Skip to main content

0800 917 1000   Open weekdays 9am-5pm

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Sexual Abuse of Children in Custodial Institutions: 2009-2017 Investigation Report

E.12: Responding to allegations

145. A key part of this investigation was the issue of how custodial institutions respond to allegations of child sexual abuse when they are made. We therefore obtained evidence on this issue from a range of sources, both at a general systems level and in our review of a series of ‘case studies’.

The REA’s observations on response issues

146. The Inquiry’s REA set out what was known about how custodial institutions respond or are likely to respond to allegations of child sexual abuse, and similarly about failings in that response. For example, in 2008 the National Children’s Bureau’s safeguarding review noted:

  • safeguarding practice was hindered by the lack of clear definitions about what constituted a child protection concern;

  • examples of child protection matters being overlooked in YOIs;

  • evidence of unfair pressure being put on young people;

  • in YOIs children were not always provided with independent support; and

  • there were delays and poor communication with children in some cases.

In 2014, the Association of Independent LSCB (Local Safeguarding Children Board) Chairs noted that in the previous year YOI and STC inspections found several cases where child protection referrals had not been made by the establishments when they should have been.[1]

147. HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) has also been critical of the way certain institutions have responded to child protection issues, including in 2015 at HMYOI Cookham Wood and in 2016 at Medway STC.[2]

148. More recently, in 2016, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture visited HMYOI Cookham Wood. Its report, published in April 2017, indicated that in several cases where children had alleged violence or abusive behaviour by staff, there had been no referral to the police or local authority. It recommended staff members allegedly involved in ill‐treatment should be allocated duties that do not bring them into contact with the alleged victim until the results of the disciplinary proceedings are clear.[3]

149. The Youth Justice Board Review of child protection in Secure Training Centres (2016) raised a series of concerns about child protection. It found between 2014 and 2016 only 6 percent of child protection referrals from STCs were substantiated. The Youth Justice Board recommended there should be a new national policy on how to manage allegations against adults who work in the secure estate. It considered a dedicated, qualified and independent social worker should be more involved in responding to safeguarding issues.[4]

Responding to a disclosure of child sexual abuse in custody

Best practice

150. Alan Wood, who was instructed by the Inquiry to act as an independent expert witness, provided us with an overview of the recognised best practice in responding to a disclosure of child sexual abuse. The immediate response by staff to a disclosure of sexual abuse should include:

  • listen carefully to the child;
  • let them know they have done the right thing;
  • tell them it is not their fault;
  • explain that the allegation will be taken seriously;
  • explain to the child what will be done next;
  • do not talk to the alleged abuser; and
  • do not delay reporting the abuse.

He also said the response can have an impact on whether children have confidence in the procedure and whether they subsequently withdraw their allegation.[5][6][7] Carolyne Willow, a children’s rights campaigner and founder of Article 39, also reflected on this, saying that children ‘test’ how staff respond to general complaints they make. If children see a poor response, they are unlikely to be confident to disclose abuse.[8]

151. As to the immediate response, Phillip Noyes, NSPCC, and Pam Hibbert, a social worker and former Chair of the National Association for Youth Justice, explained disclosures are often veiled and subtle, and so may not be recognised or understood. At times, children do not willingly report abuse but would do if a trusted adult asked them if something was wrong and explored their answers. Adults should create opportunities for disclosure.[9] The professional should be vigilant about whether something is wrong, be able to recognise the signs of abuse and of a veiled disclosure, and ask sensitive questions to explore what is wrong.[10][11][12]

152. As to the further stages of the response, Alan Wood said the person investigating the allegation should be totally independent of the agency or geographical area where the alleged perpetrator is employed. Independence is important to ensure children have confidence in the process. Confidentiality is also central. His opinion was that the default position should be that an allegation against a member of staff is subject to a section 47 inquiry by the local authority. The investigation should be fair and transparent to the child. He noted that Working Together to Safeguard Children[13] is clear that the process should be child‐centred: children want vigilance, understanding, respect, information, engagement, support and protection. He told us support for the child within the process is essential. At the end of an investigation, children should be supported regardless of the outcome, even if the disclosure is retracted.[14][15][16][17]

