Thursday, 6 November 2014

The child abuse inquiry needs to start again with transparency and trust

Look here for my piece on the Guardian website about Theresa May's statement in Parliament last Monday.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Child abuse inquiry - Meeting with survivors groups

I was at the meeting on Friday between representatives of various survivors' groups and some members of the inquiry panel. Fiona Woolf's resignation was called for at that meeting.

The resignation wasn't the top priority issue discussed. Far more important was the need immediately to convert the inquiry into a full statutory inquiry, with the powers to compel the production of documents, compel the attendance of witnesses and take testimony under oath.

Ben Emmerson (counsel to the inquiry) pointed out that Theresa May had already said that the inquiry would be converted to a statutory inquiry if the chair saw the need for it. The response was that we know from many past inquiries how unwilling organisations often are to admit to failings and wrongdoing, and that we will need to drag the information out of them. There is no purpose in wasting several months while this lesson is learned anew by the inquiry chair, the inquiry needs to be statutory from the start if it is to be effective. Within the meeting, there was complete unanimity on this point.

If the need for a statutory inquiry were to be accepted, the next question addressed was whether Fiona Woolf commanded confidence as chairman to conduct it. The answer was overwhelmingly "no". Of the organisations represented, only NSPCC did not support the consensus, they stayed neutral.

The reasons for this position were far more nuanced and powerful than have so far been reported. There was the obvious issue of Woolf's connection to the Brittans. If Woolf were a potential juror in a trial where Brittan was a witness, she would immediately be excused as soon as the connection was known. It's unreasonable to expect a lower standard of impartiality – both actual and perceived – to be accepted for the inquiry. In my view it was crass of the Home Office to redraft Woolf's letter to try and sidle round this point.

But this wasn't the only argument against Woolf as chair. Woolf is a commercial lawyer. She knows nothing of child abuse. Those who have experience in this field have come to understand how normal logic and reasoning does not work when dealing with this topic. With experience, you gradually come to realise that on the subject of abuse and institutional responses to it, almost everything you ever thought you knew about human behaviour is wrong. It usually takes about a year of immersion in this subject to get your head around the implications of this. We can't wait a year while the inquiry chair educates herself. Sharon Evans, one of the two panel members present, clearly grasped this point.

There was one other very important though rather technical reason Woolf would not be suitable to head a statutory inquiry. In order to exercise the full powers of a statutory inquiry, you need a judge. Only a judge for instance can hold an uncooperative witness in contempt of court. This point was forcefully made by more than one of the lawyers present. Woolf is a solicitor, not a judge. So the general consensus was that a (preferably senior) judge is needed who has some background in family law and who therefore has experience of abuse issues.

Another issue discussed was the limitation of the inquiry to cover just England and Wales. This excludes some very important scandals such as Kincora (Northern Ireland), Fort Augustus (Scotland) and Haut de la Garenne (Jersey). Apparently the reason for this is that child protection is a devolved issue, and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland are not prepared to have a Westminster-run inquiry looking into matters on their patch. I want to find out who is responsible for this. It is nuts to have an abuse inquiry that is excluded from looking into some very major scandals, especially when we know that the trafficking of children inconveniently crosses local authority and even international borders.

If the inquiry is to do its job, the single most vital attribute needed is the confidence of the survivors of abuse. Some people present at the meeting had themselves suffered abuse. They are among the most robust of all the survivors in the country, they have transcended their experiences to fight on behalf of others. But if the inquiry is to gain a full understanding of abuse, its mechanisms and effects, the panel members will need to speak to many others, some of whom are extremely damaged psychologically, are very vulnerable, and will need much support in order to testify. What is required for that support was discussed in some detail. The survivors groups expressed their readiness to work with the inquiry and bring their knowledge and experience to help the panel in their investigations and evidence gathering. Expert advisors from survivor organisations to the Panel of Inquiry were suggested.

It is a common characteristic of abuse victims that they are extremely distrustful of authority, because that authority over them was so devastatingly misused when they were children. We pointed out that inquiry has to recognise this as a fact and accept the consequences. One consequence is that in the eyes of the victims the fiascos concerning the appointments of Butler-Sloss and then Woolf are far more damaging than even the papers have reported. Some victims are already expressing complete lack of confidence in the inquiry and an unwillingness to co-operate with it. Unless things change,  Theresa May will be throwing an inquiry and nobody will turn up.

