Kelly tells agencies to tighten up collaboration on sexual allegations

    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
    report.

    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
    ratings.

    Of the 12 recommendations in his report, Kelly makes nine about
    practice in North East Lincolnshire Council, including
    training.

    The remaining three are for the Department for Education and Skills
    to consider for inclusion in its Working Together to Safeguard
    Children
    guidance.

    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
    abuse.

    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
    unlikely.

    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
    and consistent.”

    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
    says.

    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
    front-line workers.

    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
    reports.

    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
      207).
    • 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).

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