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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of the Nottinghamshire Councils Investigation Report

F.2: Recent responses to complainants

15. Once complainants come forward and do disclose sexual abuse, they have then to engage with various institutions, including the police, the Councils and the Crown Prosecution Service. In this they face numerous challenges, such as interviews and investigations, giving evidence in criminal trials, obtaining their social service records, commencing legal claims for compensation, establishing contact with the Councils, and accessing support and therapy. 

16. Complainants have expressed concern about the level and quality of support received during Council or police investigations, or during any criminal trial that arises, and after an investigation has concluded. Some complainants become so critical of the support that they no longer want to engage with these mechanisms,[1] while others say they received no support and had to find it for themselves.[2]

Responses from the Councils

17. In early 2015, the County formed a Historical Abuse Team of social workers to work with adults making allegations of non‑recent abuse. This team is responsible for the County’s children’s social care service’s enquiries into allegations[3] and for supporting any police investigation. The team also works with the Support for Survivors Group[4] and supports complainants, providing referrals to specialist services and producing chronologies of complainants’ time in care based on the records.[5] Although this constitutes a dedicated resource providing personalised support to complainants, it was developed “a little late”.[6] Funding has now been secured until at least March 2020.[7] 

18. The City has one social worker supporting police investigations, and allows the police full access to child care records. Alison Michalska (the City’s Corporate Director for Children and Adults) was of the view that adults making complaints of non‑recent abuse needed advice and support from adult social workers and adult specialists; she did not think that children’s social workers were the right people to be involved. The City also has a single point of access for all complainants: this then signposts them to the City’s support services as well as health and other services.[8]

19. The Councils also have various partnerships[9] which offer opportunities for survivors to share experiences, such as a therapeutic recovery service for children who have been sexually abused or exploited which has information on external support services.[10] The City’s Lead Member for Children’s Services until May 2019, Councillor David Mellen, said that counselling and support “will always be a priority … to make sure that people who have been let down are not let down again”.[11] However, the City’s view was that some counselling is better provided through the health service.[12]

Responses from Nottinghamshire Police

Support

20. From the early stages of Operation Daybreak until at least 2013, if the police came into contact with a complainant who they felt needed support, they would direct them to their GP.[13] DI Yvonne Dales (former Senior Investigating Officer of Operation Daybreak) accepted that this may not have been the “best approach”, and reflected that provision of support for victims as well as directing them to appropriate support were not prioritised early enough in the investigation. There was no specific training on providing support to complainants.[14] Since 2014, Paddy Tipping, the Police and Crime Commissioner, has been responsible for commissioning support services to which the police will direct complainants.[15]

Contact

21. Several complainants were dissatisfied with their contact with the police during Operations Daybreak, Xeres and Equinox.[16] This included the initial method of contact,[17] the frequency of contact[18] and communication during investigations,[19] whilst some disliked the way in which they were told that no further action would be taken.[20] However, Mandy Coupland, co‑founder of the Child Sexual Abuse Survivors Group, was positive about current Chief Superintendent Robert Griffin’s approach; he didn’t “butter things up” and his way of communicating with complainants was “helpful”.[21]

22. Since 2005, complainants should be updated regularly by the police until an investigation is closed.[22] During Operation Daybreak, there was no protocol on approaching potential victims. DI Dales introduced logs to record contact with complainants.[23] DC Julie Balodis’s view was that the individual officer would give the initial contact “careful consideration”, based on the information available, although she acknowledged that “we don’t always get it right”.[24] 

23. The police are responsible for informing complainants of a decision not to prosecute and of the reasons why this decision was made,[25] which DI Dales told us would “ideally” be done in person.[26] Evidence from complainants suggests that this did not happen in each case.[27] Since 2013, victims have had a right to request a review of a Crown Prosecution Service decision not to prosecute or to terminate proceedings.[28]

24. In our Interim Report, we recommended that a joint inspection of compliance with the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime be commissioned.[29] A cross‑government Victims Strategy was subsequently published in September 2018, which “commits to hold agencies to account for compliance with the Victims’ Code through improved reporting, monitoring and transparency on whether victims are receiving entitlements”.[30] 

Other support

25. There are several independent survivor support groups in Nottinghamshire. The Support for Survivors Group provides a forum for survivors and their representatives to meet with local safeguarding boards, the Councils, clinical commissioning groups, Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS, the Police and Crime Commissioner and the police.[31] The CSA Survivors Group in Nottingham seeks “justice for survivors” and directs people to the correct services.[32]

26. Whilst these groups are clearly of benefit to complainants, waiting lists for counselling and other treatment (particularly in crisis teams) are still too long, insufficient empathy is still sometimes shown by the authorities towards complainants[33] and, in the view of one survivors group, some police officers remain untrained to deal with complainants.[34]

Apologies

27. In the 1990s, children who had been sexually abused received apologies from the County in a small number of cases following convictions, critical findings in inquiry reports or civil claims which had been settled.[35] More generally, however, the County was cautious about apologies, which were considered “dangerous” as they could amount “to an admission of legal liability which can open up the department to legal claims”.[36] Given the number of cases in the late 1980s and 1990s in which staff were convicted of or the subject of disciplinary sanction for sexual abuse of children, the County should have apologised and learned lessons. 

