Of course, nothing can ever excuse the unspeakable cruelty of Baby P's mother. But this harrowing Mail investigation lays bare how society's amoral and brutalised underclass breeds such monsters
By Hellen Weathers
August 14, 2009 / dailymail.co.uk
Pale blue, lifeless eyes, devoid of any recognisable human emotion, stare from a pasty face bloated from years of junk food and vodka.
So, now, we finally know what the ' monster' looks like. A face onto which it is all too easy to project the hatred, disgust and revulsion her crime has universally provoked.
More than two years have passed since tragic Baby P was found dead in his cot with a broken back, fractured ribs and 50 other injuries in one of the worst cases of child abuse Britain has ever witnessed.
But it was only this week that the identity of his reviled mother Tracey Connelly, 28, was made public, after a court order protecting her anonymity expired, prompting a fresh wave of outrage.
This is the mother who boasted on an internet chatroom of spending her days in a vodka haze, watching pornographic films and having sex with her 'fantastic' new boyfriend Steven Barker, a sadistic Nazi-obsessed thug who she allowed to torture her beautiful, blond-haired infant son Peter.
Within hours of her identity being revealed at on Monday night, Connelly's own mother - 59-year-old Mary O'Connor and father Richard Johnson, 52, - had publicly disowned her, branding her 'evil' and expressing the wish that she 'rot in hell'.
An irredeemable monster, it would seem, but one troubling question remains unanswered: What turned her into one?
The Daily Mail has spoken to those closest to Tracey Connelly, who was given an indeterminate jail sentence - with a recommendation of five years - in May after pleading guilty at her Old Bailey trial to causing or allowing the death of her son.
The disturbing portrait that emerges is of a woman whose whole life was shaped by abuse. Indeed, at one time she might have been regarded a victim herself, inspiring our sympathy, had she not turned her own son into the most tragic victim of all.
As one of her childhood friends told me: 'Abuse was all she ever knew. To her, it was normal. Once, she was a victim and I felt sorry for her, but not any more. As an adult, she knew right from wrong. She should have protected her son.'
Tracey Connelly only ever used one word to describe her childhood to her pitifully few friends - 'sh***y'. An inarticulate description, but painfully accurate.
Born on June 29, 1981, in Leicester, Tracey Cox - as she was known then - was not yet two when she moved to a North London council estate with her Irish-born mother Mary, known to her friends as Nula, and older brother.
This followed the break-up of Mary's marriage to delivery driver Garry Cox, who would later die from a heart attack in 1988 aged 44.
Garry was the man Tracey regarded as her father, until the age of 12 when Mary informed her daughter she was, in fact, the product of a drunken one-night stand in Leicester with married family friend Richard Johnson.
Jobless gardener Richard Johnson revealed to me this week that Tracey had grown up in a household where beatings were a daily ritual, witnessing Garry Cox hitting her mother so violently that the family dog ran away in fear.
'Tracey was brought up in a house of violence from the day she was born. Garry used to knock Mary about, blaming her for the house being so filthy,' he says.
'He regularly laid into her with his bare fists. He never hit the kids, but tried to turn them against their mother, saying: "She's evil. Don't listen to her." '
Richard claims Garry - a drunk and a cannabis smoker - paid him £5, as part of a joke, to sleep with Mary. 'I was going through a rough patch with my wife. I was drunk at the time. It was the biggest regret of my life.'
Richard came back into Connelly's life shortly before her son Peter was born, although she'd known of his existence from the age of 12. He made contact with his daughter after he discovered through his brother, four years ago, that he was in fact her father.
'One day she just sat there and told me how awful her childhood and teens had been. She said she'd been raped a couple of times by a relative, but didn't do anything about it because she was so scared,' says Richard.
Indeed, Mary's flight from Leicester to an estate in Islington, North London, with her children was merely a continuation of misery for Tracey. Her mother, a bone-thin, haggard woman, who stood out in her leggings, socks and stiletto shoes, turned increasingly to alcohol and cannabis.
'Tracey had a horrible childhood and was badly neglected,' says one former friend from primary school. 'The flat she lived in was disgusting. There were no sheets on the bed, hardly any furniture and they had this black mongrel dog which messed everywhere.
'They had these carpet tiles, and I remember once Tracey picked up a dirty tile, dropped the dog poo in the bin and just put it back again. I wasn't surprised when I read about Baby P's home being covered in dog mess.
'We'd often go round to Tracey's home to find Mary in bed, smoking drugs, with some boyfriend. She was always shouting at Tracey to clear out of the flat and my mum told me she'd sometimes see Tracey wandering around, alone, late at night.'
One childhood friend from primary school recalls: 'She was the kid at school no one wanted to play with. She was plump, dirty, and would turn up at school in shoes that were falling to bits and old tracksuit bottoms.
'Children called her Tracey the Tramp because she was so scruffy. She was always getting beaten up by other kids and I remember seeing her at school once with a split lip.'
A neighbour told us: 'She was always hanging around by herself. Her mother didn't work, but just wasn't there for her. Tracey used to come to my door and say it was her birthday, and I'd give her a fiver. Then I'd think: "Hang on, it was your birthday last week too.'''
Friends say Tracey quickly developed a tough veneer. She learned to put up and shut up, especially after she complained to her mother that she was being physically abused by a close male relative, only to be accused of being a liar.
Lonely, fatherless and lacking any self-esteem, Connelly went in search of whatever affection she could find.
'Even at ten or 11, Tracey was quite promiscuous. She'd let local boys take her into dark alleys or stairwells,' says a former friend.
