Shannon Matthews: Former Social Services Director Defends Kirklees

The former social services director who was in charge when the decision was made to take Shannon Matthews off the child protection register has defended his former colleagues.

Philip Cotterill, who left Kirklees social services in 2006, claimed the council had an “exemplary” track record.

Shannon was removed from the register – five years before she became the victim of a kidnapping planned by her mother – despite repeated complaints about the Matthews household.

A serious case review was announced on Friday after it emerged that she and her siblings were dropped from the register despite a report in 2003 warning that her mother should be under constant supervision because her “ability to protect her children is compromised by her inability to successfully place the children’s needs above her own.”

Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary, yesterday said the case illustrated the need for more “on the job” training for social workers and called for greater co-operation across council departments.

“We need our schools and our social workers to work more closely together, we need to boost leadership, there’s lots to be done,” Mr Balls said.

But Mr Cotterill insisted officials had acted properly: “If you look at all the inspection reports they have always put Kirklees at a very high level. Social workers are working with many cases all the time.

“The issues for Kirklees are to review what happened at that time and to take the appropriate action.

“No one could have possibly forseen what was going to happen. In this particular case I believe it was unprecedented…

“The decision to remove Shannon from the child protection register would have been made by social workers and social work managers. There are very clear procedures around that.”

Mr Cotterill, who worked at the council for 20 years, said he did not recall the Matthews case, adding that “thousands upon thousands of families” came across his desk.

However, Roger Roberts, a Kirklees councillor, said the family was known to the authority for years.

He added that anybody who had visited the house knew that Shannon should have been in care, but most of the social services staff were young and inexperienced.

He also predicted the serious case review would be a “total and utter whitewash.

The NSPCC’s acting chief executive Wes Cuell said a fear of legal action had contributed to a culture in which it was difficult for people to own up to mistakes.

He added: “You get reports worded in such a way that they are very careful not to admit anything, so they become exercises in not saying what went wrong.’

Shannon’s mother Karen Matthews, 33, and her accomplice Michael Donovan, 40, were found guilty last week of kidnapping the schoolgirl and keeping her tethered to a wall in a bid to claim reward money for her safe return.

Labour and the Conservatives clashed over the case after David Cameron, the Tory leader, suggested a culture of welfare dependency played a role in Karen Matthew’s actions.

Writing in a newspaper. Mr Cameron said: “The verdict last week on Karen Matthews and her vile accomplice is also a verdict on our broken society.”

But Mr Purnell suggested Mr Cameron risked smearing all benefits claimants.

He said: “It was her responsibility and hers only, and I think it’s slightly insulting to the millions of people who are claiming benefits and looking to get back into work … to say that they are at risk of turning into Karen Matthews. So I think there is a danger in what David Cameron is saying.”