Thursday, 7 June 2012
An official report into the way care agencies dealt with a murdered girl concealed key information about adults suspected of grooming and using her for sex from the age of 11, The Times can reveal today.

Laura Wilson, 17, was repeatedly stabbed then thrown into a South Yorkshire canal in 2010, six years after concerns were raised that she was at risk of being sexually exploited by men.

Details kept secret when a serious case review was published last week can be reported today after a safeguarding board abandoned legal action against The Times. The board had redacted — blocked out with thick black lines — information identifying Laura as one of several girls in Rotherham who were suspected of falling victim to sexual abuse by “Asian men”.

Also kept hidden were details of care professionals’ involvement with Laura from the age of 11 to 15, including meetings that discussed concerns about child sexual exploitation. The board’s application for a High Court injunction to gag The Times was dropped after Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, accused the board of withholding “relevant and important material”.

The redactions, coupled with Rotherham’s attempt to suppress the report in the courts, will lend support to the impression that child sex exploitation is not being confronted robustly by care professionals and local government.

Laura, identified in the report as “Child S”, was murdered in Rotherham by Ashtiaq Asghar, 17. Ishaq Hussain, 21, a married man who made her pregnant a month after her 16th birthday, was found not guilty of murder.

The report, published by Rotherham’s safeguarding children board, found that 15 agencies had had dealings with Laura. It identified “numerous missed opportunities” to protect a vulnerable child who became “almost invisible” to some care professionals.

Redactions were made to 61 of the report’s 144 pages, ostensibly to protect “the privacy and welfare” of the dead girl’s baby. Hidden from view was the fact that Laura “was mentioned” during a 2009 police inquiry that led to the conviction of five British Pakistanis, aged from 20 to 30, for sex offences against three girls aged 13 to 16.

Though the published report said that when Laura was 10, a young girl with whom she was very closely associated “is thought to have become involved in sexual exploitation”, it concealed that this was “with particular reference to Asian men being involved”.

Other redacted details include:
· “At the centre of the Child S case is the issue of Child S’s potential involvement in sexual exploitation.”
· Many of the indicators that a child is being groomed for sexual exploitation “were apparent in the case of Child S”.
· Laura was referred to a specialist child sexual exploitation project three months after her 11th birthday.
· Laura was “taken into a car with men who encouraged her to drink alcohol”.
· When she was 13, “Child S and her friend were given alcohol by men at a local takeaway and were asked what they were going to give them in return”. Her mother said that “she had immediately notified the police”.
· Her mother “was shocked when it looked as though Child S was involved with older men” and said that “she had tried to get the police and social care to do something about it”.
· Her mother said that “Child S had always said that what [another girl] was doing was wrong and that she would never mess around with Asian men”.

The board’s claim that redactions were made to protect Laura’s relatives is weakened by the personal information about her family that it made public. Its published report disclosed that “from the age of two she experienced the emotional and physical stress of abuse within the family”. The board also chose to reveal that Laura shaved her baby’s head in keeping with Muslim tradition “and talked about bringing her up as a Muslim”.

In 2010 the Government ordered the publication of all serious case reviews. The Times has learnt that the Rotherham board tried to withhold the entire Laura Wilson report, a request rejected by the Department for Education. Mr Gove was told of differences between the review’s published and unredacted versions. He saw both last week and “made plain” to Alan Hazell, the board chairman, his desire for the report to be published “as fully as possible”.

A government spokesman said: “This girl was clearly let down at all stages of her short life. We need greater transparency if we are to give the public greater confidence in the child protection system. Those objectives are undermined if published reports are inappropriately edited.”

Mr Hazell said last week that “at no stage did we have any evidence that Laura was involved in child sexual exploitation”. He suggested that her death was the story of “a boyfriend from a relationship who callously murdered his girlfriend”. Yet the review’s executive summary said: “There is evidence from [Laura’s] behaviour that she did get involved in sexual exploitation.”

The report’s independent author, Pat Cantrill, suggested the absence of more definitive proof that Laura was being used for sex by adults may have been due to failings by care agencies: “Laura obviously had friendships with girls . . . involved in sexual exploitation. The fact that she was vulnerable and was involved in that world should have been enough for people to do more preventative work with her. That didn’t happen.”

In her report, Professor Cantrill said that care professionals in Rotherham needed “improved knowledge of sexual exploitation and grooming, including a better understanding of perpetrators”.

Mr Hazell said he rejected “in the strongest possible terms any suggestion that information was redacted from the published report for any reason other than to protect the interests of Laura’s daughter, immediate family and other third parties”.
Source: The Times (£)

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