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Agenda and draft minutes

Items
No. Item

1.

Welcome and Introduction by Lead Commissioner Mary Ney

Minutes:

Lead Commissioner Mary Ney welcomed everyone to the meeting and outlined its purpose and the proposed format of the agenda following the publication of the six independent reports commissioned by the Council in 2014 and 2015.

 

Elected Members were advised that they may have further questions once they had fully digested the reports, which were commissioned to further investigate the findings following the publication of the Jay and Casey reports and the issues raised.

2.

Investigation into the Performance, Practice and Conduct of Senior Employees of the Council over the period of the Jay Report (1997-2013) and further highlighted in the Corporate Governance Inspection report made by Louise Casey (February 2015) (Gowlings Solicitors)

Minutes:

Mark Greenburgh from Gowlings Solicitors outlined the basis of the independent report into the performance, practice and conduct of senior employees of the Council over the period of the Jay report as submitted.  He was assisted by Jemma O’Reilly, Principal Associate, and Alison Lowton, Consultant throughout.

 

The report had been commissioned to assist the Council in determining whether or not there were grounds to commence disciplinary or capability proceedings against any current employee or the need to refer any current employee to the relevant regulator on grounds of professional misconduct.

 

Furthermore, to assist the Council in determining whether there were cases against former employees with any recommendations being passed to the current employers for them to consider.

 

As part of the investigation more than seventy people were sent letters seeking their agreement to an interview, most of which were current and former employees of the Council and a number of individuals who worked in the voluntary sector.  Only those working at Service Manager level were named in the report.  Forty-four people were interviewed and their comments had been carefully documented.

 

Some members and officers declined to be interviewed in person, but six agreed to respond to written questions. 

 

A further twenty-seven people who were sought to be interviewed as part of this process either failed to respond at that time or declined the request.  Of these eight held key senior roles over the relevant period and it did mean that the evidence reported in respect of the period was somewhat limited.  These included:-

 

Roger Stone                               Martin Kimber

Shaun Wright                              Claire Pyper

Paul Lakin                                   Annie Redman

Pam Allen                                   Joyce Thacker

Mike Cuff                                    Howard Woolfenden

Ged Fitzgerald                            Simon Perry

Tom Cray                                   Christine Brodhurst-Brown

 

Thousands of documents were reviewed in line with the terms of reference with some records not always complete and any relevant documentation located.

 

The findings, on the balance of probabilities, confirmed no individual officer could or should be held solely or principally culpable for the Council’s systematic failings in responding to child sexual exploitation with a finding that the silo approach in some services contributed to the failure of management systems.

 

Most senior officers with safeguarding responsibilities knew of the issues with child sexual exploitation, but evidence suggested that the concerns being raised were sometimes dismissed or played down with a lack of trust between relevant directors.  There was no evidential data to suggest this was a planned or deliberate conspiracy or cover up.

 

Performance management was poor and had not been resolved successfully with little target setting or priorities.  There were cultural failings due to the sensitivity around race and ethnicity of the alleged perpetrators.

 

Based on the evidence as presented a number of recommendations were made to the Council given the limited powers available to the enquiry:-

 

·             Senior officers who may be in receipt of pensions from the Local Government Pension Scheme. Whilst there were provisions within the scheme to review pensions in certain circumstances, the evidence found would not support any application of the provisions associated  ...  view the full minutes text for item 2.

3.

Independent Investigation - Review of Cases A to O referred to in the Jay Report (Independent Consultant)

Minutes:

Jean Imray, Independent Consultant, introduced the remit of her report which had been commissioned to undertake a detailed review of case files listed in the Jay Report (Child A to O) to identify if social care practice and reporting of concerns was undertaken in line with professional standards.

 

All fifteen case files were reviewed and were broken down into nine specific areas:- 

 

·             Record Keeping – The poor quality record keeping and missing records which were often mislaid or not been written.  Shortcomings in the electronic social care record system.

 

·             Response to Victims – The victims of CSE were treated as if they were consenting adults engaging more willingly in sexual activity.  Threshold judgements by the Police that there may be no evidence that a crime had been committed when investigating alleged child abuse and which may fail to take account of the complex child protection work.

 

·             Quality of Strategy Meetings/Case Planning – Opportunities to protect children may have been missed as a result of failure to undertake Section 47 enquiries.

 

·             Child Protection Practice and Understanding of CSE – Failure to understand the nature of CSE and the impact on the victim.

 

·             Assessment – Lack of proper assessment of the victims.

 

·             Team Manager Oversight and Supervision – Little evidence that an appropriate level of recorded supervision or management decision making was undertaken.  Electronic records showed very little evidence of rationale for decisions and actions taken/not taken.

