Child Sex Abuse in West Berkshire Could Have Been Prevented, Report Finds
By Nathan Hyde
February 1, 2017
|Convicted sex offenders Robert Neill (left) and Peter Jarvis|
Child sexual abuse in West Berkshire could have been prevented, a serious case view (SCR) has concluded.
The review was launched by West Berkshire Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB)after a PE teacher and a vicar were jailed in 2016 for sexually abusing children.
Robert Neill, 63, who worked at Kennet School for 25 years, was sentenced to 21 years imprisonment last March.
Neill, of Park Lane, Thatcham , was convicted of charges of indecent assault and rape after a number of allegations were made by ex-pupils at the school.
The Reverend Peter Jarvis, 51, of Clares Green Road, Spencers Wood, was jailed last April for 15 months after admitting indecent sexual activity and possession of indecent images.
The serious case review, which was published on Wednesday, February 1, found "there were a number of missed opportunities to prevent the abuse of children".
It also highlighted the "need for clear and transparent governance arrangements of safeguarding, particularly in Academies".
And that agencies and individuals with statutory responsibilities could have followed up issues of concern more quickly.
The report makes a number of recommendations to address the issues including:
All organisations increase a programme of awareness and training on safer recruitment processes, with particular focus on ensuring there are safe organisational cultures.
The LSCB checks to ensure that all organisations have whistleblowing procedures in place and these are reviewed to determine how effective they are.
Consideration is given to how to raise awareness among all practitioners of the need for vigilance in spotting potential signs of harm and how to report it.
Work to implement the recommendations has already begun including an immediate review on all agencies’ safer working practices, the introduction of more training and an updated auditing tool to help schools check their safeguarding practice against national standards.
As part of the SCR, individual management reviews were carried out at The Kennet School, West Berkshire Education Service, the role of the West Berkshire Local Authority Designated Officers (LADOs), Thames Valley Police and Oxford Diocese.
During the Kennet School review, staff and governors were found to be "deeply affected" by the abuse and determined to prevent it from happening again.
|Thatcham housemaster and teacher Robert Neill was jailed for 21 years for raping a pupil|
However, the report states there were occasions when concerning information "should have been shared proactively with other agencies in order to protect children".
The school has been working to strengthen its safeguarding measures, which were described as "highly effective" by Ofsted inspectors after an inspection in May 2016.
The school was issued with a number of recommendations and told "any signs of concern suggestive of abusive or inappropriate behaviour must be recorded in detail" and then reviewed by senior staff.
|Kennet School (Photo: Google)|
It was also told to actively encourage all staff members to "continually demonstrate professional curiosity in every situation", voice any concerns immediately and "think the unthinkable".
The report also recommends the Oxford Diocese properly records and safeguards all allegations of abuse and strengthens its whistleblowing policy.
The diocese said it was working to improve its safeguarding practices and insists the clergy realises the church must be "much more open about how it approaches and responds to incidents of abuse".
|Reverend Peter Jarvis was jailed in 2016|
Police were praised for their "effective" investigations into the abuse, but the role of the West Berkshire LADOs was criticised.
The officers are supposed to help schools manage allegations of offences committed by people working with children and advise senior staff on what action to take.
But the report says officers' remit needs to be clearly established. It also implores them to improve the advice they offer and ensure the LSCB is always notified if employers fail to follow their advice.
While West Berkshire Council was told to ensure all officers are independent and that there is no conflict of interest.
"All the organisations involved share a commitment to improve working practices"
During the review, members of the public also responded to an appeal for information.
Adults who had been pupils at the school when children were being abused said they wished there had been an approachable member of staff who they could have reported it to.
While others, who have worked with victims, felt that "children were frequently not believed and discredited because of their behaviour".
Fran Gosling-Thomas, chair of the West Berkshire Local Safeguarding Children Board, said: "We fully accept the conclusions of the report and will continue our work implementing the recommendations as quickly as we can.
“Many of the recommendations included in the report were identified at an early stage and activity has been taking place since then to quickly implement changes.
"All the organisations involved share a commitment to improve working practices and we will continue to work together to ensure that the safety of our young people remain at the heart of everything we do.
“The West Berkshire Safeguarding Children Board will robustly monitor the actions taken by the individual agencies in responding to these recommendations.”