Shopping the Family – would you do it?

by Lynn Connolly

A parent’s love is generally considered unconditional. But what if your child had committed a terrible crime and you knew about it? What would be the right thing to do? Shop your child or keep quiet about what you knew?

For me, the answer is, I just don’t know. I know I’d like to say I have the courage and moral strength to ‘shop’ my kids but the truth is, I simply do not know if I could or would.

Does it depend on the crime maybe? I think so, to some extent. For instance, if I knew my son had raped someone or abused a child, I unequivocally know I would report him. If he beat someone up? I’d have to say it would depend on a number of factors – primarily, why he’d done it.

If he killed someone? Again, I can’t put my hand on my heart and say I would shop him; it would again depend on why he’d done it. If he’d killed a paedophile, would I shop him? No.

If he’d killed some stranger, randomly in a motiveless attack? Yes, I’d like to think I would… but would I?

What would you do?

This incredibly moving, poignant and thought provoking First Cut documentary discussed what happened to two parents who did what they thought was the right thing and shopped their children to the police.

Carol Saldinack, a housewife from Great Yarmouth, discovered that her sons Oliver and Luke had launched an unprovoked attack on two strangers outside a fast food take-away in Chichester. The attack left one of the victims blind in one eye.

She told the police and her sons were arrested then sentenced to two years for GBH. Carol was subsequently disowned by her four eldest children and denied access to her grandchildren.

Carol says: “I did what I thought was right and ended up losing my family through it.”

Likewise, Neil Metcalfe had agonised over whether to shop his child to the police when he discovered live ammunition in his son Paul’s bedroom. As it turned out, he decided that telling the authorities was the best thing to do.

The police made an even more shocking discovery: a gun was hidden under Paul’s bed.

Neil may have prevented a crime but he now has to deal with visiting his son in Lancaster Farms Young Offender’s Institute.

Neil and Carol talked very emotively of how their decision to shop their sons had had devastating consequences on all their lives. Carol is still adamant that she’d done the same thing but Neil, I got the sense that he had some regrets about his decision but tries his best to convince himself that he did do the right thing.

His visit to Paul in prison was tense; there was a difficult atmosphere between them and neither quite knew what to say but at least Paul was on the road to forgiving Neil. Carol’s sons and two of her other children haven’t forgiven her for what she did and will have nothing to do with her.

They must be so torn and confused. On the one hand, their brave decisions were the morally right thing to do and could well have saved lives. On the other, they must be so frightened for their children in prison. If it were my son, I’d be terrified he may be raped in prison or – as many prisoners do – come out a drug addict when they were not before.

At best, those boys will now have a prison record forever which will affect their ability to get jobs but equally, had they not been reported to the police, other people may have died. They may have died for that matter.

Maybe Carol’s sons would have picked on the wrong people to attack one day and been knifed to death. Maybe Neil’s son would have been shot by the drug dealer he was ‘holding’ the gun for.

What-ifs are pointless but they must plague these brave people.

I admire them very, very much – and in Carol’s case, I’m sure her son’s victims do too – but people who say Carol and Neil were wrong to shop their sons must understand that for as much as their kids are imprisoned, so are their parents but their bars and walls are guilt. It’s a prison that doesn’t often let you out.

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Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.