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Mom behind child death that shocked UK unmasked

BRITONS got their first look today at the mother behind a horrific child death that shocked the country.

The face of 28-year-old Tracey Connelly, who stood by as her infant son Peter was tortured for months on end, stared out from the front pages of Britain's newspapers under headlines which read: "Unmasked" and "Out of the Darkness." Accompanying articles described the hideous abuse suffered by her son at the hands of her boyfriend Steven Barker, a Nazi memorabilia collector who tortured animals and was convicted of raping a 2-year-old girl.

To the sickening details was added the suggestion that Connelly, Barker, and his brother Jason Owen - all three of whom were sentenced for causing or allowing Peter's death last year - could receive new identities and years of police protection to protect them from an angry public. The Daily Telegraph newspaper estimated such a program might cost the taxpayer 1 million pounds (US$1.6 million) a year.

"If either of them is still notorious, then there will clearly be a risk that they may be the subject of a vigilante-style attack," said Harry Fletcher, the assistant general secretary of Britain's probation officers' union, Napo.

In such a case, Fletcher said, "the probation service and police will have no choice but to put in place a protection plan."

The details of Peter's death chilled the nation when they were first reported last year. The 17-month-old's lifeless body was found by paramedics in his blood-spattered cot. He had suffered dozens of injuries, including bruises, fractured ribs, and a broken back. The last, fatal blow to his mouth had knocked out a tooth.

When it emerged that the Peter had been visited some 60 times by doctors, police and social workers before his death, public fury exploded at the child welfare services in the north London borough of Haringey where he lived his short life.

Britain's tabloid press accused child welfare workers of having blood on their hands, and the anger spilled into the political arena. Tempers flared in Parliament, two top Haringey officials resigned, five more were fired, and two doctors who inspected Peter were suspended.

"I think the whole country shares the outrage," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said at the time.

Although a court order had banned the publication of the mother's name and that of her boyfriend, it expired Tuesday.

With the reporting restriction lifted, media were free to publish more grisly details about Connelly and her dysfunctional family. Press accounts described how Connelly shared her filthy home with Barker, 33, Owen, 37, and Owen's underage runaway girlfriend, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

Connelly browsed the Internet for pornography as the Barker brothers - Owen changed his name after Peter's death to try to insulate himself from the outrage - brutalized her young son. Screams coming from his room were explained by Barker as attempts to "toughen him up." Barker's dog Kaiser was allegedly used to terrify Peter - and some marks on the toddler's head looked like they had been caused by the dog's teeth.

Details of the brothers' past record were dredged up: Barker and Owen had been charged with assaulting their grandmother in an attempt to get her to change her will, although the case was dropped in 1996 because she died of pneumonia before it could go to trial. In May, Barker was found guilty of raping a 2-year-old girl. A court order has placed tight limitations on what can be published about that case.

Campaigners said the death had been a wake-up call - and that members of the public were increasingly vigilant about child abuse.

Britain's child protection agency said the number of calls to its telephone help line had increased significantly since Peter's death.

Christine Renouf, the help line's director, called it "a wake-up call for some people to look out for children."


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