Liverpool City Council chief executive Ged Fitzgerald missed opportunities to tackle child sexual exploitation (CSE) during his time in charge at Rotherham MBC, a new report has concluded.
A review into the performance and practice of conduct of senior officers, published by the south Yorkshire council this afternoon, found that although Mr Fitzgerald had met with senior officers and police officers to discuss issues that would now be referred to as CSE there was little evidence of actions taken as a result.
Rotherham has this afternoon published a series of reports following a series of internal probes commissioned by the council. This follows the publication of two high-profile reports into the CSE scandal. A 2014 report by Alexis Jay found at least 1,400 children were sexually abused in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013. A subsequent report by Louise Casey found the council was not fit for purpose and was more concerned about protecting its own reputation than its most vulnerable citizens.
In the review published today it said Mr Fitzgerald, who was chief executive of Rotherham between 2001 and 2003, declined to be interviewed as part of the process but provided written responses to questions. The review says Mr Fitzgerald “recalls that events were ‘downplayed’ and he did not raise the issue with members”.
The review criticises Mr Fitzgerald for failing to investigate claims that the council obstructed a planned piece of research into CSE in Rotherham, although it states there is “no reason to believe the absence of such was a deliberate strategy or that Mr Fitzgerald was involved in, or aware of any ’cover up’.”
The review also found no documentary evidence to support Mr Fitzgerald’s claims that he resought advice from the relevant professionals and says he missed opportunities to look into the issue following further dealings with the police in 2001 and received external correspondence in subsequent years.
“Had a more rigorous approach been taken by him then, or if he had looked to establish the reasons behind the issues raised with the police or in the correspondence, his understanding of the issues and response by the council might have been very different.”
The report considers the actions of a number of other senior officers who served at the council between 1997 and 2013, most of whom are no longer working in local government.
It recommends that the current employers of Mr Fitzgerald and Jacqueline Wilson, who is now director of performance, quality and innovation at Doncaster Children’s Services Trust, consider the report’s findings and satisfy themselves that Mr Fitzgerald and Ms Wilson have learned lessons from the experience.
The report states: “It is important to be clear that we have not found that either of these people were uniquely culpable for the council’s response to emerging evidence of CSE. But there are points at which each missed opportunities to have changed the outcomes.”
Ms Wilson was Rotherham’s head of children and families between 2000 and 2004. The report found that although she recognised that CSE was an issue in Rotherham her impression was that it was on a small scale. In addition, as the youth project Risky Business that was working with CSE victims came under the education directorate and not that of children’s services, her approach was “hands off” rather than “holistic”. However, the report says it was a failure of the chief executive and directors of these services, and not Ms Wilson, that there was not a senior designated officer.
It also found no evidence to support allegations she was involved in covering-up issues related to CSE in Rotherham or claims she authorised a “raid” on Risky Business.
The report notes that Ms Wilson was one of the few senior women in the council at the time and had raised concerns about “misogyny and bullying behaviour towards women by some members and officers”. “She does not seem to have been supported by her superiors in those laudable efforts and inevitably to some extent Ms Wilson too lost heart as a result,” the report says.
Pam Allen, who held numerous roles at Rotherham between 2004 and 2009 and reported to Ms Wilson, was also found to have raised concerns about bullying behaviour. Ms Allen, who is soon to retire from her current role as head of children and young people support and safeguarding services at East Riding of Yorkshire Council, was also cleared of any role in a cover-up.
The report concludes there is no ground for any legal or regulatory action in relation to current or former employees.