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Failings left paedophiles free to prey on children

Child sex inquiry reveals institutional errors

John Garvey

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John Garvey

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Failings left paedophiles free to prey on children

CHILD sex predators went undetected because opportunities to catch them were missed, a probe into abuse in Thatcham has found.

A Serious Case Review (SCR) has also found that Kennet School had disregarded safeguarding policy and failed to share vital information.

In some cases, victims were even dismissed within organisations as malicious troublemakers, the report concedes.

However at a press conference yesterday (Wednesday) it emerged that no one would be disciplined for the failings.

The SCR was published by the West Berkshire Local Safeguarding Children’s Board (LSCB).

It was initially charged with investigating how former Kennet School teacher Robert ‘Alan’ Neill was able to rape and abuse boys in his care over a period of years.

Neill, employed at Kennet School from September 1, 1995, until November 9, 2007, was jailed for 21 years in March last year.

The SCR was also charged with investigating the handling of the case of former Kennet School youth counsellor, the Rev Peter Jarvis, jailed in April 2016 for child sex offences.

Jarvis had also been safeguarding governor at Thatcham Park Primary School and had delivered assemblies at Spurcroft Primary School.

The review was later widened to examine the way in which anyone who “educated, trained or supervised” child victims dealt with abuse claims in Thatcham between the late 1980s and 2015.

While the report identifies a number of key failings, it does not attribute these specifically to individuals or even to particular organisations, stating: “It is not the purpose of any SCR to publically provide a great deal of detail in relation to individuals about whom concerns or allegations have been raised.”

Organisations involved included Kennet School and Spurcroft Primary School, both in Thatcham, Thames Valley Police, West Berkshire Council’s education service and the Oxford Diocese of the Church of England.

As well as Neill and Jarvis, the report stated: “There were a number of additional individuals in ‘positions of trust’ where there had been crimininal/disciplinary proceedings and investigations... who were connected to Kennet School.”

It says, of Kennet School, that: “School staff, the governing body and the head have been deeply affected by the prosecution of [Neill and Jarvis] and were determined that these offences should not be repeated.”

However, “there were occasions when the school had not followed professional guidance or national policy”.

Information which should have been shared with other agencies to protect children was not passed on.

The report states in general: “Adults who were working professionally with some of the victims felt that these children were frequently not believed... they were seen as ‘troublesome’.

“There was a view expressed by one individual that the culture within one organisation had, and continues to have, a profound impact on staff feeling comfortable to raise any concerns... this is clearly of concern.”

It goes on: “There were a number of examples... that children are perceived to make malicious allegations against staff and were discredited and judgements made about their credibility.

“All staff should be encouraged to ensure that they look deeper into the underlying reasons for a child’s behaviours.”

In conclusion, the SCR states “there were a number of missed opportunities to prevent the abuse of children”, while making a number of recommendations for all agencies involved to improve safeguarding practice.

Asked, at the press conference, whether she had a message for those children who were abused because of school safeguarding failings, chairwoman of the directors of the Kennet School Academies Trust, Sandra Nicholls, said: “Obviously we send our deepest sympathy to all involved.”

Asked if anyone had been disciplined as a result, she replied that they had not, but that many involved were no longer at the school.

She pointed out that Ofsted undertook an inspection of the school in May 2016, which stated: “The arrangements for safeguarding are highly effective.”

A spokesman for national campaign group MandateNow, Tom Perry, said: “The overall impression given by this SCR is that they don’t want to say how bad the failings were because to do so would shock the public into demanding greater action.

“Instead they have concentrated on reassuring the public that the failings (whatever they were) could not possibly happen again because everything is different now. It is wholly unconvincing.”

MandateNow seeks the introduction of law requiring staff who work in ‘regulated activities’, including schools, to report known and suspected child abuse to the local authority for independent assessment.

West Berkshire Council’s director of children’s services, Rachael Wardell, acknowledged: “Anyone reading this report will be troubled to learn that agencies missed opportunities to protect some young people from harm.”

But she added: “We really value the learning in this report and have been implementing changes as we identify opportunities for improvement.

“Safeguarding practices develop over time and are unrecognisable from those in place when the first offences were committed in the 1980s.

“However, we know that there are always ways to improve further.

“We have already taken steps to improve how we work and this includes an immediate review of all the agencies’ safeguarding practices, a move to three-yearly DBS checks, more training and a refreshed toolkit for schools to conduct their own reviews.

“We already have robust safeguarding practices in place and this report will help us strengthen them further still.”

The review can be read in full at www.westberkslscb.org.uk

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