28. More recently, the Councils have been willing to apologise in some individual cases where there has been a conviction, or where they are satisfied that there was abuse. For example, the County apologised to NO-A588 in 2017[37] and the City apologised to the children in the NO-F35 case, despite his acquittal.[38] 

29. The County has apologised to those who suffered abuse while in its care. In March 2016, the Leader of the County Council made an unreserved apology to the victims and survivors of Andris Logins; while the apology acknowledged the County’s failure to protect vulnerable children, it only came after Logins’ conviction.[39] In January 2018, the County apologised to all those who had suffered abuse while in its care and made a pledge about how it would act in the future.[40] The County’s public apology has been received positively by many victims and survivors.[41] However, as acknowledged by Colin Pettigrew,[42] the County does not always meet the terms of its pledge, in its approach to civil claims.

30. In the City, as recently as February 2018, Councillor Mellen reported the Leader of the City as saying “we will apologise when there is something to apologise for”.[43] It was suggested that this did not represent the attitude of the City at the time,[44] but Councillor Mellen signed off the minutes of the relevant meeting. Councillor Mellen accepted that this was offensive to those who were abused while in the City’s care. Alison Michalska explained that the thinking was that an apology would be made when there was a conviction of an employee, ex-employee or foster carer from the City.[45] The City did make a public apology two weeks before our October 2018 hearings.[46] However, this apology was viewed with cynicism by some complainants and was rejected.[47] 

31. In June 2018, following an interview by the Nottingham Post,[48] Alison Michalska was quoted as saying that no evidence had appeared of disclosure not being acted on and thought they had “learnt the lessons” from cases up to and including the 1980s. Ms Michalska disputes the accuracy of the article, but the Nottingham Post has maintained its position.[49] The City should have apologised for the sexual abuse of children in its care a long time ago. 

Civil litigation

32. There have been approximately 200 civil litigation claims against the County. Of these, 41 were ongoing as at July 2018 and only one had gone to trial.[50] As at May 2018, the City had received 37 claims since 2009, of which 18 had been settled.[51] The handling of these claims has caused further difficulties for complainants. 

33. In the early 1990s, there was some dispute within the County about the extent to which staff should co-operate with claimant solicitors. There were concerns that the County’s duties to children “were in danger of being overridden by those seeking to defend the County Council from costs … There had been no overall liaison or drawing lessons to be learnt.”[52] In response, in 1993, the County formed a Risk Management Group (made up of representatives of social services, the County solicitor and the Risk & Insurance Officer[53]) to respond to claims received.[54] As learning points arose, the group met with children’s social care managers to discuss those lessons, and subsequently disseminated them more widely by holding a seminar.[55]

34. However, there remained a wariness about apologising, because of financial consequences, and staff were not authorised to admit liability.[56] L24 said that an “apology would mean more to me than any amount of money” and that recognition and acceptance from the Councils would have been the “only thing that would really help”.[57]

35. Some complainants were surprised that the Councils resisted their claims. L46 was “shocked” that the County would deny liability for sexual assault as the incident is recorded in her records.[58] L17 told us that reliance on ‘limitation’ arguments (that claims could not proceed because they were out of time) made her “really angry”.[59]

36. The delay in settling claims also caused concern. L17’s case took six years to conclude; she described the process as “hell” and felt that “they were just hoping I would go away”.[60] Delays can of course be caused by either side[61] and it is important not to settle too quickly, before the impact of the abuse on the complainant can be assessed.[62] However, we note that the Councils have made efforts to reduce delay for complainants, with the County reducing the time to reach a settlement from an average of 12 years in 2005 to eight months in 2017. 

37. Concerns were also raised about the level of settlement offers. L43 said that the offer made to him was “insulting”, describing it as “like offering me a £10 note and telling me to go home and shut up”.[63] However, how litigation is conducted is typically decided by the Councils’ insurers.[64]

38. The Inquiry will consider the approach to civil litigation, apologies and other issues related to the justice system in greater detail in its Accountability and Reparations investigation,[65] the report on which will be published later in 2019.

Care records

39. For those in care during their childhood, the records made by social workers and residential care staff are often their only available means of understanding their past. However, there are issues surrounding the quality of records, the extent of their retention and the access given to them for those formerly in care. 