If we are to retrieve the situation, urgent action is needed. The first part of that happened on Friday afternoon with Woolf's resignation. The next urgent step needed is an announcement of the immediate conversion to a judge-led statutory inquiry, and then consultation with survivors groups as to the new chair, the composition of the panel and the terms of reference. With the establishment itself under scrutiny, the inquiry process must be extremely transparent. The need for this is only gradually becoming understood by the inquiry team.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Child abuse inquiry - The powers of the inquiry

The child abuse inquiry seems to be a bit of a mess. It's worth dividing the mess into three separate issues.
  1. The powers of the inquiry
  2. The scope and terms of reference of the inquiry
  3. The chairmanship of the inquiry
Lets look at each of these in turn, in separate articles.

The powers of the inquiry

At the moment, the inquiry is set up as a "panel inquiry". The idea apparently was to use the Hillsborough inquiry as a model. But the Hillsborough situation was very different for a number of reasons. First, it was looking into the actions of a relatively small number of public bodies in the context of a single specific event. Second, their co-operation had been assured from the start. Third, the main purpose appears to have been to collate and bring into the public domain a large number of documents already available. Fourth, it wasn't an end in itself, but merely was intended to provide an indication as to whether the inquest verdict on the Hillsborough victims was sound and whether a new inquest should be ordered that would look into everything judicially. That inquest is still ongoing.

The child sex abuse inquiry is a very different matter. There are a much larger range of bodied both public and private whose actions are to be looked into. There is no single event being examined but rather decades of failings to act to prosecute a large number of criminals and protect a large number of children. Co-operation from the bodies concerned has not been promised in advance and cannot be counted on. The inquiry if it does its job properly is going to have to make many different recommendations: into changes in the law, changes in practice, funding arrangements and a whole range of other issues. Child sex abuse is a diffuse problem, there are many points at which child protection arrangements can fail, and each of those failure points is likely to need a different solution. The scale of the undertaking is completely different.

The issue of what powers it is appropriate to give the inquiry turns on the issue of co-operation, whether it can be guaranteed from all the bodies which the inquiry might want to look into. One of the groups of bodies which the inquiry is tasked with looking into is churches and other religious organisations. The difficulties that may occur can be illustrated by means of a simple example concerning the Salesians, an order of Roman Catholic monks whom Graham Wilmer (one of the inquiry panel members) has complained about. In an article for Exaro News, The Salesians made the following statement.

The Salesians will of course co-operate fully with the forthcoming government inquiry if they are required to do so.
Note carefully the qualification: "if required to do so". As it is currently constituted, the inquiry cannot compel the production of documents. It cannot compel the attendance of witnesses, nor can it take oral testimony under oath. So the Salesians are not "required to" co-operate with the inquiry because the inquiry lacks the powers to do the requiring. I think it likely that many other organisations will be similarly tight-lipped unless they are "required to" co-operate.

When announcing the inquiry, the Home Secretary Theresa May made the following promise.

I want to make clear that – if the inquiry panel chairman deems it necessary – the government is prepared to convert it into a full statutory inquiry under the Inquiries Act.
Even before the inquiry starts, it is clear that it will be unable to do its job unless that conversion is carried out immediately. It should be done now rather than waste several months blundering around and discovering that most of the organisations being investigated won't co-operate. A statutory inquiry will have all the powers to compel co-operation that the present panel inquiry lacks.

Unless and until the inquiry is made a full statutory inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005, it is essentially useless.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Child Abuse Inquiry

The Child Abuse inquiry announced by Theresa May is getting a lot of airtime at the moment, primarily because of the issue of the suitability of the panel chairman. Baroness Butler-Sloss was originally appointed and had to withdraw when she decided that her family connections made her position untenable. Concerns have been raised about the suitability of her replacement, Fiona Woolf. That will play itself out in due course.

