Page last updated at 19:41 GMT, Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Apology to daughters raped by Sheffield man

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Prof Pat Cantrill: Opportunities were missed 'individually and collectively'

Two daughters made pregnant 18 times over a 25-year period by their father have received an apology from the agencies who failed to protect them.

The apology was made at a news conference that revealed the findings of a serious case review.

The Sheffield man, who cannot be named, was given a life sentence after admitting 25 counts of rape in 2008.

The review found missed opportunities and collective failures to protect the children over three decades.

It was carried out by safeguarding children boards in Sheffield and Lincolnshire and acknowledged the family had contact with 28 different agencies and 100 members of staff over 35 years, including police, doctors, nurses and social workers.

We are genuinely sorry. We should have protected you
Chris Cook, Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Board

Sue Fiennes, independent chair of Sheffield Safeguarding Children Board, said: "We want to apologise to the family at the heart of this case. It will be clear that we have failed this family."

Chris Cook, independent chair of Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Board, said: "We are genuinely sorry. We should have protected you."

He added: "We must remember that people's lives were devastated both by a controlling, power-obsessed and deviant father and our failure to act."

The serious case review showed the family moved 67 times so the father could avoid detection.

Professor Pat Cantrill, independent report author of the serious case review, said opportunities "were missed individually and collectively".

The son
The man's son described him to the BBC as "a big, big bully"

"The inquiries that were identified should have resulted in the children being taken to a place of safety but that did not occur."

Ms Cantrill said authorities had difficulties dealing with issues arising from this case.

"For some professionals, I honestly believe they got quite stuck around this situation. They didn't know how to handle it."

The report divided the family's experiences into three time segments - two in Sheffield and one in Lincolnshire - between 1975 and 2008.

It revealed schools, hospitals and ambulance staff all raised concerns about the family.

On 23 separate occasions from 1998 to 2005 the daughters were specifically asked about the paternity of their children by various people.

But the report found that despite concerns, nothing was done as professionals felt that, as there was no evidence to prove it, there was nothing they could do.

How could this happen?
Alison Holt
Alison Holt, social affairs correspondent
This family was not hidden from view, as today's report makes abundantly clear. Instead professional after professional had suspicions about the hell these children endured, yet the most common action was to have a quiet word.

For decades the system for safeguarding children has emphasised the importance of keeping families together. When it works the benefits are clear, but some experts say the threshold for taking children from dysfunctional parents is too high too often.

It's a problem seen in many other reports into cases, the most recent major case being that of Baby Peter. The issues raised include professionals being over-optimistic about parents, not focusing on the child, not sharing information and lacking confidence to act.

The authorities say services have changed and now the victims in this family would be better protected. But in this case the mistakes have been made over 35 years, spanning many changes in policies.

Ms Fiennes said: "Professionals felt - wrongly - that, despite suspicions voiced by the other family members, they could not act unless they had a direct disclosure from the women themselves.

"It was plainly unrealistic to expect victims in these harrowing circumstances to disclose what has happened to them.

"There were collective failures, we all failed this family."

Ms Cantrill said: "There's no doubt about it, if some of the professionals had actually recognised their responsibilities and accountability... they would have respectfully challenged people about their approach to management of this case."

She added: "It only really needed one person with tenacity to actually keep pushing and pushing this and we might have had early recognition and action been taken."

The press conference was told that nobody had been disciplined, sacked or had resigned over the failings.

Dr Sonia Sharp, executive director of Children and Young People's Services on Sheffield City Council, said: "What is very clear in this case is there is not a single big omission or big act that we can say 'Yes, it was that person'.

"What we can see, systematically, is time after time after time there were groups of people that failed to take action."

The father was 56 at the time of his sentencing at Sheffield Crown Court.

The judge, Alan Goldsack QC, said the case was the worst he had seen in 40 years.

Attacks on the victims led to 18 pregnancies. Nine of the children were born, two of whom died on the day of their birth.

The rest of the pregnancies were miscarried or aborted.

The abuse started when the women were pre-pubescent, and they were badly beaten if they failed to comply.

The father's minimum jail term of 19-and-a-half years was cut to 14-and-a-half years at the Court of Appeal in May 2009.

The executive summary makes 128 recommendations - including eight national recommendations - for improving understanding, practice, procedures and training on interfamilial abuse.



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