40. Under national legislation and regulations, residential care staff were required to keep records from 1951 onwards.[66] These included registers of admission and discharge and records of each day the child was resident, as well as “events of importance connected with the home”. The most recent regulations in 2015 set out in extensive detail the information that must be provided in a child’s case records.[67] Similarly, since 1955, local authorities have been required to maintain records on children in care in foster placements.[68] Social workers are also required to keep and maintain detailed records on the children in their caseload, most recently under 2010 regulations.[69] 

41. In Nottinghamshire, from 1978 onwards, County and multi-agency procedures and guidance set out the records to be kept by residential staff, foster carers and social workers in various circumstances, including when allegations of abuse were made.[70] These were set out most recently in interagency procedures for both Councils[71] and in the Councils’ individual procedures.[72] 

Quality of care records

42. The majority of complainant core participants were in care from the 1970s to the 1990s, several of whom gave evidence of their concerns about the quality of the records kept about them during their time in care.[73] Similar concerns were raised by children’s social care management and councillors over the past four decades. For example:

42.1. We were told about poor record-keeping occurring as early as the mid-1970s, with residential staff at Beechwood failing to record events in logbooks and incident sheets.[74] 

42.2. A 1979 memo from the County’s Divisional Director to senior staff at Beechwood noted: “the full account of that incident should have been recorded in the logbook … will you please ensure that the logbooks in the Lindens and in Redcot are at all times kept fully and accurately and in particular, regard is had to the child’s behaviour and the response of staff to that behaviour.”[75]

42.3. In 1987, County Councillor Tom Butcher wrote to the Director of Social Services expressing concern that “records are ‘not kept within the department’ in relation to children in care involved in sexual offences/acts. I consider it to be an important part of managerial monitoring of problems facing children in care”.[76] We have seen no response.

42.4. A County investigation into child sexual abuse in foster care and Wollaton House in 1992 reported that recording and organisation of residential and fostering files were poor, and that this had been happening over many years. Records were not properly organised, but also were not being kept in the first place. The authors emphasised that, “staff should be clear that children cannot be protected if vital information is omitted, and that records are a part of the history of a child’s life during any time they spend in a ‘looked after’ placement.[77]

42.5. During the course of a disciplinary investigation in 1995, most of the records kept by Amberdale were found to be “shoddy, partial and contained little substance to aid professional social work decision making on the children concerned”.[78]

Retention of records

43. From 1955 onwards, a local authority was required to retain the records of a child in foster care until their 21st birthday.[79] Until 1991, the retention of child protection files or social services records for a child in residential care was at the discretion of the record keeper.[80] Since then, records for each child in care have had to be retained until their 75th birthday.[81] This remains the current retention period[82] and has been applied by the City since 1998.[83]

44. In the County, keeping “historic records” was viewed historically by some children’s social care staff as “the lowest priority”.[84] During an internal reorganisation in 1985, there was “an awful lot of weeding and destruction of files”, which led to the loss of certain information which could have been considered “essential to keep”.[85]

45. Similarly, most of the City’s documents relating to the provision of social services before 1974 have been destroyed. Only those which the City was required to keep have survived from this period, such as admissions registers, logbooks and medical records.[86]

Access to records

46. Access to care records is vital for individuals to understand their childhood experiences, the reasons for being taken into care and what happened to them during their time in care.[87] For those who allege abuse during their time in care, being unable to see their records can compound the sense of being let down by the Councils.

47. Since 1998, the primary methods of obtaining records for those formerly or currently in care have been via a subject access request[88] or disclosure in civil court proceedings.[89] 

48. On at least some occasions, the Councils have not responded appropriately to requests for access to records, particularly given their legal obligations set out above. For some complainants, the search for records and the lack of communication and explanation have been difficult and upsetting.[90] In particular:

48.1. D6 (a care leaver) submitted his first subject access request to the City in May 2015. After a long wait, he felt compelled to disclose to the City that he was a core participant in this investigation, and he only received his records days before the hearings in October 2018.[91] The City told us that D6’s first subject access request was received by the wrong part of the City, that he had not provided the necessary proof of identity and that the City had to wait for permission to release the records of D6’s birth family at the same time as his own.[92] The procedural hurdles appear to take no account of the significance to the applicant of the records, nor do they allow for prioritisation. This was an unacceptable delay. 

48.2. A79 described spending “30-odd years” trying to get his records, making numerous subject access requests and being told that his records no longer existed. In 2000, he eventually received eight pages of information typed up by an investigation officer from the County, but did not understand how they were produced.[93]

49. Further changes to the process have been made recently. Since 2015, the County’s Historic Abuse Team have been assisting those formerly in care to access their records.[94] Around the time of the investigation’s October 2018 hearings, the City agreed to establish a new role “dealing wholly with the provision of social care records.[95] Further improvements to processes are clearly required, as we identified in the Inquiry’s Interim Report.[96]

References

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