A girl at risk of being sexually exploited was held in police custody for more than seven hours after a council failed to make the proper arrangements following a collection order.
In a judgment last month, Justice Newton slammed Brent council for its “totally unacceptable” plans for organising a placement and escort for the vulnerable teenager.
The girl, who is referred to as B and lived in a foster home, was left in police custody while a plan for her onwards care was “cobbled together”, according to Newton.
She had been judged at risk due to her vulnerable state after a personal tragedy, and because she had been in a relationship with a man known to police regarding alleged sexually and physically abusive relationships with young girls.
Warning to local authorities
After going missing from her foster home for 12 days, the authority applied for a collection order a couple of days after she briefly returned. This was granted by the court.
B was located at 7:30pm on the day the order was issued, but a safe escort did not arrive at the police station where she was being held until 2:30am. She eventually left just after 3am.
By making the case public – it had been heard in private – Newton sent a warning to local authorities across the country. The purpose was to inform authorities of this “inexcusable” difficulty, so they make sure that robust processes are in place, he said.
Newton said all councils need to understand that the case was “totally unacceptable”. He added, “it has failed everyone, but principally B. It must not happen again”.
The court approved the collection order believing Brent had the required arrangements for placement and transportation in place. However, after granting the order, the court learned this was “not the case”. Arrangements had not been made and securing a protective placement for B was left to the emergency duty team.
Not fit for purpose
“It is unacceptable, to say the least, that the information given to the court was either inaccurate or misleading, or that placements or transport arrangements were allowed to fall, leaving it to the emergency duty team to try to devise a plan for placement for B, which they were not apparently well placed to do,” Newton said.
He raised concerns that the emergency systems in Brent were “not remotely suitable or fit for purpose”. While he praised the efforts of the police, Newton said he found it “difficult to imagine a more unsuitable environment” for B to be held.
Ruth Moher, cabinet member for children and young people’s services, praised the initial response of local services who worked together to locate the girl and remove her quickly from any potential harm.
She added: “We are sorry that our actions subsequently fell short of expectations and we have learnt from the outcomes.”