A story of crucial relevance for our times. Agnello Hornby brings out the ambiguity within allegations of abuse.
Steve Booth is a reserved professional: along with his team he is a specialist in family law, abandoned children and every kind of abuse. A colleague asks him to take on the case of the merchant banker Mike Pitt, accused of having abused his younger daughter, four year old Lucy. Steve has to deal with a social world – London's upper middle classes – which is totally at odds with. The teacher, Mrs Dooms, the child psychiatrist Dr Cliff and the social worker Mrs Barnes all agree, for different reasons, about the unmistakable message of some drawings and certain worrying details that have emerged during their conversations with little Lucy. Mike's further handicapped by his own arrogance, his professional stance, his tightly controlled household routine and last but not least his lack of knowledge of how social workers operate. To allow his daughters to stay with their mother he has to agree to leave the family home and seeing his daughters only in supervised visits. Jenny, his wife, is convinced of his innocence and continues to say that "there's nothing wrong with Lucy"; suspicious of collusion between the two parents, social services consider Jenny incapable of bringing up and protecting her daughters from him or any other abuser. Mike’s guilt is "confirmed" when Ms Barnes sees him with one of Steve's pedophile clients, whom he had met by chance in the Southbank where Mike had gone in order to see his daughters from afar: they see their father and go to meet him. From that moment on the girls' future is sealed: - their parents had orchestrated the meeting without supervision and were facilitating the repetition of the abuse, and they will be both adopted.
Steve Booth's secretaries Pat and Sharon, whilst being busy with other clients - a girl abused by her brothers, an pedophile, a woman beaten and finally murdered by her husband, a drug addicted teenage mother who loses her daughter, a young man suddenly hit by an unexpected paternity DNA finding –, follow the developments of the case and comment on the failures of the social services - bureaucratic, over-worked, under-resourced and under-qualified, ideological and prejudiced – whom, with few shining exceptions, destroy rather than help the families they encounter.
Steve Booth senses that something doesn't add up in the different motivations driving Ms Dooms, Dr Cliff and Ms Barnes to accuse Mike Pitt. It is here, in the complex inter-weaving of social envy, psychological instability and emotional fragility that Steve begins to investigate, discovering some unexpected results that may transform the fate of the case. Most important of all is the interview between Dr Cliff and Lucy, mistakenly recorded on the DVD of another meeting with another client of Steve Booth's, which in the end solves the case.
With her eye for the social vignette, Simonetta Agnello Hornby tells a story of crucial relevance for our times. In 2008 the press has reported several cases of child abuse, which confirm its incidence and the horror felt by average citizen when confronted with it. Agnello Hornby brings out the ambiguity within allegations of abuse: the presumption of guilt, as well as the presumption of innocence, and examines the inner thoughts of the main characters and the reasoning of those who are entrusted by society to protect minors and ascertain the truth.