In the Media

Maxine Carr is no ghoul. We are | Nicci Gerrard

PUBLISHED November 2, 2011

Maxine Carr was foolish in the Soham case, but no murderer. Yet the news about her baby has put her on trial again So now we know what we should not know: that the woman once known and then reviled as Maxine Carr had a child earlier this year, but that under the court order granting her lifelong anonymity, the child must not be told the details of its mother's secret past. Secrets are lonely and they are powerful. They can seem to have a life of their own. Untold, they stir and swell, poisoning their holder. Revealed, they can explode like a bomb. The secrets of Carr, the former girlfriend of the Soham killer Ian Huntley , are so complicated that she is trapped inside them, a prisoner of a new identity. The order of silence that was given for her protection, following her 21-month prison sentence for giving Huntley a false alibi, is also a curse. Only three other people in the UK are directly under a "Mary Bell order" , which permanently protects someone's identity. All three were children when they murdered other children: Bell herself, who was 11 when in 1968 she killed two young boys; and Robert Thompson and Jon Venables , who were 10 when they killed James Bulger in 1993. Bell also has a child (again, we should not know this), and following the nasty and self-righteous public response to this ? as if a crime committed as an 11-year-old can never be forgiven ? her child too has been granted anonymity under a court order. Carr's husband reportedly knows of her identity; but her child cannot. For of course a child cannot carry such a burdensome secret or be trusted to hold it safe. Carr's child cannot be told of its mother's identity because to do so would be to threaten her safety. But if, when he or she is old enough, the child were to discover the truth, what would that be? Is the fact that the child's mother so foolishly gave a false alibi to a murderer irredeemably repulsive? No. The truly shocking discovery for the child would be the widespread loathing that is felt for Carr. That is shameful for the nation, not for the child. Carr is not a murderer. Yet during the trial, which I sat through in its entirety, she stood in the dock alongside Huntley as if his equal in the terrible crime. Huntley was a paedophile and he murdered Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells . The Maxine Carr that I watched day after day, and later wrote about in a book on the Soham case , was a criminally foolish young woman who gave the man she lived with a false alibi. Carr was nowhere near Soham when Huntley killed the girls and she had nothing whatsoever to do with the crime; she always insisted she knew nothing about it. She was a dupe, an unwitting accomplice ? but also a victim. Huntley was hated by the public, but Carr was treated with a visceral abhorrence that was almost worse. She was dubbed a second Myra Hindley . People wanted her to rot in hell. This was why she was given a new identity ? not because she had done a terrible thing, but because she had unleashed terrible feelings in the country. Carr is not a witch, but just like those accused of witchcraft in medieval times, she was made into a scapegoat, a totemic hate figure with her small pale face and unruly flop of hair, her childishness and her proximity to Huntley. Because she was female, her small crime bloated into an unnaturalness. Since Carr was sent into the world under a new name, women who look a bit like her have apparently been threatened. This is why she must live in secret, telling no one and always fearing discovery. It is right she is protected by a Mary Bell order, but not right that she should ever have needed it. When will she be forgiven? Not yet, clearly: since the revelation of her baby's birth, papers have rounded on Carr. "Soham liar", they call her, and talk of her "shocking past". Those famous photographs of Jessica and Holly taken just before they were killed, wearing their football shirts and with their sweet and eager smiles, stare once again from the pages. Once more Carr is enduring trial by media, and once more she is found guilty. The scary thing that such episodes reveal (the hysteria over Mary Bell's child, this latest story about Carr) is that it is not us who need protection from them, the criminals ? but they who need protection from us. We need to ask not only how such stories get leaked, but also what they reveal about our ghoulish need to rake over old embers and blow them back into life. Probably, Maxine Carr will never be free, never be forgiven. And the child? Poor child. We should wish them both luck. Soham murders Children Women Family Family law Crime Nicci Gerrard © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds