Tougher stance on detaining young offenders: Minister orders social services inquiry after teenage absconder dies in car crash

AN INQUIRY into social services in Birmingham has been ordered by Tim Yeo, the Under-Secretary for Health, following the death of a 14-year-old girl in a stolen car after she absconded from a children's home.

Mr Yeo will announce new national guidelines today to reassure social workers they can restrain young offenders in secure units and lock them in, in certain circumstances.

The death of Sally Ann Cattell in a 60mph police car chase last month heightened concern about the number of absconders from children's homes and local authority units for young offenders.

Earlier this week, Mr Yeo expressed alarm at reports that Birmingham social services had downgraded the level of security in which young people were held. He wrote to the social services committee of the Labour-controlled Birmingham City Council to demand an urgent review into its decisions over the past 12 months, 'with a view to considering whether your policies and procedures need to be changed or reinforced with the staff operating them'.

He said: 'It would be helpful if the report could be sent to the Social Services Inspectorate within the next three months.'

Sally Ann was driving the car. Two boys, aged 16 and 17, survived the crash and have subsequently appeared in court. All three were in the care of Birmingham social services at the St John Children's home in Erdington.

Earlier, one of the boys had been held in a security unit to be visited by the Department of Health Social Services Inspectorate next month.

Mr Yeo said he was surprised that the social services committee, after reviewing Sally Ann's case, appeared prepared to 'let the matter rest'. He said that there were a 'number of very disturbing features which require further action'.

Sally Ann's case notes show she was a frequent absconder at Athelstan, her previous home. Earlier reports from another home raised fears that when she was absconding, Sally Ann was mixing with older people, some of whom were involved in crime, prostitution and drug abuse.

Between July and October 1992, she absconded overnight four times and was twice missing for several days. Both the boys involved in the theft of the car, a high-performance Metro, had been in secure accommodation. Mr Yeo said: 'I am extremely concerned that the level of supervision was not vigorously enforced.'

The new guidelines are intended to answer demands for a tougher regime for young offenders held in care. Since the so-called 'pin-down' scandal, in which children in care were abused, social workers have been wary of using restraint.

The guidelines will tell social workers the extent of their powers and will make it clear that they can use reasonable force to stop young people leaving secure units.

Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, will introduce legislation in November to give courts powers to send young offenders to a new generation of secure units, run by private firms or voluntary bodies. But ministers privately believe that existing homes will retain a central role.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own