Charity 'wrong to send offender on holiday': Social services staff criticised over burgling spree at complex

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The Independent Online
A CHARITY that sent a young offender to a holiday complex - only to find that he went on a 48-hour burgling spree after running away from his supervisors - was 'wrong and misguided', a social services head said yesterday.

Mike Leadbetter, director of Essex social services, said he had suspended placements with the charity, the Hartsdene Trust, until it improved procedures.

But at the end of an internal county council inquiry he also criticised his own department, accusing staff of failing to carry out a proper risk assessment before placing the 14-year-old with the charity organising the trip.

The inquiry was launched after details of the case - latest in a series of incidents in which persistent teenage offenders have been given 'therapeutic' holidays as part of their treatment - emerged last month.

The Hartsdene Trust, which was paid pounds 3,000 a week to care for the boy, said it took him to the holiday village near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, in March, so that care workers could establish a relationship with him.

But during the holiday, the boy escaped from supervision and burgled nine chalets. He received a one-year supervision order in June after admitting the offences.

At a news conference in Chelmsford, Mr Leadbetter said his department was examining the 'staff recruitment and quality of staff' at the trust before using it again.

'We are looking to be satisfied that the arrangements of their staff recruitment and quality of staff meet our standards and that they can meet the terms of the placement.

'I am not trying to shift the blame. We made mistakes with the risk assessment and there is a dual responsibility here. But in my view the placement of this boy was wrong and misguided'.

The holiday village, Center Parcs, was not warned about the boy's previous convictions for theft before he arrived with two supervisors for the holiday. It was only after the boy, from Grays, Essex, stole pounds 3,000 worth of valuables, that Center Parcs found out about his record.

But Mr Leadbetter defended the decision not to warn the company about the boy in advance. 'It would not have been fair. If any members of the public goes to a holiday camp they do not list their driving offences.'

After the Center Parcs incident, the same boy was taken to a hotel in Kent where he was blamed for further burglaries. Mr Leadbetter said that decision had been 'unwise and unhelpful'. He said the council had a duty to the boy but should also remember its duty to the public and possible victims of crime.

Mr Leadbetter insisted the placements were not used as treats for young offenders. They were only used where the child had shown a commitment to making them work, he said.

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