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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 182-vi
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Home Affairs Committee
Localised Child Grooming
Tuesday 20 November 2012
Detective SuperintendEnt Ian Critchley and Detective Chief SuperintendEnt Mary Doyle
Evidence heard in Public Questions 448 - 623
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 20 November 2012
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Detective Superintendent Ian Critchley, Head of Public Protection, Lancashire Police and Head of ACPO Child Sexual Exploitation Task Force, and Detective Chief Superintendent Mary Doyle, Head of Public Protection, Greater Manchester Police, gave evidence.
Q448 Chair: May I refer everyone present to the Register of Members’ Interests, where the interests of all members of this Committee are noted? We have two sessions today, the first of which is dealing with child grooming. The second session will concern our new inquiry into e-crime. I welcome Mr Critchley and Ms Doyle; thank you very much for giving evidence.
I do not know whether you have been following the proceedings of the Committee. We took evidence very recently from the CPS and from CEOP and other organisations. We have further witnesses this morning from, in particular, Rochdale Council, which comes within your area, Chief Superintendent, but I want to start with you, Mr Critchley. CEOP and commentators on the issue of child grooming have singled out Lancashire as one of the success stories. What are you doing in Lancashire to protect young girls and young men that is not being done by other police authorities all over the country?
D/Supt Critchley: Mr Chairman, we have been looking at this area as a priority in our police force since 2003, since we uncovered this as a real issue in Blackpool and then in Blackburn. Around 2005, we set up co-located multi-agency teams within Blackpool and Blackburn. We continued to scope out this as an issue, and across all our policing areas we now have dedicated co-located teams. I think that that is the real key for us in delivering what victims ultimately need, in terms of stopping this happening in the first place, recognising early the signs by dynamically sharing the information between partners, and then making sure the intervention is right, whether that is pre-exploitation or if somebody is a victim of crime and we are able to bring offenders to justice. I would say that the co-location of partnership resource is an absolute key to this.
I also think it is making sure that our front-line specialists-not just police officers but teachers, parents, carers and health visitors-are all aware of this as a real public protection issue and that we identify the signs of somebody being exploited very early.
Q449 Chair: But this is not happening elsewhere, and I understand you head a task force that is specifically ACPO-based that deals with these issues. What I cannot understand is we have had horrendous stories about what is happening in places like Rochdale, and indeed in Rotherham, but the good practice from Lancashire does not seem to have crossed over the border into Greater Manchester, where again we have had a lot of complaints about the fact that police have not taken action. Why has there not been this sharing of information?
D/Supt Critchley: I can share what we have done in Lancashire. We do have conversations with colleagues from other police forces and, as you have heard, there is clearly significant progress being made now across the whole police service. I was involved in the Thematic Inspection by CEOP in terms of identifying what the issues are. I have held a seminar in Lancashire, attended by most police services across the country, in order to share what we are doing. We are also able to share all our processes, protocols and action in order to be able to make sure that we share this practice.
Q450 Chair: It is all happening now, is it not? It was not happening, say, a year or two ago, when the issue was highlighted in the media and elsewhere. This is all very recent, is it not?
D/Supt Critchley: It is not recent for Lancashire, as I said. We have been addressing this for a considerable period of time.
Q451 Chair: Yes, I know that and I have acknowledged that. How many prosecutions have you had in Lancashire in respect of these offences?
D/Supt Critchley: In 2012, there were around 100 prosecutions for child sex exploitation. The Engage team, for example, at Blackburn, since its inception in 2008, has had over 400 years’ sentencing for offenders committing offences of child exploitation. That cuts across all areas of exploitation, whether that is online grooming, or group and gang-related offences. I think it is our team’s understanding that this is a real, significant issue, and it is undertaken in a number of different ways by offenders.
Q452 Chair: Indeed. We will come on to that in later questions. That figure of 100 differs markedly from the figure given to us by the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, which includes Rotherham and other areas that are causes for concern, in that there have been no prosecutions this year for child grooming and other areas. I know you cannot talk, for professional reasons, about other areas, but 100 is a lot of prosecutions compared with none in South Yorkshire.
D/Supt Critchley: What I can say on that, Mr Chairman, firstly from a Lancashire perspective, is that if we look for it, we will find it-and we are looking for it. We are prioritising it. We do want to capture it early. We do not want people to be exploited. Ultimately, we would rather have stopped somebody becoming a victim and having to go to court, so we are looking for it.
There are issues in the police service in terms of data collection and in terms of identifying child sex exploitation. There are convictions across the board, across the country, in relation to this, but those convictions are for rape, abduction, abuse of children and grooming; they are not necessarily categorised under child sex exploitation. I have met this morning to chair the first implementation of the action plan to make sure we improve, as a police service across the board, our ability to collect the data so that we really understand the problem.
Q453 Chair: Thank you. Chief Superintendent Doyle, welcome back. You are a frequent visitor to the Select Committee. Thank you for coming back. Greater Manchester is one of those areas that has not been successful in the past at dealing with this issue. In particular, you have probably seen a copy of the Rochdale Safeguarding Children Board Review, which talks about a series of missed opportunities and a lack of co-ordination. We took evidence last week from representatives of Sunrise-I am sure you saw the evidence-and were told that they had made 181 referrals to police and social services over a period of time. We are full of questions as to why so few people, if any, have been prosecuted.
DCS Doyle: Mr Chairman, may I start by saying I think we need to understand that Rochdale is one of 10 local authority areas that come within Greater Manchester Police? As far back as 2006, Greater Manchester Police set up a co-located multi-agency team in Oldham. We went over to Lancashire and took some of the learning from there, which has been quite successful, and there were a number of quite high profile prosecutions throughout 2007-08. Also in 2006, across the three city divisions, which is one local authority area of Manchester city, Operation Protect began-and it is still going-which has been a very successful co-located multi-agency team.
Q454 Chair: I understand all that, and we know that because you have told us that before, but what I want to know here today is: there were 181 referrals from Sunrise to the police. You have had a highly critical report from the review board. What went wrong, as far as the police are concerned?
DCS Doyle: I think, as far as the police are concerned, what Sara Rowbotham said with regard to those 181 is not inaccurate. The referrals were made in a variety of different ways, not always as a formal referral, which did cause us some difficulties. It is not fair to say we did nothing. We did do something. We perhaps didn’t do it as effectively as we would have liked to, and that has resulted in the Rochdale case more recently and the ongoing investigations that we have. As Ian says, there is a difficulty in identifying CSE. It is not a crime per se. It is made up of a number of other offences. The challenge is joining together those links and identifying it as child sexual exploitation. We have been working to try to make our own IT systems more sophisticated in order to be able to make those links. We have a change going in just next week, I think, which will allow us to flag those crimes that are associated with CSE and to help us to make those links so that we can approach the CPS prosecuting authorities with more than a single instance to make it more-
Q455 Chair: This is not personal criticism. I know you have a commitment in this area, but the fact is that we have had very profound evidence from witnesses saying you have failed to act. We have had a very critical report about the police not acting. Do you think you have let the people of Rochdale down in respect of prosecutions?
DCS Doyle: I think we have already said we were sorry that it happened. We did not do it as effectively as we could have or should have, and we have learned those lessons. In 2006, 2007 and 2008, we were in a very different place to where we are now.
Q456 Chair: How many prosecutions have there been this year-or indeed last year, if you have the figures for last year-for CSE?
DCS Doyle: Again, Mr Chairman, the difficulty is identifying which are directly related to CSE.
Q457 Chair: How come Lancashire can do it and not Greater Manchester?
DCS Doyle: As I have explained, our systems do not identify-
Q458 Chair: The systems specifically for Greater Manchester.
DCS Doyle: Yes. It is not identifying-
Q459 Chair: Which are different from the systems in Lancashire.
DCS Doyle: Yes, absolutely, which is why we have implemented-
Q460 Chair: So it is quite possible that someone who is involved in grooming might be picked up in Lancashire, but would not be picked up in Greater Manchester?
DCS Doyle: No. The intelligence would be shared. It is being able to pull out of the large number of rape and other sexual offences cases that we prosecute in Greater Manchester those that are grooming, for want of a better way of terming it.
Q461 Chair: Yes, but given that this has been with us for a while-the first big articles have been published since 2010 and, as you know, the review group was set up in 2007 in the local area-can’t you extract the information in the same way as Lancashire has extracted the information?
DCS Doyle: We will be able to after next week. What I can say is we have had the 11 we prosecuted as the first Rochdale case. We charged nine a couple of weeks ago with regards to offences related to child sexual exploitation. In Stockport, I think we have 11 standing trial in January, across the Protect team itself.
Q462 Chair: That you can identify.
DCS Doyle: Some; it is not the whole picture.
Q463 Chair: How many did you prosecute last year?
DCS Doyle: We had 13 across the Protect team. We had the original Rochdale case, which was nine. I think the Protect team was 43 individuals across those 13 prosecutions. I can’t comment on the Oldham one; I would be wrong to comment on the Oldham one.
Q464 Chair: The total would be what?
DCS Doyle: In excess of 30.
Chair: Thirty in the Greater Manchester area. Thank you very much.
DCS Doyle: That we know about; that we have identified. It could be in excess of 100-perhaps even more than that, if we were able to identify them as linked to CSE.
Chair: I understand. Thank you very much.
Q465 Bridget Phillipson: CEOP published a report back in June 2011 on this area. Were either of you aware of the scale of the issue prior to its extensive coverage by Andrew Norfolk in The Times?
DCS Doyle: I think we were aware in Greater Manchester of the scale of the issue in certain local authority areas, as I have already said. I don’t think we were aware of the scale of the issue in certain other areas. The challenge is getting 10 local authorities to understand the issue and do things in the same structured way.
