Serious case review into 'extreme cruelty' in case of boy locked in filthy room shows how agencies failed to help him
It is another in a series of serious case reviews about extreme child abuse in Northamptonshire that the authorities failed to prevent.
A serious case review into how a boy was locked away in a dark, filthy bedroom by his stepfather and effectively hidden from his school, his doctor or any professional help has finally been published.
The couple who subjected the boy to more than a year of "extreme cruelty" were jailed for a total of 10 years in May 2019 - but the report into the "extreme cruelty" of the case has only been released to the public today.
It details how the boy was not seen by any professional at all for more than a year, and how the stepfather manipulated social services to prevent school staff, doctors or social services from seeing him.
The report also outlines how Northamptonshire County Council opened a "Child In Need" plan on the boy during the abuse - but closed it three months later after ruling they could find "no concerns".
Shortly after this case was closed, the stepfather removed the boy from school and claimed he would home school him, which allowed him to effectively hide the boy away from any professional help and abuse him for more than a year.
And, many organisations, including Northamptonshire County Council, healthcare and the police, were criticised for failing to communicate with each other to raise their concerns and potentially step in to help the boy earlier.
Today (January 29), the report has led to a call by experts for a national review into homeschooling to prevent similar abuse cases.
The case centres on a household where the boy was kept locked naked and alone in a filthy, dark bedroom with no mattress or light bulb.
When police found this room, they found the walls and floors covered in excrement. A lock and an exterior alarm were fixed to the door and the blind over the curtain was nailed in place.
During the trial, one social worker called the abuse case "the worst they had seen in 25 years". In sentencing, His Honour Judge Michael Fowler said: "It was nothing less than a cell."
But the serious case review shows how professionals and social services missed many opportunities to help the boy.
No action was taken when the boy's stepfather stopped taking him to healthcare appointments.
The report reads: "From the time the stepfather arrived in the family home his behaviour towards [the child] amounted to extreme cruelty.
"The manipulation and control exercised by Stepfather towards professionals with whom he came into contact cannot be underestimated.
"By attending meetings concerning the child with professional agencies and seemingly engaging in processes, Stepfather maintained a façade of compliance and concern.
"The reality was that Stepfather was controlling the engagement of professionals."
Major criticisms were levelled at how professionals showed little curiosity into who the stepfather was, what his background and why they had not heard from the child himself, and instead plainly accepted the stepfather as a parental figure.
The report reads: "Fortunately, in this case, Child AB did not die. If children’s social care and police had not acted when the school passed on the concerns arising from disclosures by Child AB’s siblings, then the outcome could have been very different,” the review said.
“However, by not instigating child protection procedures when previous referrals had been made to children’s services Child AB was left to endure continuing neglect and serious abuse for years.”
Social services only took action when one of the boy's siblings told a member of staff at her school about the abuse.
The stepfather was jailed for seven years and the boy's mother was jailed for three-and-a-half years after a trial last year, relating to events between 2012 and 2016.
Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Board initially refused to publish the report by claiming it would cause distress for those involved, but relented after an intervention by the then-education minister Nadeem Zahawi.
It comes after Northamptonshire County Council was scolded in 2019 after two serious case reviews into the separate deaths of two toddlers at the hands of their drug-dealing fathers also showed how children's services and organisations failed to talk to each other about their concerns.