The serious case review into the case of the Bishop Bell schoolgirl abducted by her maths teacher has just been released.
The 46 page document – released at midday today (Monday) – blames the school, police and social services for a catalogue of failings in the case which hit the national headlines after the 15-year-old girl disappeared to France with her teacher Jeremy Forrest in September last year.
Forrest was jailed for five years earlier this year.
The report by the East Sussex Safeguarding Children Board says there were missed opportunities and key lessons need to be learned.
Chair of the board Cathie Pattison said, “The report shows opportunities were missed to intervene sooner and more robustly. We need to do more to make sure established safeguarding procedures are followed correctly in schools, that records are kept when safeguarding concerns are raised, that young people are listened to and that families are involved when issues arise.”
Mrs Pattison said the report contained recommendations for improvements to various agencies including East Sussex County Council, Sussex Police and especially the school.
The main lessons, the SCR report says, arise from the way staff at the school repeatedly failed to see the evidence of the teacher’s misconduct or to hear the concerns raised by pupils.
“Those concerns were repeatedly dismissed and the school appeared to have a default position of supporting a colleague, and a reluctance to believe that he might be an abuser. The report goes on to try to identify and understand the factors which contributed to these inadequate responses.
“The review also concludes that the young person concerned was not spoken to privately or talked to in a supportive way which could have given her the chance to disclose the abuse at an earlier stage, and there was a failure to involve her mother in responding to concerns raised.
“In terms of process improvements it also found that there could have been a more thorough child protection strategy discussion, that initial enquiries by police should have been carried out by the police child protection team, that children’s social care services may have ended their involvement too speedily, and that there were weaknesses in how agencies recorded information – in spite of guidance provided by the local authority.”
Terry Boatright, the executive head at Bishop Bell said this morning, “The Serious Case Review has identified a number of areas within the school that failed to function effectively in 2012.
“We are extremely sorry for these previous failings, particularly for the impact they have had on the victim, her family and friends, school students, parents and all our staff. We are also grateful to the wider school community for their continued support and understanding during this difficult time.
“Over the last 15 months we have been working hard to address the specific areas of concern highlighted by the SCR and the two independent external reviews instigated by the school. As a result, many of the recommendations from the SCR have already been implemented, with advanced plans and arrangements in place to address the remainder. All relevant policies and procedures were updated and substantially revised in May 2013, taking account of the critical need to listen and respond more robustly to any concerns voiced by students.”
Detective Superintendent Paul Furnell said, “We have noted the recommendations for police in the report which are for our Protecting Vulnerable People Branch to perform an audit in the next six months to establish if Child Protection Team officers generally carry out the first response to allegations made against people working with children. This will enable a decision to be made whether to amend the child protection policy.
“Also to carry out a review in the next six months into the requirement and capability for a child protection team detective sergeant to attend all strategy discussions for allegations made against people working with children. These had been identified in our own review of the case.”