Q466 Bridget Phillipson: Mr Critchley?
D/Supt Critchley: Yes, we are aware, and we have been involved in that Thematic Assessment since 2005, but more recently from 2008. Every six months, we take a good, detailed look at the data around numbers of victim referrals, offender referrals, and identify where prevalence is and undertake work in relation to targeting of offenders and where we need to intervene with victims, and we have fed into the Thematic Assessment.
Q467 Bridget Phillipson: Ms Doyle, was Greater Manchester aware of other forces facing similar issues in this area? Did you consult or work with other forces on this?
DCS Doyle: Yes. Back in 2006, as I said, we went across to Lancashire about the work they had done around Blackpool and those sorts of areas. We have been across again more recently, towards the end of last year, as part of our own problem profile and trying to understand it and take the good practice. We also went across to Derby and spoke to Debbie Platt, who ran Operation Retriever, the successful operation over there. Sheila Taylor from the National Working Group was a regular visitor and had a significant input into the way we investigated the Rochdale case, which obviously we have all learned from.
Q468 Bridget Phillipson: Do you think those kinds of informal arrangements that you build between forces are the best way, or is there a need for a greater infrastructure countrywide on this issue in terms of how forces work together in tackling these issues that often will cut across borders, or where expertise has been developed in some forces but not as well in others?
DCS Doyle: I think the informal structures and relationships are very important, as they are in any area of work, and often work the best, if I was honest, but I do think there is a need for a national infrastructure and a national understanding of what best practice is, what it looks like and where you can go to get assistance.
D/Supt Critchley: I chaired a meeting this morning with representation from forces across the country about the implementation of the national action plan, which is being led by Mr Davies from CEOP, and that is exactly to do what you say in terms of looking at best practice. The critical areas of protecting victims and pursuing offenders are two areas in terms of leadership development and how we work in partnership. There is some good practice going on across the country in all areas and, as Head of Public Protection, I am looking at not only bringing that into Lancashire, but spreading it across the country.
Q469 Steve McCabe: I was interested to read that Lancashire has established a clear offender MO for grooming, and I think there were some examples cited of the kind of things they do. Do you have any particular method of checking on people who use the internet as their preferred method of grooming?
D/Supt Critchley: We break down the method of offending, so we are aware of how offenders are working to be able to target offenders proactively. Around 30% of offenders’ initial grooming of victims is on the internet, and I think that is rising. The access to mobile data, computers and phones for children of a younger age now makes them more susceptible. A lot of our work is around educating parents, carers, schools and children around the safe use of that, but we do see it as an increasing method by which offenders are targeting victims. So we are placing priority in terms of working with CEOP and other law enforcement agencies, and we have invested in covert internet investigators in order not only to stop it happening, through education, but to target the offenders.
Q470 Steve McCabe: What would alert you to internet grooming? I can understand it if someone hangs around outside schools and offers children gifts or if people report things. Is there anything in particular that alerts you to internet grooming?
D/Supt Critchley: Individuals use a number of different methods. It probably goes hand in hand with other areas. We look at the usage by an individual, and we look at disclosures from an individual and disclosures from their friends. Then we look at the other risk factors involved in child sex exploitation: going missing, truancy from school, alcohol usage and coming home with presents. It is about engendering trust and confidence from the public, and for children, particularly, to come forward where they are being groomed or abused, and that they know there is a multi-agency service there that they can be confident will protect them.
DCS Doyle: I would absolutely agree with that. We, too, have covert internet investigators that are very successful. You can go online and find a potential offender within minutes, really. It is quite frightening. It is about educating both the young people and their parents-education authorities as well-to recognise the signs and be able to alert us so that we can then start the investigations. There is always the issue of communications data and some of the difficulties around that, but certainly we find a feature in these investigations is social media-in particular Facebook, Twitter; all of those types of forums.
Q471 Nicola Blackwood: You have both mentioned the importance of multi-agency working, but when CEOP did its Thematic Review they had a very low response indeed from LSCBs. I think only 13 children’s services nationally and LSCBs responded. That is out of 154 councils in England. How have you found working with the local LSCBs? They are the local service that has statutory duty for child sexual exploitation response.
DCS Doyle: From my perspective, as I have already mentioned, the challenge for Greater Manchester is that there are 10 of them. We sit on all of them. They are effective to a greater or lesser degree-some of them are not as effective as they should be; some of them are quite effective. In addition, we have established over the past few years a pan-GMP Safeguarding Children’s Board, which sits with representatives from all the local authority areas, and that has been quite successful in driving a joined-up, structured pan-GMP agenda. In the last 12 months, we have done a lot of work with that group around CSE in particular, looking to standardise the structures and processes across all 10 local authority areas so that we can achieve some consistency of approach and the promulgation of good practice.
D/Supt Critchley: In my view, the LSCBs are incredibly important in terms of driving this activity forward. I sit on all three LSCBs in Lancashire. I chair a sub-group on child sex exploitation that reports into all three groups and provides our problem profile in order that there is understanding of that. It is also an ability for us to make sure that this is promulgated throughout all agencies, and through all front-line staff, and that it is very high up on all agendas.
There is good evidence of that in terms of work we are doing in our multi-agency safeguarding hubs in Lancashire, because this is not just about having specialist teams; it is about identifying referrals at a very early stage that might not come in as child sex exploitation. It might be a child in a domestic abuse household or a child who is truanting from school or has sexual-health issues, but it is about being able to share that information across all agencies. All those agencies sit on the Safeguarding Board, and as such we are involved in a strategic piece of work in Lancashire now for multi-agency safeguarding hubs across Lancashire.
Q472 Nicola Blackwood: But if even now, when this issue is so high profile, you are still having problems getting a consistency of response and a prioritisation from LSCBs-which are, after all, responsible for child safeguarding-what more can be done to try to get this on LSCBs’ agendas up and down the country?
D/Supt Critchley: We can lead that from the police service. We are part of the LSCBs, and part of the national ACPO action plan is the identification of a police lead who will also have responsibility for driving this agenda, taking this agenda through LSCBs and making sure we lead from that. There has been correspondence and direction nationally to the LSCBs from, for example, Children’s Ministers and the Department for Education about the role that the LSCBs need to play in terms of their scrutiny role to make sure that we are safeguarding children in our areas.
Q473 Nicola Blackwood: Do you think there needs to be a reporting requirement for LSCBs back to the Department for Education? There is not at the moment, as I understand it.
DCS Doyle: I think that may well help, but what would help more than anything is to make it easier to share information, to give members of particularly local authorities and some of the non-governmental organisations the confidence to share sensitive information, a bit like the duty to co-operate that we have in the MAPPA processes, which works very well. There is still reluctance in some areas to share what is key information, which is why the relationships are so important, because they get past those barriers. But if we had a duty to co-operate, so the onus was on co-operation and the proactive sharing of information to protect children, rather than an ability to hide or be scared of the Data Protection Act, I think that would probably help more than anything.
Q474 Nicola Blackwood: Another particular strain of evidence that we have had is problems at the point of prosecution, with the CPS being nervous about the credibility of witnesses, and CSE witnesses in particular. Is there value to the idea of having CPS sitting within co-located units and being involved at an early stage? Are there any CPS in co-located units your areas? What is your view?
DCS Doyle: I absolutely think that early engagement of the prosecuting authorities is key. They can help us to conduct the investigation in a way that will make it easier for them to present the victims as they should be presented, rather than undermine and have some of the credibility issues that we face. We have just had an agreement with Nazir Afzal that we will have CPS embedded in each of our dedicated serious sexual offences units one day a week, which is a major step forward.
Q475 Nicola Blackwood: When will that start?
DCS Doyle: That starts on 1 December, with a view to having truly co-located teams once we have assessed the whole public protection arena and the prosecuting issues there. I think it is absolutely essential.
D/Supt Critchley: We have a good relationship with the CPS in terms of taking this forward. In the past we have concentrated on the victims’ credibility, rather than their vulnerability, and seen that as a real issue in supporting victims through these court cases, and one issue of developing that is our relationship with CPS. Our CPS is in our strategic group. We are in discussions around location. I am meeting with Mr Afzal next week.
I think it is part of a wider issue around criminal justice for victims. There are other issues around supporting victims through court. We have real, valued partnerships with the voluntary sector in terms of supporting victims; not just through the court system, but dealing with the long-term impact that CSE has on victims. On timeliness of proceedings, there needs to be victim-focus in terms of the length of time it takes to bring the case to court. Also, in terms of the evidence that a victim has to give, sometimes they are cross-examined by up to 10 barristers. I think there is a better way in which that victim can be supported through the court process.
Q476 Mr Winnick: Do you think that child grooming is now being taken far more seriously than previously? If so, what role did the media play in spotlighting this matter?
DCS Doyle: I think it is absolutely being taken more seriously. A very recent example from Rochdale was that, because of the heightened awareness-probably through the media in particular-young girls recognised they were at risk at a particular takeaway. They reported to their parents, who in turn had the confidence to report to police. That takeaway is now shut. I can’t, hand on heart, say six years ago that would have happened, and that has happened really quickly. It has a three-month closure, and we are going for the revocation of the licence completely. Absolutely we take it more seriously. The media has played a really big part in raising that awareness. Rightly or wrongly, we can’t get away from the fact that, yes, they have. It is now something that every household has an awareness of. Even if they do not understand it, they certainly know about it and I think would look for it.
Q477 Mr Winnick: When we talk about the media, did you see the articles that appeared in The Times, particularly the reports of Andrew Norfolk? Did you read those reports?
