How officials failed Halifax schoolgirl groomed by 17 men

Coun Tim Swift.
Coun Tim Swift.
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A harrowing report into the sexual abuse of a Halifax school girl has been published which outlines the failures and inadequacies of agencies and professionals.

The Calderdale Safeguarding Children Board has published its findings into the case of a girl, referred to as Jeanette, who was the subject of child sex exploitation by 17 men.

Richard Burrows, independent chair of the Safeguarding Children Board, said although Jeanette had contact with a number of organisations and professionals between 2008 and 2011, she still suffered serious harm and it was clear that she had not been safeguarded effectively.

“Three main agencies, Calderdale Council’s Children Social Care team, the NHS and West Yorkshire Police, initially failed to protect Jeanette, despite attempts made by some very committed individual professionals.”

The serious case review was commission by the board who have responsibility to make sure that children are properly safeguarded in Calderdale and to learn vital lessons from the case.

Calderdale’s children’s social care department had been inspected in December 2012 and June 2013 by Ofsted and was both times found to be “inadequate”.

Stuart Smith, the Council’s Director for Adults and Children’s Services, admitted that there was a lack of knowledge and practices in place to recognise child grooming.

“In this case the victim was successfully groomed and supporting the perpetrators in concealing what had gone on. You then add onto that where we were as a partnership in 2008, we didn’t really understand grooming as well as we do now. We certainly didn’t understand the organised nature of some of this stuff.

“So they (the perpetrators) were in a position to have the advantage over us because we weren’t as well sorted as what we should or could have been.

“It’s an entirely different world now because we are much better organised and more importantly much better organised than them - people who would be perpetrators.

“In addition the different agencies in our partnership are really good at understanding grooming, right from a very early stage.

“I think back in 2008 children and people could get groomed and we weren’t sophisticated enough about understanding the signs. Now we are very sophisticated and spot the signs really early.”

Mr Smith said a thorough investigation had taken place looking back over the last ten years to see if warning signs had been missed in other cases.

“We made a really strenuous effort to see if there were unreported or other cases in the borough and we haven’t come across any. We looked at where there might have been evidence in the past and we didn’t unearth any cases.”

Detective Superintendent Darren Minton, of West Yorkshire Police’s Safeguarding Central Governance Unit said the force accepts everything in the serious case review and there were missed opportunities.

“We would firstly like to apologise to the victim for the failings of West Yorkshire police.

“We would also like to thank her for her immense courage and bravery in making the disclosures, and giving her evidence which led to the convictions of 17 men for the sexual offences against her.

“We hope that the lengthy sentences they recieved have allowed her to move on from what has undoubtedly been a distressing time in her life.

“West Yorkshire Police accepts that opportunities were missed in the past to protect victims of child sexual expoitation, it is important to stress that it is a top priority and we now have a strong partnerships and better working practices with agencies.

“The signs of child sexual exploitation are now identified and acted on at an early stage and measures are put in place to protect victims of the abhorrent crime. This improved understanding has also led to a number of cases across West Yorkshire, where perpetrators have been given lengthy jail sentences for sexual offences, some committed decades ago.

“There is no time limit on justice. We want victims to feel confident and be reassured that they will be take seriously, treated sensitvely and that we will investigate every report thoroughly.”

In June and July a judge at Leeds Crown Court passed jail sentences totalling more than 175 years on 17 men convicted of the sexual abuse of the vulnerable schoolgirl.

Leader of Calderdale Council, Councillor Tim Swift said “Jeanette is a very brave young woman who has been through some very harrowing experiences and we will continue to support her for as long as this is needed.

“We fully accept the report’s finding and its recommendations and we are so sorry that Jeanette became the victim of these crimes. Initially we did not understand what was happening to her or do enough to protect her.

“We have made significant changes as a result of our understanding of Jeanette’s case and I am pleased that the review recognises that our policies and procedures now bear no resemblance to the practices in place five years ago.

“This is consistent with the findings in our most recent Ofsted inspection, in January 2015, which praised our response to child sexual exploitation. The inspectors recognised that we treat tackling CSE as a high priority in Calderdale and that we work closely with the Police and our other partners.

“Although I am reassured by this review that we are now working well, and that we co-ordinate our efforts with those of our partners to protect vulnerable children, we will not be complacent.

“We will support the Calderdale Safeguarding Children Board as it implements the action plan from the Serious Case Review.

“Our priority is to make sure that all children in Calderdale are kept safe from harm.”