 

·             Senior Manager Oversight – Little evidence to suggest advice had been sought from more senior managers given the complexity of the cases.

 

·             Working with Adolescents – No clear picture of the quality of the relationships that social workers had with young people, which may be as a result of poor quality case recording, poor assessments and the absence of supervision notes.

 

·             Residential Care – Reference to local residential units being targeted by perpetrators of sexual exploitation.   Due to a lack of over reliance on residential care this may have compounded the difficulties experienced by young people and thus increased their vulnerability to child sexual exploitation.

 

In the course of the review there was evidence of practice that would be considered to have met minimum standards only and indicative of widespread systemic failure rather than for anything which practitioners could be held accountable.  This, combined with the general lack of evidence of management input into cases of such complexity, had been negligent and not entirely attributable to poor performance of team managers.

4.

Audit Investigation into the Alleged Removal of Files and Impairment of Computer Records - April 2002

Minutes:

Colin Earl, Former Head of Internal Audit, introduced the first of his three reports following allegations about the removal of files in 2002 from the Risky Business premises, which had been set up to lead on its response to child sexual exploitation.  This had been raised by the Home Affairs Select Committee in October, 2014.

 

Details of the audit undertaken into missing data and the removal of files and impairment of computer records relating to a Home Office Researcher from Risky Business were provided.  A number of people were interviewed and comprehensive responses provided to enquiries.  Unfortunately, the audit was limited due to a lack of powers available to Internal Audit requiring individuals to co-operate with the investigation.

 

 However, Internal Audit found there was a considerable amount of circumstantial evidence to support the allegation of the removal of files.  On the balance of probabilities it was likely files had been removed and computer records impaired.  No information about who could have been responsible was found.

 

Reference to a grievance by the Home Office Researcher in 2002 was not investigated further as the grievance was withdrawn.

 

Moving forward should any further information come to light Internal Audit would consider re-opening the investigation.  However, it was noted prior to the investigation taking place no information had been referred to the Police or the National Crime Agency (NCA) about the alleged theft of data.  South Yorkshire Police were thanked for their co-operation in this investigation.

 

The Council, however, did fail to look into the claims of removed files in 2002 because the grievance referring to this matter was withdrawn.

5.

Audit Investigation into Missing Minutes from Meetings of the Key Players' Group - Late 1990s to 2003/04

Minutes:

Colin Earl, Former Head of Internal Audit, introduced the second of his three reports in the investigation of missing minutes from meetings of the Key Players’ Group, which was understood to have been an inter-agency network developed by voluntary and statutory agencies and linked to the Risky Business project.

 

The Jay Report had indicated that neither the Council nor the Police were able to trace minutes of the Key Players’ meetings, but which were discovered by chance by South Yorkshire Police as part of their enquires.

 

Minutes of eleven meetings had been found amongst boxes and files held by the Police in 2014.  Nine people were interviewed who had been involved in the meetings and it was determined the Council had weak record management at the time of the Group’s existence and no adequate arrangements in place to manage the information requests from Professor Jay.

 

Based on the findings from the investigation it was concluded that no formal democratic support was provided for administering the group and consequently no master copy of the minutes were kept.  Additional resource had been committed to ensure historical Children and Young People’s Services paper files were correctly catalogued and kept up-to-date.

 

Weaknesses were found in the application of recording of archived records, but arrangements had since been improved and the Council was now in a better position to respond more effectively to requests for information received.

 

Due to the seriousness of the issue the records management system for paper records had been reviewed and improved and was now compliant with the information Commissioner’s Records Management Code.

6.

Audit Investigation - Theft of 21 Laptops from Norfolk House, Rotherham: 26th October 2011 - Review of the Council's Response

Minutes:

Colin Earl, Former Head of Internal Audit, introduced his third report on the investigation into the theft of twenty-one laptops from Norfolk House in 2011.  This matter was referred to in the Casey report in February, 2015.

 

The twenty-one stolen laptops were not encrypted, although they were password protected, but contained a mixture of personal data relating to children, adults and staff.  There was no evidence of any break-in at Norfolk House at the time of the theft.

 

The reference to the stolen laptops in the Casey report alleged the Council failed to inform the Information Commissioner’s Office about the loss of some children’s data held by the Council at the time.

 

Whilst staff accessed the data initially on the reporting of the theft, necessary steps were not taken to secure a permanent copy of the data which was on the stolen laptops.  The Council should have handled the breach of corporate data in a more appropriate way through the Data Controller and the Monitoring Officer.

7.