DCS Doyle: Yes, I have, and I have met Andrew Norfolk on a number of occasions. He is extremely well read on the subject of CSE in general. So yes, I have read the articles and I have had conversations with Andrew Norfolk, and Sandra Laville from The Guardian, around the same issues, in terms of educating them on a bit of a broader view of it as well.
Q478 Mr Winnick: Would you say that the police and the social services should have known far more about what was going on-the criminal abuses of children-rather than the media, instead of the other way round?
DCS Doyle: I think the media have focused very much on the culture and race aspect of it, which is only one aspect. You are right: we should have had more understanding of how it manifests itself in certain areas, or that it was manifesting itself in certain areas.
D/Supt Critchley: I think that we use the media effectively in terms of ensuring that the public, and particularly children, are aware of this as an issue, and that is not just through traditional media types. We need to be more effective in engaging with young people and getting the messages out there. We ran an awareness week over the past week where, during that time, we had more than 40 referrals of victims coming forward. In terms of how it is being reported at the moment, I do absolutely think it is good that it is being reported and raising awareness of the issue. My one caveat is that we need to be careful not to look just at one type of child sex exploitation being committed by one sector of the community. This is a lot bigger than is being reported, across all community groups and in a number of different ways. That is a very important message for victims.
Q479 Mr Winnick: It may not apply, and it does not seem to apply to Lancashire police, but when you said "using the media", it seems that the media was the medium by which people realised what was going on, which otherwise they quite likely would not have done until court cases came about in due course.
One other question, if I may. There is an anecdotal example, for what it is worth, that when people were told what was happening-when the professionals were told in the social services, and perhaps the police-the feeling was, "It is a matter for the children themselves. They agree to do this; go with older people," and so on. Would you say there is any truth in that?
DCS Doyle: Historically, yes, there has been. If you think back to 2004, 2005 and 2006, the term "child prostitute" was in wide use, and it was in our legislation and it was in our psyche. I personally think "child prostitution" is absolutely inappropriate as terminology. In fact, "prostitution" is inappropriate as terminology. That fed a lot of the perceptions of other people. It is true that 15-year-old and 16-year-old girls were making what people viewed as lifestyle choices and perhaps it was not seen that they were in fact victims first and they were not true choices. They were under duress, coercion, or as a result of other things that had happened to them.
Q480 Mr Winnick: Do you agree with that, Mr Critchley?
D/Supt Critchley: Our job is to protect the public. Our job is to stop people being exploited and abused, and that is our approach. In the past we have looked at individuals who suffer from mental health issues, who may be shouting abuse at us, or who drink alcohol, as problematic and we have not listened to them. The message that we are getting when we speak to victims-and we have spoken to a number of victims about the service we offer-is, "Listen to us. Don’t give up on us," and that is the education we need within our police service. We engender that to make sure that we stop this happening.
Q481 Dr Huppert: Can I bring you both back to the comments that were made about the relationship with the CPS? As you probably know, we had evidence from the Director of Public Prosecutions last week. He suggested the main obstacle of getting a case to court was the relationships there. I know you touched on this somewhat. Could you say a bit more about whether you think the changes that are needed are, as some of the witnesses have suggested, about court procedures to do with video links and screens-things like that-or whether it is about relationship management, or whether it is other special measures? Can you say a little bit more about that? We are quite keen to pin down what we ought to be suggesting.
DCS Doyle: It is about understanding that the traditional assessment methods of a witness and their credibility that the CPS has used are probably not appropriate in this sort of case. There is no doubt that the victims of child sexual exploitation and the related offences are quite challenging to manage. You have to work at those relationships, and the relationship has to continue throughout that judicial process. We have had significant success in deploying to the victim-much as we would deploy a family liaison officer in a homicide-an officer who is trained and understands the victim to support them through the entire judicial process. The relationship with the CPS is absolutely key in terms of understanding the wider picture, so we are not looking at one offence in isolation. You have the bigger picture surrounding that of perhaps previous offending by the suspect, or previous victimisation of the victim, so you can understand the holistic picture. That is why they need to be involved from an early stage-to be able to manage that understanding and those relationships.
D/Supt Critchley: There is also a requirement for us as a police service to make sure that we robustly investigate what are complex investigations and that we have dedicated specialist officers, but it is also important that they are supported by targeted crime units, by Serious Organised Crime units, and the work that we need to join up from the local to the national and putting the right level of resource to some very complex trafficking investigations. I think it starts with our ability to make sure that we effectively investigate, linked in with a close working partnership with the CPS.
Q482 Dr Huppert: Just to check that I am understanding what you are saying, it is partly about training the CPS to take people seriously and to give them the background information to do that, and it is partly about building an ongoing relationship. What you have not said in this section is about video links, screens or any of the courtroom procedures. Is that because it is not your area of expertise, or is it because you do not think they are a key issue?
DCS Doyle: No, they are a key issue. We used video-link evidence quite successfully in the Rochdale case. There is often a reluctance on some part to use evidence in chief by video link in particular, or by video in particular. I sort of understand that, in that a live witness is much more impactive for a jury, but I think we need to get away from what is impactive for a jury and what is the best experience for that victim giving evidence. The other issue is the way our adversarial system allows a young person who has been through a completely traumatic experience to be cross-examined by any number of barristers. There were 11 sets of barristers in the Rochdale job, all entitled to cross-examine.
Chair: I am sorry, but I am going to hurry you along. We have other witnesses.
Q483 Dr Huppert: Are you suggesting that we should be changing the number of barristers allowed to cross-examine as well? Are you looking for a fundamental switch?
DCS Doyle: It would assist victims in particular if we could change to a system whereby perhaps they are cross-examined independently by somebody independent on behalf of the defence in total, so they are not revictimised every single time across every set of barristers.
Q484 Nicola Blackwood: You mentioned having a specialist officer to walk the witness through the court case, but a lot of these victims have quite difficult histories with the police, for various different reasons. Perhaps they might not have the best relationship with the police and establishing a relationship of trust might not be possible. Have you considered, and what is your view of, perhaps independent sexual violence advisors playing that role? They could play that role before, during and after the court case. Have you ever used them? Does it work?
Chair: Sorry. Could we have a brief answer to that?
DCS Doyle: In short, yes, they do work. They are absolutely key, but it is not impossible for police to develop relationships, if they work appropriately.
D/Supt Critchley: The voluntary sector, within all our partnerships, plays that role. The Children’s Society, CROP and Barnardo’s, for example, play that role from the moment we get the disclosure through to court, and are able to play that role to support victims through to court where there is not that relationship with a police officer.
Q485 Michael Ellis: Perhaps we could explore this in a little more detail, because I think this is very important. What you seem to be saying-and I think what you have said to some extent-is that we must get away from how impactive these court proceedings are on juries and reflect on the victim’s experience. But the reason why these victims are going to court in the first place is because the Crown Prosecution Service and the police are trying to achieve convictions, and if there is going to be a conviction, it will be juries that convict, as it would be them acquitting. Juries are everything in a criminal court, so the priority of the Crown Prosecution Service, realistically speaking, has to be to consider what is impactive on juries, does it not?
DCS Doyle: Yes, you are right. However, the legislation does allow for other methods, and I do not think we perhaps explore them as proactively as we could in all cases.
Q486 Michael Ellis: Both of you have talked about barristers, and I declare an interest here, because in a former existence I was a barrister-I still am, but not in practice. The reality is that defendants are entitled to have evidence tested in court. That is the whole reason we go through the process of courtroom proceedings. We do not just convict people; we have the evidence tested. Can you think of another method that would allow defendants to test evidence of witnesses? If there is more than one barrister is court, it is because there is more than one defendant in court, and defendant A may have a very different case to defendant B or C, and therefore the same barrister or the same legal representative would not have the same agenda as to the witnesses, or as to the questions they asked the witnesses. We have to bear in mind that the scales of justice must be balanced in both ways, don’t we, in order to secure safe convictions and acquittals?
DCS Doyle: I absolutely agree with you, and I understand that.
Chair: Mr Ellis-
Michael Ellis: Could they just answer the question, first of all? I know we are in a rush, Chair, but-
Chair: Is that your answer?
DCS Doyle: I absolutely agree with you. I don’t profess to have the answers. I think we need perhaps to think of whether there is a better way.
D/Supt Critchley: I think we hear from victims about how they feel and the trauma it puts them through going through the experience sometimes 10 times. I totally accept the balance in terms of making sure that the defendant’s rights are heard, but the balance that you talk about, from a victim’s perspective, doesn’t seem always to be there. I also think there are opportunities not only in the court case, but in how we protect victims throughout the hearing from beginning to end, with such things as bail and intimidation. We need to make sure that the justice system protects victims as well as recognises the rights of defendants to have a fair trial.
Q487 Michael Ellis: That is very important. Would you agree that we have come a long way with the advances in things like screens in court that hide victims when they are giving their evidence-the video conferencing-and the ability to give evidence on closed link? These are tremendous advances, are they not?
D/Supt Critchley: Absolutely, sir, yes.
Q488 Michael Ellis: Are there other immediate elements that you think could be brought in-special measures, as they are called in court-that would have the effect of improving the process further for victims? All of us want to give victims the best possible experience in these extremely unpleasant circumstances.
D/Supt Critchley: One area we could look at is the role of intermediaries, or something similar, so that when there are multiple defendants, one person can represent the interests of all through making sure that all defendants are heard. Clearly, that is not a matter I can influence or impact on, but it is a consideration about how the balance can be there for a defendants’ rights, while also recognising the impact that has on a victim as well.
DCS Doyle: There is probably a discussion to be had around the anonymity legislation as well and whether that could be extended to include some of these victims.
