It’s about relationships

When the Bichard Inquiry began work a month ago, it looked as if
the police would have more to answer for than social services. Not
so. Both agencies appear to have been curiously error-prone at
crucial moments in the history of Ian Huntley, culminating in his
appointment as a school caretaker in Soham without any hint of an
alarm being raised. The tragic consequences of that appointment are
well known.

The inquiry is likely to draw important conclusions about vetting
procedures and the way in which information is managed and shared.
North East Lincolnshire social services has been commendably frank
in admitting to its failures since its initial insistence that
there was nothing it could have done differently. The department
appears to have condoned a number of Huntley’s sexual relationships
with under-age girls and failed to link separate cases in which
Huntley was the common factor. It is no exaggeration to say that
aspects of the department’s handling of these cases were, to quote
one of its own witnesses, “totally inadequate in every

But all too often the seeds of error are sown in the cracks that
open up between different agencies. Association of Directors of
Social Services president Andrew Cozens was right to tell the
Bichard Inquiry that the inter-relationship of police and social
services systems was the key issue in linking separate cases. While
it is very much the responsibility of social services to hold
information about abuse victims on their databases, the onus
clearly falls on the police when it comes to alleged abusers like

Another all-important relationship is the one with the Criminal
Records Bureau. There are worrying anomalies in the way the CRB
vets staff despite the profound concerns raised by the Soham
murders. Eighteen months ago the Department for Education and
Skills relaxed the rules on bureau checks for new staff because of
long delays at the CRB. That sorry situation continues to this day.
And, inexcusably, while enhanced checks are carried out on
teachers, lighter “standard” checks are carried out on school
support staff including caretakers.

One of the main lessons is likely to be that mutually supportive
relationships between agencies are vital if children are to be
protected. It has been said many times before, but perhaps this
time it will be learned.

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