By Tony Earnshaw Local Democracy Reporter
The independent expert running a review into Huddersfield’s sex grooming scandal has published his report.
And Dr Mark Peel said officers with Kirklees Children’s Services DID know that young girls were being sexually abused – and that an opportunity to smash the grooming ring was missed.
His report said details of young women caught in “the cycle of sexual exploitation” went undetected and unrecorded by skilled and experienced social workers and managers.
This was despite one case file referring specifically to “sexual exploitation” by Asian males who gave one victim – known as ‘Girl 8’ – drugs and alcohol.
And after reviewing two case files he wrote: “It is my contention that Children’s Services officers knew at the time that these young women [were] most likely to have been engaged in inappropriate, exploitative and illegal sexual activity to the extent that they had sufficient evidence to conclude these vulnerable young women were at risk of ‘serious harm’.
“In both instances however it would appear that, other than recording this information, no subsequent preventative safeguarding action was taken, and that thus an opportunity to break the child sexual exploitation (CSE) ring operating in Kirklees, and protect these girls directly and others more generally, was lost.”
Kirklees Council has apologised to girls that were “let down”.
Chief executive Jacqui Gedman said: “We absolutely agree with Dr Peel that a small number of the cases could, and should, have been handled differently at the time and on behalf of the council I want to apologise to the girls that we let down.
“This is a common theme in reviews of historic cases around the country and we must all ensure that we learn from the past.
“We now have a much greater understanding of the risks and issues involved in CSE and we can be confident that the progress of recent years would lead to very different actions today.”
She added: “We are actively encouraging people to come forward if they have any reason to think they have been abused.
“We know how difficult this can be, but our message is: we will listen to you, we will take action and we will learn from your experiences.”
Dr Peel, who is chairman of Leeds Safeguarding Children Partnership, worked entirely from social work case files. He did not review police files or those held by schools.
Consequently his independent review report does not conclusively describe and understand why young women known to Kirklees were not recognised as being subject to CSE.
He said the limited four-month time-frame of his investigation meant adopting a “least worst” approach and not interviewing any of the young victims or former staff of Kirklees Children’s Services.
Despite the concerns found in the case file extract for ‘Girl 8’ being reported by the victim’s mother, her school, Kirklees Children’s Services and at least one other local agency, no further action was taken to ensure her safety or identify the men in question.
Dr Peel wrote: “If remedial action had been taken in 2007 to safeguard her [and two other victims], links to others suffering exploitation might have been established, and the operation of the CSE ring discovered.”
He said in two cases which included clear evidence of child sexual exploitation (CSE) crucial information had been completely omitted.
“It would appear that no action of any kind was taken in both these instances.
“No discussion with senior officers and managers, no checking of facts or communication with colleagues from other agencies and no direct engagement with the young people and their families in order to protect them.”
And he argued that the lack of protective action suggested that sexual exploitation was seen as “nothing out of the ordinary or at least ‘normal’ for those young women”.
This implied that some young women in need of help received a different and lower safeguarding standard of support.
He describes “the seeming lack of concern and remedial action” as being “almost alien” in 2019 but that in 2007 it was common across the UK “both professionally and organisationally”.
Dr Peel reviewed three files that revealed “indicative behaviours”.
In reviewing case files Dr Peel wrote: “It cannot be argued that Kirklees was simply unaware of the young women who latterly featured in the CSE court case.”
He said the majority had open case files in their own right across or during the time period in question.
He said evidence pointed to young women sporadically coming to the attention of social workers with a range of issues that, retrospectively, were due to sexual exploitation.
Yet this “fact” remained “undetected” and hence unrecorded to skilled and experienced workers and managers.
He said professional workers would have been unable to “piece together” sufficient evidence to point to CSE, a type of abuse he said was “largely unknown” more than a decade ago.
In a key section of the report he wrote: “Unless the young women themselves had directly disclosed to social workers at the time that they were subject to a type of abuse we now recognise as sexually exploitative, or this had been raised by a third party, it is unlikely that social workers and their managers could have unilaterally come to such a conclusion, as they simply were (in the main) unaware of the issue, and consequently were not looking for it.”
He continued: “It thus remains difficult for even the most skilled and experienced safeguarding professional to ‘follow the breadcrumbs’ linking individual young women to risk around CSE.
“In retrospect it is tempting to ask ‘Why didn’t they spot CSE when it was so obvious?’ The simple fact here is that nobody spotted it, because we simply weren’t looking.”
Dr Peel suggested that there should be “a comprehensive review” of all target historic CSE case files held by Kirklees Children’s Services beyond the 22 girls featured in the court case.
And he said that his independent review “should in no way be seen as an alternative to a public inquiry”.
Dr Peel’s independent review was commissioned by Kirklees Safeguarding Board following the conviction of the grooming gang in October last year.
The council acted following the imprisonment of 20 men who were found guilty of child sex offences including rape, inciting child prostitution and abduction of a child. The group was sentenced to more than 200 years in prison.
Among those jailed was ringleader Amere Singh Dhaliwal, who was convicted of 54 offences against 11 girls.