Chair: Thank you both very much. You have been very helpful this afternoon.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Steve Garner, former Director of Children’s Social Care, Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council, gave evidence.
Q489 Chair: Could we call to the dais Steve Garner from Rochdale Council, the former Director of Children’s Social Care? Mr Garner, thank you very much for coming. I understand that you have been unwell and you were unable to attend a previous hearing of the Select Committee. Thank you very much for coming. Are you fully fit and recovered?
Steve Garner: I am fit enough to be here, yes.
Q490 Chair: Excellent. You have been in the Social Services Department at Rochdale for 11 years.
Steve Garner: Yes.
Q491 Chair: You told the Daily Telegraph that your department had not let any of these young girls down and if there was any blame for ignoring the girls’ cry for help, it did not rest with your department. Who do you think was responsible for letting these girls down if it was not Rochdale Council?
Steve Garner: I do not believe that I told the Daily Telegraph that. My recollection is I said that if we had missed any opportunities to offer increased protection to these young women then we would apologise for that.
Q492 Chair: You have seen the report that was published: a very scathing report from Safeguarding Children, the review board report published on 27 September, which does in part blame Rochdale Council.
Steve Garner: Yes.
Q493 Chair: Do you now accept that you have failed these young girls in respect to what you should have done as a social services department?
Steve Garner: I think social services and other partners, including the Safeguarding Board, definitely missed opportunities to increase the level of protection to these young women.
Q494 Chair: Who is to blame within social services? Roger Ellis, the former Chief Executive, made it very clear to this Committee when he gave evidence that you were the person who ought to have known what was going on, that you would have briefed the Director of Social Services, Cheryl Eastwood, who will be giving evidence to us shortly, and that she would have told him. What he told the Committee was that he knew nothing. Is that your position as well, or did you know about this?
Steve Garner: We know a lot more than we did back in 2008-09. When I inherited the service at the back end of 2009, because I was in a completely different part of the service before, there were a number of practice issues that we needed to deal with. Several of the items within the safeguarding report refer to items that had been going on, and I have heard reference earlier on to issues back in 2006, 2007 and so on. From my point of view, the way that knowledge was managed at that time was we would look at individual cases, so I was aware of some individual cases where young people were at risk of child sexual exploitation. However-
Q495 Chair: But were you aware that it was quite widespread? Why on earth would the Chief Executive set up a working party after 50 separate cases had been identified? Why would he do that unless there was a widespread issue here?
Steve Garner: The working party was set up by my predecessor, Steve Titcombe. I was aware of individual cases, but I certainly wasn’t aware, until the police presented their dossier to us at the back end of 2010, of the wide extent. While we realised it was an issue, we didn’t realise how big an issue it was. If I refer back to Roger Ellis’ comments, one of the comments he made was he thinks messages were not passed up, and I do think that some front-line practitioners and first-line supervisors did not identify the risks, did not see that the risks that were presented with these young people were any different-
Q496 Chair: But, Mr Garner, what he did say was, "The way it should have worked is that the head of Children’s Social Care should have been aware of what was going on, should have briefed the Director of Children’s Services, who in turn would have briefed me." I accept that there were people below you, but you do read newspapers. This was extensively covered in The Times. A working party had been set up by your own leader of the council, even though you were in a different area of the council. This must have been covered locally. When you had your team meetings, people must have discussed child grooming. It could not have been that you did not know anything about this except for one or two cases.
Steve Garner: No, I am not saying I didn’t know anything about it. What I am saying is we did not understand the full magnitude until we had all of these cases. The way the case worked-
Q497 Chair: When did you understand the magnitude?
Steve Garner: I fully became aware of it when the police presented their information regarding the number of arrests they were going to make at the back end of 2010.
Q498 Chair: But you had 50 cases that had been the subject of the setting up of the working party. You had extensive articles in the newspaper in January 2011. Were you aware that your director had had an e-mail and was given information by one of your councillors about this issue in 2010?
Steve Garner: I have no recollection of that, no.
Q499 Chair: You are not aware that the Director of Social Services received an e-mail from Councillor Rowbotham saying that the issue of grooming in Rochdale was widespread? I quote: "It is a huge problem across the borough". You are not aware of that?
Steve Garner: I have no recollection of that.
Q500 Chair: She never discussed it with you?
Steve Garner: She may have done. I have no recollection of that e-mail.
Q501 Chair: You did not read The Times and see the articles by Andrew Norfolk and immediately think, "Gosh, this is a big problem in Rochdale. I am going to set up an internal inquiry to find out why nobody has been prosecuted"?
Steve Garner: I think we need to get some clarity regarding my role in this. I was responsible for reporting to the Director of Children’s Services, so I can’t speak about what was and was not passed on to Mr Ellis.
Q502 Chair: Yes, it is line management, but what was your job?
Steve Garner: My job was to provide social care services.
Q503 Chair: No, what was the title of your job?
Steve Garner: In old-fashioned language, Assistant Director for Children’s Social Services.
Q504 Chair: You were the Assistant Director for Children’s Social Services. You were responsible for this?
Steve Garner: Yes. I was responsible-
Q505 Chair: You had people below you, and then you would report up to the director?
Steve Garner: Yes.
Q506 Chair: But there was no reporting up?
Steve Garner: There was no reporting up of the scale that came to our attention at the end of 2010.
Q507 Bridget Phillipson: Mr Garner, you have talked today about front-line practitioners. Mr Ellis talked about how he felt senior managers were not at fault. Is this just an attempt by senior staff, or former senior staff, at Rochdale to pin it on people who are lower down the scale and apportion blame there?
Steve Garner: I really can’t comment on that for other people. From my point of view, no. I think what has become quite clear, the more we have looked into this, is there were systemic failures. There was a focus on individual cases. I think we missed some opportunities to offer more intensive interventions to these young women and, because we focused on individual cases, Children’s Social Care, other services and the Safeguarding Board missed some opportunities to look at the wider position. It is with some regret that we did not have that full knowledge back before 2010.
Q508 Chair: But Sara Rowbotham has told us that she made 103 referrals and there were 181 alerts to police and social services. This is evidence that she has given to the Select Committee: "We were making referrals from 2004, very explicit referrals, which absolutely highlighted for protective services that young people were incredibly vulnerable". That is evidence she has given to this Committee. You know nothing about these 103 referrals and nothing about the 181 police alerts.
Steve Garner: I think I need to make it very clear that I have not said in any way, shape or form that I knew nothing about all of these. What I am saying is we didn’t-
Q509 Chair: But you said you had one or two cases. How many cases were you aware of?
Steve Garner: I couldn’t tell you know many cases I was aware of because I can’t recall, but in terms of the evidence that was given by Ms Rowbotham, if I may answer that, without looking at the information that is provided behind that, I am not aware, for example, from the information given-and I would welcome the opportunity to look at it-how those referrals were acted upon. What has not been clear is how many of these were followed up. I am also quite aware that one of the safeguards that is in place by the Safeguarding Board procedures is if any referrer is unhappy with the response that they receive from Children’s Social Care or any other service, they have the right to escalate that through management channels.
Q510 Chair: Mr Garner, tell us how many cases you personally knew about-that were in your knowledge-say for 2012. We do not want you to talk about other people. As the Assistant Director of Social Services, how many cases did you know about this year? You did not resign from the council on grounds of ill health. You resigned from the council because you wanted to seek other opportunities. We are keen to know how many cases you knew about this year.
Steve Garner: In this year I was aware that the Sunrise team were working with about 50 cases.
Q511 Chair: So you knew of 50 cases in-
Steve Garner: In 2012, yes.
Q512 Chair: In 2011.
Steve Garner: In 2011, I was aware that, I think, some 30 or 40 were being worked with, and I know that the Sunrise team, when they worked with young people in-
Q513 Chair: No, we are talking about you. We know about the Sunrise team. They have given evidence to us. You do not work for the Sunrise team, do you?
Steve Garner: No.
Q514 Chair: No. You were the Assistant Director of Social Services. Forty cases last year; 50 cases this year. What about the year before?
Steve Garner: I am afraid I would have to go-I can’t say how many cases I knew about.
Q515 Chair: In total, over the last two years, you know of about 90 cases of vulnerable girls that were the subject of an investigation of some kind.
Steve Garner: I know of 90 cases of girls with various degrees of vulnerability, yes.
Q516 Chair: And you do not think that this is a widespread problem in Rochdale.
Steve Garner: When we are talking about the information that came to our attention in 2010, from that moment onwards, the efforts have been escalated. That is how I know, from the efforts we have taken, regarding the 50 young people who have been supported in 2010.
Q517 Chair: Mr Garner, I find it astonishing that you do not think this is a serious problem.
Steve Garner: Chair, if I may say, I have not said in any way, shape or form that I do not think this is a serious problem.
Q518 Chair: You do think it is a serious problem.
Steve Garner: I think it is a serious problem.
Q519 Chair: Do you think 90 people represent something that is very serious?
Steve Garner: Yes.
Q520 Chair: But you did not do anything about it.
Steve Garner: Some of the actions that I and my colleagues took are why we know there are that many young people out there.
Q521 Chair: What was the action you took?
Steve Garner: The action was to re-establish and re-form the Sunrise team, to follow the recommendations from the University of Bedfordshire, to have a co-located team, to increase the staffing to that team, and to go out and try to find and support these young people at a far earlier stage.
Q522 Chair: Mr Garner, the funding to the Sunrise team has been cut. We heard this last week. You say you re-formed the Sunrise team when you knew about these 90 cases.
Steve Garner: Yes.
Q523 Chair: It has been cut. The budget has been cut. Did you know that? Were you aware that the budget had been cut?
Steve Garner: Can I provide a little bit of clarity regarding it?
