A council worker who wrote a series of increasingly exasperated emails warning of child abuse by Asian men in Oxfordshire was silenced after an official complaint by senior officials about his attitude, it has emerged.
Details came to light in a report published yesterday revealing that 373 girls were likely to have been victims of grooming, rape and trafficking after police and social services failed to take victims and their own staff seriously.
The worker, an ex-detective, raised repeated concerns with the director of children’s services and other officials at the county council in 2007 after seeing a 13-year-old in bed with an adult. He also reported a stream of men going into a flat every night and emerging in the early hours.
But instead of dealing with his complaints, a senior council official complained about his behaviour and his manager made an unreserved apology for the “unprofessional way” in which he had acted.
Nobody has been disciplined or sacked as a result of the failures. But The Independent has learned that the senior council official who asked a colleague to complain about the emails was Andy Couldrick, who has left the county council and is now chief executive of Wokingham Borough Council.
His request resulted in the worker being asked to stop emailing, and he was told by his manager that the county council “did not like senior staff being criticised by a junior person”, according to the report. It said: “Whatever the style of the nuisance officer concerned, he was trying to get a child protected, and responses received… show one reason why the full picture of CSE [child sexual exploitation] was delayed.”
The men later jailed in 2013 were found guilty of 25 offences against the child whose case the worker was highlighting. She was reported missing from council care nearly 150 times in 2007 and 2008.
Simon Danczuk, MP for Rochdale, who has campaigned on child abuse issues and was at the Downing Street meeting yesterday, said: “We should really celebrate whistleblowers – people who are trying to improve public services – not denigrate them and make their life difficult.
“This was someone concerned about the welfare of Oxfordshire children being told to shut up.”
Oxfordshire County Council yesterday said that Mr Couldrick’s colleague “raised concerns about the manner in which the nuisance officer was dealing with colleagues”.
It added: “There was no attempt to discourage him from tackling those issues nor did it stop him.”
Mr Couldrick said last night: “The report does not paint a picture of the concerns raised in 2007 that I recognise entirely… Like everyone else, I deeply regret that we didn’t have the correct information to enable us to see the patterns and the whole picture during this period. If we had, we could have done something about it and stopped it then and there. What happened in Oxfordshire was harrowing for the young victims. I’ve always been, and will continue to be, committed to protecting children from harm in order to help our most vulnerable.”
The report was published on the day the Government proposed jail terms for senior officials guilty of “wilful neglect” in child protection.
Three people who served as senior child protection officials at the time of the scandal no longer work for the authority – with one emigrating, one leaving on health grounds and a third now working within the private sector.
The serious case review, produced by Dr Alan Bedford, found that children as young as 12 were treated by police as “wayward girls”, complicit in their own abuse, despite being groomed by adults who had ensnared them through drink, drugs and menace.
One detective reported that a 14-year-old girl had initiated sex with two adult men, and reports used the term “boyfriend” for men in their 30s seen with girls as young as 13.
The serious case review was published after the jailing in 2013 of seven members of a predominantly Pakistani-heritage gang in Oxford that groomed girls.
Jim Leivers, director for children, education and families at Oxfordshire County Council, said the authority is “horrified”, adding: “We fully accept we made many mistakes and missed opportunities.”
Sara Thornton, Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, said: “We’re ashamed of the shortcomings and determined to do all we can to ensure that nothing like this happens again.”
Oxford abuse: report findings
The report reveals in stark terms how young girls were caught up in a grim world of grooming and sexual abuse.
The girls – mainly from difficult social backgrounds with long histories within the care system – told of how they had been caught up in the apparent glamour of older men offering them drink, drugs, gifts and love. The report examined six young victims who were reported missing 500 times over the five years from 2005.
One girl said that the groomers felt that they ran Oxford. “That was exciting. People were afraid of them. I felt protected. People respected them,” she told researchers. Others told of how they were flattered to be considered the friends of their abusers.
“When the grooming started, they were so kind and nice,” one child said. “Then things started to change.”
Victims spoke about being raped, urinated on, and made to carry out the men’s sexual desires or face having their houses blown up or being burnt alive.
The report said the victims’ accounts were often ignored or seen as exaggerated when they did come forward to authorities. One unnamed teenager said that a police officer tried to get people to listen but she was “banging her head against a brick wall”. Others were subjected to snide comments by police officers.
In one incident, a girl told of how she turned up at a police station after 2am covered in blood after a sex attack. “They dismissed me as being naughty, a nuisance. I was bruised and bloody,” she told the report.
Alan Bedford, the author of the report, said: “The impression… was one of remorseless drama, chaos, violence, drink, hard drugs, violent and utterly unloving sex, and of not being able to escape.”