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)
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?
The impression I get from this report, and what I have seen and heard over the last few years, is that what matters to DCC and the former EDDC, was avoiding blame for their part in this failure. Without a shadow of doubt, some previous institutions, those councils and Devon and Cornwall Police, have failed the victims of Humphreys.
Contrary to the expectations of many who know the details, Devon and Cornwall Police have never investigated their appallingly unprofessional early handling of this case, nor have they had any other force investigate them for it. They suggest they will investigate if a complaint is made, but I’m pretty sure they will only accept a complaint from the victims, people who now want to get on with their lives and even then, it would no doubt be more heavily redacted than DCC’s report.
Owl has reviewed DCC’s report and I’ll add nothing further
In respect of EDDC, and it must be emphasised that we are talking about a past Tory controlled council and some existing officers, I find the explanations so far offered as less than satisfactory.
I want to focus on the explanation that an EDDC officer attended the DCC LADO meeting and accepted the request that those present had to treat the police information given about Humphreys in absolute confidence. It is suggested that the council officer concerned, and people do know who it was, accepted that advice and never even mentioned it to his boss the CEO – until the news became public.
Rightly or wrongly I believe that the senior officer concerned, whom I believe was male, had a primary duty to consider how the information given might affect his duty to EDDC and its public, and of course, to check that the reasons for secrecy were appropriate in all the circumstances.
Many of us know that Masonic influence has been a matter of concern in local councils and in Devon and Cornwall police. In 2017 Devon Live named 26 Devon councillors who were members of Masonic Lodges. I have previously FOI’d Devon and Cornwall police about police staff and membership of Lodges but they advised that they did not require such membership to be recorded. Make no mistake though, there will be such members – but we don’t know whom.
Humphreys was a Mason, we do not know if the police officer demanding secrecy was or was not. I have worked with Masonic police officers-most by far are decent honest folk – but I also know that is not always the case and have seen one rightly jailed for ‘helping a brother out’.
That EDDC officer would, or should have been aware of potential masonic conflict and should have enquired why the officer wanted such secrecy – I’m told it was an unusual request. He should have been aware of the need to confirm that secrecy was a legitimate request. It would appear he did not as there seems to be no such record. That EDDC officer’s primary duty is to his employer and the people the council serve. It seems totally unprofessional not to have explored the reason for the request for secrecy further. He should have anticipated that silence would potentially involve putting others at risk.
Much has been said from one quarter about the obligation on that officer to respect and abide by the police officer’s request, supported by various memos etc, to maintain absolute secrecy about Humphreys. Well frankly that is absolute nonsense.
The law and relative guidance provides for how such confidential should be treated. Firstly it acknowledges that there will be times when confidential information can properly be passed to another party . Secondly, it uses the phrase ‘need to know basis’. Certain senior officers of councils may ‘need to know’ about all sorts of matters, indeed there will likely be quite a few occasions in which they have already been passed information on a ‘need to know’ basis because they may have a role to play in predicted events and need to be prepared. It needs to be noted that the ‘need to know’ exception means that those who have a valid reason to know is restricted, it isn’t to broadcast throughout the organisation or be made public. That EDDC officer should have told his boss the CEO for he has oversight of what is going on and could, if he felt appropriate, have kept Humphreys out of certain areas to protect the East Devon residents and the council’s reputation.
I am disappointed that the ‘need to know’ exception was never brought to the attention of today’s council members. It is a common practice in most areas that you can think of from say newsrooms protecting a story from rivals, to chancellors of the exchequer with pre-budget details, to Council CEOs in regard to emergency planning measures . I’m willing to bet that our CEO has quite a few ‘need to know ‘ matters that he shares with the few who have reason to know.
In my old job I dealt with classified confidential information on a daily basis in many of the roles I held. I might have been the officer requesting confidentiality or at the end of the chain the person expected to produce resources when certain things happened. I might be the only person in the know in my department, or I might deem it appropriate to share with some junior colleagues.
The point is that that the ‘need to know’ exception to confidentiality is common practice in all organisations and senior staff would, I hope, have understood this and when it should be applied. It should have been applied to Humphreys being recognised as a suspected paedophile in an influential position.
There are some interesting points to be drawn from the CEO’s report presented to EDDC before their Verita investigation was commissioned. Final version for the Sept 28th meeting:
Williams report p5 from para7
” In addition I can confirm that DCC are carrying out a review/investigation of the LADO procedures that were engaged between 2014 and the date of conviction. The review is being carried out by a former OFSTED Inspector who has been involved in other safeguarding reviews on behalf of the County Council.”