Steve Garner: My information is that the budget to the Sunrise team has definitely not been cut. You were given information the last time, in my understanding, regarding the Crisis Intervention Team. With regard to the funding for the Sunrise team, I think increased funding was made available in 2011 and the staffing complement was increased from February 2012.
Chair: Thank you.
Q524 Nicola Blackwood: If I could take you back to some of your answers to Ms Phillipson, Mr Garner, and to the report-the serious case review-which obviously deals with what happened before 2010 and before you apparently realised that there was a serious problem in Rochdale. Your view is that the problem was that Children’s Services just did not realise the scale of the problem and was dealing with cases on an individual basis. Is that the basis for your answer to Ms Phillipson?
Steve Garner: I think what I am saying is that Children’s Services, the Safeguarding Board and other services did not realise the full scope of the problem. That is not in any way to say that it was not a serious problem.
Q525 Nicola Blackwood: Could you explain to me why, after victims had been told by their abusers that nobody would believe them because they would be treated as prostitutes, they were then told by public officials, Children’s Services, social workers and so on that they were not victims in this case because they were making their own choices and engaging in consensual sexual activity? This is what this report in front of me on the serious case review says on page 9 and page 28. Victims came forward and said that the CSC and the police described the services as not listening to them. One victim was told by the police that she was just hanging out with a bad crowd and was making choices about relationships and sexual partners, and that her parents were not informed that she was having contact with the men who were abusing her. Can you explain why you think that all of those things were just not understanding the scale of the problem? That sounds to me like treating victims as though they were not to be believed and they were just making consensual choices about sex. Under-16-year-olds cannot consent to sex.
Steve Garner: I am very aware of that.
Q526 Nicola Blackwood: That does not quite tally with your answer to Ms Phillipson, does it?
Steve Garner: I think it does link in.
Q527 Nicola Blackwood: How?
Steve Garner: In that the fact that the references you make there, I think you refer to the police there, and obviously I can’t speak on behalf of the police-
Q528 Nicola Blackwood: And the CSC, the Children’s Social Care.
Steve Garner: I think Children’s Social Care was struggling with what to do-how to support 15 and 16-year-olds. If you look at the context of the time-and I have seen this in your parliamentary debates as well-there was, in hindsight, too great a focus, following the tragedy with Baby Peter Connelly, on younger children.
Q529 Nicola Blackwood: Are you saying that you think it is acceptable to tell vulnerable victims that they are not victims, but they are just making choices, when they are being sexually exploited?
Steve Garner: I most certainly do not find that acceptable, no.
Q530 Nicola Blackwood: Do you think that the actions of CSC and the police during that period were acceptable?
Steve Garner: I think there were many improvements that could be made, and I think some of the actions were not acceptable, no, which is why some of the improvements that have been put in place have been put there. I am really quite clear that it is not acceptable to tell anyone who is under 16, at risk, that they are making lifestyle choices and putting themselves at risk.
Q531 Nicola Blackwood: Given what has been said in this report by some of the victims and the evidence that was given to the serious case review by some of these victims, do you feel there is something that you would like to say to those victims and their families today?
Steve Garner: Unfortunately, within the field of Children’s Social Care, we only come into contact with a large number of children when they have either been harmed or been at risk of harm. Where social care staff, in particular, have failed to offer the intervention that they could, I sincerely regret that. I would apologise to the children in this case, and also any other children who have suffered any harm because of the inaction or the missed opportunities of Children’s Social Care. I would offer those my most sincere apologies. Along with many of my colleagues, we get into this form of work to try to protect young people, and even now it is very distressing when I find out that young people come to harm through the fault of social care officers, other officers or for any other reason.
Q532 Nicola Blackwood: Is the clear message that you would like to go out today that if a victim comes forward now to Rochdale Children’s Services, they will be believed and their evidence will be acted on?
Steve Garner: I would like to offer that reassurance, and certainly the provision that is available is increased. The understanding of staff, both within social care and wider ranging, is increased. There were briefings delivered to more than 10,000 high school students. I would really like to believe that if people do come forward, they will be believed, and no other young people will have to suffer that kind of treatment.
Nicola Blackwood: I hope we will see the evidence of that.
Q533 Steve McCabe: Mr Garner, I would like to ask one or two questions about the problem of grooming and what we can do to tackle it. Given your background, why do you think it is that councils like Rochdale do not think of child protection when they are doing other things-exercising their regulatory and licensing functions on hot food takeaways, licensed premises or taxis? There is a classic opportunity there to engage in disruption activity. Why doesn’t that happen?
Steve Garner: It did not happen because I don’t think there was a wide enough understanding. What I do know, in terms of each of the issues you have spoken about there, is that actions have been taken. With taxi drivers, there has been-
Q534 Steve McCabe: But this was towards the end, wasn’t it?
Steve Garner: Yes.
Q535 Steve McCabe: I am not decrying that. It is good that that happened, but I am wondering why it does not happen-why there is not an automatic response; why someone with your experience would not say, "Hang on, have a look at this." How come there is no mechanism to alert people?
Steve Garner: I think because people were dealing with it on an individual level. Some of the focuses for the service at the time, contextually, were there was more focus on young people. I do not think people thought. A really important point-and I want to qualify this-was the CPS decision not to proceed in 2009. I was not in an assistant director role then, but certainly when I was informed of that I think that had a very negative impact, because it made Children’s Social Care and other colleagues think that some of these people they believed to be perpetrators had become untouchable again. I do not think there was a focus on disruption activities until more recently, when there is a link between safeguarding issues and organised crime issues, and there has been a much stronger focus. People were not talking about that back then, and I really can’t answer why.
Q536 Steve McCabe: I understand it came later. Do you think maybe it should be a requirement for the future that if people are asking for licences, we should be doing a check to say, "Are there any child protection issues here?"
Steve Garner: Yes.
Q537 Steve McCabe: The other thing I can’t quite understand, because I think there was quite a lot written about it at the time, is: why was not more use made of civil orders? I am thinking of things like child abduction warning notices-and particularly those that apply to under-18s who are in the care of the local authority-and ASBOs with restrictions. Did you never discuss with the police and your colleagues whether you could make greater use of those?
Steve Garner: I don’t think we discussed it enough. We did use some child abduction warnings. We did use some recovery orders as well.
Q538 Steve McCabe: Did they come towards the end again?
Steve Garner: No. They were individual cases from time to time over the three years that I was in post, and beforehand when I was in other posts as well. I would completely accept that they could have been used more, and I do not think there was enough direction given from all agencies to look at that disruption. I think there was a concentration on prosecution or no prosecution, and I heard the point that was made earlier regarding looking at the credibility of a witness over the vulnerability of children. I understand the issues facing the CPS, but obviously my primary concern had to be about the vulnerability of children and what we can do to support them.
Q539 Steve McCabe: Lancashire Constabulary seems to have done quite a lot of groundwork in this area. Did you at any stage ever talk to anyone at Lancashire Constabulary about the work they were doing to see if there was anything you and your colleagues might learn?
Steve Garner: I did not speak to anyone from Lancashire Constabulary, but we had groups from the Safeguarding Board representatives go and speak to colleagues in Blackpool, Oldham and Blackburn and find that information. I have spoken quite a lot with Sheila Taylor. I have spoken to people in Derby, Portsmouth and so on. There was quite a lot of research done in coming up with the new model that is in place now.
Steve McCabe: Thank you very much.
Q540 Mark Reckless: Mr Garner, you said, "We focused on individual cases", but, when you were aware of these 90 cases, why?
Steve Garner: Sorry, I have not made myself very clear. We became aware when we reconstituted the Sunrise team and increased the capacity. The reason I know that there have been-my knowledge is slightly out of date-around 50 cases being worked within various degrees of vulnerability is because we set up the Sunrise team.
Q541 Mark Reckless: In 2007, when this group began to focus on the area, did they not at that point identify around 50 children who were at risk?
Steve Garner: They identified a number of children at a number of levels of risk, and they set up a model of practice that, in hindsight, was flawed in that it relied too much on the individual contributions of individual agencies working in silos. Even though they were co-located, because of a various number of difficulties-once again referring to the University of Bedfordshire report-they were not effectively co-managed, co-located and co-ordinated. Once again, hindsight is a fine thing, but some of the changes we put in place with the new model that was up and working was to address those issues and, because we had that in place, that is why I knew there were 50 young people being worked with with varying degrees of vulnerability.
Q542 Mark Reckless: Should you not have been aware at the time that, of this 50, 15 were looked-after children and, as the Assistant Director for Children’s Social Services, should you not have joined those dots?
Steve Garner: These 50 were not looked-after children. Out of the cohort that I am speaking about, I think probably about 13 at one stage were looked-after children, out of that 50.
Q543 Mark Reckless: Can I quote from this report, Mr Garner? "The children in this group were overwhelmingly girls. They were aged between 10 and 17 years old. Just over half were in education, and 15 were looked-after children."
Steve Garner: Thirteen and 15 is not that great a difference. I am talking about the last figure that I saw, which was 13 looked-after children, of whom five were looked-after children to Rochdale, and eight were looked-after children to other local authorities.
Q544 Mark Reckless: Mr Garner, I suppose it is possible for us to understand why an individual social worker with an individual case would look at that file and not join the dots and mark it for no further action, but what I can’t understand is why the Assistant Director for Children’s Social Services would oversee all those files and still decide not to take further action.
Steve Garner: What do you mean by "not to take further action"? Sorry, could you clarify?
Q545 Mark Reckless: Well, to do something about it.