'She used to spend a lot of time in the flat of a man in his 50s or 60s who used to give her beer and cigarettes. Once, I saw them play-wrestling on the ground, which made me feel very uncomfortable, and another time I saw him kiss her neck. She just laughed.'
With family relationships reaching breaking point in the Cox home - Tracey said that the revelations about her real father drove her 'a bit wild' for a time - Islington social services became involved.
A place was found for Tracey, aged 12, at Farney Close boarding school in West Sussex, catering for children with special education needs and behavioural and social problems.
Farney Close is rated as ' outstanding' by Ofsted and described by many former pupils, who include Olympic athlete Daley Thompson, as 'brilliant', boasting facilities to rival a top private school. This could have been the chance for Tracey to escape her childhood.
Instead, 'Tracey the Tramp' was given a new nickname - 'Stig', short for 'Stig of the Dump'.
One former pupil, now a 27-year-old chef, told me: 'She was dirty, scruffy and her feet stank. She would only shower once a week and her face was covered in spots.
'She was a big girl. She couldn't be bothered to make any effort. She used to wear Dr Marten boots or boys' shoes because her feet were size ten, and only ever wore trousers. She also had a real temper on her, and would get into fights. Once, she had to be restrained by a teacher.'
At Farney Close, a whole range of sports were available including go-karting and canoeing, but Tracey preferred to watch TV soap operas. The only arena where she excelled was on the netball court, where her size made her an effective goalkeeper.
While drink and drugs were banned at the school, pupils were allowed to smoke with their parents' consent and, needless to say, Connelly chain-smoked.
Says one former pupil: 'Tracey's family never once visited her at the school. My mum used to come for my birthday, or watch me in a play, but there was never anyone for Tracey. I thought that really sad.'
Despite her appearance, Tracey was never without a boyfriend and was always seen during the school holidays back home in North London with someone new by her side.
She left Farney Close with a handful of GCSEs and vague ideas about being a hairdresser, but, as she told her best friend at school, what she really wanted was a 'houseful of kids'.
Aged 16 she met a railway worker, 17 years her senior, who we can't name for legal reasons, and they married in a civil ceremony in Haringey. Together they moved into a council house in Tottenham, where Connelly gave birth to three daughters in quick succession before Baby Peter arrived.
'She wasn't the cleanest person in the world and wasn't bothered if the kids got dirty or the house was a mess,' remembers her best friend from Farney Close, now a 29-year-old single mother.
'Once, she hit her daughter in front of the school nurse, but that was because her daughter had claimed she was being molested and when Tracey went up to the school to sort it out, she found out she'd made it up.'
Peter was just three months old when Connelly split from her husband, amid rows over the housework - or rather lack of it - and allegations that she was flirting with other men on internet chatrooms.
Within three months, 33-year-old Steven Barker, who she'd met when he was doing maintenance work on a friend's flat, was her boyfriend. He moved in with her in February 2007, when she moved to a new housing association property in Haringey.
They managed to conceal Barker's presence from the authorities, who had already identified Connelly's children as being at risk on account of disturbing, unexplained injuries to Peter for which Tracey always had a convincing answer.
Peter was first referred to the child abuse investigation team on December 12, 2006, before Barker moved in, after being admitted to Whittington Hospital in North London with bruising to his forehead, nose, breastbone and right shoulder.
Both Connelly and her mother, who used to mind the children, were arrested and questioned, although no charges were ever brought. Tracey used to say Peter was accident prone and kept bumping into things, but from the moment Barker moved in his injuries escalated.
According to Tracey's best friend, Connelly liked to boast of her shrewdness and ability to see through people, but she seemed blind to the obvious thuggishness of Barker, a man with an IQ of 60 and himself the alleged victim of
And sex mattered to Tracey, who once wrote on a social networking site: 'It's funny when you meet someone and fall in love. You spend as much time as poss kissing and touching and having sex. You want to make them feel so good you just can't get enough of each other. It's great.'
So great that Connelly didn't care about the bite marks where Barker had trained his Rottweiler to attack Peter, or the bruises, or baby Peter's missing fingernails.
Then there were the dead rats and small mammals, kept in the home to feed Barker's pet snake.
Connelly's father Richard Johnson occasionally popped round to see his daughter and grandchildren and he was shocked by what he saw - but says he didn't feel it was his place to 'interfere'.
After all, social services might have questioned his presence there, for Richard Johnson has an unsavoury past of his own, with a conviction for the rape of a 14-year-old dating back to the Seventies.
'The little lad would be stuck in his playpen and whenever his stepdad came in the room Peter would call out "Hi Hitler!" and give him a Nazi salute,' says Mr Johnson. 'He was crying out to be picked up, but nobody ever did.
'The house was a tip and my daughter was bone idle.'
In May, Barker was further convicted of raping a two-year-old girl and Connelly cleared of cruelty to that girl. This second trial was why the trio's identities were protected for so long, for it was feared the jury in the second trial might be swayed if they knew about their involvement in Baby P's death.
Despite their vile and despicable behaviour, Tracey has been penning sickening, self-serving letters to her few friends, insisting she had no idea Barker and Owen were abusing her child.
She talks of finding God and wanting to join Peter in heaven, but in the next sentence writes 'I don't plan to get attached to anyone for a very long time. I'm just going to s*** about for a bit and have loads of fun.'
So is Tracey Connelly a victim or a monster? Possibly both. But among those who once felt sorry for the damaged little girl she once was, all sympathy has gone