Rikki Neave: the verdict

Social services `guilty of catalogue of errors'
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Rikki Neave was "failed" by Cambridgeshire social services, a damning report found yesterday, prompting fresh calls for a public inquiry into his case.

Six-year-old Rikki was found strangled on the Welland estate in Peterborough in November 1994 following years of abuse by his mother, Ruth. She was found not guilty of his murder last November but was jailed for seven years for cruelty to him and her two daughters.

Rikki's family, who were not consulted over the independent report by the Bridge childcare consultancy, said they would be writing to the health minister, Simon Burns, urging a more wide-ranging investigation.

Unison, the public-service union which represents social workers, said the report was "nowhere near" the thorough, independent inquiry that Cambridgeshire County Council had promised. Yesterday, a third social services worker involved in Rikki's care was suspended.

The report found blunders over missing files, lack of communication, and confusion as to whether Rikki was on the at-risk register.

While social workers repeatedly found Ruth Neave aggressive, threatening and hostile, the inquiry noted that "it does not appear that the question was ever ad-dressed about how the children experienced her care".

Staff also failed to take into account what the children said. When they did perceive there was a problem, all too often prevention methods were incomplete.

In 1994, Rikki was not medically examined despite bruising and was allowed to stay at home. Although Rikki's name was placed on the Child Protection Register, there was no evidence of any comprehensive assessment. The missing files were investigated by police and the files that did remain were sparse and rarely read.

The 29 recommendations included the need to seek children's views; the establishment of a risk policy; support for social workers where a parent is aggressive; and a new formula for allocating resources for child protection.

Janet Lindsay-German, one of the report's authors, said: "Social workers, their managers and the department failed to recognise what was going on for Rikki at home ... One of the most important things for us is that lessons that have been outlined time after time after time are still not being practised."

The chief executive of Cambridgeshire council, Gordon Lister, acknowledged the "quality of services provided for Rikki Neave ... fell below acceptable levels".

But Mr Lister said he did not anticipate any further suspensions and made clear he would not consider resigning. Challenged that frontline social workers had been made scapegoats, he said: "The buck stops right at the top in this case."

But Rikki's family - including his father, Trevor Harvey, and his grandparents, Maurice and Doris Harvey - later said: "We are still concerned over the conclusions of the report because it appears that most of the recommendations ... merely suggest that the local authority should comply more fully with the child care protection regulations."

"We now find it necessary to write to Simon Burns ... to invite him to consider a formal public inquiry so that the wider issues can be properly investigated. Paul Bacon, Ruth Neave's solicitor said that she also felt a public inquiry should be held: "There seems to be a very considerable breakdown in communications. She was asking for help and it never came."