I'm more concerned with what the inquiry will have to look at if and when it goes ahead. The Terms of Reference haven't yet been published, but Theresa May has stated that her purpose is for the inquiry "To consider whether public bodies – and other non-state institutions – have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse."

Matthew Scott in his blog Barrister Blogger has offered some ideas about the inquiry, including suggestions for who might be suitable to chair it. Broadly speaking his suggestions revolve around judges or lawyers with experience of prosecuting, defending or judging sex crimes.
My concern with this approach is that somebody only with experience of the cases that come to trial is not going to be experienced in the various ways that cases fall by the wayside long before they get near a courtroom. In addition, he/she will probably know little about the efforts necessary to protect and support victims of child sex abuse in recovering from the abuse, whether or not the matter comes to trial. Nor will he or she have any knowledge of the measures that would help detect abuse early, nor of preventive measures that would deter abusers from abusing in the first place. It is notable that the currently nominated chair, Fiona Woolf, is a commercial lawyer, and doesn't even have the experience of addressing child sex cases in criminal court. I addressed this point in a comment on a recent article in the Guardian.
One of the problems with child sex abuse is that, on this subject, nobody acts according to normal adult standards of logic and reason.

Somebody new to this subject is going to be applying normal adult logic and will get into a terrible mess because they expect people to behave rationally according to normal standards, and they don't.

First let's look at the abusers themselves. They don't act rationally or they would not abuse. Many of them engage in a huge degree of self-deception in order to convince themselves that the children they abuse are freely consenting to the relationship.

The child victims don't act rationally by adult standards. They can't, they are children, their adult rational minds haven't been fully formed yet. Moreover they are placed into a situation where lies and secrecy abound, and their trust in adults is fatally undermined.

Those in authority don't act rationally, because they don't understand the psychological dynamics of the relationships between abusers and their victims. An abuser can be a pillar of society, intelligent, committed, a person everybody wants to know - and secretly a child abuser as well. The two are not mutually contradictory.

The idea that an abuser can be a high-functioning individual in all other aspects life is beyond the experience of most people, and so when evidence of abuse comes to light, it gets discounted on the basis of the abuser's otherwise good character.

Those who set policy in many cases act rationally in assuming that people with good intentions who see abuse will always report it, and that compulsion to do so is not needed for people to do what they know is the right thing.

But that doesn't take into account the simple disbelief that can afflict someone seeing something that "does not compute". People are suddenly wracked by doubt and wonder "What if I'm wrong?" They don't want to wreck and esteemed colleague's reputation or career, still less do they want to be labelled a troublemaker. And so they give into their doubts and do not report.

Even if they overcome their doubts, they then have to get past an institution's management. Here we have a whole new barrier to reporting, the reputation of the institution. A child abuse case can be very bad for business. The temptation can be overwhelming to find a way of handling it "in house", quietly, without the adverse publicity that will probably follow from a report to the authorities. People genuinely believe that by such actions they can protect both the children in their care and the reputation of the institution. In fact, the only person protected is the abuser.

And so at every turn, you have people acting in ways which on the face of it don't make any sense. It takes about a year of involvement in child protection in some capacity or other to start unravelling this in your head. Some people never manage it.

This inquiry can't afford to waste a year while the leader of it starts to understand that on this subject everything she ever knew about human behaviour is wrong.

That by itself is enough of a reason why Fiona Woolf's appointment is misguided.

If there is reason to think that there has been political interference in the investigation of child sex abuse cases, I agree with Matthew Scott in his assessment that there is little or no chance of decisive evidence of this being uncovered without the inquiry being converted into a full public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005. If there is an establishment cover up, then those members of the establishment who are involved are hardly going to voluntarily give evidence as to their culpability. Similarly, documents that reveal the extent of any cover up are hardy going to be provided to the inquiry voluntarily. Compulsion will have to be used, and for that the inquiry will have to be converted to a full public inquiry. It might as well be done sooner rather than later. To delay will only give the impression that there is a cover up and the inquiry is being designed in such a way that it cannot reveal it.

Much of the recent publicity has surrounded alleged abuse by politicians living or dead, and alleged political interference in police investigations. But Theresa May's statement suggests that the remit of the inquiry is to be far wider than that.