153. Alan Wood stated, in his experience, it was “quite rare” for a child to lie completely about an allegation of sexual abuse.[18] There are a range of possible pressures which may lead to a child retracting an allegation, and a retraction should not be taken at face value. He said there is a likelihood of retraction or refusal to comment further if the child’s experience of disclosure is a negative one. He noted that in the case studies the child often had to explain the same allegation over and over to different people, and this could undermine their willingness to pursue the allegation.[19][20][21]

154. Similarly, the Australian Royal Commission concluded an allegation may be retracted for a variety of reasons, and adults should not assume that a retraction means the abuse did not occur or is not occurring. It said research consistently shows that false allegations of child sexual abuse are rare.[22]

155. Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead on child protection, explained that detailed guidance is given to police about how to investigate an allegation of abuse against a child. Subject to the best interests of the child, following an allegation of a sexual offence against a child, it would normally be expected that the child would be interviewed using an ‘Achieving Best Evidence’ interview. Statements would be taken from all eyewitnesses, and video or photographic evidence would be preserved and viewed. A medical examination would often be expected if there are any marks or injuries.

To investigate a crime in a custodial institution, police must have the permission of the governor or manager; it may be therefore that staff within the custodial institution would take initial investigative steps.[23][24]

Current procedures

156. There are several areas of concern about the current procedures for responding to an allegation of child sexual abuse in custody.

157. Chief Constable Simon Bailey referred to The appropriate handling of crimes in prison,[25] a protocol between the National Offender Management Service, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Crown Prosecution Service. This states that any sexual offence should be reported “to the police for investigation”. He expected the police to investigate all sexual offences committed against a child in custody, at least by an adult in a position of trust. There appears to be a conflict between that protocol and national Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) policy, which states that allegations of ‘serious’ sexual assault are referred to the police.[26][27][28] He could not draw any reliable conclusions from the high number of alleged incidents of child sexual abuse within custodial institutions between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2017 compared to the low number of convictions, as revealed in the Inquiry’s prevalence analysis. He thought that it was a “really worrying statistic”.[29]

158. Although local policies or procedures may be in place, the main written guidance or policy on responding to an allegation of sexual abuse against a child in a YOI is contained in Prison Service Instruction (PSI) 08/2012, Care and Management of Young People. (This also appears to apply in STCs.) It indicates that, when investigation by the police or social services does not occur, the procedures set out in Prison Service Order (PSO) 1300, Investigations, must be followed. However, PSO 1300 does not contain any specific guidance about how an allegation of sexual abuse of a child in custody should be responded to. In addition, PSI 08/2012 expired on 31 March 2016 and does not appear to have been updated.

159. The documents provided indicate that in YOIs and STCs an allegation of sexual abuse against a child will often be referred to a member of staff working within the same establishment, even if it is against another member of staff. There is no provision to prevent this from happening, nor any requirement that the allegation should to be kept confidential so far as possible from the alleged abuser or their associates. Generally each allegation will be referred to the child protection coordinator, safeguarding manager and/or deputy governor, who may discuss the matter with any member of staff he or she considers appropriate. In those cases which are not subject to a section 47 inquiry or full investigation by the police, the establishment conducts the response and investigation, with assistance from the local authority designated officer (LADO), even if the allegation is against a current member of staff. There is no requirement for allegations against staff to be investigated and responded to by someone independent of the establishment.[30][31][32]

160. It also appears that, in contrast to the detailed guidance available for police, there is no guidance for staff working in YOIs or STCs who are conducting an investigation into an allegation of child abuse on how the complainant should be interviewed or what evidence to seek. National policy for YOIs and STCs is also not clear about what support should be offered to a child who has alleged abuse when the case is not referred to the local authority.[33]

161. The LADO’s role is somewhat unclear. In the community, the LADO should coordinate the safeguarding and investigative processes for allegations against adults.[34][35] However, PSI 08/2012 states that when an allegation is made against a member of staff, Appendix 5 of the Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance 2010 must be followed, and when allegations meet the criteria in paragraph 1, the LADO must be contacted.[36][37] The role of the LADO described by PSI 08/2012 appears to be one of monitoring and discussing the progress of an investigation carried out by the establishment.[38] However, in any event, this guidance is out of date: Appendix 5 and paragraph 1 no longer exist and the Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance[39] has been superseded three times.

