Archive

National Group on Sexual Violence against Children and Vulnerable People

Peter McKelvie and Liz Davies met, on Tuesday 13th May at 11.30 am, with Norman Baker, MP for Lewes and Minister of State at the Home Office, in the presence of Adrian Sanders MP for Torbay. Adrian Sanders had requested that the meeting take place and it was tabled for half an hour. The meeting began 15 minutes late.

Report of the meeting

The Minister advised that he would be available for ten minutes as he had another important appointment. He listed a number of items that he could not discuss as these were not the direct responsibility of the Home Office – such as any current police investigations and individual cases. He also stated that the National Group on Sexual Violence against Children and Vulnerable People had been set up as a national response to child sexual exploitation. PM assured him that as former child protection managers neither he nor LD would have expected to discuss anything related to current police investigations.

PM then outlined his reasons for requesting the meeting.

1. He had written to David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Edward Miliband asking them to work together and to honour a commitment that David Cameron had made immediately after the Savile scandal. Cameron had said, ‘The Government will do all it can, other institutions must do what they can, to make sure that we learn the lesson of this and it can never happen again. Collusion should never happen again’.

PM explained that there was no evidence that the Government or Parliament to date were showing any sign of including themselves amongst those institutions who should be investigating their role in either child abuse or its cover-up.

2. PM referred to the replies to his letters from David Cameron and Nick Clegg, and also a reply from ” L.Smart ” Home Office, in which all used exactly the same phrase, ‘Child abuse is an abhorrent crime, no matter when, or where, it occurs. We are committed to tackling it, in whatever form it takes.’

PM asked who L. Smart was who had signed the letter to him from the Home Office but the Minister and his associate did not know. The Minister said that he had read PM’s email correspondence.
Again, PM stated that no evidence had emerged in the last 2 years that, when it came to the suggestion that a Member of Parliament might be the abuser or his colleagues might be involved in covering up such abuse, the public could take such promises seriously. The Minister suggested that attitudes and practice had changed in the post-Savile era. He believed that police forces would now charge anyone, no matter who they were, if the evidence was available.

LD stated that she and PM were just two of many professionals who had over many years built up a solid body of evidence which had never been investigated. She made particular reference to the extensive abuse carried out in Islington which LD attempted to expose with others in the 1990′s. She said that both had contributed to Operation Fairbank and Operation Fernbridge and had much respect for the hard work of the few police officers working on those investigations since Tom Watson’s Prime Minister’s Question began the process in October 2012.

PM added that, putting aside the very positive changes in attitude inspired by Keir Starmer at CPS level towards witnesses, a great deal could have been achieved in the last 2 years, without prompting, by each political party to investigate their internal cover ups on such prominent politicians as Cyril Smith and Peter Morrison. The public view is that this would not happen of the Government/Parliament’s own volition.

PM wished to be reassured that action would be taken against all perpetrators and alleged perpetrators – including those in government. Norman Baker emphasised a number of times that anyone who has committed crimes against children or who is alleged to have committed such crimes must be subject to due legal processes whoever they are. PM stated that there was sufficient grounds to merit police investigation into at least 27 members of the Commons and Lords, some deceased and some alive. Norman Baker asked if any of the MPs were currently sitting in Parliament and PM confirmed that some of them were.

PM then referred to the role of the Home Office in relation to the Paedophile Information Exchange in the 70s and suggested that the role of MI5, MI6 and government in relation to the safety of children should be a matter for public disclosure because, although he acknowledged that some aspects of government needed to remain secret for reasons of national security, this criteria did not, in his view, apply to the protection of children which is of central importance to every concerned citizen in the country.

Norman Baker mentioned that a number of current investigations were in progress and LD commented that these were fragmented and that a national investigation was required to ensure co-ordination. She mentioned, as an example, Michael Gove’s recent request for 22 authorities to investigate children’s homes where Operation Yewtree, the investigation into crimes against children perpetrated by Jimmy Savile, had indicated a possible connection. The Minister said a national inquiry would demand major resources but LD clarified that she had spoken of a national police investigation not an inquiry. Norman Baker said that a national investigation would not always be helpful because, for example, where the issues are within the NHS then the NHS is best placed to be a focus of investigation. LD asked if he was open to considering the need for increased police and social work resources in view of the enormity of the national task. She explained that some survivors who contact her wait a considerable time to be interviewed by the police. He responded that what was needed was a change in attitude rather than increased resources.

