Khyra Ishaq review reveals how mother intimidated professionals

Attempts by teachers, police and social workers to investigate suspicions that Khyra Ishaq and other children in the care of Angela Gordon and her partner were suffering neglect and abuse were thwarted by a sustained campaign of intimidation and lack of co-operation by Gordon, the serious case review revealed.

Gordon, 35, proved extraordinarily adept at swatting aside attempts by professionals to intervene in her chaotic family life. At times she would threaten physical violence, at other times threaten legal action, or accuse them of racism or harassment. She ruthlessly exploited safeguarders’ ignorance of the law on home schooling and kept them constantly on the back foot.

Gordon restricted access to her children, removing them from school at a time when official concerns about their wellbeing started to emerge. A succession of police officers and social workers who visited the family to make assessments would often be kept waiting on the doorstep, refused access to the home and prevented from seeing the children.

In her relationship with Birmingham children’s services, the review noted, it was Gordon who held the power. Her campaign of resistance left professionals cowed and confused. Some staff, it said, “lost sight of the child and focused instead upon … the adults’ behaviours and the potential impact for them as professionals”.

The report stated: “The mother’s sound knowledge of home education legislation and a hostile and aggressive approach influenced and affected professional actions, preventing a full understanding of conditions within the home, and seemed to render professionals impotent, thereby directing the focus away from the welfare of the children.”

On one occasion, in February 2008, a social worker visited the family home to attempt an assessment. The social worker was not allowed into the home but after refusing to leave was eventually given brief doorstep contact with some of the children. “By the time the senior practitioner returned to the office,” noted the review, “a complaint had already been made by [Gordon] against the social worker of harassment.” An agreed follow-up visit the next day did not go ahead as a result of the complaint.

The review suggested that Gordon’s intimidatory behaviour did not excuse professionals’ missed opportunities to intervene, but it noted: “Dealing with safeguarding inquiries and assessments can be a stressful process for workers, particularly when attempting to undertake work with aggressive and highly resistant adults.”

Although Gordon’s life was far from straightforward, the review noted that before her relationship with her partner, Junaid Abuhamza, she had been known to professionals as “an engaged and protective mother of the children”. Teachers considered her a “powerful personality” but had never previously found her threatening or violent. But the review suggested that under Abuhamza’s controlling and irrational influence her behaviour changed. She became aggressive, obstructive towards teachers and distrusting of other professionals.

The issue of social workers failing to challenge manipulative and aggressive parents was identified as a factor in the second serious case review of the Baby Peter case in 2009. The author of that report, Graham Badman, called for “authoritative social work practice” whereby social workers actively and robustly challenged unco-operative or violent clients.

The Khyra Ishaq review recommended that Birmingham council should commission new guidance and training to deal with “aggressive and highly resistant parents and carers”.