Social services conceded yesterday that there were systematic shortcomings in the handling of the case of two women repeatedly raped and made pregnant 19 times by their tyrannical father over 27 years.
And the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown said everyone in the UK would be "utterly appalled" by the "unspeakable" plight of the sisters who now have seven children between them as a result of the incestuous attacks.
The 56-year-old father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was given 25 life sentences at Sheffield Crown court this week after admitting rapes and assault. A serious-case review is now under way to discover how social services, police and health workers in South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire failed to pick up on the abuse despite having contact with the family.
Peter Duxbury, director of children's services and chairman of the Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Board, admitted yesterday that the quality of the information shared between Sheffield and his authority was "not to the standard we would expect nowadays". He said there had been a wholesale review of children's services in the county since Lord Laming's 2003 report into the Victoria Climbié tragedy.
Mr Brown, responding to a question from Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader and MP for Sheffield Hallam, told the Commons: "People will want to know how such abuse could go on for so long without the authorities and the wider public services discovering it and taking action. If there is a change to be made in the system and the system has failed we will change the system."
The 56-year-old man's sister-in-law has also accused him of forcing his daughters to father his children so he could claim their benefit support.
She said: "He obviously thought the bundles of benefits he was getting for the children was worth the risk and was not bothered about any pain it caused them."
During the trial, the court heard that several concerns were raised with the authorities over the daughters. The family left South Yorkshire in the early 1990s, moving from village to village in Lincolnshire. They eventually returned to the Sheffield area in 2004.
But suspicions were raised over the parentage of the nine children, two of whom died and some of whom suffer from genetic abnormalities. As late as 1997, when the abuse had been going on for 16 years, the women's brother reported what was described in court as "hearsay evidence" of incest. Although police investigated, no further action was taken. One of the daughters eventually came forward in June to reveal the shocking details.
Hilary Barrett, assistant director of children's services in Lincolnshire, declined to say when the case review would be completed or whether it would be made public. School and medical records would be automatically transferred when families moved. Where a child was a suspected victim of abuse, professionals had a responsibility to raise concerns. "If a family moved to another area consideration would be given to sharing information to ensure the allegations were followed up," she said.
Colin Green, director of children services in Coventry, said plans to hold secure records on all 11 million children in England on a national database, to be piloted next year, would "improve sharing of information", adding: "This is exactly the kind of case in which it could help." But the scheme has been challenged on civil liberty and data security grounds.Reuse content