Tory councillor compared to Jimmy Savile was allowed to mix with children despite NSPCC warning

Devon County Council has now launched an independent investigation.

However, “Alison Hernandez, the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, was unavailable for comment.” – how unusual for her, too busy taking selfies perhaps?

Are Devon and Cornwall Police still in denial? – Owl

By David Parsley

Devon County Council has launched an independent investigation after admitting it made mistakes in its handling of allegations of child rape against the former mayor of Exmouth.

John Humphreys, who was also a Conservative councillor on East Devon District Council until May 2019, was permitted to continue to mix freely with children for seven years before his eventual conviction despite a warning to county council officials from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in 2014.

The Conservative-run county council has now conceded that it should have shared the referral from the child protection charity regarding Humphreys more widely.

Humphreys, who also served as a primary school governor in Exmouth, was eventually convicted in August last year, and received a sentence of 21 years for raping two boys in the 90s and 2000s. The victims were aged between 12 and 15.

In a letter seen by i, Cllr Andrew Leadbetter, Devon’s cabinet member for children’s services and schools, confirmed the NSPCC’s concerns around Humphreys’ behaviour after Independent county councillor Jess Bailey raised questions about the case.

Cllr Leadbetter wrote: “I can confirm that the Local Authority Designated Officer (Lado) received a referral via the NSPCC in 2014.

“As part of the Lado process, our officers discussed the case with the police. The police were already aware of the individual and allegations that had been made and advised us that there was not enough evidence to investigate further, and it was agreed that no further action would be taken.”

Cllr Leadbetter added that the council had “evaluated the response” to the NSPCC referral and had concluded that “we should have held a multiagency meeting to share information and consider what if any next steps could be taken”.

A spokesman for Devon County Council said: “We are reviewing the decisions that the council made at that time, and will be undertaking an independent review to ensure that our service is robust and effective, implementing learning arising from that review.”

While the NSPCC was unable to comment on its referral to the council regarding Humphreys on confidentiality grounds, i understands it related to the councillor having continued access to schools despite the allegations made against him to police and council officials years earlier.

Referrals from the NSPPC are made when it believes the information given to it should receive further assessment from an external agency, such as the police or a local authority.

Paul Arnott, the elected leader of East Devon District Council (EDDC) who compared Humphreys’ modus operandi to prolific predatory sex offender Jimmy Savile, said: “I have done as much as I can to ensure that the victims have a voice.

“One has informed me now that he alerted the NSPCC in 2014 to the ongoing risk of Humphreys’ access to minors at local educational establishments.

“It is my understanding that this was the nature of the NSPCC referral made to Devon County Council.”

Cllr Arnott previously told i that Humphreys’ behaviour bore a worrying similarity to that of paedophile Jimmy Savile.

In May, i revealed that at least one unelected official at EDDC had also been made aware of the child sexual assault allegations made against him in in 2016.

Despite this information, the district council continued to permit Humphreys to serve as a councillor, attend civic events where children were present, and awarded him its highest accolade of Alderman in December 2019, just two months before his case was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Asked if district council officials were also aware of the NSPCC referral regarding Humphreys to the county council in 2014, EDDC declined to comment.

Mr Arnott, who became EDDC leader after an independent, Liberal Democrat and Green alliance took control of the council after 45 years of Conservative control, added: “Since Humphreys’ historic 21-year sentence 10 months ago, the local and national Conservative Party, Simon Jupp MP, the police and the County Council have adopted a blood-from-a-stone communications strategy.

“What right-minded person would not now see this as a conspiracy of silence involving different entities over two decades? Why did they not make a clean breast of their various involvements and what they knew on the day Humphreys was jailed?”

Devon and Cornwall Police has also been accused by one of Humphreys’ victims of not taking his allegations against his abuser – which were first made in 2004 – seriously.

In a written statement the victim, who was sent by his school to work at Humphreys’ gardening business in 1999, wrote: “My mum took me to Exmouth Police Station where I made a full signed statement,” he said.

“Then I heard nothing at all, except I was regularly harassed by local police officers afterwards. In 2005 they just said that the case had been dropped.”

When the crimes of Jimmy Savile emerged in 2012, the victim says he decided to call the police again. However, it was not until a second victim came forward to police in 2015 that the investigation was re-opened.

Asked if Devon and Cornwall Police would launch its own investigation into its handling of the case, a spokesman said: “There are no current matters of police conduct that would require referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.”

However, the police added that its approach to investigating sexual offences, both current and historical, “is all but unrecognisable from the early 2000s, both in how we approach investigations through to how victims are supported.”

Ms Bailey suggested Devon County Council’s failure to review its handling of the case until now could lead accusations of a cover-up.

“A very worrying pattern is emerging. Now we have Conservative run Devon County Council apparently failing in its safeguarding response to Humphreys in 2014, then also failing to examine its actions in the ten months since his conviction,” said Ms Bailey.

“Surely, when there were so many red flags as there were in the Humphreys case you would have expected Devon County Council to have reviewed its response.

“Instead, it remained silent and only provided information and initiated a review when they were forced to do so by my direct questions. This silence will lead many people to wonder whether there has been some kind of cover-up.”

“We still do not know how Humphreys, whilst under criminal investigation for very serious offences against children, was allowed to continue being a Conservative councillor.”

Alison Hernandez, the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, was unavailable for comment.