I suspect the issue of cases being halted because of political pressure will form only a small part of the inquiry. It is likely that the vast majority of the failings in the system occur long before cases ever come to court and have nothing at all to do with protecting senior politicians.

If so, then the inquiry is going to have to look at all the ways in which cases of abuse might fail to be acted on or even reported.

These include (but are not limited to):
  • The child does not disclose the abuse at the time.
  • Other signs of abuse (e.g. physical, behavioural) are not noticed.
  • The signs are noticed (e.g by a member of staff at the child's school) but not reported within the setting.
  • The signs are reported but the report is not passed to the local authority children's services.
  • The report reaches children's services but is not acted on, for instance through lack of resources, because the report is disbelieved, or because it is thought not to reach the "harm threshold" that justifies intervention.
  • The report reaches children's services and is passed to the police for criminal investigation but the police decide no crime has been committed.
  • A child makes a disclosure to the police but is not believed.
  • The police investigate but decide no crime has been committed.
  • The police investigate and pass the file to the CPS who decide there is insufficient evidence for a prosecution.
  • The child, unable to face the prospect of giving evidence in court, withdraws the allegation.
  • The case results in an acquittal either on a legal technicality or in part because the complainant collapses under the pressure of cross-examination that he or she is insufficiently prepared for.
  • The investigation is halted because of political pressure.
If the inquiry is to do its job thoroughly, it needs to investigate each of the ways in which an abuse case might not receive the timely attention is requires. It will need to look at whether each item is a significant contributor to the overall failings, and if it is, what would need to be changed in order to fix this. Each element may require a different fix.

Proposals already exist for many of these elements, and it will be the task of the inquiry to decide whether they ought to be widely adopted. For instance, taking the very first item on the list above, the inquiry might decide that more needs to be done to improve age-appropriate sex education in schools in a way that would encourage children to disclose if they have been abused. The NSPCC has been looking at this area with its #TalkPANTS initiative and the Underwear Rule. The inquiry could look into whether this initiative should be included in the curriculum on sex education.

Each possible failure point will need to be looked into in the same level of detail if we are to thoroughly overhaul our child protection arrangements. There is probably no proposal or combination of proposals that can catch all abuse. But I'm sure we can do much better than we are at the moment.

In addition, we need to look into victim support, both for children and for adults who come forward to disclose abuse that they suffered in childhood. We don't want another case such as the shameful lack of support for Frances Andrade.

This is going to be a big job if done properly.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

NSPCC on mandatory reporting - 4

Well, as you've all probably now seen, the NSPCC has apparently performed a U-turn on mandatory reporting.

The BBC has said "The man leading a review into how the Home Office handled historical allegations of child abuse has said people who cover up such crimes should be prosecuted."

Mr Cameron, speaking during Prime Minister's Questions, said: "Should we change the law so there is a requirement to report and make it a criminal offence not to report? The Government is currently looking at that and of course both reviews will be able to examine this particular point and advise us accordingly. I think it may well be time to take that sort of step forward."

But we need to look carefully at exactly what it is being suggested should be made mandatory. James Meikle in the Guardian made a pretty accurate report, one of relatively few in the mainstream media.
The NSPCC, however, made clear it was not advocating blanket mandatory reporting and in other interviews with the broadcaster said it was calling for something much more narrow – “wilful cover-up of abuse” – to prevent unfounded concerns being raised about people or organisations.

Alan Wardle, its head of corporate affairs, told Radio 4's Today programme: ”We don’t think it should be across the board.”

There should be “quite a narrow approach” applying particularly to those in charge of organisations where children were away from home, such as boarding schools, children’s homes and hospitals, he said. These should be placed under a particular obligation because of the vulnerability of those they were looking after.
So let's have a look at the NSPCCs proposal as stated on its website.The key to it is in the four bullet points. The first shows the area that NSPCC is looking at.
    • The scale of abuse that has been reported in the last couple of years in places like hospitals, boarding schools and children homes shows that the current system isn't protecting children as it should.

