SARAH VINE: It’s neglectful mother and father who create killer kids

As two 12-year-old boys are convicted of stabbing innocent bystander Shawn Seesahai, 19, through the heart in a park in Wolverhampton, inevitably there are searching questions as to how two children – the youngest since Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were found guilty of killing two-year-old James Bulger in 1993 – could have committed such a vicious and senseless crime.

Both children had a history of violent and anti-social behaviour. One was obsessed with knives and machetes, posing in a balaclava with a weapon down his trousers in classic ‘roadman’ style just hours before the murder.

He captioned the photo, which he sent to his girlfriend and his co-defendant, ‘Prison Freestyle’: a reference to a track by the rapper SJ (real name Jayden O’Neill-Crichlow), who, to use the vernacular, spits bars from behind bars, as he is serving time at HM’s pleasure.

One of the 12-year-olds who was yesterday found guilty of murdering Shawn Seesahai in Wolverhampton in November

One of the 12-year-olds who was yesterday found guilty of murdering Shawn Seesahai in Wolverhampton in November

Just 17 at the time, O’Neill-Crichlow was offered a £150,000 record deal while he was awaiting trial. In a world where a conviction for murder and life imprisonment is no impediment to a lucrative music career, you can see how an impressionable 12-year-old might conclude, as he told the jury, that owning a machete was ‘cool’.

After stabbing Seesahai so violently that the blade went through his ribs and into his heart, the boy took the knife home and washed it with bleach because, as he told the jury: ‘I heard it on music videos when they mention it, bleaching it.’

Given all that, it is tempting to blame this tragedy on the toxic culture of gang violence and drill rap that dominates certain sections of today’s youth. And there’s no doubt that, looking at the details of this case, that it’s a significant factor.

But if we really want to get to the heart of why children barely out of primary school are committing such heinous acts, we must look beyond the prevailing cultural currents and gaze deeper into the depths of our own consciences.

After all, drill rap – problematic as it may be – can’t be blamed for the actions of Venables and Thompson; or those of Sharon Carr, who, also aged 12, stabbed 18-year-old hairdresser Katie Rackliff to death a year earlier, in 1992. The same goes for the internet and smartphones. None of those things existed back then. So what to blame?

Truth is, there have always been child killers, baby-faced anomalies who twist our perception of what childhood should be.

Such individuals test our faith in humanity at a deep, psychological, even spiritual level. They make us wonder about the existence of pure evil, have us questioning whether some people are simply born bad, irredeemable from the moment they first draw breath.

Certainly, when you look at someone like Myra Hindley, it’s difficult to argue otherwise. But when it comes to a child – that’s so much harder to stomach.

Part of the problem is that we have this sentimental notion of childhood as an idyllic time of hope and wonder. And that may be true in many cases. But this notion that all children are naturally kind, sweet beings is misleading.

Children, especially when they get to that age – usually around seven or eight – where they begin to take their cues less from their primary caregivers and more from their own peer group, can be cruel and vicious, and surprisingly inventive in their unpleasantness. Just ask any teacher, or anyone who was ever bullied at school.

Left to their own devices, unschooled in the rules of civilised society or – and this is key – free from the consequences of their actions, things can very quickly descend into Lord-Of-The-Flies-style chaos.

Part of this is down to the way the human brain develops. Young children simply don’t have the wherewithal to grasp instinctively that certain behaviours – biting, snatching, throwing a tantrum when they don’t get their way – are unacceptable. They need to be taught.

That principle applies to everything, from understanding that stealing is wrong to crossing a road safely to realising that you can’t live off energy drinks and Haribos.

That is why it is so important that we teach our children, in school, at home and at church (although these days not so much the latter), the difference between right and wrong. They rely on us to do so. It’s our duty, as parents and as a society.

Swords discovered in the bedroom of one of the killers. He claimed he knew to use bleach to clean blood off the lethal blade, having heard about it in drill rap

Swords discovered in the bedroom of one of the killers. He claimed he knew to use bleach to clean blood off the lethal blade, having heard about it in drill rap

There is no doubt whatsoever that these two 12-year-olds are to blame for the death of Mr Seesahai. They were the ones who stabbed him, kicked him and left him to die. But these children are minors. Most kids are a product of their upbringing. And who is responsible for that?

The parents.

I know one of the boys was looked after by his grandmother; the other’s situation is not so clear. But whatever the individual circumstances, the fact remains that these children roamed the streets of Wolverhampton, in the middle of the night, unsupervised and armed with knives. That is not the fault of the police or anyone else. It’s the fault of their parents, assuming they allowed this behaviour.

And, yet, even to type those words feels slightly subversive. We’ve got so used to blaming everything that’s wrong in our lives on someone else – the government, the internet, social media – that to state this blindingly obvious fact feels almost wrong.

Far easier (and more woke) to blame austerity or lack of youth clubs or social services. But this isn’t about money (after all, one of them managed to find the cash to buy the knife). Given these children were able to access dangerous weapons and roam at night, it’s about two young children failed by the very people whose job it is to do what’s right for them: their parents.

Being a parent is not easy. It takes a huge amount of effort, sacrifice and hard work. It requires taking the path of most resistance with your child, rather than the easy way out.

It means exercising discipline and restraint, not only in their lives but in your own, too. It’s tiresome and repetitive and exhausting, but it’s necessary. Not everyone is cut out for it. But if you do decide to become a parent, it’s your duty to take it seriously.

Of course, some youngsters need guidance less than others, which is why not all children of hopeless parents turn out to be wrong‘uns.

But as a general rule, if you allow a child of ten or 11 to play violent video games, or listen to drill rap or watch X-rated movies, if you fail to restrict their access to the internet (and all the hardcore porn and violence that comes with it), if you allow them to roam the streets in the middle of the night armed with knives, then YOU must share the blame for their behaviour.

But we don’t do that, as a society. We don’t hold parents responsible for their failings towards their children. Take Labour: they’ve got this plan to teach kids how to clean their teeth at school. Already we’ve got five-year-olds turning up in nappies because parents can’t be bothered to toilet-train them: now we’re excusing the same parents from instilling basic oral hygiene, too.

How is that helpful? We should be teaching parents to do better for their children, not running around after them mopping up their messes and making excuses for such failures.

'Loving and protective' 19-year-old Shawn Seesahai was stabbed, kicked and left to die in the random attack

‘Loving and protective’ 19-year-old Shawn Seesahai was stabbed, kicked and left to die in the random attack

 It is often said that, as a society, you get the politicians you deserve. The same is true of our children. Lazy, feckless, amoral parents lead to lazy, feckless, amoral kids.

But it is possible to stop the rot. If parents were to find themselves held even partially responsible for the actions of their offspring, I have a feeling we would see an immediate improvement in levels of underage antisocial behaviour and violence, of which this week’s tragic case is an extreme example.

In America, for example, a couple from Michigan – James and Jennifer Crumbley – were recently sentenced to ten to 15 years each after their son, Ethan, who was 15 at the time, killed four students and injured seven others at a local school.

Prosecutors said the Crumbleys failed to spot warning signs in their son and had bought him the weapon. I’ll wager there are a few parents in Michigan who might just now think twice about buying their teenager a gun.

Dangle the prospect of real-life consequences and see how quickly people get a grip on their kids. Either that, or it might make people think twice about whether they are really ready, morally or emotionally, to have children in the first place.

Neither, let’s face it, would be a worse outcome.