There followed a brief discussion about the need for more support for survivors when they were considering speaking with or providing evidence to police or social workers and about how they can have better trust in the systems. The Minister commented that an increase in reporting of child abuse by victims was a positive development signifying a change in attitude. PM stated that, for all the known reasons, survivors were not coming forward and therefore the Police were limited in what they could achieve. PM suggested that much greater efforts were needed to convince survivors that they would be believed and supported even if their allegations were against powerful politicians or members of the Establishment.
The meeting was then brought to a sudden end when the Minister was informed of an urgent phone call and he left the room.
PM and LD thanked Adrian Sanders, MP for Torbay, who had facilitated today’s meeting, but informed him that his efforts had been in vain because the brevity of the meeting had ensured that it had served no real purpose and had left both PM and LD feeling quite strongly that their views and opinions were never going to be taken seriously or answered. PM considered that his long held view that most politicians see themselves as our political masters rather than our elected representatives was definitely reinforced by the experience of this meeting

Comment on the meeting

Whilst we recognise that we were very privileged to have met with the Minister, overall the meeting was a disappointment It was certainly important to gain reassurance that everyone, of whatever status and background, would be subjected to the same due legal processes when suspected or known to have committed crimes against children. However, in our view, current police operations are poorly resourced and the officers are struggling to meet the increased level of reporting that the Minister referred to. It was therefore disconcerting to hear that an increase in police and social work resources for the proper investigation of crimes against children was not to be considered. It was also disappointing to learn that the Minister did not support the concept of a national police and social work investigation team. We know that senior police officers have been asking for such a team for over twenty years and that the proactive collation of intelligence and coordinated analysis of victims’ accounts and corroborative evidence is essential to the targeting of child sex offenders. The offenders themselves are of course well networked at a national and international level. They continue to evade justice and to offend against children because of a statutory response situated at local level.

Peter McKelvie

Liz Davies
l.davies@londonmet.ac.uk

15.05.2014

Further reading:

An Open Letter to David Cameron


An Open Letter to David Cameron: MPs’ Responses


A Visit to the Home Office

Advertisements

Tom Watson MP, on October 12th 2012, asked a Prime Minister’s Question to ensure that the police investigate claims of a powerful paedophile ring linked to a previous prime minister’s senior adviser and parliament. Watson said that an evidence file collected by the police to convict paedophile Peter Righton, in 1992, had contained clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring.

 

Following this question, and in response to many recent exposés, the government did initiate a range of reactive inquiries and police operations. It also set up the National Group on Sexual Violence against Children and Vulnerable People.  The title, though, is significantly flawed because, of course, children are people and also vulnerable.  This Home Office led group, established in April 2013 and chaired by Damian Green MP, has published a Progress Report and a report of national findings relating to a multi-agency project.  I haven’t yet noted a strong base in survivor and care-leaver groups, a consultation process or any invitation for the presentation or collation of evidence.

 

The Home Office would not have been my department of choice for this work. In the 80s, Geoffrey Dickens MP presented the Home Office with extensive dossiers about serious crimes against children. These were carelessly mislaid and it seems little action resulted from his investigations. Dickens was exposing the sexual abuse of children in the London Borough of Islington long before I whistleblew about it and just a street or two away from the events I exposed in the 90s.  I was a social worker in Islington at the time and it is my deep regret that I did not contact him. However, my investigations were without the advantage of the internet, social media and strong survivor networks currently proving so helpful to investigations.

