The independent review into the response of Devon County Council’s LADO Service regarding the case of John Humphreys
(LADO – local authority designated officer for the safeguarding of children)
Link to review
The independent reviewer looked into the record of three meetings held by DCC, following an initial referral by the NSPCC in 2014 and follow up meetings in 2016. The paper review was followed up by discussions with LADO services and workers acting then and now, supplemented by contemporary information regarding John Humphreys (JH) historical involvement with schools.
The overall conclusion reached by the reviewer is that no missed opportunities to safeguard children during the period covered by the review were identified.
This might come as a surprise to many. JH had held positions of influence and authority in the community, including time as a primary school governor, as a local councillor (including being appointed to the position of mayor) and as a provider of work experience for young people through his landscape gardening business.
In Owl’s opinion this conclusion cannot be said to be robust because the independent reviewer himself lists a series of inexcusable failures in the document trail and records of meetings. The review does make a number of criticisms.
The impression one is left with is a complete lack of accountability especially within DCC. At no time did anyone seem to think it necessary to act, there was never “sufficient evidence”. There was even confusion in the record of who actually chaired meetings
The last meeting reviewed took place at a significant moment in April 2016 as the police were on the point of arresting JH. The DCC legal representative at the meeting expressed concern about the potential for JH to have contact with children if he continued in his role as a local councillor after being arrested. This legal representative appears to have been the only individual at any of the meetings to have “raised a red flag” throughout the referral process. What we don’t know are the terms, if any, that were set on granting JH police bail.
Despite this, no decision seems to have been taken other than to have a follow up meeting when further progress had been made with the police investigation.
There was no follow up meeting.
JH continued in his role of councillor until May 2019, and was made an Honorary Alderman in December 2019. He stood trial, was convicted for historic rape of minors and sentenced to 21 years in August 2021.
Hiding behind the veil
East Devon have issued the following statement:
“East Devon District Council never officially knew that John Humphreys had been charged by Devon and Cornwall Police until this news was made public.
“The EDDC officer who had attended the LADO meetings mentioned in the DCC report was in attendance under the strictest condition of maintaining confidentiality.”
Hiding behind a veil of secrecy in this case to justify taking no action must be challenged. It is an extreme interpretation of what maintaining confidentiality is intended to mean. Why attend meetings of such a sensitive nature if no action could be taken as a result?
The independent reviewer records that the meetings lacked clarity and purpose but did not raise confidentiality as a bar to this. To claim that East Devon never officially knew that JH had been charged until the news was made public seems at odds with the record. EDDC attendance was recorded in both the DCC referral meetings and this fact has not been redacted in the review DCC has placed in the public domain, where many other redactions have been made.
What answer does EDDC give to the DCC legal representative who expressed concern about the potential for JH to have contact with children if he continued in his role as a local councillor after being arrested? Sorry chum we weren’t really there?
When conflict in duties occurs, individual must make a judgement call. In this case, it seems obvious to Owl that the duty to safeguard must take precedence over any perceived duty of confidentiality. Discreet use of this information could, and should, have been used without any damage to JH’s reputation, especially after his formal arrest in 2016.
In making him an Honorary Alderman in 2019 EDDC has been brought into disrepute.
The review, possibly constrained by its terms of reference, lacks depth and leaves many unanswered questions.
Evidence substantiating this critique
First Meeting: referral from NSPCC
This followed the NSPCC referral and was held on 14 April. Surprisingly, DCC appeared, at this time, to have no single individual in charge of safeguarding.
Quoting from the review (with emphasis added): In April 2014 a referral was received from the NSPCC. At the time this referral was received Devon did not have a dedicated officer in the role of LADO. The role was managed on a rota basis by several officers alongside their substantive roles
Not only that, but this extraordinarily inaccurate description of JH was recorded:
“The referral identifies JH as ‘the Mayor […], a Conservative MP, a member of the Devon District Council’, and says he ‘is believed to be governor of [a] Primary School.’”
We also learn that:
“The original NSPCC referral is not in the records provided.”
Information from this referral is recorded (second hand) in the minutes of this first meeting.
The decision taken at this meeting was to take no further action. The information in the NSPCC referral concerned historic abuse of children who were then adults; and the police confirmed that they were taking no further action.
Quoting from the review: There is no detail in the record of the allegations made by ## to the police, or of any discussion about how the police had evaluated these to reach the conclusion that no action was to be taken. Similarly, there is no record of discussion about the information in the NSPCC referral about JH potentially being in regular contact with children.
Second Meeting. “Initial Strategy”
An “Initial Strategy Meeting”, was held two years later, in March 2016, attended, inter alia, by an EDDC officer. This initial strategy meeting was chaired by a ‘Senior Manager’ (the attendance list does not say from which agency, although the same person has signed the foot of minutes identifying themselves as the LADO).