      It has become evident that some of our institutions are utterly failing to protect children, which shows the need for reform.
      Hospitals, boarding schools, children's homes. The institutions Savile targetted. And yes, they did fail. But Savile isn't the sole failure of the system. Think for instance of the Catholic Church and how it has been able with impunity to cover up abuse.

      The NSPCC needs to explain why it is that it thinks that children in these specific settings are deserving of the protection of mandatory reporting, while the vast majority of children not in residential settings do not deserve the same level of protection.
      • Some of these cases have involved abuse being covered up or swept under the carpet. This is morally indefensible and people should be prosecuted where this has happened.
      The  NSPCC is very late to the party, but it's nice of you to agree - finally! - that this sort of thing is morally indefensible and that prosecutions should follow.

      The fact is that much abuse has been covered up simply because it could. There are no criminal sanctions for failing to report a crime, even when the crime is child sex abuse, and you are running the school which is caring for the child affected.
      • So, the NSPCC now sees a case for criminalising the act of cover up; that is, the failure of an individual within an institution responsible for the care and well-being of a child, to put the safety of a child before the disclosure of what they know to be a criminal act.

        We want to discuss the details with people in government and other experts, including which institutions it should apply within. But allowing abuse to be covered up or swept under the carpet cannot be allowed to continue.
      This is where the "devil is in the details" phrase is apt.  In this case, the key detail is that phrase "the disclosure of what they know to be a criminal act". People don't know that a criminal act of child abuse has taken place unless they witness it (very rare) or the perpetrator admits it (even rarer). In all other situations, you don't know, you just have a suspicion of varying degree depending on what you have seen or what a child has disclosed.

      A reasonable suspicion is a justified basis for starting an investigation, and it is mandatory reporting of reasonable suspicions which MandateNow is calling for. But if a report doesn't have to happen until a person already knows, then no investigation can even get started. So by restricting mandatory reporting to cases where people "know" that a criminal act has occurred, you eliminate almost all practical situations from the scope of the NSPCC's proposal. Moreover, if you introduce mandatory reporting with such a narrow scope, you are likely to reduce the reports that come from situations outside the mandatory scope, because the law is clearly saying that not reporting in those situations is OK.

      Also, it seems very strange that they want to restrict the new law to just certain institutions - their initial idea is hospitals, boarding schools and children's homes. It's a bit like concluding that you need a law on drink driving, but then deciding it should be applied only to lorry drivers.
      • In addition, because we see particular risk in more closed institutions (such as boarding schools and residential care homes) we also wish to explore if there are further corporate, legal liabilities that should be placed upon them.
      This is so vague as to be pretty meaningless. But I am interested in their use of the term "closed institutions". One gets the impression that they think that boarding schools are places where the children have little contact with their parents or the rest of the outside world. This might have been true 40 years ago, but with mobile phones and internet, it is certainly not true now. There are almost no closed institutions in the sense that boarding schools used to be, something trumpeted at every possible opportunity by the Boarding Schools' Association.

      In practice, it is social isolation which commonly renders children vulnerable to grooming and abuse, and social isolation can occur in any school.

      The last part of the statement is also revealing.
      None of this substitutes in any way for the emphasis we will continue to place upon promoting open cultures within institutions where well trained staff can speak up and speak out about their concerns without fear of the consequences.
      It is precisely the lack of mandatory reporting which means that trained staff too often cannot "speak up and speak out about their concerns without fear of the consequences".

      Consider this scenario: A junior teacher sees in the distance a senior colleague and a female pupil sitting on a bench in a remote corner of the school grounds. They appear to be holding hands and kissing. As the teacher approaches, they notice him and they hurriedly separate, walking off in different directions. The teacher reports the incident to the head, who says he must have been mistaken, and firmly tells the junior teacher to mention this to nobody.

      You are that junior teacher. You have a very reasonable suspicion that an inappropriate relationship exists between the senior teacher and the girl, and that the girl is therefore at risk, but you have not seen any crime committed. What do you do? Do you turn whistleblower and phone children's services yourself, or do you obey your headteacher and shut up about it? Most teachers understandably will do the latter, having a mortgage to pay and a family to support. It was by ignoring signs like this that Bishop Bell School failed to take action before Jeremy Forrest fled to France with a pupil he was having an affair with.