 

I looked optimistically for the word ‘social worker’ in the Progress Report but social work as a profession is severely marginalised. There is a mention of the appointment of the Chief Social Worker and a one liner about social work practice.  This is no surprise as the Working Together 2013 statutory guidance, which the Progress Report pledges to implement in full, omits all reference to methods of joint police and social work investigation  and even removes the definition of organised abuse. As it isn’t included I expect that no-one will notice it – let alone investigate it. Social work is now all about assessment of needs and the police separately investigate crime. Unfortunately, the protection of children does not fit so neatly into such divides. The nuanced, skilful work of specialist police and social workers jointly investigating child abuse, in a child-centred way, has been steadily under attack since the mid 90s. Academics and politicians are among those rightly accused of assisting the demise of proactive child protection work which has consistently led to  tragic consequences for children.  Prevention, early intervention and family support  approaches were implemented as an alternative to policies and methods of protection –  as if the protection of children could be made redundant if these early years systems were in place. The changes also provided an opportunity for the easy privatisation of services. It was comparable with having fire alarms but no fire fighters. 

 

Serious case review findings, following the deaths of children from abuse, have in recent months highlighted that the focus of work was on the parents and adults rather than the child, there was a lack of investigation of perpetrators, poor evidence collation and little focus on direct communication with children. Specialist joint child protection teams have been discarded and police and social workers now rarely train together. The Progress Report promotes the Frontline social work fast track education scheme to bring Russell Group graduates into the work.  Some of us working in higher education cannot imagine how this can possibly work. We are anxious about the scheme competing with us for valuable student placements and fear for a profession in which newcomers will be unlikely to reflect the diverse class and ethnic backgrounds of those who use the services. In contrast to my own teaching, I doubt if the syllabus will include anything about organised sexual crime.

 

The child protection professional who informed Tom Watson’s prime minister’s question has written about his former team of social workers who, working jointly with police over 8 years during the 90s, took over 4000 referrals and achieved 37 convictions of child sex offenders. The team closed down 9 boarding schools associated with these investigations.  Such expert teams no longer exist. The joint investigation of child abuse has been air brushed out of policy, yet it is only when social workers and police work closely together, focusing both on the world of the children and that of the perpetrator, that effective investigation can take place. Those of us who worked in this way in the 90s know in depth what works and how it works. We do not need a National Group to tell us how to protect children and how to prosecute child sex offenders.  We also know that, with devastating impact on abused children, this proven methodology is not being implemented now. The systems and structures that supported it have long since been dismantled.  Working Together 2013 also removed guidance about child trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced marriage and honour-based crime as well as a focus on disabled children. It removed chapters on training and development and on how to manage those who pose a risk to children. The responsibility for detailed protocols covering such matters now falls to each locality. This takes me back to the early 80s and the mayhem of a free-for-all as each area had their own child protection procedures. The government thinks that  professionals  should rejoice at the reduction in pages of Working Together guidance from the 700 of the previous version to just over 70. However, knowing the tragedies that will undoubtedly follow, I can only mourn the reckless deregulation of protocols that did effectively protect children.

 

The source of Tom Watson’s question has written an open letter to David Cameron. He has suggested that all three party leaders come together to forget their political roles and act as fathers of young children and as decent citizens. They should show the moral courage to stop the cover-ups and allow all abusers to face justice regardless of their privileged position in society.  Responses from Cameron and Clegg to this letter refer to the National Group but this is not the answer.  What is needed is a national police and social work child protection team to work proactively, co-ordinate local investigations,  collate current and historic intelligence and achieve justice for child abuse survivors and care-leavers as well as protecting children currently being harmed.  Clichés and rhetoric are not required. We have heard it all before and we recognise an excuse for inaction when we see one.  

 

Tom Watson’s question pointed to investigations that were closed down when they got too close to people in power. This was also my experience in Islington when all police were removed from my investigations of child murder, abuse networks, abductions and sexual assault. It is only by the investigation of past crimes that current children will gain protection from abusers who have never been brought to justice.  The past must come under scrutiny but it is the safety of children right now that is my prime concern.

 

 

Dr Liz Davies

Reader in Child Protection

London Metropolitan University

l.davies@londonmet.ac.uk