Quoting from the review: Under the ‘Purpose of the Meeting’ section, the minutes recorded that ‘[JH] was under Police investigation for alleged historic sexual offences against 3 young males; rape, sexual activity with a child (male victims around 13-15yrs old), and blackmailing an adult in the gay community. The offences span was 1980’s and 1990’s. [JH] had not been arrested at this time.’
The main action from the meeting was that the police would continue their investigation, with a specific point about the police checking if JH was involved in any local charities.
Third Meeting: Strategy reconvened
This meeting reconvened a month later, in April. At this third meeting, again attended by an EDDC officer, the minutes describe plans for the police to arrest JH soon.
It was agreed that there would be a follow up meeting ‘when there is further progress with the police investigation’.
Reading between the lines of the text as published it seems reasonable to conclude that the EDDC attendee has had his or her name redacted, in the review. Why?
Quoting from the review with emphasis added: Again, there is no record of any discussion about whether ##### JH #### were aware of the allegations, or whether ##### should have been informed of these, despite the presence of ##### a representative from the council JH was a member of. [The symbol # is used here to indicate redaction but the reader cannot infer from this the length of the redaction.]
THE FOLLOW UP MEETING NEVER HAPPENED!
Formal Recommendations from the review:
- The service should make sure that there is clarity about the role of the LADO service both within Devon County Council and with partners so that the service has oversight only of those cases which meet the remit set out in guidance
- The service should make sure discussions are recorded sufficiently thoroughly so that the rationale behind decisions, including decisions about holding meetings and who should attend these, is clear
- The service should make sure that the discussion of allegations is fully transparent to those against whom these have been made, in line with the need to keep children safe
- The service should track work effectively to make sure this is brought to a clear conclusion and not allowed to drift or be lost
Questions prompted by Devon County Council John Humphreys report.
Complied with the help of a correspondent
1.Why did LADO not compile a list of all organisations who had provided work experience students to John Humphreys?
2.Did the reviewer not have access to a single person who attended the meetings in 2014 and 2016, and did he not request any such meetings?
3.There is an apparent contradiction between the reviewer pointing out it was not appropriate for the strategy meetings taking place without JH or +1 being aware of the allegations and pointing out that there is no record to clarify whether or not they were aware. Of course JH was aware from 2004 if not 1991.
4.Why does the period of review only commence from 2004? The abuse case from 1990/91 involved retraction of allegations while the victim was in a secure unit. Against an unnamed man but where the victim knew his home address and work van and where the victim had the abuser’s phone number.
5.An attentive professional would pick up that both the police in the case and the staff at the secure unit had either failed to act on this information or failed to create a safe environment where the victim felt secure enough to offer it. Presumably the secure unit was a DCC or other authority social services facility.
6.Was the reviewer not informed of this?
7.Was the reviewer provided with any DCC social services records dating from 1991, when the accusation was made by a minor, or did he request them?
NB this victim was picked up aged 12 for the first offence outside a public convenience well known to the police as a cottaging venue and which faces the entrance of the former social services offices in Exmouth Town Hall. When did this building cease to operate as a social services office?
8.In the light of this victim being an opportunistic pick up, by a manipulative serial offender, why does the report focus so deliberately on access to children through work experience? To such an offender any minor contact opportunity boosts familiarisation for future exploitation.
9.Was the reviewer provided with any social services records from 2004-7, or did he request them?
10.Was the reviewer presented with any social service records from the case of the 3rd alleged child victim, date of offences and complaint(s), dates unknown, or did he request them?
11.Was the reviewer given a reason for this alleged victim not coming to court, or did he request one?
12.Was the reviewer given, or did he request, access to records from the DCC boarding facility to which Humphreys might have access to students, either on or off site, from 1992 onwards? This boarding facility closed down in 2018, on cost grounds, midway through the investigation.
13.Did DCC place boarding students at this school?
14.Did DCC place vulnerable boarding students at this school?
15.When DCC visited schools in 2022 to apparently build a picture for the reviewer, why was this school not visited?
16.When DCC visited schools in 2022 why did they not visit the other schools in Humphreys’ ward, Exmouth Littleham? As a newly elected parent governor in either 2009 or 2010 I was introduced to him as a ward councillor at Beacon School summer fayre. He told me he was looking for someone to pass on his business to. What a bizarre thing to say, but one which bears the hallmark of the contact process outlined in court regarding his 1999 onwards work experience victim.
This was in the grounds of Holy Trinity church so he would not have had to sign in, but he would have had to do so on other occasions, when he entered the school.
17.When DCC visited schools in 2022 why did they not ask for a check of signing in records?