Steve Garner: What I have just said is that if you look at the setting up of the Sunrise team, that is some of what has been done about it, and that is some of the work that has been going on. Each of those young people now has individually tailored support plans in place, and that is the children in care to us, the children in care to other local authorities, and children who are not on the care system. I am able to say that because of those systems we put in place.
Q546 Mark Reckless: Could I ask you a specific question about the private children’s providers in Rochdale? In particular, I think Councillor Lambert has been quite critical of the Meadows Care Home. In your view, were the private providers a key problem, or do the responsibilities lie more with the council?
Steve Garner: I think it is a mixture, in that if you have children from private children’s homes coming into the area, they will place a significant demand on services such as health services. A number of them have youth offending orders that Rochdale would have to take on, so it does have an impact on services, but I am also quite aware that a lot of the homes provide therapeutic and psychological support services. It does provide an additional pressure. The other thing I am quite mindful of as well is the risk assessment that takes place before those young people come into place, and if we look at the monthly meetings we set up with residential providers, I think there has been a certain degree of responsibility. There is always a risk. I acknowledge, as a receiving authority, if we have young people with a high degree of vulnerability, and if their risk assessment is not as comprehensive as we would like-and that could be for a number of reasons-that might pose a problem for us and colleagues, certainly colleagues in the police. However, I am also mindful that there is not really a wide range of opportunities for young people-young women particularly-who are at risk of child sexual exploitation that are demonstrated to work, so I have realised we need the placements, but that can pose a problem for the local authority.
Q547 Mark Reckless: Would it not have been sensible to have the private children’s home providers represented on the Safeguarding Children Board?
Steve Garner: They are.
Q548 Mark Reckless: They are now.
Steve Garner: They are now, yes.
Q549 Mark Reckless: When did that happen?
Steve Garner: I think that was from this year.
Q550 Mark Reckless: Do you have any idea why that was not done previously?
Steve Garner: I think the relationship with the private children’s homes has increased significantly. When I took up post, there would be a meeting every three months with private home providers. I think that has changed quite significantly over the last year. In hindsight, it would have been good to invite private providers. No one had thought to do that until we did that earlier this year or back end of last year.
Q551 Mark Reckless: Why wasn’t any action taken with respect to children who just disappeared for long periods?
Steve Garner: Action was taken in regard to children who disappeared for long periods. If they are children in care, there would be an interview when they came back.
Q552 Mark Reckless: When they came back.
Steve Garner: Yes.
Q553 Mark Reckless: But not any effort to trace them for the long period while they were away?
Steve Garner: There were enormous efforts to trace them while they were away. If I was anonymously to reference previous examples, staff would go out looking for them. Liaison would be with the police to find and give addresses. There has often been liaison with police forces from different authorities because of the geographical spread. We have also, where we can, got the police to trace mobile phone messages, and there are detectors, so there is a lot of work done to try to find these young people.
Q554 Mr Winnick: Mr Garner, I have only one question to ask you: do you think any apology is due to the victims of abuse in Rochdale and to the people of Rochdale as a whole from those, like yourself, involved in children’s services?
Steve Garner: As I stated previously, where Children’s Social Care staff have missed opportunities to offer a greater degree of protection and vulnerability, I most certainly apologise to those children and young people.
Q555 Bridget Phillipson: Returning to the issue of the private care homes, I do not doubt what you say about children moving into the authority who are looked after and the additional burdens that can place, and their vulnerability, but again my concern is: is this not again an attempt to shift responsibility away from the council?
Steve Garner: From my point of view, no. I really want to try to make it very clear. As a local authority, if we are going to bring children into care, we need good quality care placements. When I was in post in Rochdale, we would place people outside. I am quite aware that it would be very easy to criticise private care homes, and that is certainly not what I am here to do today. There is an issue in terms of I don’t think we are really very clear on how to establish good-quality therapeutic interventions that will protect, certainly, teenagers who are going through this. While it does provide additional burdens on some resources, there is a way of managing it. It is acknowledging that it does place a burden. But, no, I am not here to blame private care homes.
Q556 Bridget Phillipson: Just one final question: I accept the point you made regarding the focus that has been placed on younger children as a result of the Baby P case and other cases, but would you agree that, traditionally and historically, social work has not always dealt as well with children at the older end of the scale? This is not so much children who are looked after, but there is an understanding that you know they are not going to be on your books for too much longer, so sometimes cases involving older children-14 and 15; on the cusp of becoming 16-are perhaps not dealt with with the rigour that might be applied to younger children.
Steve Garner: If I go back to my long history, and certainly my work with young people leaving care many years ago, it was not just people not in care who didn’t get the same service, and my job was to try to advocate for those. I think historically there has been a greater emphasis on younger children. That certainly was heightened by partner agencies and social care, and there is support for that, following 2008. I do think in Rochdale at the moment, certainly in terms of the additional screening and the additional support that is in place, there are strong attempts being made to remedy that, but I do realise that that can be a problem, not just in Rochdale but in social care services across the country.
Q557 Chair: Mr Garner, we are nearly at the end. Could you clarify two questions for me and for the Committee? You said that before you took up your post you worked in a different area in social services.
Steve Garner: Yes.
Q558 Chair: But is it not the case that you were in charge of looked-after children-children in care?
Steve Garner: Yes.
Q559 Chair: You have just told the Committee that 15 of the cases that you were looking at involving child grooming were children who were in looked-after care.
Steve Garner: Fifteen children in looked-after care, of whom five were in care to Rochdale and the others were in care to other authorities.
Q560 Chair: You are telling us that you knew nothing about this when you were in charge of looked-after care?
Steve Garner: No, I am not saying that. I am saying that when we did know there were young people, we realised-and I would completely endorse the point that Sara Rowbotham made-that what these young people need is persistence. There is no quick fix. It is a really hard piece of work.
Q561 Chair: Yes, I understand that. Actually, Sara Rowbotham is extremely critical of Rochdale Council.
Steve Garner: I am aware.
Q562 Chair: You need to be aware of that. You then said to me that the funding for Sunrise had increased.
Steve Garner: Yes.
Q563 Chair: When did you leave the council?
Steve Garner: I left the council on 31 October.
Q564 Chair: So after the publication of the report.
Steve Garner: Yes.
Q565 Chair: In fact, I understand that you cut £21,135 funding for the worker on Sunrise who worked with the police intervention and supporting victims scheme because the contract ended on 31 April. Were you aware of that cut?
Steve Garner: That is not correct.
Q566 Chair: It is not. So it was increased. Is that worker still there?
Steve Garner: No. That was not a local authority decision. That was a health decision. Rather than fund that post, health decided to put, I think, £66,000 into the pot. What they decided was they wanted a different model-a more holistic model of service delivery-so health put in £66,000, Children’s Social Care added additional resources, and so did the police.
Q567 Chair: But the council has not reduced funding at all for any of these areas.
Steve Garner: No.
Chair: Thank you very much. Thank you for giving evidence today. We may be writing to you about further information.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Cheryl Eastwood, former Executive Director, Children’s Services, Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council, gave evidence.
Q568 Chair: Could we finally call, in the child grooming inquiry, Cheryl Eastwood? Ms Eastwood, thank you very much for coming. You have been sitting very patiently at the back, listening to all the other witnesses, and I am grateful to you for coming here. Sorry for keeping you waiting.
You received an e-mail from one of your councillors on 31 October 2010 in which they said to you the Safeguarding Children Board recognised the need for specialist provision and: "Can you assure me that something different has happened within mainstream services to be able to accommodate the concerns of various cases?" In paragraph 2, it said: "This particular issue is a shared concern of the local authority and the PCT. It is a huge problem across the borough, although the wider public are unaware at this time of the size of the problem." That is quite a serious e-mail, is it not, from one of your employers?
Cheryl Eastwood: I think she was an ex-councillor at that time, to be correct, but-
Q569 Chair: But it says "councillor" on here.
Cheryl Eastwood: I may be mistaken. I am sorry. I certainly would not pretend that I was not aware that child sexual exploitation was taking place in Rochdale. We had a specialist team because we knew that there was child sexual exploitation in Rochdale. But it was also said, as part of the setting up of the team and the first progress report of the team, that the problem in Rochdale seemed to be at a similar scale to other local authorities in the region and in the country. So, while it was recognised that it was a problem, it was not seen that Rochdale was in a worse or more serious position than anywhere else.
Q570 Chair: We do not know many other examples of local authorities that have been subject to continuous publication of articles since January 2011 in the same way as Rochdale, and I understand that earlier this year you told Simon Danczuk, the local MP, that you regarded grooming as a new phenomenon. How is that possible, bearing in mind the information that was in The Times and in the public domain, and the evidence that we have just heard from someone who had to report to you, that there were a number of cases involving child grooming? Why was it that you knew nothing about this?
Cheryl Eastwood: I did know about it.
Q571 Chair: You did?
Cheryl Eastwood: Yes.
Q572 Chair: So Roger Ellis is wrong.
Cheryl Eastwood: No. I took up post in March 2010. When I arrived in Rochdale, I chaired the Safeguarding Board-that had been the previous director’s model; to chair the Safeguarding Board-and discovered that there was a specialist team called the Sunrise team, which had been set up to deal with the issue of child sexual exploitation. I was very pleased to find that there was a team that included the police, Social Care, the Crisis Intervention Team the voluntary sector, and drugs and alcohol. I thought it was very positive that the issue was being tackled in Rochdale. I was aware that there was a specialist team and that it was an issue in the borough.
Q573 Chair: I worked for a local authority in child care issues before I was elected. We all had these teams. There is always a team in a local authority.
Cheryl Eastwood: Many do not, actually. This is the first authority I have worked in where there has been.