162. Procedures in SCHs for responding to allegations of abuse were generally better. For example, the Aycliffe Child Protection Policy contains guidance on how any member of staff should respond to a child who discloses abuse.[40][41]

Current practice

163. We heard substantial evidence that the current procedures for responding to allegations of child sexual abuse in YOIs and STCs do not work effectively.

164. Dr Janes, Legal Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, told us that an increasing part of the work of the Howard League legal team is making child protection referrals and that they receive a varied response from local authorities and prisons. This included a referral being refused on technical grounds by a LADO, who would have a role to perform if there were an allegation of sexual abuse. Young people have also said they “don’t see the point” in a referral being made to the LADO, which has been a concern. Dr Janes has experienced social services suggesting issues referred to them were for the establishment to deal with. She suggested that it would assist if LADOs dealing with children in custody were given specialist information, training and guidance about the particular vulnerabilities of children in custody. She said overall when she had seen child protection referrals made, she rarely saw “responses dealt with rigorously or urgently”.[42][43]

165. Carolyne Willow understood that HMIP would refer concerns of sexual abuse of a child in custody to the prison rather than to the local authority. Research she conducted using freedom of information indicated that a low proportion (24 percent) of child protection referrals from an establishment to the local authority result in a section 47 inquiry. She pointed out there is no requirement for LADOs to be registered social workers or to have professional child protection training or experience. That is one of the reasons why she considered all institutional abuse allegations should be referred directly to children’s social services in the local authority; there is insufficient involvement of social services with children in custody. She explained that Article 39 is pressing for the introduction of statutory guidance on the response to a disclosure of sexual abuse against a child in custody. All abuse allegations should be investigated by child protection professionals independent of the establishment, and the child should receive support from an independent advocate.[44][45]

166. Angus Mulready‐Jones, the lead inspector for children in detention for HM Inspectorate of Prisons, told us there are concerns about the response to child protection referrals in some institutions. It is not unusual to see delays in the process.[46][47]

167. Mark Johnson, the founder of User Voice, said that when a child disclosed abuse there was often no therapeutic intervention when there should have been. Other factors affecting the response included the skill level of staff in the environment and their relationship with the child. A child who had seen a number of different Youth Offending Team workers over a short space of time would not be likely to perceive that any one of them was particularly interested in him or her.[48]

168. Matthew Brazier noted that ordinarily if a child makes an allegation of sexual abuse in a survey it will be passed back to the establishment, not to an independent person.[49]

169. The Inquiry’s case studies analysis supports these concerns regarding the response to allegations.

170. Sara Robinson, Interim Executive Director of the Youth Custody Service, said the principles of good practice for responding to child sexual abuse that are applied in the community (as described by Alan Wood) should also apply in custody. The Review of Safeguarding in the Secure Estate (June 2018), led by Sonia Brooks OBE, will look into some of the issues raised by Alan Wood, such as the extent to which allegations are referred to social services. She said there are clear procedures in place but it is the application of those procedures which needs to be looked at. It is the process of auditing and assurance which needs improving. She accepted there is still work to be done about how evidence is gathered and how children are interviewed when police do not investigate.[50]

The Inquiry’s case studies analysis


171. The Inquiry instructed Alan Wood to conduct a detailed review of recent allegations of sexual abuse made by children at six custodial institutions: HM Young Offender Institutions at Feltham and Werrington; Medway and Rainsbrook STCs; and Vinney Green and Aycliffe SCHs. In total, Alan Wood reviewed 72 cases, and examples of cases from each of the six establishments appear in the pen portraits at the start of this report.

