Former Ofsted inspector to lead independent Devon County Council review into failure to act over Humphreys

An ex-Ofsted inspector will lead an independent review into how Devon County Council failed to properly deal with concerns made in 2014 about a former school governor from Exmouth who was later jailed for historic sex offences, writes local democracy reporter, Ollie Heptinstall.

[Rather undermines EDDC Chief Executive Mark Willliams’ criticism of Cllr Jess Bailey’s suggestion that a specialist investigative company, rather than a “Legal 500 recommended firm of solicitors” should conduct the EDDC investigation. One wonders whether DCC is “sufficiently sighted on the legal framework, issues and implications of this issue”, to quote again from MW. Horses for courses? – Owl]

Watch the EDDC debate on whether or not to conduct an investigation on the EDDC Youtube channel 6.00pm tonight. 

John Humphreys, who also previously served as an East Devon district Councillor and mayor of Exmouth, is just over a year into a 21-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting two teenage boys in the early 1990s and early 2000s.

It was revealed in June that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) had raised concerns about him in 2014, when allegations had already been made to the police.

But Devon County Council chose not to take any action after officers discussed the case with police, a decision the council’s cabinet member for schools, Councillor Andrew Leadbetter (Conservative, Wearside and Topsham) has admitted was wrong, and that it should have shared the concerns more widely.

In his written response in June to county and district councillor Jess Bailey, Cllr Leadbetter said: “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 the 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.

“We have evaluated the response that was made in 2014 and concluded that we should have held a multi-agency meeting to share information and consider what, if any, next steps could be taken.”

After previously confirming the investigation would be undertaken, the council has now revealed it will be carried out by experienced social care practitioner and former Ofsted inspector Mike Ferguson.

Since 2018, he has worked as an independent children’s social care consultant, undertaking practice reviews with a range of local authorities.

Work has begun on the review and is expected to be completed later in the autumn.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) has also been looking into how Humphreys – despite his 2016 arrest – was allowed to carry on in his role as Councillor until May 2019, then awarded the honorary title of alderman later that year.

Later this week (Wednesday, September 28) EDDC will decide whether to conduct a formal investigation into why Humphreys was not removed from his position sooner.