Q574 Chair: The serious point of this inquiry, which we put to the chief executive, is: why didn’t Rochdale Council do more? This was put to him by Mr McCabe. Mr McCabe said: "Are you saying that the staff withheld information?" Roger Ellis, who was your chief executive, said: "I can’t explain what they did, whether it was withheld or what, but it did not get to me", and he explained the chain of command. It would come from Mr Garner to you, and you would tell him about it. When he gave evidence to us, he was very specific-absolutely unequivocal-that he did not know this was a major issue in Rochdale, but every newspaper in the country, including the team that was set up by the previous chief executive and leader of the council, knew that this was a problem. The issue for this Committee is: despite having 181 alerts and despite having 103 referrals, you, as Director of Social Services, and Mr Garner did not regard it as a major issue and you could say to your local MP that this was a new phenomenon.
Cheryl Eastwood: I am sorry, but I have never said that I do not regard this as a major issue, and I did not intend to give the impression that it was a new phenomenon, just that this is a developing area of practice and an area that has only received public awareness during the last two or three years. Prior to that, people knew or had heard rumours that this kind of thing may be going on, but it was not widely recognised as a different form of abuse of children and young people, as sexual abuse.
Q575 Chair: These were not rumours. These were major articles in The Times in January 2011. A whole review board was set up in 2007. When you took up your appointment, you must have known this was a key issue. What did you do about it-you?
Cheryl Eastwood: I was very glad to find that a specialist team had been set up recently. I changed the format of the local Safeguarding Board to make it more effective and more open to scrutiny by ensuring that I did not chair the board and that we had an independent chair. The board took on an independent chair of the screening panel. We reviewed the function of the Sunrise team. All those things happened.
Q576 Chair: It sounds very "local authority", if you do not mind-lots of reviews, lots of changes of names and lots of new formats, but the victims are still not being assisted and there appear to be no prosecutions. Sara Rowbotham was very clear to us-103 referrals. That is a lot of referrals.
Cheryl Eastwood: I have seen the information about those referrals. Most of those referrals were made during 2006 and 2007. There were much smaller numbers in the following years. They were in single figures. While it is regrettable and they should have been dealt with, and things were not picked up as they should have been previously in 2006, 2007 and 2008, I think that cases were being dealt with much more effectively by 2010.
Q577 Chair: I think we have all found that they were not. But you didn’t tell Mr Ellis anything about this; according to Mr Ellis, he knew absolutely nothing.
Cheryl Eastwood: Mr Ellis was aware that there was a specialist team, that that included police officers, social care workers and health professionals, that they were investigating child sexual exploitation, and that it was an issue in the town.
Q578 Chair: That is not what he said to us. He said: "The head of Children’s Social Care should have been aware of what was going on and should have briefed the Director of Children’s Services, who in turn would have briefed me". He told this Committee that he had never been briefed about this.
Cheryl Eastwood: He was certainly aware that there was a team and he knew that there was a local issue. We did not discuss cases in detail until we got to the stage of the prosecutions starting to happen.
Q579 Chair: Even after it was in the public domain, did you not have a meeting with the Chief Executive and say, "We have a major problem here. It is all over the newspapers. Rochdale is being exposed. Let’s do something about it. Let’s have an internal inquiry. Let’s find out where we have gone wrong"? None of this was done.
Cheryl Eastwood: Yes. I spoke to him before anything was in the press about Rochdale, when arrests were first being made. As I think Roger Ellis said in his evidence, we had a no-surprises sort of approach, so I would always brief the chief executive and the lead council member for children and families about anything that was likely to hit the public knowledge.
Q580 Chair: Is he wrong? You did brief him.
Cheryl Eastwood: No. He said that I told him at the point of the arrests.
Chair: With the greatest of respect, I have his transcript here. He is making it very clear that nobody briefed him about this.
Q581 Steve McCabe: I wanted to ask a simple point about something you said a second ago. When you said this was a new form of abuse or a developing field of practice, what exactly is "new", in your experience, about this form of abuse?
Cheryl Eastwood: What is different about this form of abuse is that, because it starts very gradually and young people do not realise that they are victims at first, it insidiously grows. The way that social-
Q582 Steve McCabe: You mean grooming? It starts with-
Cheryl Eastwood: Grooming, and then it turns into abuse, so that the victims do not realise that they have been abused.
Q583 Steve McCabe: Wouldn’t that have been something that was being taught in social work courses in the early 1980s?
Cheryl Eastwood: No.
Q584 Steve McCabe: That is funny, because I used to work for the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work, and I can remember specifically discussing it.
Cheryl Eastwood: When I was a social worker in the 1980s and child sexual abuse first became an issue then, yes, it may have started to be more widely taught on social work courses, but it was still taught in the context of the family, and it was very much about recognising signs of children within their families.
Q585 Steve McCabe: But what you are suggesting is new is this process of grooming. You thought that was something that was not quite so familiar. Is that what you are saying?
Cheryl Eastwood: No. I am talking about the process of grooming taking place in different settings with teenagers who perhaps previously were seen as beyond control. As you will remember, there used to be a reason for care proceedings under the 1969 Act as children beyond the control of their parents. They were seen as difficult children, and people worked with their parents to help them set boundaries and mediate between children and their families. The signs of abuse that we know about now-going missing, having gifts, getting messages, all that kind of thing-were not recognised until the last two or three years in terms of that kind of exploitation.
Q586 Nicola Blackwood: Ms Eastwood, I think you heard the evidence of Mr Garner. In your answer to Mr McCabe, is that not the problem that you have just identified: so many of your social workers saw these victims as beyond control? The evidence in the serious case review is that these victims were seen as making life choices, as bad girls, as engaging in consensual sexual activity, and just sort of abandoned to that situation. Is that your assessment of what was going on? That is certainly the assessment of this report that I have read.
Cheryl Eastwood: Yes. I was not in Rochdale at that time, but that sounds to me to be the kind of thing that may have been happening, but that is pure speculation on my part. When I said to my MP that this was a developing area of practice, it had certainly moved from people regarding difficult teenagers as simply difficult teenagers to realising that many of the signs they are exhibiting may be showing that they are victims of child sexual exploitation.
Q587 Nicola Blackwood: Are you confident now that if these victims were to come forward, they would be treated differently?
Cheryl Eastwood: Yes, I am.
Q588 Nicola Blackwood: How are you confident? What exactly has changed all the way down? Not a couple of days’ training, but something more significant, I hope.
Cheryl Eastwood: Yes. With what has happened during the last couple of years-I do not want to keep going on about there being a specialist team but there is a specialist team now. There is a large specialist team. There are very regular information meetings that share all those bits of intelligence-from licensing to schools, to youth services, to Children’s Social Care and to health services. All those people are sharing information to make sure that the bits of the jigsaws are being put together. What used to happen was that people would have concerns about one young person and they would not realise that the nickname they were talking about was the same that was coming up elsewhere, or that they were going to the same takeaway, or that any of those bits of information were not being put together. Those bits of information are being put together now, and I think the screening tool that is used by Children’s Social Care for all children over 12 gives that focus to older children and makes sure that people are looking for the signs of exploitation and will deal with that differently. That has been in place for nearly a year.
Q589 Nicola Blackwood: Given that putting together that picture requires data sharing and given that one of the problems that has been identified is a sort of adverse reaction to sharing data about children because of fears about breaching the Data Protection Act and putting children’s confidentiality at risk-sometimes understandably but sometimes with too much caution-do you think that that culture is changing in a sensible way in Rochdale, and how are you changing it?
Cheryl Eastwood: I think having the different organisations co-located means that they can all discuss cases and share the information that they have about children and perpetrators. One of the issues, though, is about electronic recording of information and whose system gets used, and who has access to that system, because there are still difficulties within the criminal justice system about disclosure to the defence. Children do vary in what they say from one week to another, because of their ages and their understanding. Sometimes there are things on children’s social work files, for example, that have been there for a number of years, and you would not want that whole file available to somebody who is going to use it to say they are an unreliable witness. There still are some issues about what is written down and recorded electronically that people can use, but certainly people are co-located, they are sharing information and they are talking to each other. I do not think there are those fears about data protection. They are more about just making sure that things are provided as needed for evidence rather than lots of other personal information.
Q590 Steve McCabe: I want to ask the same points that I put to your former colleague earlier. In the time you were at Rochdale, why was it that you thought child protection did not figure in the work of the council in other areas like its regulatory and licensing functions?
Cheryl Eastwood: I think it did. People were aware of that, and the licensing department gave evidence in the trial at the beginning of this year.
Q591 Steve McCabe: It came at the end. Maybe a better way of asking this would be: what triggered it? What was it that made you think, "Hey, we could use this system"?
Cheryl Eastwood: One of the things that happened in Rochdale was the local authority designated officer starting to have strategy meetings about taxi drivers, which increased that crossover between Children’s Services and the licensing team that perhaps had been there loosely, but not in such a regular way.
Q592 Steve McCabe: Who was the person who alerted you to that? Who was the officer?
Cheryl Eastwood: The local authority designated officer. She was appointed in September, and meetings started to happen then around-
Q593 Steve McCabe: September 2010. So this was the person who, when she came, said, "Why aren’t you doing this?" or, "We could do this." Was that a key moment?
Cheryl Eastwood: Certainly her appointment made a difference to some of the processes that were in place, but I think that took a little while to be established. A lot of things were happening around the end of 2010, which was the same time that Operation Span was launched and the arrests started to be made in this inquiry.
Q594 Steve McCabe: Why do you think that people were not alert to the potential of civil orders as a way of getting a greater grip of this problem?
Cheryl Eastwood: My understanding is that they were being used.
Q595 Steve McCabe: When do you think you started using them?
Cheryl Eastwood: Before I arrived in Rochdale in 2010.