172. The case studies were selected in order to illustrate a range of themes or issues, including sexual abuse by institutional staff or other children, allegations involving restraint or searching, the role of CCTV, the involvement of the local authority, and investigations by the police.

173. The Inquiry asked relevant bodies to disclose all documentary records relating to the 72 cases, their investigation and the outcome of the investigation. Alan Wood then reviewed the material to identify key or recurring themes in the institutional responses. All of the underlying documentary evidence from the case studies was made available to the Inquiry and in part formed the basis of its conclusions.

174. The following key themes arose and apply to both YOIs and STCs:

  • In some cases staff appeared to pre‐judge the allegation, indicating suspicion that the child was making it up. In some cases, Mr Wood was surprised that a child’s statement that he did not want to pursue the allegation was taken at face value.

  • In case studies from several establishments, children or others appeared to be concerned about the confidentiality of their allegations. Mr Wood observed that allegations could become “overexposed” whereby a number of members of staff within the establishment would become aware of it, including at times the alleged abuser or their close associates. There was little evidence of how the risk of doing so would be managed.

  • In many allegations against staff, other members of staff from within the establishment were involved in the investigation, for example by interviewing the child or witnesses and gathering evidence. In a significant proportion of those cases, there appear to have been flaws in the investigation of the allegation. Obvious investigative opportunities were missed, or the decision not to pursue the allegation or find it substantiated was made on an inadequate basis. A number of allegations were retracted or denied after the child was spoken to by a member of staff at the establishment.

  • A focus on the support needs of the children in the investigation was “universally absent”.

  • Very few cases were subject to an investigation by the police. Only one allegation out of 53 in YOIs and STCs led to a section 47 inquiry. In YOIs, the LADO often had little significant input.[51][52][53][54][55][56][57]

175. As Mr Wood said, the highest levels of safeguarding should be expected of members of staff working in YOIs and STCs because the children detained there are so vulnerable. These high levels of safeguarding were not routinely evident in the case studies material. We agree with his overall conclusion that the key elements of the Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance on investigations were absent in the records from the case studies.[58][59][60][61]

176. The responses by SCHs appear to be generally of a higher standard. Investigations were more extensive, outside agencies were better involved, the process was more child‐centred, the child’s credibility was not doubted, and more support was offered. He noted the higher staff to child ratio gave a greater opportunity for children to build trusting relationships and that it is easier to spot safeguarding issues when they arise.[62]

Case studies from YOIs

HMYOI Feltham

177. We examined 14 allegations of sexual abuse at HMYOI Feltham, including a number against staff. These covered the period 2009 to 2015.

178. Alan Wood considered there was a wide variation in the standard of the initial response. The records reflected a lack of understanding of the complications caused by the child being in custody and of their fear of reporting. It was difficult to keep track of issues across various different methods of recording. Having a system which tracked how many allegations were made, against whom and with what results was a “fundamental keystone”.[63]

179. Alan Wood had particular concerns about the investigation by staff of allegations against other staff from the establishment. Some decisions not to pursue allegations were made on apparently flawed grounds. Alan Wood had concerns about the substantive involvement of the LADO, for example when an allegation of sexual assault by a member of staff was not referred to the LADO, or the LADO did not attend a key strategy meeting. He also had concerns that the threshold being applied in respect of section 47 investigations was too high. He noted that there were no substantive police investigations in respect of the allegations he considered. Finally, none of the allegations were substantiated.[64][65]