Report into Rotherham Taxi Licensing and Enforcement Service - 2010 to the Present (Weightmans LLP)

Minutes:

John Riddell, Weightmans LLP, introduced the remit of his report which was commissioned to review the performance, practice and conduct of staff involved in taxi licensing activities referred to in the Casey Report of February, 2015 and in a follow up letter by the Interim Chief Executive after the report’s publication.

 

The chronology attached to the executive summary was referenced and referred to in detail and the contents relating to the sequence of reporting child sexual exploitation and the links to taxi licensing activities identified.

 

In conclusion there was a good deal of intelligence which suggested that elements of the taxi trade were heavily involved in child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and, due to the ineffective enforcement function, no effective action was taken.

 

Senior managers responsible for enforcement were not aware of the full extent of the problem with CSE and the taxi service and, given the evidence around, there were a number of mitigating factors which led to no further enquiries being made at the time.  However, more proactive steps were taken once the problems were identified. Disciplinary measures would not be appropriate at this time and those senior officers were no longer employed by the Council.

 

In terms of Individual 64, she was not directly responsible for enforcement, but raised concerns about the links between the taxi service and child sexual exploitation and deficiencies in the enforcement side.  She also repeatedly raised other legitimate concerns, but did not always follow through her actions.  She was no longer employed by the Council and would not have justified further disciplinary action.

 

Management of the Licensing Service had suffered due to a divided site, staff shortages and staff absence.  The manager with responsibility should receive advice on how to deal with issues of this kind and disciplinary action was not justified.

 

Concern was expressed about the behaviour of former Councillor Akhtar and. if he had still been an Elected Member it would have been recommended that he be investigated for those matters under the Authority’s Code of Conduct.

 

Whilst a number of individual failings were identified, there was a collective failure by Licensing enforcement and management to confront the problem.

 

The problems identified in the Casey Report had already been addressed by Commissioner Ney. 

8.

Statement by the Leader of the Council

Minutes:

The Leader responded to the presentation by report authors and confirmed it was now three years since the publication of the Jay and Casey reports and two and half years to the day since he was newly elected as Leader of the Council.

 

The publication of reports received by the Council on the day of the meeting  would inevitably bring memories of those days flooding back, the relief and horror of the truths that were heard and the reality that life would never be the same again.  Questions were asked then how could this have happened, who knew, who could be held to account were what brought us to these publications and it was because the Council  owed it to those children who were so let down that these independent reports were commissioned to shed more light on the failings of the past and those responsible.

 

The reports set out as clearly as possible all the information that the independent investigators had been able to establish and they were thanked for their work and in collecting and collating together, which had been a substantial task.

 

The reports were published on the Council’s website and the meeting had been webcast to be as open as possible. 

 

The Leader reiterated his comments from March, 2015, that time he had no time for anyone in denial, but who would split hairs.  As Leader of the Council he stated that he must accept the reports in the same spirt and take assurance that the systemic failings in the Council were being addressed, issues raised were familiar and work was long underway to rectify.  The reports did not bring to light substantial new themes or challenges and Members of the Council could take confidence from that.  The cover report detailed some of changes already completed covered by the period of the report and where there were any specific new recommendations including those relating to individuals the Council was ensuring that these would be actioned.

 

None of the conclusions from the reports and presented to the meeting were any less disappointing or frustrating.  Of course the failings in Rotherham were profound and continued for years.  Not everyone who worked for the Council over that time period was badly intentioned and it went without saying that such failure could not rest solely at any one person’s door, but the failure to establish individual culpability was difficult to swallow.

 

The Gowlings report had confirmed former senior staff missed opportunities to take stronger action and improve the Council’s response to child sexual exploitation and the Council knew the consequences of this happening.  Moreover, those who refused to take part, including those former Labour councillors, must understand the consequences of their choice, our survivors deserved far better than their miserable silence. 

 

The Leader reflected that, like most in attendance, there had not been a day in his life where he had not thought about what went wrong and how to make tomorrow better.

 

He reiterated that public services were great  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.

9.

Questions from Members of the Council to the Report Authors

Minutes:

Commissioner Ney invited Elected Members to put questions to report authors.

 

(1)  Councillor Alam asked what changes were recommended from a Human Resources perspective to ensure no one was ever let down.

 

Mark Greenburgh from Gowlings responded and confirmed there was a need for good performance management, effective communication between officers enquiring minds and determined purpose.

 

(2)  Councillor Cowles highlighted several issues including why Chief Executives at the head of organisations were not accountable; secondly, if time could be set aside for Councillors to ask further questions on the report as he had been in meetings this morning and had little time to digest the contents and thirdly; why the backing up of laptops had not been picked up by Internal Audit or External Audit.

