It's NEVER right for a parent to protect their criminal child

Mum in the dock: Janette Mercer lied to cover up the actions of her son, Sean, after he shot Rhys Jones

Recently, a Blackburn father was furious when he discovered his 14-year-old son had stolen sweets from a corner shop. So he ordered the boy to write an apology, then marched him back to the shop to personally deliver it.

Many Daily Mail readers applauded this father's bold actions. On our website and in our postbag, stories flooded in of readers' own experiences of old fashioned tough love and homemade justice, both meted out and received.

Many years ago, a seven-year-old boy stole a few eggs from a battery farm for an egg fight with his friends. His father made him return to the farm, crying with fright and shame, holding his piggybank full of pocket money to pay for them.

'It taught me a lesson I will never forget,' he wrote. Another father detailed how he escorted his son back to Woolworths to return a video the boy had stolen.

Lisa from London recalled how her daughter was arrested for theft. 'I was so angry that I told the policeman who rang me to keep her overnight, give her bread and water and I would collect her first thing the next morning.' The girl was so mortified, she has not been in trouble since.

Another reader stole a chocolate bar when he was 11. He had to take it back and sweep the inside of the shop for a week. 'Dad's idea, not the shopkeeper's,' he wrote. 'I never stole again.'

The energetic application of parental discipline like this is, of course, to be admired.

Yet what is really alarming is how much it seems to hark back to a bygone age; a misty, lost world of small-scale values, respect for others and common, everyday decency.

The very fact that the Blackburn father's response made newspaper headlines points to the tectonic moral shift that has taken place under the sagging crust of our society.

The focus now seems to be not on what is wrong or what is right, but what the hell you can possibly get away with.

On the wilder shores of this country, the moderating restraints of humanity and religious discipline have been replaced by the nasty, self-seeking righteousness of those who don't wish to take responsibility for their actions - or the actions of their children.

Instead, their energies are concentrated on avoiding the consequences.

A few pilfered gobstoppers and a box of hens' eggs are hardly crimes against humanity, but what to do if your son or daughter seriously errs?

When the stakes are higher, would you cover up for a loved one facing a 20-year jail sentence, a ruined life, an existence devastated by a single moment of teenage madness?

When Amanda Knox was arrested in Italy in connection with the murder of Meredith Kercher, her family began an incantation of her innocence and a blaring defence of her character that continues to this day.

In Bolton, a policewoman has been accused of allowing the destruction of evidence which implicates her son in the murder of a teenage model.

In both these cases, it has yet to be proved if the accused are guilty or otherwise. And until verdicts are reached it would be more fitting if parents could tiptoe down the path between loyalty and truth with a little more tact and respect.

If a child has broken the law, can it ever be right for a mother to assume that her proper duty is to aid and abet, not to see that justice is done?

Janette Mercer certainly thought it was right. She lied to police to protect her son, Sean, who shot and killed schoolboy Rhys Jones in the summer of 2007.

Despite her worst attempts to maintain his liberty, her son is now behind bars, facing a minimum of 22 years in prison.

Mercer herself now awaits sentencing after being found guilty of perverting the course of justice and a custodial sentence looks unavoidable.

Some now accuse the authorities of behaving like bullies by threatening to put her in prison, especially as she turned up to court every day, well dressed and composed, in a bid to support her son.

To my mind, her convenient motherly concern is just a little too late to serve any useful purpose. It would be barbaric to hope that Janette Mercer is jailed for a long time, but it would certainly be a comfort to many if she was encouraged to reflect at leisure upon her role in bringing up a son who was a habitual, violent anti-social criminal by his early teens.

A teen who, during the trial, showed absolutely no remorse, declined to enter the witness stand and smirked and laughed in the presence of Rhys Jones's shattered and grieving family.

For surely Janette Mercer is not just guilty of perjury. That is the least of it. In allowing her lawless thug of a son to roam unchecked and untamed through the darker corners of Liverpool, isn't she, in some way, also morally responsible for the death of an innocent schoolboy?

If perjuring parents like Mercer are not punished, it seems inevitable that the merciless and the abominable will continue to feel they have a licence to behave as they please on the streets of our cities.

Releasing the Ripper's just sick

There was an ominous ripple in the justice system this week when it emerged that Peter Sutcliffe had been declared fit to be moved from Broadmoor mental hospital.

Some went as far as to suggest the Yorkshire Ripper should be released - 28 years in prison for the murder of 13 women and the attempted murder of seven others was enough of a punishment, they said.

There must come a time, apparently, when he should be released back into society.

No. Sutcliffe is in the category of prisoners who should never be let out of prison. For him, there can be no atonement.

How could releasing him ever be justified? His was a campaign of murderous hatred against women. Against all women. How can a man who thinks like this ever be cured?