180. Glenn Knight, Governor of HMYOI Feltham until May 2018, gave evidence in response to concerns raised by Alan Wood. He pointed to improved versions of Feltham’s child protection policy and procedure, which were reviewed annually and would be reviewed again in light of the 2018 Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance. This included Feltham’s safeguarding strategy dated September 2017, which post‐dated the allegations of sexual abuse reviewed by Alan Wood. He also referred to a new local protocol agreed between Feltham and the London Borough of Hounslow, which applied when a member staff was the subject of an allegation of sexual abuse. He also identified a risk assessment matrix designed in 2018, which was used to document the decision‐making process and could also be used to track how many safeguarding referrals had been made against a particular staff member. Finally, he referred to a draft service level agreement, the purpose of which was “to standardise the interagency response to sexual offences within prison establishments in London”. He would like to see more social workers, ideally five or six, and more staff at Feltham.[66][67][68][69][70]

181. Lara Wood, Head of Safeguarding and Quality Assurance at the London Borough of Hounslow (the relevant local authority for Feltham), gave evidence to respond to the issues Alan Wood raised. She explained that when a young person discloses abuse, the social work team should refer the young person to the appropriate services such as Hounslow Youth Counselling, Barnardo’s wellbeing team and psychological interventions. She also referred to the new local protocol agreed between Feltham and the London Borough of Hounslow. The number of referrals to the LADO from Feltham increased from 6 in 2015/16 to 25 in 2016/17, which Alan Wood thought showed improvements in recognising, reporting and recording abuse allegations.[71][72][73]

HMYOI Werrington

182. We examined 10 allegations at HMYOI Werrington, covering the period from 2011 to 2016.

183. With the exception of one allegation, Alan Wood felt that Werrington responded to allegations in a timely and structurally appropriate way. However, he observed that some allegations were regarded with suspicion from the outset and that a complainant’s past use of the complaints procedure sometimes framed the approach to the current allegation. One complaint was regarded as potentially not being genuine prior to any investigation of what the allegation actually was. Further examples included a suggestion there were doubts over the credibility of multiple allegations as the boys submitted them on the same day, and that an allegation of rape by a rival gang was a malicious referral.[74]

184. In a few cases, there was a lack of full investigation, such as CCTV not being checked, eyewitnesses not being questioned, or other investigative opportunities being missed. In some cases the reasons given by staff for a decision not to pursue an investigation were flawed. Alan Wood found examples of allegations against staff, including of sexual assaults, either not being reported to social services or being reported to social services but not being deemed to have reached the threshold for investigation. The police were only involved in a very small minority of investigations. Allegations were investigated largely by staff from the establishment.[75][76]

185. Peter Gormley, the Governor at Werrington until April 2018, responded to Alan Wood. He observed that Alan Wood’s comments were based on a small sample size and that seven years is a long time in the life of an establishment. He felt the latest HMIP report was a more helpful indicator of Werrington’s performance, although he welcomed Alan Wood’s view that Werrington generally responded in a timely and structurally appropriate way.[77]

186. In response to Alan Wood’s observations about the support offered to children after they have made a disclosure, Peter Gormley suggested there was other evidence of support outside the papers reviewed by Alan Wood. He told us that any child who makes an allegation will be seen by one of the social workers, who will stay with that child in terms of support until the investigation is concluded. Peter Gormley also said that every child who makes a serious allegation will be seen by the duty governor or the orderly officer for an initial assessment of needs to be undertaken. This assessment will consider whether there is any vulnerability arising from the making of the allegation and the requirement for any immediate steps such as enhanced observations.[78]

187. Peter Gormley told us the local authority independently scrutinises incidents at Werrington as part of the multidisciplinary approach. Members of the local authority also chair a quarterly board meeting in relation to the use of force. In reply to Alan Wood’s observation about allegations being approached with suspicion, Peter Gormley stated this was one example and, irrespective of the initial response, the same process is followed for all allegations, including the independent rigour of a multidisciplinary meeting. He was conscious of the need to ensure staff were aware of the importance of approaching allegations with an open mind and recording them in a neutral and objective way. However, Peter Gormley accepted there may have been variability of practice.[79]

188. We also considered evidence from Yvonne Gordon, the Strategic Lead for Specialist Safeguarding Delivery at Staffordshire County Council, the relevant local authority. This provides an overview of the local authority involvement at Werrington, including the training of Werrington staff on child protection matters from the Staffordshire Safeguarding Children Board.[80][81]