 

Mark Greenburgh from Gowlings responded by confirming nowhere in his report did it indicate they should not be accountable.  He gave examples of the kinds of management tools that would be expected around the level of knowledge which were not apparent previously, especially when opportunities were brought to the attention of senior staff by third parties.

 

 

The greatest failure in leadership was attributable to the lack of action and the response to close down complaints rather than investigating and discussing further.

 

Commissioner Ney would leave it to the Leader and Chief Executive to consider any further opportunity to discuss the reports further with Members.

 

Colin Earl, Former Head of Internal Audit, confirmed the Council’s data was backed up daily.  At the point the laptops were stolen a mirror copy was not taken so during the course of the day the data input was not copied.

 

At this point in time I.T. had been an outsourced arrangement.

 

Councillor Cowles further believed the person in charge of an organisation should be responsible and, therefore, culpable and compared the accountability of the former senior leadership of the Council to the comments of the judge who had investigated  the Zebruggee ferry disaster in 1987.

 

With regards to the laptops, he felt there should have been many backups over a period of time so to suggest none was available was unbelievable.

 

Neither Mark Greenburgh or Colin Earl disputed Councillor Cowles’ comments but it was pointed out back up arrangements for laptops were such that they were only retained for a certain period of time or overwritten.

 

(3)  Councillor Ellis, as Chair of Licensing in Rotherham for the previous two years, thanked Weightmans for the report on taxi licensing enforcement service, which had still been a difficult and disturbing read.   She was grateful for the acknowledgement that in the past two years process had changed a great deal in an effort to protect and safeguard the public travelling in taxis. 

 

A rigorous taxi licensing policy had now been adopted and had stood the test of numerous appeals in the courts.  The policy included strict standards and a fit and proper test, convictions policy and mandatory safeguarding course and the controversial fitting of cameras. 

 

In addition, the Council had recruited a  ...  view the full minutes text for item 9.

10.

Questions from the Public to the Report Authors

Minutes:

Commissioner Ney invited members of the public to put questions to report authors.

 

(1)  A member of the public referred to his own legal experiences with the Magistrates Court in securing rebates and argued the case when the Police were being investigated and how much from the criminal activities of gangs fed into police federation coffers.  He referred to criminal collusion and how perpetrators of child sexual exploitation were often involved in other activities, such as the taxi service being a cavalry running around for someone’s benefit.

 

He, therefore, asked why the Local Children’s Safeguarding Board had not openly discussed child sexual exploitation when it was within its remit.

 

He believed shop floor secrecy laws stopped people from reporting concerns and whistleblowing on areas of concern.  He suggested this needed to be addressed and a full judicial review enquiry requested.

 

Mark Greenburgh from Gowlings confirmed Chairs of the Local Children’s Safeguarding Board were interviewed and their evidence was set out in report.

 

Raising concerns and whistle blowing featured in the investigation and he referred to the Public Interest Disclosure Act.  There had been some amendments in recent times which removed the public interest about some of the conditions that would have to be met in order to gain the protection of the act.  However, the ability for people to raise concerns effectively should be promoted and historically the failure to listen to alarm bells was one of the serious failings found for the Council.

 

(2)  A member of the public expressed his surprise that in all the reports Councillors appeared to come out whiter than white with no mention of Councillors only officers.

 

Councillors should oversee what office staff were doing.  He referred to when Paul Lakin was Leader and he asked him about the failures of the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services when people were calling for the then Police and Crime Commissioner to resign about what did the Senior Adviser know.  He was advised the Senior Adviser to the Cabinet Member had the same information as the Cabinet Member, but no-one had asked for her to resign.  Present in this room were people that attended the 2005 seminar when they were told about child sexual exploitation.  There was no indication that Councillors were to be investigated, but the blame placed with senior officers.  People sat in this room today who knew ought to hang their heads in shame.

 

Commissioner Ney advised the comments raised were noted.

 

(3) A member of the public asked why was there no mention about education.  Local schools knew what happening to these victims, why not ask them the questions.

 

Mark Greenburgh confirmed the local management of schools was not in the scope for consideration and the investigations concentrated on Heads of Service or above.

 

In a supplementary question the member of the public referred to the Local Children’s Safeguarding Board which comprised of representatives from education and asked why this was not included as part of the report.  The first people who would  ...  view the full minutes text for item 10.

11.

Close of Meeting by Lead Commissioner Mary Ney

Minutes:

In drawing the meeting to a close Commissioner Ney confirmed copies of all the reports were available on the Council’s website.