Media

April Jones's tragic fate is tormenting our children

PUBLISHED October 8, 2012

It's our Sunday treat: we wake up at about eight, delighting at the prospect of a breakfast tray of hot, buttery croissants, just out of the baker's oven. It's been our daughter's great treat, too, as she is the one to walk down the street to the bakery's back door. There she will hand over a few pounds in exchange for the tray of goodies.

But our weekly tradition is under threat. Izzy has refused, point blank, to walk the 200 yards on her own: "What if someone takes me?" she asked on Saturday night. The tragic disappearance of little April Jones has hit home. Only 10 days ago, the trip to the bakery was our nine-year-old's first step towards autonomy, a concession she had won from her over-protective mother (who lurked in the doorway to watch the little figure in a pale blue duffel coat).

But Izzy no longer wants to test boundaries. When Madeleine McCann disappeared, our daughter was four and too young to read the papers or take in the horror of the television or radio news bulletins. But she has been able to read about April's abduction, see it on the telly, and talk about it - a lot - with her classmates.

It doesn't matter that child abduction is an extremely rare occurrence; the "man in a van" has become a terrifying spectre that haunts the playground. At break, my daughter and her friends swap scare stories about bad men who prey on children just like them.

Like other parents at the school gates, I worry about how to proceed: we want to shield the little ones from paranoia, and are mindful that mollycoddling them will turn our offspring into gormless cowards. But the same tabloids that wag fingers at us for wrapping children in cotton wool have indulged in a breathless, alarmist commentary since April was spirited away.

Against this frightening soundtrack, few feel the confidence to let their children "try out their wings"; and sadly, most children are now keen to keep those wings tucked in, unused.

• Concern for our children's safety spurred our involvement in the local residents' association. I've already written about its campaign to close down the seedy but influential nightclub, Public, whose clientele kept us awake at night, and had us tripping over tins, bottles and worse on the way to school. At our annual general meeting last week, we celebrated our victory over big business, and discussed the possibility of becoming a "Conservation Area".

I was impressed at how many volunteers were keen to do the research and form-filling required by the council for a change of status. I was also impressed by the wines being served when the meeting drew to a close: bottles of excellent Sancerre and Chateauneuf du Pape. They were a gift from the surviving (and thankfully low-key) local nightclub, Embargo: having watched us dispose of their competitor, the far-sighted management thought it wise to keep us on side. Cheers!

• According to a new biography, John Keats was killed by mercury. Prof Nicholas Roe claims that the Romantic poet contracted fatal TB at 25 because his system had been weakened by mercury poisoning. I visited Keats's modest grave only last week. He lies buried, like his contemporary Percy Bysshe Shelley, shaded by the elegant cypresses of the lovely Protestant cemetery in Rome. Traditionally, Italians recoil from anything to do with the dead: they visit cemeteries only on All Hallows Day, and cross themselves at the sight of a hearse. But recently, according to Nicholas Stanley-Price, our guide to the graves, Roman families have now taken to whiling away weekends among the peaceful tombstones. It takes the English to overcome the Italians' superstitions.