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21.2.09 Child Deaths in Camden


Camden News - by PAUL KEILTHY
Published: 19 February 2009

Shock over tragic baby Rhys death ‘information vacuum’

Councillors demand to know why they were not informed about investigations

SECRECY within Camden’s children’s social services department has been severely criticised after councillors have learned that they were not informed of investigations into the deaths of children who suffered abuse or neglect over the past three years.

Last week Liberal Democrat Councillor Janet Grauberg, the head of children’s services, told the New Journal she had twice announced that everything was being done to prevent a case similar to that of “Baby P” in Haringey taking place in Camden while unaware the council was linked to a criminal case of cruelty or that another two cases were under review.

Councillors only became aware of the court case when Claire Biggs, 27, was last week found guilty, along with her partner, of cruelty to Rhys Biggs, a two-month-old baby who died of his injuries in March 2006.

Although Rhys died in Newham, his mother had been an occasional resident in a Camden refuge during her pregnancy and he had briefly come under the care of the council and the Royal Free Hospital.

As a result, Camden was required to take part in an independent review which made clear that in November 2006, although the death could not have been anticipated, some parts of the council’s services should be improved – “gaps in services” for which the council has apologised.

Yesterday (Thursday), while the Town Hall refused to answer questions on the case, former head of children’s services Cllr Geethika Jayatilaka said the information “vacuum” was “really shocking”.

She said: “There are very serious questions to be asked about how this was allowed to happen.
“In recent weeks, following Baby P, we have had discussions in the Scrutiny Committee and discussions in full council in which we asked as councillors for information that would help us make sure it is working as it should be.

“At no point in that process did any officer mention that there was this case. There seems to be a vacuum here, when more than ever in the current climate we need to be assured that things are working.

“It is a real cause for concern.”

Councillors responsible for scrutinising children’s social services – who had been given an “all-clear” briefing by officials on February 3 following the Baby P scandal – only learned about the three-year-old Rhys Biggs case by reading the newspapers last week.

Two other investigations, relating to deaths in 2007 and 2008, have also emerged, although the details have not been published.

Labour councillor Heather Johnson, the chairwoman of a council committee responsible for examining the performance of children’s services, said yesterday she had written to the council’s chief executive, Moira Gibb, demanding an explanation and a review of Town Hall policy. Cllr Johnson said: “The executive member [Cllr Grauberg] holds the department to account over recommendations in serious case reviews. That’s their job, and it is Scrutiny’s job to scrutinise that person. But you can’t deal with anything that’s hidden.”

Serious case reviews take place automatically whenever the death of a child or vulnerable adult gives rise to concerns about abuse or neglect. Anonymised versions are published so that agencies such as social services or hospitals can learn lessons from each incident.

The review into Rhys’s death, released last Wednesday night, contained six recommendations for Camden social services.

In a statement issued last week, the council said it had fully addressed the recommendations made by the review.

Over the past week, the New Journal has asked a series of questions and invited Cllr Grauberg and officials to be interviewed. These included clarification of the dates that Cllr Grauberg had been made aware of the baby Rhys case after taking over as cabinet member for children’s services last year, and questions over whether residents could feel assured that recommendations made in serious case reviews were being met.

A Town Hall press official said yesterday that the council would not supply any dates and would not comment on these questions or on this case. Cllr Grauberg did not respond.

The spokesman also said that Ms Gibb would not agree to be interviewed.

Ms Gibb was appointed head of the national Social Work Taskforce set up by Children’s Minister Ed Balls following the Baby P case.

How the case unfolded:

Sept 2005: Claire Biggs, a 24-year-old who had fled domestic violence and was living in a woman’s refuge in Camden, books into ante-natal care at the Royal Free. Concerned midwives alert hospital social workers.
Dec 2005: Claire Biggs starts relationship with Paul Husband and spends some nights with him in Newham.
March, 2006: Rhys Biggs born in Newham. Mother and baby discharged to Camden women’s refuge after six days. Case transferred to long-term social work team but was not allocated to a specific social worker.
Mid April 2006: Claire Biggs moves to Newham flat. Case transferred from Camden to Newham social services.
May 2006: Rhys Biggs dies in the flat of Paul Husband, 33. He has 10 broken ribs and a broken arm among other injuries.
Nov 2006: Serious Case Review makes six recommendations to Camden social services. These include allocating a specific social worker and getting police checks on new partners such as Mr Husband, who was later found to have a child sex conviction.
Dec 2008: In wake of Baby P case in Haringey, Cllr Janet Grauberg makes formal announcement that Camden will “check and check again” to ensure social services are fit.
Jan 2009: Cllr Grauberg repeats assurances to full council.
Feb 3 2009: Children and Families Scrutiny Committee are given report into Camden’s review of Safeguarding Children services. The report make no mention of Rhys Biggs or two subsequent Serious Case Reviews.
Feb 11 2009: Trial of Claire Biggs and Paul Husband for child cruelty ends with their conviction. Cllr Grauberg tells New Journal she had been informed of the case shortly before the trial, but not when she made announcements to council.
Feb 17 2009: Labour councillors write letters demanding explanation to chief executive Moira Gibb.