The Observer has a sickening story today about the actions of social workers and police in Kent who placed a 14-year-old girl into ‘foster care’ with a convicted paedophile, David Mason.
Having failed to complete the private fostering assessment and carry out statutory checks on the man’s background required by law – or even checking proof of his identity – the girl’s request to be allowed to stay with him was granted. Mason, who had changed his name to David Matthews, went on to sexually abuse two boys and four girls aged five to 13, including the girl’s three younger siblings.
Then after leaving Mason’s home, Kent County Council’s social services department let her be fostered, aged 15, by her 21-year-old boyfriend, who claimed to have autistic spectrum disorder and who they knew was having sex with her. The story, includes the admission that when the family had been moved into the area where the abuse took place, their case was not assessed due to staff shortages and high number of child protection referrals
But beyond this horrifying catalogue of failure, where presumably dozens of other high profile cases from which ‘lessons will be learned’ have not resulted in anything being learne at all, the story presents an even more shocking dimension to the case:
The “tragic story” of the council’s “deplorable breach of duty” has emerged from a high court judgment delivered behind closed doors last month, which has just been made public. The extraordinary case would have stayed secret had not the judge, Mr Justice Baker, decided in view of the “alarming matters” that emerged during the hearing to allow the “unusually extensive and troubling” wider issues it raises to be publicised.
Here we see the media with its prominent pulpit failing to go to the next level. The anger, indignation and proposed solutions are left for non establishment figures such as humble bloggers to express.
In 21st century Britain, supposedly bristling with rules to ensure transparency and accountability, the Courts were content to cover up this litany of incompetence to hide the disgraceful failings of our so called public servants. If it was not for this one Judge, an exception to a miserable rule choosing in determining that these failures should be publicised, the public would have no idea just how badly a group of vulnerable people have been treated.
What has been uncovered is not merely a story of sexual abuse, but another example of the lengths to which the authorities will go to hide their gross misconduct and just how far the system will go to shield them from scrutiny of their actions. This is the system protecting itself rather than the people who pay for it to serve us. That is more outrageous than anything else in this story.
To heap insult upon insult, we are once again served up the standard rhetoric from the public body (in this instance, Kent County Council) that has displayed negligence worthy of criminal prosecution, designed as usual to fob us off while business continues as usual:
What happened in this case is deeply regrettable and the council offers its sincerest apologies to the family. In recent months we have been absolutely focused on recognising our shortcomings and weaknesses and a plan to make sure substantial improvements are made to the services we provide to children in Kent is already being actioned.
These supposedly sincere apologies and empty promises to make improvements to reach the very minimum level of performance we should be able to expect are an insult. They change nothing.
Things will only change when the refuge of secrecy in such cases is removed and those responsible for the welfare of vulnerable children who fail to do their job are properly held to account. If it takes the threat of criminal prosecution to focus the attention of public servants on the proper discharge of their duties to vulernable people in their care, then our largely useless MPs should put it on the Statute Book. Cases like this are all too frequent and MPs have the ability to put a stop to them.
We don’t need self serving apologies being trotted out that are designed to make those who have failed feel better and feel they have been excused, we need action taken to stop more failures. We can but guess at how many similar cases have been covered up over the years and remain hidden from public view. It has to stop.
Light needs to be shone into the dark corners where the establishment lets its colleagues skulk and conceal instances of their rank incompetence. We need to make the establishment serve our interests rather than its own. We need to end the establishment’s self serving secrecy.