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Director warns 'witch' case is tip of the iceberg...
Director warns 'witch' case is tip of the iceberg

By Nick Golding

Co-operation between police and social services will be boosted in the fight against ritualistic child abuse, amid fears that known cases are 'the tip of the iceberg'.

The London Child Protection Committee is expected to launch a strategic group to share best practice about how such abuse can be detected. It will include representatives of children's services departments, the Metropolitan Police Service, the government, and the voluntary sector.

The group is being set up following the conviction of three African adults for their role in the torture of an eight-year-old they accused of being a witch.

Last Friday's convictions suggest the closer links forged between police and social care since the death of another eight-year-old, Victoria Climbié, are paying dividends.

But social workers admit too little is known about the extent of witchcraft-related abuse in Britain's African communities. They are working in tandem with the Met's Operation Violet which is also forging links with African faith communities.

Hannah Miller, the Association of Directors of Social Services' representative on the LCPC, said: 'This could be the tip of the iceberg. The strategic committee will co-ordinate on these issues of concern about rituals and belief systems. Many of these rituals and beliefs are completely outside the normal understanding of frontline social workers and the police.'

The strategic group will also discuss the problem of African children vanishing from schools - one survey in 2001 found that 300 boys disappeared in three months.

Council staff working in benefits department may be asked for their co-operation in rooting out abuse since it is believed children are brought into Britain to help facilitate child benefit fraud.

Meanwhile, the LCPC has also taken over the funding of a pilot scheme in Hackney and Newham which has seen link workers employed to make contact with breakaway African churches, some of which have been linked to ritualistic punishments.

Ms Miller admitted the fight against abuse could be more successful if more funds were available, for instance to pay for social workers stationed to deal with unaccompanied minors at Heathrow and at the Immigration & Nationality Directorate headquarters in Croydon.

Detective superintendent Chris Bourlet of the Met's child abuse command, said: 'In London it is difficult to engage with 32 different councils - that is why the LCPC is important.'

The Capital's response

>> A London-wide committee is to be set up devoted to sharing knowledge on ritualistic abuse

>> Police and social services to work more closely together to probe the problem

>> Benefits staff may be asked to help as children vulnerable to this type of abuse can be used in benefit fraud.

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