Pressure grows for full report on torture boys to be published

'Total chaos' at Doncaster council and children's services, claim union officials

Rachel Shields,Nina Lakhani,Andrew McCorkell
Sunday 24 January 2010 01:00 GMT

A review of the case of two brothers who savagely attacked a pair of boys in Edlington, South Yorkshire, should be made public, politicians demanded after the report was leaked to the BBC.

The two victims' parents spoke last night of their sons' suffering, raising the temperature of the debate further. The father of one of the children said his son still bore physical scars from the vicious attack and called for the perpetrators to be named, just as Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, the murderers of James Bulger, were in 1993.

He said the two brothers "should never be allowed to hide from what they've done" and warned they could "do this again" if their identities remained secret. "People should have the right to know if there are people like that are living near them," he told the Mail on Sunday .

The main opposition parties are agitating for the public to see the report of the serious case review (SCR), which highlights major failings within Doncaster's social services – which were responsible for the attackers at the time.

Michael Gove, the Tory spokesman on children, schools and families, has written to Ed Balls asking him to reconsider his decision not to publish the review. The Liberal Democrats will table an amendment tomorrow to the Children, Schools and Families Bill requesting that SCRs be published in full, with information that could identify the children removed.

So far, the Government has justified the publication of only a short executive summary of the SCR report, saying the NSPCC's recommended full SCRs be held back in order to preserve the anonymity of children in such cases. But this weekend the NSPCC, while stopping short of demanding full publication, sent a letter to all MPs calling for immediate action to restore public confidence in the reviews.

The NSPCC's dramatic move was prompted by nationwide shock and revulsion over the case. Last week the brothers were detained indefinitely after a court heard that the boys, aged 10 and 11 at the time, tortured and assaulted two boys on waste ground in Edlington, near Doncaster, South Yorkshire. The victims were then found and helped by a member of the public and Sgt Richard Vernon (far right). The 90-minute attack was described in court as "prolonged sadistic violence", in which the victims were throttled with a metal noose, beaten with sticks and stones, and had a lit cigarette forced into their wounds.

The court heard that the attackers had a "toxic home life" marked by "routine aggression, violence and chaos", with their 38-year-old father regularly beating their mother.

Leaks to the BBC of the full report have exacerbated pressure for its publication, as it makes severe criticisms of children's social care services in the area. The attackers were on Doncaster's child protection register and were being taught in a pupil referral unit after being expelled from school.

The matter is the eighth serious case review to be held in Doncaster in recent years: seven children known to the authorities have died in the borough since 2004. Yesterday, The Independent on Sunday was told by union officials of "total chaos" among council leaders, and that the promise of new investment into children's services had been withdrawn. The newly elected mayor, Peter Davies, last week called for the resignation of the council's interim chief executive – just two days after he was appointed.

"There is not one more penny allocated for children's services in this year's budget," said Robin Symonds, the regional Unison representative. "Money from key prevention services is being taken to pay for more child protection social workers. This is criminal. It shows the council has failed to learn any lessons from this case and members fear it is only a matter of time before another tragedy happens."

Under these circumstances it becomes clearer why 10 local agencies – including social services, police and youth support services – involved in last week's case failed to react to signs that the pair were a threat to others.

At Perry's Vauxhall garage in Wheatley yesterday, six photos lined the walls. Among them are the boys sentenced last week. The other four boys are their brothers. Police officers handed out the pictures and warnings about the boys almost two years ago. The car dealers recognised all six as local nuisances. The photos come with a set of instructions that read: "If you see any of the individuals on Perry's site, please take a picture, ask them to leave and then report this immediately to South Yorkshire Police Safer Neighbourhood Teams." Local residents, who do not wish to be named, say the boys subjected them to a reign of terror.

The anonymity of child offenders is rigorously protected under Section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act, under which the court can issue an order directing the media not to report any facts that could identify the defendants. This was reversed in the 1993 case of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, who were named after their conviction for the murder of two-year-old James Bulger.

Doncaster Council is reported to have spent £30,000 in an attempt to get an injunction that would stop the publication of the report. Action for Children, which provided "parental support" to the family for six months following a referral from social services, and which is named in the report, is also against its publication.

On Friday, Acting Superintendent Ian Bint of South Yorkshire Police announced that the parents of the boys could face prosecution, confirming that they would be examining evidence to see if they "have a case to answer". The children were said to watch violent films and pornography; with the elder boy smoking cannabis from the age of 10. Their mother smoked cannabis and had suffered from depression. She had seven children by two different fathers.

"I haven't come across a prosecution of parents for cruelty which is the result of child offences. It would be breaking new ground legally," said Graham Wood QC. "It would be a very difficult prosecution to bring. The only real offence which they could be charged with is cruelty under the Children and Young Person's Act. In this context, they would have to prove some sort of mental instability had been caused by it. If the kids were exposed to violence or pornography, there could be a tenuous link."

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