Poor judgements made by social workers were revealed during the
inquiry, including a decision not to refer to police details of a
sexual relationship between Ian Huntley, then 21, and the first of
several under-age girls. A fax from a teacher detailing concerns
that Huntley was having a sexual relationship with a pair of
15-year-old friends and had given them drugs and alcohol was not
passed on to police.
Andrew Cozens, president of the Association of Directors of Social
Services, hopes Bichard will recommend national standards and a
protocol for dealing with cases of under-age sex so they are
routinely passed to the police. “At the moment it is too variable
and allows too much room for discretion,” he says.
But such a system will work only if it is underpinned by a good
relationship between the police and social services, which Cozens
hopes will be encouraged by the new duty in the Children Bill for
agencies to co-operate. Inquiry evidence hinted at a poor
relationship between social services and Humberside police, which
may have led to inconsistency in dealing with allegations.
Mishandled information about Huntley was caused by flawed
information systems used by the police. David Westwood, chief
constable of Humberside police, admitted that the first allegation,
which Huntley and the girl (known as AB) admitted, should have been
recorded. But arrests were not put into the police national
computer, only cautions and convictions, and Huntley was not
cautioned because AB did not want to prosecute.
Allowing a child to dictate what action is taken is an obvious flaw
in the system because in effect it means the law protects the adult
rather than the child.
The police refused to comment on what they would like Bichard to
recommend. Arguably, police should have the freedom to caution
those having sex with a minor, even when it goes against the wishes
of the child, in order to protect them. Cozens expects that Bichard
will recommend retaining “soft” intelligence so that a pattern of
behaviour can be established on people, such as Huntley, who have
claims made against them repeatedly but are never cautioned or
It is a contentious issue but some may say vitally important,
especially considering a rape allegation against Huntley was
deleted from police files as was the single piece of intelligence
on him: a report by PC Michael Harding in 1999 suggesting Huntley
was a “serial sex attacker”.
Head teacher of Soham Village College Howard Gilbert did not check
Huntley’s references before appointing him. Huntley took up his
caretaker’s post in November 2001 before he had been vetted, even
though his predecessor had been dismissed for having an
inappropriate relationship with a student.
Complacency around recruitment procedures, which Gilbert admitted
was a “mistake”, was not the only weakness in the education system
exposed by Huntley. Despite a 15-year history of interviewing,
Gilbert said he had no specific training on how to elicit child
protection issues within an interview beyond asking how a candidate
would react if a student developed a crush on them.
Kathryn James, head of the professional advice department at the
National Association of Headteachers, says: “Child protection is a
sensitive area and people are cautious about what they can or
cannot ask. More training is needed but there also has to be more
effective training. But we need to ask where these trainers are
going to come because there is a limited number.
“There has also been a feeling in the past that ‘it could not
happen here’ or ‘it’s a one-off’. This case has raised awareness in
the most awful way but it needs to be addressed for sure. Funding
is always an issue for schools but we would like to see a
recommendation in the report that every single person working in a
school has had child protection training.”
To minimise the chance of employing someone who could be a risk to
children, James also wants Bichard to recommend enhanced checks for
all school staff, instead of the standard checks now applied to
non-teaching staff, such as caretakers.
She is less keen on Cozens’s suggestion that recruitment methods in
schools need to be subject to root and branch reform in the same
way as workers in children’s homes were as a result of Sir William
Utting’s report People Like Us. That introduced ways beyond
interview to test a person’s suitability to working with
Cozens argues the “sloppy practice” shown up by the Bichard inquiry
proves more sophisticated recruitment methods are needed to prevent
people who pose a danger to children slipping through the net. In
James’s view, the CRB system needs to be given a chance to work to
its full potential before something else is introduced.
Criminal Records Bureau
Cozens predicts that Bichard is likely to make recommendations on
the scope of the CRB checks and the rigour of its screenings.
During the inquiry Maureen Cooper, of recruitment agency Personnel
Education Management, revealed that the bureau check was flawed
because the addresses supplied by applicants could not be verified.
She added the system could also not check for aliases and relied on
the “honesty of the individual”.
Huntley had taken his mother’s name Nixon in 1999 after his parents
separated – and information about addresses is vital to the process
because it determines which police force is asked to do the checks.
Vince Gaskell, chief executive of the CRB, admitted that there was
nothing in guidance to say addresses had to be verified.
A new database being piloted in three police forces would resolve
the problem. The PLX project is a database with the names and
addresses of all people on whom intelligence is held. But Bichard
made a plea for urgent action to be taken before the system is
implemented nationally in the autumn.
Catalogue of errors
23 June 1995 Parents of a 15-year-old girl, AB,
contact social services about her sexual relationship with
21-year-old Huntley but the case is not passed to police.
8 August 1995 Referral made to social services
that AB and her younger brother are living with Huntley. A social
worker arranges for AB and her 13-year-old brother to stay with
him. Case not passed to police.
9-10 August 1995 A joint social services and
police investigation is launched. AB and Huntley admit having
sexual relations to police, but no action taken because AB does not
want to prosecute. No record is made of the allegations because
Huntley is not cautioned.
February 1996 Referral made about 15-year-old CD,
who was living with Huntley and his father.
March 1996 Huntley makes a referral citing “moral”
issues about CD living with him. No action taken by social
May 1996 Teacher’s concerns that CD and her friend
EF have been sleeping with Huntley and he has given them drugs and
alcohol not passed to police. Police decide the EF case should be
dealt with by social services because she did not want to complain.
Then another allegation about a 13 year old is made against Huntley
but is marked “no further action” by police because she does not
want to complain.
April 1998 Huntley interviewed over the rape of a
girl called IJ but later released and no record made because no
May-June 1998 Huntley arrested over the rape of
KL. Case dropped due to lack of evidence. File created on the
police national computer (PNC).
March 1999 File deleted from the PNC, despite
guidance saying files on crimes of a sexual nature can be retained
for five years.
July-August 1998 Allegation of an indecent assault
against 11-year-old MN. Police arrested Huntley and a record was
made but the complainant withdrew. No record was made on the PNC
because Huntley was not charged but an entry was made on the child
May 1999 OP reported being raped by Huntley to the
July 1999 QR reports being raped by Huntley, who
the previous month changed his name to Nixon. Name change not
recorded by police. PC Mick Harding links the cases and writes a
report saying Huntley is a “repeat sexual offender”.
November 2001 Huntley begins work as caretaker at
Soham Village College before police checks and job references have
been completed and authenticated.
August 2002 Huntley murders Holly Wells and
December 2003 Huntley given double life sentence
for the murder of the girls.