      If the teacher is a hero and decides to call children's services off his own bat, and they call the school asking to investigate, then it will take the head teacher about 3 seconds to work out who called them. The junior teacher will not last long in his job. Whistleblowers are usually sacked for the sin of showing management up, unless management has actually done something criminally wrong.

      This sort of thing does really happen. Listen to this chilling account from a special needs teacher.

      This is where mandatory reporting should come in. Take the same scenario, but where there is a law on mandatory reporting of reasonable suspicions which applies to all schools and other institutions caring for children.

      The head teacher would now be far less likely to try and squelch the report. Few people are willing to risk jail in order to cover up somebody else's suspected abuse. So in all probability the report will get forwarded to the authorities, which is what we want to achieve.

      In the unlikely event that the head is being extremely reckless and still tells the junior teacher to tell nobody, the junior teacher is in a much stronger position. If he now phones children's services, he has two incidents to report: the original child protection concern and the criminal action of the headteacher in not passing on a reasonable suspicion. The junior teacher is much less likely to be sacked since he was following the law in making the report.

      But NSPCC clearly isn't interested in any of this. Peter Wanless is quoted later on the NSPCC page as follows:
      However, our focus for criminalisation is on cover up, not the merest suspicion that a child might have been harmed. Evidence from elsewhere shows that such arrangements can over emphasise process and onward referrals many of which never get properly dealt with, at the expense of focused action to support and protect those children most in need.
      What a dismissive attitude! "the merest suspicion that a child might have been harmed". Quite frankly, that alone should be reason to call for his resignation as CEO of NSPCC. But instead, he is the person appointed by the government to investigate possible failings by the Home Office act appropriately on receipt of concerns that children had been seriously abused.

      But even more amazing is that this statement got past press officers and other senior people at NSPCC without anybody noticing what a disgraceful statement it really was. Such a cavalier attitude to the safety of children is horrifying coming from an organisation whose whole purpose is supposedly to protect children.

      The second sentence, about services being swamped, is a rehash of the NSPCC's previous paper opposing mandatory reporting in all its forms, which was dismantled by MandateNow some months ago. Quite simply, the evidence isn't there to justify the assertion.

      So let's consider a few recent cases which I've discussed here on this blog.

      The NSPCC proposal would have done nothing for St Benedict's School, partly because the school is non-residential, and partly because (to the best of our knowledge) criminal acts were neither directly witnessed by other staff nor admitted to by their perpetrators.

      The NSPCC idea might have affected Downside school, in that the school consulted its lawyers to see if they had to report the admitted abuses of Richard White, and were told "no". It's reasonable to suppose that had mandatory reporting of known abuse been in place, the lawyers would have advised differently and the school would have acted accordingly. White would therefore have been caught some 20 or so years before he actually was.

      The NSPCC proposal would have done nothing to help prevent the death of Daniel Pelka. His emaciation, constant hunger and unexplained bruises were noticed by his (non-residential) primary school, but not passed on as child protection concerns. However, no crime was witnessed, so the abuse was not known, merely suspected.

      And it would not have helped protect the children of Hillside First School, where Nigel Leat abused for 14 years. Eleven separate reports were made to the headteacher by staff concerning suspicious behaviour by Leat, but none was passed on by the headteacher to the authorities. Again, no crime was witnessed.

      Nor would the victims of Bruce Roth have been helped. Suspicions about his behaviour were known at Kings School Rochester but not reported to the authorities, and Roth was permitted to move to Wellington College with a good reference. Roth abused pupils at both schools.

      You need mandatory reporting in cases where somebody knows or suspects, or has reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting that abuse has occurred. "Reasonable grounds" is a well-established legal term, and prosecutors aren't going to be interested in going after marginal cases where it is arguable whether somebody ought to have suspected. They will only be interested in clear cases where management for instance has suppressed and failed to pass on definite reports from staff. If you exclude reasonable grounds of suspicion, it would become almost impossible to prove that somebody knew that criminal abuse had occurred, and so nobody in practice would ever get prosecuted.

