LETTER: Social services in Buckinghamshire

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From Ms Audrey Bainbridge

Sir: I find it extraordinary that the Independent can have published two such damaging articles about Buckinghamshire county council social services department on Monday without having the courtesy or good sense to first check its allegations with the council.

The central and most damaging allegation was contained in the front-page statement that the department "tried to cover up one incident in which two boys in care allegedly sexually assaulted a girl in their home. Once the alleged attack had been discovered, rather than being reported to the police, the boys were taken on a `touring holiday' at taxpayers' expense."

That is simply not true. The alleged offence was reported to the police. All the young people alleged to have been involved were interviewed by police and social workers. The police decided there was not enough evidence to justify any action against the boys. During the inquiry it was not felt sensible that the boys and girl should continue living under the same roof, so the boys were removed.

Not, as you claim, for a holiday at taxpayers' expense, but into bed and breakfast accommodation, where they were closely supervised for the weekend they were there.

They returned on the Monday morning, by which time alternative local authority accommodation had been found for them. Bed and breakfast was chosen because there was not suitable local authority accommodation available at such short notice.

The section of the story dealing with this issue concludes with the words: "The Independent has been unable to establish what action was taken." That is a bit rich, since your newspaper seems to have taken a conscious decision not to ask the county council what happened. Your reporter said yesterday that he had taken legal advice before deciding not to contact the council in advance, in case we sought an injunction to prevent publication. If so, that was extraordinary advice. In this council's extensive dealings with the Independent last year we did not once threaten, let alone seek to take action, to prevent publication of any story.

The Independent has no reason to believe we would have done in this case. Rather, we would have tried to sort out what appeared yesterday as a jumbled collection of truths, untruths, half truths and opinion.

The county council has always taken very seriously its responsibility to protect children and other vulnerable people from abuse. Whenever there are allegations of abuse, neither the county council nor the police can act without first carrying out a careful investigation. Court action, whether a criminal prosecution or care proceedings, will never succeed without strong evidence.

Yours sincerely,

AUDREY BAINBRIDGE

Chairman

Social Services Committee

Buckinghamshire County Council,

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

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