Social services failed abuse-case children

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By Roger Dobson

A COUPLE who sexually abused and tortured their young children, including videoing some of the horrific attacks, had been known to social services for nearly 15 years.

Investigators examined more than 200 extracts from social services records about the family that had been logged between 1981 and 1996, according to an independent inquiry report published yesterday. But the parents were not arrested and jailed until two years ago, after the eldest of their five children told teachers what was happening.

Yesterday's report detailed a catalogue of missed opportunities blamed on management failings, inadequate systems, errors of judgement and errors or omission, and it urges the agencies involved to consider whether they should take disciplinary action. One manager has already left. "There were many opportunities from 1982 to 1996 when routine child protection work should have protected each child. Until 1996, they escaped any concerted inter-agency activity to protect their children," it says.

"In this case there are professionals who must be asking themselves whether individually or collectively they could have done more to protect the children in this family at a far earlier stage."

Over the years there were reports of burn marks, genital soreness, a broken arm, a black eye, and other injuries, as well as other clues, including anonymous allegations of sexual abuse, a history of domestic violence, a GP's concern about possible child battering, hard core pornography found by police in a child's bedroom, and complaints from neighbours. All failed to secure the protection the children needed. There were other indicators too. Nine years before his arrest, the father, who is now serving life, was investigated by the police for allegedly sexually abusing his five-year-old niece.

"The extent of degrading and abusive treatment of children by the parents revealed in the video films counts among the most serious ever recorded in the UK," says the report by Geoffrey James, a former social services inspector. He added: "Individual agencies should consider whether disciplinary action is necessary in respect of some staff in this case."

He makes nine recommendations, including better inter-agency training and new working definitions of neglect. He also wants agencies to have better liaison with the coroner where cases of sudden death in children are checked against the at-risk register.