Leading article: Fearless talk saves lives

Share
Related Topics

Why should the full version of the serious case review of the Edlington child torturers be withheld from publication? It was instructive how Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, chose to defend its suppression, on BBC 2's Newsnight on Friday. First he said it was a matter for Ofsted, the education regulator, which has recently extended its remit from schools to children's social services. Ofsted said that the serious case review was a good report, said Mr Balls, and it said that the executive summary, which has been published, was a good report. As if that should be the end of the matter.

When Gavin Esler, the presenter, read out some of the findings of the full version, which was leaked to the BBC, and contrasted them with those of the summary, which were notably less critical of the Doncaster child protection agencies, Mr Balls retreated to a new line of defence. Lord Laming, the NSPCC and all other children's organisations were in favour of keeping the full version confidential, he said. So important was Lord Laming's name in endorsing the policy of non-publication that Mr Balls invoked it half a dozen times, as if merely intoning the name of the patron saint of the Victoria Climbié inquiry were sufficient to ward off the evil spirit of openness.

Mr Esler responded by reading out some more of the full version, and commenting: "They didn't want us to know that." It was only at this point that Mr Balls engaged with the argument, setting out two reasons for confidentiality. One was to protect the identity of other children. This is unconvincing. It would be straightforward to blank out names and identifying information. His other reason was more substantive. Confidentiality was needed, he said, in order to ensure that all agencies co-operate as fully as possible with the review. So there we had it, after several minutes of bluster: a genuine reason.

Genuine, but not persuasive. Of course, confidentiality has a role to play in such situations, as a protection for whistleblowers and indeed for agencies to be candidly critical of each other, in the public interest. But that did not apply to the refusal to allow the judge to see the full report for last week's decision on sentencing. Nor did it apply to any of the quotations from the full version read out by Mr Esler. He said that nine agencies over 14 years had 31 opportunities to intervene in the subcriminal lives of the Edlington child sadists, and that the lessons of five previous serious case reviews in Doncaster had not been learnt. These facts seem to have been excluded from the published summary simply to save the embarrassment of the agencies concerned.

It may be possible to argue that accountability can be demoralising for those held accountable. That is not an argument that Mr Balls chose to make, but, as the other reasons why he supports the policy of non-disclosure remain mysterious, we must speculate.

As an MP, for example, he knows that disclosure of expenses claims has reduced morale among elected representatives at Westminster. But MPs have only themselves to blame. They were happy to go along with the principles of the Freedom of Information Act 10 years ago, but failed to alter their own behaviour. The end result, though, is that the House of Commons, while it may not yet be purer than pure, will be financially cleaner than ever before for the foreseeable future.

The same principle must apply to child protection. Secrecy and inertia are very British traits, and despite the Freedom of Information Act, the culture in most public bureaucracies has been slow to change. Yet it must do so.

It may also be argued – although, again, Mr Balls did not try to make this argument – that the interest in disclosure is a typical obsession of journalists, and a distraction from the more difficult questions of systems, staff quality and resources. We do not agree. Openness is a precondition of good administration in all parts of the public service. It is impossible to get away from the suspicion that the failure of Doncaster child services has been allowed to last for so long partly because of the lack of total openness in the past.

Yes, full openness may be damaging in the short run to child services in Doncaster, or Haringey, or elsewhere. Staff will be discouraged and harder to recruit and retain. But a refusal to face up honestly to failings can only be more damaging in the long run to the interests of vulnerable children.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
Serena Williams  

As Stella Creasy and Serena Williams know, a woman's achievements are still judged on appearance

Holly Baxter
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones