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Council told it cannot guarantee children are not placed in care of sex offenders

Leeds Civic Hall <i>(Image: Google)</i>
Leeds Civic Hall (Image: Google)

A WEST Yorkshire Council has rowed back on a landmark safeguarding pledge it made after a child abuse scandal, after officers concluded it was legally impossible to guarantee.

Elected councilllors unanimously agreed to a white paper in March which committed Leeds City Council to ensuring “no child in Leeds is placed into the care of a convicted child sex offender again."

It followed the appalling findings of an independent report which detailed how a young girl, anonymously known as ‘Ruby’, was sexually abused over several years by her legal guardian. He’d been given custody of her despite the authorities knowing he was a convicted paedophile, after an outdated assessment suggested he posed no risk to her.

But a report agreed by the council at a meeting on Wednesday, in consultation opposition leaders, said some cases would be “beyond the control” of the council.

It said family courts were ultimately responsible for where children in care are placed.

The report, which went before the council’s executive board, said: “Whilst the council believes that there should be no circumstances where a child may grow up in an unsafe environment, no local authority can categorically say that there will be no circumstances where a child is brought up by a parent or carer who may be a convicted child sex offender, be on the sex offenders register or the subject of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order.

“That is because decisions on where and with whom a child should live, are beyond the control of the council, and are dictated by other legal frameworks and decision-making bodies, the most important of which is the family court.

“Neither national legislation nor statutory guidance provides an absolute prohibition on children living with parents or carers who may be convicted sex offenders.”

The leader of the authority’s Conservative opposition told Wednesday’s meeting he hoped the council had learnt from the Ruby saga.

Councillor Alan Lamb said it was vital that serious cases were handled openly and transparently.

“We have to have absolute confidence that when there’s a challenging situation, it’s going to be shared with us (as councillors),” he said.

“We need to give everyone confidence that there isn’t another ‘Rotherham’ (scandal) here in Leeds. I don’t believe there is, but we need to get that reassurance constantly.”

Meanwhile, the independent chair of Leeds’ safeguarding children partnership, who effectively blew the whistle on the Ruby case, is set to stand down as her four-year term in the role nears an end.

Jasvinder Sanghera, a respected author and campaigner, publicly highlighted the council’s failure to inform the government of a serious safeguarding issue – which later transpired to be the abuse of Ruby – in 2021.

Ms Sanghera was thanked by several senior councillors for her contribution to the city and “willingness to challenge” the authority, at Wednesday’s meeting.