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Ombudsman raps Camden for safeguarding tragedy

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Camden LBC has been criticised by the Local Government Ombudsman after a child with special educational needs was sexually abused by a contracted-out driver who had a litany of previous offences.

Ombudsman Jane Martin said the council’s “inadequate procedures constituted maladministration” and warned the case should highlight learning points for other councils and their contractors.

She ordered the council to pay £1,000 compensation and £200 in expenses to the child’s mother, who cannot be identified for legal reasons.

The boy was taken to and from school by a driver and escort employed by a company under contract to the council.

But when the abuse allegations came to light in 2008, it was found that although the driver had passed a UK Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check he had a string of convictions for child abuse abroad, and an outstanding warrant for arrest.

The man, who the ombudsman did not name, has since been jailed. The company he worked for was not identified.

In outlining her findings, Ms Martin said that although it had contracted out its services, Camden was not absolved of its safeguarding duties and still had a “clear role” in ensuring and monitoring to check that requirements were met.

“This case has illustrated the importance of safeguarding issues in transport arrangements and the need for councils to set out clearly their expectations of contractors and to monitor those arrangements,” she said.

In particular, Ms Martin said councils should:

  • Ensure that they and their contractors fully understood the need for all their staff in safeguarding posts to be recruited in line with the council’s own policy;
  • Instruct contractors to keep clear records of every employed driver or escort, including their employment histories, medical clearance, and enhanced CRB disclosure, and other records;
  • Regularly audit and monitor their contractors’ actions to ensure that recruitment practices meet the required standards.

“Councils must set out clearly their expectations of contractors and monitor those arrangements to make sure they are working properly,” Ms Martin added.

Camden said that while improvements to its processes had already been made, it was “appalled” that the driver involved had been able to obtain CRB clearance. It said a separate complaint was being pursued with the Independent Police Complaints Authority.

A council spokesman said: “This is a tragic case and we would again like to express our apologies to the family and offer them our continued support.

“Our contractor did check that this man was cleared to work with children but unfortunately faults with the CRB system meant that his previous crimes were not recorded and his CRB checks confirmed that his record was clean.

“There is important learning here for all the agencies involved with children and we have been working with our contractors on recruitment and awareness to ensure that everyone has the tools and the confidence to flag up when things don’t seem right.”

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