School abuse inquiry condemned by commissioner
The serious case review process in Wales is to be reassessed after the “failure” of an inquiry into the abuse of a six-year-old girl by classmates.
The girl was routinely assaulted both physically and sexually by 23 pupils of her own age within school grounds.
But the school and local council said the children’s young ages and lack of evidence meant little could be done.
Children’s Commissioner for Wales Keith Towler told the BBC the inquiry into the case had been a “shocking failure”.
A serious case review published two years after allegations of abuse first emerged accepted that sexually harmful behaviour had taken place.
But said that with more than 20 children under the age of 10 involved it had been difficult to establish exactly what happened.
The school and the local education authority, neither of which can be named, said the fact that the children had all been under the age of criminal responsibility meant little action could be taken.
None of the children involved in the abuse were removed from school.
The girl’s mother was horrified to discover her daughter had endured months of bullying and abuse in school after, she said, she had been warned about what was happening by another mother whose daughter was also being abused.
The woman said she would never forget the fear on her daughter’s face as she recounted what had been happening.
She said: “She was telling me things that I think every mother dreads to hear from their daughter. It was horrendous what she’d gone through.
“Every day she was being stripped. She was being physically and sexually abused every day. And every day she cried out for help and nobody ever came.”
The mother moved her daughter to a school in another area but it was not until she took legal action that the local authority carried out a serious case review.
The child’s family say she was failed by the school and by the system which took so long for something to be done.
Mr Towler said teachers needed on-going training to better recognise such incidents and the serious case review system in Wales would be changed to help prevent similar failures in the future.
The incidents of assault and the subsequent investigation were initially brought to his attention by BBC Breakfast.
“This is a shocking failure and the bottom line is the family will never know what happened to their child,” Mr Towler told the programme.
“We are going to review the serious case review process in Wales to make sure they are much more timely published, within a year of incidents happening, so that we get really clear for everybody involved, what happened, why it happened and what we need to do to put things right.”
The local authority concerned told the BBC that it was confident the case review had been a robust one and said the school had received excellent inspections before and after the case.
But Perdeep Gill, a child protection consultant, told BBC Breakfast the executive summary of the review “lacked clarity” and was “full of holes”.
Neelam Bhardwaja, president of the directors of social services in Wales, said an examination of the serious case review process in Wales, by the assembly government, had been going on for the last three months and was due to be completed by June.
She said it would be looking at the overall process, not the investigation in to the six-year-old’s case.
Ms Bhardwaja added that, based on what had been made public about the girl’s case, she was as shocked as anyone.
She said: “If there are these number of children (involved), it also begs the question, where did that behaviour arise from, why are these children behaving in this way, and are they from abusive situations themselves, which they need protecting from?”
A Welsh Assembly Government spokesperson said: “We cannot comment on individual cases however the Welsh assembly government takes its roles and responsibilities around the safeguarding of children very seriously.”