Nobody knows how many vulnerable girls Ian Huntley targeted.
After his conviction in December 2003 for the murder of 10-year-old
school friends Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, tabloid newspapers
featured several interviews with women who had had inappropriate
relationships with him as young teenagers.
The stories themselves were shocking enough but the number of them
more so. Huntley was well known in his community for preying on
young teenage girls and his flat was reportedly vandalised several
times as a result.
North East Lincolnshire social services also had information on his
sexual involvement with seven vulnerable girls, five of whom were
already known to the department.
Sir Christopher Kelly’s serious case review into the various
agencies’ handling of allegations, published last week a month
after Sir Michael Bichard’s report, says: “Huntley’s history of
sexual exploitation should have rung warning bells.” But, as is
well documented by now, it did not.
“There is no doubt in my mind that a number of vulnerable young
women involved with Huntley during this period were failed, and in
some cases badly failed, by those who were meant to have been
helping to protect them,” Kelly concludes.
Predictably, staff shortages, lack of training, and poor structures
and communication between agencies – the hallmarks of serious case
reviews down the years – are among the failures listed in the
In the mid-1990s, at the time it was dealing with Huntley, the
department was a mess. When Humberside Council was abolished and
North East Lincolnshire Council created in 1996, the child
protection service was split into two divisions: Grimsby West and
Grimsby East. In 1997, a serious case review into a child death
found that the east team employed only two qualified social workers
instead of the 11 required.
Between 1999 and 2003 the council was on special measures and three
other serious case reviews at the time showed a department buckling
under pressure. Now, its fortunes are changing and improvements
have been rewarded with a single star in the last round of
Of the 12 recommendations in his report, Kelly makes nine about
practice in North East Lincolnshire Council, including
The remaining three are for the Department for Education and Skills
to consider for inclusion in its Working Together to Safeguard
Kelly’s belief that the Working Together guidance is basically
sound supports Bichard’s view but Kelly highlights areas where it
could be strengthened, including the section on extra-familial
Of the seven girls under the age of consent discussed in the
report, the handling of a case involving girl MN, who was
indecently assaulted by Huntley when she was 11, is described as
the “most worrying”.
MN alleged that Huntley, then 22 and the boyfriend of her
17-year-old friend, had assaulted her. The case was passed to the
police as one of “stranger abuse” believed to require no further
involvement from social services.
Huntley denied her claim and the police decided not to prosecute as
there was insufficient evidence and therefore a conviction was
The report notes that no attempt seems to have been made to
consider MN as a child in need under the Children Act 1989. It adds
that categorising the assault as stranger abuse was not helpful
because she could have been at further risk of harm. Social
services took a hands-off approach.
Kelly recommends that the DfES look again at its guidance on
extra-familial abuse in Working Together to make it clear
that victims may require a service as children in need.
Age of consent
Two of four young people whom Huntley was alleged to have raped
were 17 at the time and so above the age of consent although still
children under the Children Act. They had no dealings with social
services and there is no guidance in Working Together about 16 and
17 year olds. But the report says “we do not believe this is an
area where there should be any ambiguity” and recommends that there
should be guidance on what to do in such cases.
Concerns that this could lead to an increase in referrals for which
social services departments might not be equipped are raised by
Kelly but president of the Association of Directors of Social
Services Andrew Cozens says: “At the moment the guidance in this
area is ambiguous and while I really don’t think it will lead to a
huge surge in referrals, it will make the process more systematic
He is also in favour of a DfES code of practice for social services
and education on good practice in record-keeping, described by
Kelly as “haphazard”, given that Bichard has made similar
recommendations for the police.
More contentious is the issue about whether social services
departments should hold information on alleged perpetrators.
The ADSS believes it is not the job of departments to hold details
of alleged offenders, but says there is a strong case for the DfES
to establish a consensus on whether or not electronic records held
by child care services should be searchable for names of alleged
offenders and to issue appropriate guidance.
“My personal view is that it is not reliable to have social
services hold intelligence that is a matter for the police,” Cozens
He also points out that such a move would prompt questions about
human rights and the legality of holding information on people who
have not been convicted of a crime.
The issue of what kind of information social services departments
hold about alleged perpetrators is likely to be the most taxing of
those dealt with by the DfES over the coming months.
Trying to gain a consensus on whether searchable electronic child
care records should be developed will be difficult. A divide
already exists on the issue between senior management and
Many on the front line already err on the side of caution by
adapting their current record-keeping systems to informally
document concerns about people, and they may welcome a system that
allows them to store such information.
Director of UK operations at Barnardo’s Chris Hanvey says he is
“very reassured” by recommendations for the DfES. “There is a
permanent pendulum between the rights of the individual and the
right of the public to be protected. That pendulum is swinging back
towards the right to be protected.”
We will see if he is right when the Bichard inquiry reconvenes in
January and the DfES reveals how it has responded to the
Kelly’s three recommendations for the DfES
- The Department for Education and Skills should look again at
the guidance on extra-familial abuse given in Working Together with
a view to making it clear that the victims of such abuse (including
16 and 17 year olds) may require a service as children in need
(paragraphs 169 and 174).
- The DfES should consider guidance covering the retention of
education and social service files relating to children where child
protection or children in need issues have arisen (paragraph
- The DfES should establish with all stakeholders a consensus on
whether or not electronic records held by child care services
should be able to be searched for names of alleged offenders, and
issue appropriate guidance (paragraph 220).