He has thus identified the reviewer as someone familiar with those he is speaking to. This could explain the apparent lack of vigour, of any apparent desire to speak to anyone who was at the relevant meetings, or to ask the obvious questions.
One might consider whether these previous safeguarding reviews can confidently be relied upon.
Williams report p5 para8:
“Having reflected on the various comments and representations that I have seen as a result of the concern arising from the Council’s decision to make Humphreys an Honorary Alderman I think there are 2 key issues to address. One is the gap in officer knowledge and awareness of what councillors do in their own ward as ward councillor.”
This highlights that Williams is as capable as the rest of us of realising the need for the officer to come back and consult with colleagues in order to fulfil his function in the LADO’s process. Making a nonsense of the claimed need for confidentiality. If he has been put under the claimed obligations then those responsible are seeking to narrow the scope of the process. However there is nothing in the meeting notes to confirm these claims, themselves made by Mr Williams but not confirmed by the officer, either verbally or by providing his contemporaneous notes.
Also, from the same para:
“Reflecting on the publicised actions of other convicted paedophiles this is not unusual as a tactic in building trust and the potential to manipulate a victim.”
Here he demonstrates or claims a common understanding of how paedophiles operate. So for example, when Humphreys opened the Phear Park Skate Park extension in 2012 with a speech highlighting the young users’ engagement with voting for their preferred design, and alluding to future opportunities to ‘help decide the future of Exmouth’, he will have had an opportunity to be seen and become recognisable as well as mingle and chat. With every good reason, and no one any the wiser.
I was there with my son, then aged 9, and his friends. The wooden speech was cringeworthy. I knew already about the ‘future opportunities’, and about the bullying of an octogenarian alderman which occurred at a meeting days earlier to enable Humphreys and associates to publish the consultation with the required, leading, form of words.
Within days of the opening a group from the town council took this consultation into the community college, meeting with a number of groups of students. This will have been organised by EDDC’s engagement officer and all the adults should have been signed in. I don’t know whether Humphreys was there, but I was officially informed that another bully from that meeting was there. A close personal friend of his, who would have no reason to possess a CRB.
Another few days on and Humphreys was boasting to a public spirited lady, at the opening of a cycle business in The Strand, presumably attended once again by children, of the ‘300 drawings’ he had coming from the Community College in response to the consultation. She humiliated herself by praising the initiative and response on a community page, only to be told of the true, single figure total response from the general public. For some strange reason, despite her embarrassment, this lady became closer to Humphreys and distant from others who had welcomed her warmly into our community. Possibly to help her slightly odd husband make friends.
An example of this dreadful man, and his bullying friend if so inclined, having three opportunities created within days to identify and familiarise himself with potentially vulnerable children, as well as gullible adults with children.
An example of the sort of circumstance the officers from both councils, and the police, at the LADO meeting should have been seeking to identify. Both for the reconvened meeting and the recent DCC review.
It is worth noting that prior to the skate park opening there were also a number of voting opportunities with designs displayed, with councillors and officers present in the park, with consultations over further improvements in intervening years. During Humphreys’ period as a district councillor there were also significant consultations within the college, over the 2011 Masterplan and the ‘Exmouth Splash’, and over supermarket plans for the estuary which followed a very large public petition against the proposals.
On the latter occasion, the tactic of attempting to use weight of school student numbers to overwhelm significant public opinion achieved comment in the satirical Private Eye magazine. But I digress.
Since Mr Williams has clearly been communicating with the relevant parties at DCC, and there is an overwhelming need for a comprehensive enquiry into the individual and collective actions of all three bodies, including the police, why have they not simply combined their resources in the public interest?
The CEO has form in this. Ten years ago when routine matters covering up a small but significant financial matter caused some excitement at an Exmouth Town Council meeting, he saw to it that the behavioural matters were dealt with at EDDC by the reliable Mr Darsley, and the almost amusing financial explanation was rubber stamped under the Town Council, by an EDBF linked company, when the previous year’s Localism Act obliged EDDC to take that investigation over. Effectively the two aspects would have been linked, with even Mr Darsley struggling to turn a blind eye.
Mr Williams should have been familiar with that legislation during its consultation period, particularly as it came about while he was engaging widely with other local authorities at that time, with regional reorganisation helping him come by a second job.