Thank goodness Gordon Brown understands this, and has said that it is 'very unlikely' the convicted killer will ever be released.

Mrs Winslet's pickled onion speech is a real weepie

Oh crikey, Kate Winslet is not the only award winner in her family! This week her mother Sally was named Queen of the Shallots after winning a highly contested pickled onion competition organised by her local pub.

Indeed, Mrs Winslet has won the title, awarded by The Retreat in Reading, three times before. And this year, her very own golden globes once more found favour with the judges.

The Win-slets: While Kate has been earning plaudits for her acting, her Mum Sally has been named Queen of the Shallots

'Sally's onions were outstanding,' said one. There's no official record of Mrs Winslet's acceptance speech, but given her daughter's capacity for high velocity gush, it's tempting to imagine. . .

'OK. OH MY GOD. Gosh. Golly. Gather, gather. Gather ye onions while ye may! People, is this REALLY happening?

'I'd like to start by thanking my beautiful agents, malt and vinegar,' she begins. 'I haven't been airbrushed! I'm not on a diet! I'm just an ordinary woman like all of you! Thank you so much.

'I'm so sorry Spanish onion, cocktail onion, French onion and .. . oh God, who's the other one? Pearl onion! Sorry, Pearl. I loved your performance. So many layers!' she sobbed, as organisers bungled an attempt to remove her from the stage with a grappling hook.

'In creating a role for a woman; I can't believe this came my way. But I just put on my pinny, boiled up the spices and got on with it.

'Oh! My kids! Thank you so much for coming on this incredible journey with Mummy to Waitrose for six pounds of best onions.

'Peeling 'em? Sam, babe, I loved every second of the pain. My husband! My God. Hair! Make-up! Littlewoods Direct for my incredible top! Thank you all so much. It has been an amazing experience. Thank you so, so much!'

Might I just add that it is important to seal them and store in a dark place for at least three months. The Winslets, I mean. Not the pickled onions.

Fashionistas love to hate the flab

Chunky lesbian singer Beth Ditto has been photographed naked on the cover of a new fashion magazine called Love.

It's meant to be daring, of course. Like Beth's great big belly, it's meant to be out there.

However, all it does is underline the obvious truth that the fashion world HATES fat people. They think they are freaks!

Famous fat people are just about tolerated, but top designers refuse to make clothes for anyone who doesn't look like Olive Oyl.

Discrimination: No wonder Beth Ditto had to pose naked, fatist designers don't make clothes big enough for people her size

Look at Posh! The thinner and thinner she becomes, the more venerated she is in the world of high fashion.

In New York, the town that invented the social X-ray, Posh has become a goddess among Upper East Side label worshippers.

Meanwhile Love, published by Conde Nast, had to have the clothes specially made for their shoot with size 20 Beth.

Louis Vuitton offered a trunk, but when that was too small, they sent some feathers on a bit of elastic instead. Nice.

Love's editors claim that both Chanel and Donatella Versace were keen to make some outfits for tattooed Beth - naturally, neither stocks anything beyond size 14 - but just didn't have the time.

Sure! Didn't have the inclination, more like. The last time Chanel designed something even remotely roomy, it was a leather golf bag for their luggage range.

Be snobby. Be sizeist if you must. But please, fashion people, stop being so completely hypocritical. It doesn't suit you.

No such thing as a safe job now

It certainly was cynical of BMW Cowley to sack 850 agency workers. It was perhaps even more cynical of them to hire such a large temporary staff in the first place.

An EU directive which will give agency workers in the UK protection against dismissal with minimum notice and no redundancy will be implemented later this year.

Too late for the Cowley workers, who have been put out in the cold, like milk bottles.

Yet these vulnerable workers knew the deal when they signed the contract, which was presumably done in happier economic times when both sides had more of a choice.

At the time, the workers must have understood that the basic entitlements to equal pay, holidays, pensions and a period of notice would not be part of their package.

One can understand their dismay, but not their rage. At the plant gates this week, an agitated worker shouted that he was 'going to the doctor's to get signed off for stress!'

It seemed self defeating. Yet isn't much of the country run on contracts like this now?

Safe employment, like the afternoon tea trolley and final salary pensions, is a mirage from the past.

  • Am I alone in finding something darkly nauseating in the greasy relationship between Topshop magnate Sir Philip Green and Kate Moss? Although happily married, Green pants around after the supermodel like a walrus on a mission, boasting about the dresses and jewels he has bought her like some deluded, stage door johnnie. Meanwhile, in his presence, she regresses to the role of gurgling schoolgirl flirting with a favourite teacher. She even calls him Uncle Philip, for God's sake. Will both parties please grow up before we all lose our cookies.

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