Case studies from STCs

Medway STC

189. In respect of Medway, we examined 11 allegations, which spanned a relatively narrow period[82] from May 2015 to December 2016.[83]

190. Alan Wood had an overarching concern about themes of grooming, abusive and inappropriate behaviour by staff, and that other staff who were aware of this did not report it until one relatively young member of staff acted as a whistleblower. He expressed surprise at the wide range of allegations and the responses to them. For example, he was concerned staff alleged to be involved in these incidents were allowed to have continued contact with the children.[84]

191. Alan Wood found there was an unhealthy culture of control and a perception of controlling children from a “security guard type point of view”. He raised concerns about the lack of confidentiality of a child’s complaint within the staff group. He identified a repeated theme of there being a lack of documented support to children who had made disclosures. However, he noted that, compared to other institutions, Medway had a higher level of LADO involvement.[85]

192. Sharron Rollinson performed the role of LADO at Medway STC until April 2017. She said that the policies at Medway were woefully inadequate and the approach to safeguarding inexperienced. Staff and managers appeared to prioritise protection of staff over the protection of young people. The room she used for meeting with children was not private, and staff were able to hear any disclosures the children might be making. New staff often lacked experience of working with children who were highly vulnerable, and training was not robust enough. Children had told her about being given oral sex by staff in the kitchen area. She referred to an allegation that a member of staff had given a child a love bite. She recalled that this was discussed internally, and when she visited the complainant he seemed fearful and withdrawn. Sharron Rollinson told us that the uncut footage from Panorama showed a staff member describing to other staff in the smoking area how children could be moved out of view of camera to be assaulted. The reaction of a manager (Jonathan French) to this was that staff were letting off steam.[86]

193. Jerry Petherick of G4S addressed Alan Wood’s evidence regarding Medway, commenting that the report read as if the allegations were substantiated but in fact some of them were not. He said that there might have been other documents which might have shown that support was given to children. However, he did agree with a number of the comments made by Alan Wood, for example that a medical examination referred to in one particular case should have taken place but did not.[87]

194. We also heard from Jonathan French, Governor of Medway since January 2017. He noted the majority of the alleged incidents referred to by Alan Wood occurred before Medway was transferred back to HMPPS. He described several changes made since that time, as discussed above. Broadly Jonathan French did not take issue with Alan Wood’s observations as to the adequacy of the response on the basis of the documents he had. He indicated that there might be additional material available that showed support having been given to a child that had not been provided to the Inquiry.[88]

195. Jonathan French denied having told Sharron Rollinson that staff were just “letting off steam”. He said he took the footage very seriously, noting “The officer did allude, although not explicitly, to blind spots in the CCTV coverage”. The officer was suspended and a formal disciplinary investigation was conducted into the matter. Jonathan French noted he did not have access to the full unedited footage of the conversation between the officer and journalist. After the hearing, Jonathan French produced a new statement dated 19 July 2018. He said that on the footage, the officer did not mention assaulting young people. Jonathan French believed that Sharron Rollinson may have confused the footage of the smoking area with footage of staff during induction training (which Jonathan French did not receive until April 2017). He said “The comments of the then training manager on the footage were particularly inappropriate ... I immediately suspended him and a disciplinary investigation was commenced”.[89]

Rainsbrook STC

196. We considered 18 allegations in relation to Rainsbrook, spanning from 2010 through to 2016.[90] They related to the period when G4S was running Rainsbrook.

