In January Owl produced a summary and critique of the DCC investigation into the John Humphreys case.
This case has to be seen as a monumental failure in safeguarding. Slowly we are beginning to see how comprehensively the system failed.
Questions remain over why the police imposed such stringent confidentiality restrictions, apparently even after Humphreys was charged and what his bail conditions were.
Following a quick read of the EDDC Verita report, which can be found from page 6 onwards here owl extracts some key paragraphs from Verita’s Summary and conclusions. Enough to be going on with.
What caught Owl’s eye was Verita’s exploration with participants of what could have been done in different circumstances (see paragraphs 1.32 onwards).
SELECTED PARAGRAPHS FROM VERITA’S REPORT
1.7 On 9 March 2016 EDDC’s Monitoring Officer (MO), attended a Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) meeting at Devon County Council (DCC). He became aware that Humphreys was under investigation by the police for alleged sex crimes against young people. The MO attended follow-up meetings at DCC in April 2016 and November 2016. The MO told us that he was not asked to do anything as a result of these meetings.
1.14 The MO reported that the police instructed attendees to maintain strict confidentiality at this stage, primarily to avoid prejudicing their investigation into the allegations.
1.15 The police direction about confidentiality in this case appears to have been more stringent than advice usually given by DCC and the police at LADO MAS meetings. This typically allows for information to be shared with those who “need to know in order to protect children, facilitate enquiries, manage related disciplinary or suitability processes”. As such, it is usual for organisations such as EDDC to be able to follow their own processes to mitigate safeguarding risks as they see fit.
1.16 We consider that typical DCC and police advice may, in different circumstances, have allowed the MO to share information he received at the LADO meetings with other senior officers or group leaders at EDDC. However, it is clear that the police’s need to maintain strict confidentiality overrode the DCC’s normal advice and prevented him from doing so.
1.19 Humphreys was arrested and questioned under caution on 11 May 2016. From this point he was aware of the ongoing investigation. It is not clear why the police would seek to maintain this strict requirement of confidentiality following the LADO meeting in November 2016.
1.30 The convention is that members will individually chose to resign for serious failings in their conduct. This requirement cannot be imposed on them and it was, in Humphreys case, clearly his choice to remain a councillor despite the fact he was under police investigation.
1.31 In our view the code of conduct and allied standards process are not effective tools to promote desired behaviours, nor to effectively address poor behaviours amongst elected members. Criminals and those flouting the rules are routinely unlikely to do the honourable thing and self-report their actions to appropriate authorities. In the existing legal and procedural framework, this is a likely outcome and an ever-present risk. Unfortunately, EDDC is not in a position to make wide-ranging changes to this regime without legislative change at a national level.
1.32 Given the restrictions on EDDC for removing, suspending or restricting the role of a councillor, we explored with participants whether any action short of such measures could have been considered in this case. We acknowledge that these were hypothetical questions.
1.33 The MO could have spoken informally to Humphreys after his arrest. This could have put the onus on Humphreys to consider his position as a councillor and may have led him to resign. The MO could have asked Humphreys not to attend EDDC events at which children and vulnerable adults would be present. This would have been a voluntary agreement, and an offer that he was highly likely to have declined – especially in light of his persistent claims of innocence. Even if Humphreys had acceded to such a request, it may have been difficult to monitor his compliance with it. However, there was a significant risk that giving such notice to Humphreys would have prejudiced the police investigation.
1.34 It was possible that the MO could have informally spoken to the Chair of Council or to group leaders, with the aim of alerting them to the fact that Humphreys was under police investigation. The MO has explained to us his overriding concern, on advice from the police, not to prejudice their investigation into Humphreys. We believe that he acted correctly and consistently in this respect.
1.35 There are limited avenues open to councillors for raising concerns about a colleague. In cases where safeguarding risks may be a concern, we would expect a councillor to know how to raise this with the Council’s safeguarding lead. In cases where inappropriate behaviour occurs, it would seem appropriate to raise this under the EDDC’s code of conduct. The Council’s MO would be the natural source of advice in such a case.
1.36 Comments from the East Devon Conservative Association suggest that they may have had more remit to impose sanctions on Humphreys than were available to EDDC.
1.43 Because of the conclusion reached at the LADO MAS meetings that Humphreys did not, in his formal EDDC roles, work with children no immediate safeguarding mitigation plans were developed. We believe that this is a flawed conclusion for the LADO meetings to have reached. There is no evidence that anyone commissioned or conducted any form of risk assessment in respect of Humphreys’ roles as an EDDC councillor.
1.44 The MO advised us that attendees at the LADO MAS meetings concluded that “bail conditions” would be sufficient to address any present risk posed by Humphreys.