Q596 Steve McCabe: Did you speak to anyone at Lancashire Constabulary about the work they were doing?
Cheryl Eastwood: No, I didn’t speak to police officers. I knew that Steve was talking to other people about child sexual exploitation, and that when the team was set up, people had talked about what was happening elsewhere before they established the team.
Q597 Bridget Phillipson: On the issue there about licensing, did you ever discuss this area of disruption activity through licensing with the former chief executive, Mr Ellis?
Cheryl Eastwood: I didn’t personally. I know that it was around but, no, it wasn’t something I discussed with him personally.
Q598 Bridget Phillipson: So it was something that was being discussed at the highest levels, and you would expect Mr Ellis would have been aware of that?
Cheryl Eastwood: I found out about the licensing issue by the time things had been resolved with one taxi driver issue, but because there were regular meetings taking place between the police, community safety people and licensing around this whole issue during 2011, I did not speak to the chief executive personally, but the meetings were reported back on.
Q599 Mark Reckless: Ms Eastwood, you said when you took up your post that you were glad that there was this team in place already and that did not happen everywhere. Is there a danger that you may have taken too much comfort from the existence of this team and that its substance may not really have been sufficient to justify that?
Cheryl Eastwood: It is possible, but I do believe that the team was certainly doing some excellent work with young people. There were, as you say, 50 or so children who had been identified as either being at risk, or had made allegations of involvement in sexual exploitation, and they were all receiving support from members of those teams, so things were being done to support those young people.
Q600 Mark Reckless: That was the Sexual Exploitation Working Group-SEWG-and above that, I understand, there was the Sexual Exploitation Steering Group that reported up to the Safeguarding Board. Could you explain what the purpose of that intermediary steering group was?
Cheryl Eastwood: Not really, no, I am afraid. I received a progress report from the team after I had been in post for three or four months, but I am not sure how the steering group fitted in. I received the report that had been to the steering group, but that was written by people involved in the setting up of the team.
Q601 Mark Reckless: Were you aware that the Sunrise project had first been proposed in 2008 but had not got going until 2010?
Cheryl Eastwood: Not at first, no; not until I got the progress report.
Q602 Mark Reckless: I wonder whether some of the problems and there not being greater traction to deal with them may reflect the degree of confidence that you had from seeing these groups apparently below you, but then reporting up to the Chief Executive, that to the extent there was a problem, it was no greater than other local authorities might have. Would you share that concern?
Cheryl Eastwood: That is possible, but I think what has happened with the press coverage and the awareness raising is because this was a case that involved so many men. In many other local authorities, there have been equal numbers of prosecutions, but they have been in ones or twos. I still do not have any evidence to suggest that the problem is much worse in Rochdale than elsewhere.
Q603 Mark Reckless: Are you still saying that the problem in Rochdale is no greater than elsewhere?
Cheryl Eastwood: I am saying the fact that there has been one appalling, very serious case does not mean that there are not an equal number of serious cases in other authorities, but they have arrived in ones, twos and threes.
Q604 Mark Reckless: But the 50 children the working group identified in 2007 and the 90 children that Mr Garner referred to-aren’t those large numbers? Do you have any evidence suggesting that is no greater than other authorities?
Cheryl Eastwood: Only the evidence that when the team was set up and then when it did a progress report, the numbers did not seem different from other projects around the area.
Q605 Mark Reckless: Can I ask you briefly about private children’s homes, how they had not been on the Safeguarding Board previously, and the extent to which they have responsibility or otherwise for the problems there have been in Rochdale?
Cheryl Eastwood: One of the very positive things about Rochdale was that the private providers actually met. That is unusual. There is not a forum for private providers in many authorities. It was quite rare. It may be more. Rochdale was leading the way in the sense that they were regularly meeting with private providers. They are not a statutory member of safeguarding boards, so it was not something that was a common practice around the country. I think it is very good that they do now have representation on the Safeguarding Board, and they have had a member for nearly 12 months. In the case that was dealt with this year, just one of those five victims was in care and she was in the care of an authority in the south. The private provider that was looking after her followed all the safeguarding procedures properly. There was not any suggestion that they-they did things properly. They followed procedures and they dealt with things as they should have done, so that is not a problem.
Q606 Mark Reckless: Ms Eastwood, are you saying that broadly procedures were followed, and it is an emerging area of practice, but the problem has not been particularly great in Rochdale?
Cheryl Eastwood: Not at all. No, I am certainly not saying that. I am saying it is a serious issue-it is a big problem-but the point I would like to get across is that it is a big problem in many places, not just Rochdale. There has been a lot of learning in Rochdale over the past two or three years, and I think that the work that is going on in Rochdale now is probably ahead of many places. Although it certainly does not feel like it when you are the centre of press attention, it is good that this case has led to a greater awareness of the problem. I would hope that people can learn from the experiences we have had in Rochdale.
Q607 Mark Reckless: You are saying that now the work in Rochdale is greater than elsewhere. Would you also argue that the work in Rochdale was greater than elsewhere, looking back to the 2007 to 2010 period?
Cheryl Eastwood: Certainly not.
Q608 Mark Reckless: Despite you previously taking confidence from there being this working group that had been set up.
Cheryl Eastwood: I think that things improved in terms of the work with child sexual exploitation in 2009-10 and started to develop from then to a point now where there is some very good work going on.
Q609 Chair: Thank you. Why did you leave the council so quickly after the report was published in September?
Cheryl Eastwood: I retired before the report was published. I asked to take early retirement for personal reasons in May.
Q610 Chair: I see. Can you clear up this point about the Sunrise project and council funding? It is a long time since I looked at a local authority report. I wonder whether you could have a look at this. This is an extract from the local authority’s report into the cutting of a post at Sunrise. Am I reading this wrong? Did you actually add a post or was that post of £21,000, which is listed there under the heading "Deletion of posts", a deletion of a post? Am I wrong?
Cheryl Eastwood: No, this was a proposal. In 2010, when the Government spending review took place and there were changes to the area based grant, there were major savings that had to be found from within the council. One of the early proposals was that one of the posts in the Sunrise team, which was funded by the teenage pregnancy grant that was ending, needed to find alternative funding if it was to continue, but that we would consider finishing that post. It did not happen.
Q611 Chair: So that is just a proposal.
Cheryl Eastwood: It was an option. It did not take place.
Q612 Chair: Secondly, when you found out that this was so widespread, did you ever meet one of the victims? Did you, as Director of Social Services, want to find out more about how this had affected victims? Have you met any of the victims of child grooming?
Cheryl Eastwood: Not the ones in this case, no.
Q613 Chair: Which case?
Cheryl Eastwood: The recent case that led to the publicity and the trial.
Q614 Chair: In your two years as Director of Social Services, you obviously knew that there was a problem in Rochdale because of this specialist unit that you have referred to. In those two years, how many victims of child grooming had you met personally?
Cheryl Eastwood: I have not met any victims through the project. I met young people when I visited children’s homes and-
Q615 Chair: No, I understand. We all meet young people almost every day, but how many victims? You have not met any of the victims of child grooming in the two years that you have been the Director of Social Services.
Cheryl Eastwood: I have not met any of the victims of child grooming in Rochdale. I did offer to meet-
Q616 Chair: Would you have liked to have met them so that you could have ascertained how this was going on for so long, or not?
Cheryl Eastwood: I think it is always helpful to hear from a person directly. So, yes, that may have been something, but people did meet victims-
Chair: Of course. I am talking about you as a director.
Cheryl Eastwood: -and there is a balance between too many people wanting to listen to the same story from people.
Q617 Chair: Would Mr Garner have met any of the victims? We did not ask him this question, but would you have expected him to have met any of the victims? At what level of management of Rochdale would any of the victims have come across you?
Cheryl Eastwood: They would have been met by social workers, and probably team managers and people who were involved with the strategy meeting, and possibly child protection reviewing officers.
Q618 Chair: As you have left the council, and in answer to Nicola Blackwood’s question you did say things had improved enormously and this could never happen again-
Cheryl Eastwood: I would not ever say that things could never happen again.
Q619 Chair: No, but you would hope that things have improved.
Cheryl Eastwood: I am sure the risk of it happening again has reduced hugely.
Q620 Chair: Are there regrets that this was not handled better at the time?
Cheryl Eastwood: Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? You can always look back and see things that could have been dealt with differently. Certainly things that were done in 2007-08 were very poor. Your heart goes out to the young people who got the response they did. I am very sorry for the way they were treated, but they did get support after that. They have had support from a number of people and they were able to give evidence, and I am very proud that within Rochdale those men were prosecuted for child sexual exploitation.
Q621 Chair: Have you left social services and social work of this kind for good?
Cheryl Eastwood: I have certainly retired and have not done any work since I left.
Q622 Steve McCabe: I wanted to ask one quick thing. When Mr Garner said that only-I think-five of the 15 were children were in the care of Rochdale, how big a problem is it that an area like Rochdale has a population of children in care where Rochdale is not the authority responsible for them?
Cheryl Eastwood: As Mr Garner said, it can put an extra strain on schools and therapeutic services from Child and Adolescent Mental Health, and it does mean that there are more vulnerable teenagers in the area than normal.
Q623 Steve McCabe: A strain in the fact that they are more likely to be-I was going to say "ignored"; that is maybe a bit unfair-missed in this situation?
Cheryl Eastwood: Not now because that information-sharing group includes private providers, schools and all the other people that will come across those children from other areas that are living in the borough. But it is an issue that the most damaged and vulnerable children are often living out of their home area, so it can increase the problem.
Chair: Ms Eastwood, thank you very much. We are most grateful to you for coming here. Thank you.