Audio: Let down by social workers - the women made to bear seven of their father's children

TWO women who were raped and abused by their father over 25 years - bearing seven of his children - were given an apology today by a Yorkshire authority which failed to protect them.

Listen to audio from today's conference

The apology was made during the publication of the executive summary into a serious case review, which acknowledged the family had contact with 28 different agencies and 100 members of staff over 35 years.

The 56-year-old father is serving a life sentence for repeatedly raping his daughters, who went through 18 pregnancies between them.

The man, whose crimes have been likened to those of the Austrian rapist Josef Fritzl, fathered seven children with the women.

The serious case review, which covers a 35-year period, showed the family moved repeatedly - 67 times - so the father could avoid detection.

Today Sheffield and Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Boards, which were responsible for the family over the period of abuse, apologised for their failings and insisted changes had been made to protect families from abuse better.

Sue Fiennes, independent chair of Sheffield Safeguarding Children Board, said: "We want to apologise to the family at the heart of this case. It will be clear that we failed this family.

"This report will not make comfortable reading for any of the organisations concerned with the family.

"We are all committed to working relentlessly to do all we can to minimise the risk of this happening again and indeed we have taken action.

"Lessons are being learned by the agencies involved."

Chris Cook, independent chair of Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Board, added: "We are genuinely sorry. We should have protected you.

"This is a tragic and complicated case that involved more than 100 professionals working in 28 agencies.

"The man responsible, who intimidated and frightened his family, was convicted of multiple counts of rape and is serving a life sentence.

"Throughout this tragic history he moved his family repeatedly - 67 times - to maintain his secret.

"When the matter was disclosed by the victims, it was acted upon swiftly."

He said he wanted to reassure people in Sheffield and Lincolnshire that they had significantly changed the way they work, particularly in protecting vulnerable children and families.

In November, Sheffield Crown Court heard the man's campaign of terror and abuse started when the women were aged between eight and 10.

If they refused their father's advances, they were badly beaten.

Both daughters were raped repeatedly during their ordeal, which started in 1981. At the start they were attacked every day, while for long periods they would be raped two or three times a week.

If they refused, they would be punched, kicked and sometimes held to the flames of a gas fire, burning their eyes and arms.

The court heard the defendant, who called himself the "gaffer" when at the family's home, took pleasure in fathering children by his daughters and would continue to rape them despite problems with their pregnancies.

He would even rape them while they were pregnant and they would have to take it in turns to babysit their children while the other was forced to have sex with him.

In November, Judge Alan Goldsack QC told the court that questions would inevitably be asked as to what professionals had "been doing for the last 20 years".

James Baird, representing the defendant, launched a stinging attack on social services in both Sheffield and Lincolnshire.

He said: "It must be inconceivable to those who have listened to this case that these offences have been carried out, in this day and age in a so-called civilised society, over such a long time and with such consequences, without them being reported or investigated."

After the case, the women's brother blamed social services for not protecting the family, saying authorities should have recognised something was wrong during his father's quarter-of-a-century campaign of abuse.

He said: "I blame a lot of people. I blame people that were meant to be looking after children because we were all meant to be under child protection at five, so I blame the people that should have been doing their jobs looking after us."

Professor Pat Cantrill, author of the independent report, summarised its findings at a press conference in the Derbyshire Hotel, Derby, today.

She said there had been a culture of "having a quiet word" which contributed to failures to help the family.

The report said: "Between 1990 and 1996 either Adult M or Adult N was pregnant every year or on some occasions twice a year. On four occasions they were pregnant at the same time."

The review found professionals were suspicious that the man was fathering his daughters' children and there were seven allegations reported to professionals about incest or sexual abuse from family members.

On 23 separate occasions from 1998 to 2005 the girls were specifically asked about the paternity of their children by various people, it said.

But, despite concerns, nothing was done as professionals felt that, as there was no evidence to prove it, there was nothing they could do.

It was not until the family returned to Sheffield and the police were given a statement in 2008 that the man was arrested.

The report divided the family's experiences into three episodes: their time in Sheffield from 1975 to 1988; Lincolnshire from 1988 to 2004; and Sheffield from 2004 to 2008.

It found that, in the first period, all three children - the women and their brother - had significant periods of absence from school.

They were subject to Child Protection Registration from 1978 to 1988 when they moved to Lincolnshire, although the report said there was no indication that any agency was aware of factors to suggest the girls were being abused.

In the second period, nearly all agencies involved suspected, or were aware of suspicions of, incest, but waited for the girls to tell them.

Prof Cantrill said: "Throughout the second episode, the serious case Review makes reference to the fact that nearly all the services involved in this family suspected or were aware of the suspicions of incest taking place and the agencies waited for the women to disclose.

"Evidence shows that this was unlikely to happen.

"By 1997 there was a substantial picture in place which should have reflected in action being taken to help these women."

The Executive Summary made 128 recommendations, including eight national recommendations, and Prof Cantrill said today: "We have got to learn from these serious case reviews.

"You are aware, as I am aware, that there are a number of these serious case reviews that happen and we always don't seem to learn from them.

"I have had discussions at national level and made national recommendations."

She said they had to do better at managing information, and added that the review found that some records had even been destroyed.

She also said there needed to be improvements in leadership.

"It only really needed one person with tenacity to keep pushing this and pushing this and we might have had a much earlier recognition and action being taken," she said.

She said some professionals had got "quite sticky" and did not know how to handle the situation.

She added: "There was a real lack of grabbing hold of this situation and really being able to lead on it."

She said some staff were concerned about litigation over confidentiality which had led to the culture of "having a quiet word".

But she said that, although she often had seen communities failing to get involved, in this case they had.

"There were people in the community that came forward and attempted to get the agencies to react in relation to this family and they were not listened to the way that they should."

Ms Fiennes, of Sheffield Safeguarding Children Board, told the press conference there were "missed opportunities" to help the family.

She said: "Professionals felt - wrongly - that, despite suspicions voiced by the other family members, they could not act unless they had a direct disclosure from the women themselves.

"It was plainly unrealistic to expect victims in these harrowing circumstances to disclose what has happened to them.

"There was collective failure, we all failed this family. We are confident things would be different today, and today, partly thanks to Professor Cantrill's report, we can see a clear pattern."

Chris Cook, independent chair of Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Board, said nobody had been disciplined, sacked, or had resigned over the failings.

He said: "We failed this family because of an accumulation of acts that led to a cumulative failure."

Dr Sonia Sharp, executive director of Children and Young People's Services at Sheffield City Council, said: "We have, and we do in every single one of these cases, always look in depth and in detail at every aspect of practice.

"What is very clear in this case is there is not a single big omission or big act that we can say 'Yes, it was that person'.

"What we can see, systematically, is time after time after time there were groups of people that failed to take action."