197. There were cases in which the staff’s initial response to a disclosure appeared inappropriate, such as when staff were said to have laughed at a boy who disclosed that another detainee had “put his willy in my bum”. Alan Wood told us there was an apparent disparity between the support given to the alleged victims and the support given to the alleged perpetrator staff members. He did not think that children were appropriately informed about the investigation and its outcome. Overall he did not feel that the expectations within the Working Together guidelines had been met in the cases he examined.[91]

198. Jerry Petherick also gave evidence on the Rainsbrook case studies. He expressed surprise at the use of the word “malicious”, and thought some of the tone of letters to the children was inappropriate. Whilst he thought there might have been more material available showing the support given to the child, he broadly agreed with Alan Wood’s observations.[92]

199. We also heard from Stuart Jessup, current Director of Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre. He could not respond to the specific allegations within Alan Wood’s evidence because MTC Novo took over Rainsbrook STC after the last of those allegations. However, he explained a number of changes which have been made at Rainsbrook STC since MTC Novo took over,[93] which are set out in Part E2 where we consider privately run institutions more generally.

200. We received evidence on behalf of Northamptonshire County Council from Lesley Hagger and Alex Hopkins, who have both held the role of Director for Children, Families and Education. Lesley Hagger accepted the response in some of the case studies fell below the standards she expects for safeguarding. However, she offered reassurance that the local authority is aware of the issues and working hard to ensure improvements are sustained through service redesign and development. For example, they are making changes to their multi‐agency safeguarding hub arrangements. She also informed us that the review undertaken by Northamptonshire Children’s Safeguarding Board Assurance Group found there was a significant staff shortage during the transition from G4S to MTC Novo, but that MTC Novo reported that Rainsbrook had been fully staffed since November 2016.[94][95]

Case studies from SCHs

Vinney Green SCH

201. We examined six allegations from Vinney Green, dating from 2010 to 2015.

202. Alan Wood felt the information given to children in response to an allegation being received was not appropriate and the outcome notifications were unduly formalistic. Overall, Alan Wood felt there was evidence of a child‐focussed approach from the minutes of the strategy meetings but that the associated actions connected to those meetings did not always match. He observed good evidence that staff were aware of children’s previous experiences and their likely reaction to being restrained, but there was a gap when it came to translating this knowledge into practice. He noted the paperwork was not always clear in relation to the outcome of the investigation.[96]

203. Alison Sykes, Head of Secure and Emergency Services for South Gloucestershire Council and the registered manager for Vinney Green SCH, explained in more detail the process that would be followed after a disclosure of sexual abuse. For example, a nurse would be contacted as would the mental health team; steps would be taken to see if the member of staff should have contact with the young person; Alison Sykes would attend and view the CCTV; and relevant professionals would be involved. A child would also be able to request a transfer to another unit if they felt it appropriate to do so. Alison Sykes responds to every allegation made by a child. She said great care in Vinney Green is taken to what support will be given to the young person. The problem was a lack of recording of this, rather than a lack of it happening; she agreed the lack of recording of outcomes was surprising and concerning and assured the Inquiry that this does not happen now. She noted that the three recent reports by Ofsted about Vinney Green all rated the home as ‘good’.[97]

Aycliffe SCH

204. Finally, we looked into 13 allegations at Aycliffe, which were said to have occurred between 2009 and 2016.[98]

205. Alan Wood said the themes at Aycliffe were similar to those at Vinney Green. He commented that some of the language recorded was inappropriate. He gave an example of a record stating that a young person had made “flirtatious comments” towards a member of staff. Whilst there was good evidence of recording the allegations, this was not matched by evidence of planning post‐disclosure.[99]

206. We heard evidence from Margaret Whellans from Durham County Council, who spoke to written evidence provided by her colleague Carol Payne.[100] Margaret Whellans noted the June 2017 Ofsted[101] report judged Aycliffe to be good, and said a range of positive things about the centre. For example, staff built close and trusting relationships with young people. There were some concerns, such as about restraint and recording of searches. The January 2018[102] inspection again rated the centre as good. Margaret Whellans observed that some of the material evidencing support for the children might be in case files, and may not have been seen by Alan Wood. She explained that, in respect of Alan Wood’s concern about “flirtatious comments”, she has had direct discussions with management about ensuring that a child’s comments are appropriately recorded and described, so there will be a better description of behaviours going forward. Work has been done to improve the layout of the investigation pro forma.[103]


Back to top