      So the fact is that the NSPCC proposal as it stands would provide additional protection to almost nobody. Few or no prosecutions will result, and since in most cases it provides no legal protections to those who would report against an unsympathetic management which wishes to preserve an institution's reputation, the NSPCC proposal does nothing to help in its own stated objective of "promoting open cultures within institutions where well trained staff can speak up and speak out about their concerns without fear of the consequences".

      In other words, the NSPCC proposal is a disguised recommendation to maintain the status quo. It must be exposed as such.

      Friday, 27 June 2014

      Savile

      Savile was able to abuse at just about every institution he came into contact with. The present system of discretionary reporting failed at every one of those hospitals where he abused.

      Think on that. Every. Single. One.

      At the moment, nobody has a legal obligation to report suspected or even known abuse. An NHS manager could in principle even have witnessed Savile raping a child and would have had no legal obligation to report anything to anybody.

      Savile didn't abuse at just a few institutions with poor child protection arrangements. He seems to have been free to abuse at every institution he came into contact with. That suggests a massive failure of our arrangements to protect children. If that failure is not corrected, there will be another Savile, probably sooner rather than later, and hige numbers of children will have their lives wrecked. The effects of abuse can be devastating and lifelong.

      In fact, there has been another Savile - Cyril Smith seems also to have been a lifetime abuser on a prolific scale. How many more are there or will there be?

      So, our current system of discretionary reporting seems to have completely failed. People have used that discretion to not report. The time has come for mandatory reporting within schools, hospitals and other institutions which care for children and vulnerable adults.

      Monday, 23 June 2014

      Progress in Coventry

      Coventry City Council, after an initially somewhat negative response to my survey of its schools' safeguarding arrangements, has come round to the idea that they really do need to improve things. They invited me and Paula Barrow (the author of the Daniel's Law petition) to a meeting at council offices in May this year, the gist of which was reported in the Coventry Observer.

      The essence of the plan we agreed was as follows:

      1. A model safeguarding policy implementing best practice will be written, in such a way that schools will be able to use it with minimal modification, just adding the name of the school, the headteacher, the designated teacher(s) for safeguarding and a small number of other details.

      2. The policy will make it clear that all child protection concerns must (rather than merely should) be reported to the authorities and provide a clear procedure for this.

      3. The city council will ensure that the the new policy is adopted by all LA controlled schools in Coventry, will work with DfE with a view to ensuring that academies also adopt the policy, and will encourage independent schools in the city to do the same.

      4. The education department will periodically review safeguarding arrangements of schools to ensure that the policy has been effectively implemented.

      This is what I had wanted to achieve from the meeting, and it turned out that the council had already decided on much of it beforehand. We spent much of our time refining the ideas they already had in mind.

      I was very pleased with the outcome of the meeting. It is not mandatory reporting - that would require a change in the law. There can be no criminal sanctions for failing to report unless and until the law is changed, but if the model policy (with the all-important statement that child protection concerns "must" be reported) is adopted by governors, then staff at least will have a contractual obligation to follow the policy.

      A model policy adopted city-wide will bring practice up to the standard of the best schools (e.g. St Thomas More Catholic Primary School and Stivichall Primary School, who scored 10/10 in my initial survey).

      Furthermore, there are benefits from standardising on a single policy. It means that training can be designed round the policy. It means that reviewing schools' safeguarding arrangements is easier because it is known in detail what they ought to be doing. And it means that as staff move from school to school during their careers, they will be immediately familiar with the safeguarding arrangements at their new school because they are just the same as the arrangements at their old school.

      If and when mandatory reporting is introduced, the arrangements Coventry is putting in place could be used as a template for what needs to be done in schools and LAs across the country to implement it.


      Everything of course depends on effective implementation of the plan. I'm meeting the council again at the end of next week so we can review progress. I am very keen to ensure that these arrangements are in place by September, in time for the start of the new academic year.

      Coventry City Council has decided that something needed to be done to prevent another Daniel Pelka, and has shown a willingness to seek outside assistance in how to improve, and to get on with making the changes needed. I am not the only source of outside advice they have sought. It is a refreshing contrast to the glacial pace of my discussions with NSPCC.