Saturday 23 January 2010

Children and the law: No.1 - The Edlington Case

Two boys (A and B), now aged 11 and 12, have been sentenced to indeterminate detention for offences against three others (C, D and E). The offences included causing grievous bodily harm, robbery and causing or inciting a child under the age of 13 to engage in sexual activity. The specific details of the offences were particularly nasty. The trial judge, Mr Justice Keith, considered pre-sentence reports and psychiatric reports and went on to set a minimum term of 5 years but emphasized that A and B can only be released when the authorities are satisfied that the risks they pose are such that they can be safely released.

Doncaster City Council has published an Executive Summary of a Serious Case Review into the matter.

The fact that the full report of the Serious Case Review is not being published sparked an interchange in Parliament between David Cameron and Gordon Brown.

Serious Case Reviews developed after the inquiry by Lord Laming into the death of Victoria Climbie in 2000. Lord Laming reported on this in January 2003. 

In September 2003, the Government published the Every Child Matters Green Paper and responded formally to the Victoria Climbie Report. The Children Act 2004 implemented some recommendations of this report and created Local Safeguarding Children Boards(Children Act 2004 Part 2 and, for Wales, Part 3). After the death of Baby P in 2008, Lord Laming published, at the request of the government, a Progress Report relating to the Protection of Children in England (March 2009).

In relation to Serious Case Reviews, Lord Laming said:

"SCRs inevitably include a great deal of case material that should remain confidential, not only to protect vulnerable people, but also because SCRs depend upon the cooperation of witnesses, often in a highly charged situation. Without this assurance many would be reluctant to participate in the process, rendering the task worthless."

Laming also recognised that the need for confidentiality made it all the more important that Executive Summaries were of high quality. He went on to recommend that the Department for Children, Schools and Families should revise Working Together to Safeguard Children to underline the importance of a high quality, publicly available executive summary which accurately represents the full report, contains the action plan in full, and includes the names of the Serious Case Review panel members.

Later in 2009, the government issued revised guidance on Serious Case Reviews

The J Children Serious Case Review notes:

"The panel concluded that the assault was a preventable incident. Although the extent and severity of the assault could not have been predicted, the perpetrators had shown an escalating pattern of violence against other children and adults over a period of several months. There were opportunities to intervene more effectively right up to the week before the assault.”


"Although many services tried to work with the family none were able to make an effective change to the behaviour and problems of the boys and their family. There was too much reliance on using agreements and warnings to change their behaviour; this reflected an insufficiently authoritative, consistent and assertive strategy in working with a family who were uncooperative and antisocial in attitude and behaviour. Services were not coordinated well enough. This reflected not enough planning or leadership within the service as well as in the case management itself."

There is good reason to be impressed with the present government’s efforts to drive forward the recommendations of Lord Laming and to endeavour to improve the processes in this difficult area. A considerable amount of excellent work is done by local authorities to protect children known to be at risk. This makes it all the more regrettable when an event like Edlington occurs and which was "preventable." The legal powers are there to issue care proceedings – Children Act 1989. It seems that there were more than adequate grounds for the local authority to have done this in respect of A and B and that step might have avoided this tragedy.


  1. What I found rather perverse was that the Serious Case Review in the Edlington case was not made available to the judge, who had requested it. This is a rather different matter to making it public.

  2. Chris - thanks for the comment. According to this article which appeared in The Times, an application was made to the judge to seek disclosure of the full serious case review report. It was defence counsel for one of the boys who made the application and, again according to The Times article, it was argued that the report would show that there was a causal link between the failings of the care authorities and the violence which took place.

    We have no further information about this particular application. Nevertheless, it seems that the judge must have requested the report but was refused it.

    From what I can see, the judge appeared to be content with this situation. He had pre-sentence reports which, these days, are very detailed and would include information about the home circumstances of the boys, the offences and a detailed assessment of the risk posed by the boys. These reports also contain sentencing recommendations. The judge also had psychiatric reports on each of the boys. The judge probably concluded that he had more than enough material to enable him to finalise the case.

    We should also note the point that, in this criminal case, it was not for the judge to seek to apportion blame for anything the care authorities had either done or omitted to do.

    Now that the question of publication of the full serious case review reports has got into the political arena, I suspect that will hear more of it in the future. Also, the issue could well arise if there were to be any civil proceedings against the local authority brought by the families of the victims. Such an action might be possible these days but it would be wiser to leave that to one side for now.

  3. Yes, I appreciate what you say, and the judge no doubt felt he had sufficient information available to him from other sources, I expect that the PSRs were very comprehensive, but nevertheless he had requested the report, and I surprised that the Doncaster Safeguarding Children Board felt able to refuse that request. I presume that the defence wanted to try to shift some of the blame away from their client, perhaps a forlorn hope, but an attempt they were entitles to make, I think.