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ESSEX Council has refused to release a report into allegations that some of its former child protection workers sexually abused children in their care.
County Hall confirmed that the document – known as the ’Kenward Report’ – existed, but refused to let the Yellow Advertiser see a copy, saying there was ’no public interest in disclosing the information’.
The YA requested the report under the Freedom of Information Act after learning it had been shown to detectives running Operation SANDS – a reinvestigation of an almost 30-year-old ’child sex ring’ case in Shoeburyness.
In the year 2000, Essex Council contracted independent child protection expert Helen Kenward to investigate historic allegations of abuse within its children’s departments.
Mrs Kenward is also known for her investigation into alleged child abuse in the ’Children’s Homes in Lambeth Enquiry’ (CHILE) in 2003, and her investigation into the death of two-year-old Ainlee Labonte for the Newham Area Child Protection Committee in 2002.
The YA has seen some correspondence connected to the Kenward Report, from the year 2000, which stated that Essex Council had conducted more than 20 investigations into allegations of abuse by Social Services staff in the the last ’few years’.
The correspondence showed one whistleblowing former Essex Council employee, who was interviewed for the Kenward Report, reported concerns and allegations about 18 different child protection professionals, including social workers and police officers.
Essex Police was tipped off that the report existed by whistleblowers, whose work with the YA sparked Operation SANDS two years ago.
The whistleblowers – all former child protection workers – came forward in 2015, after the YA uncovered and reported on secretive compensation payments authorised by Essex Council for ’alleged abuse’ in its children’s departments in the 1970s and 1990s.
They approached the YA to detail ’grave concerns’ about how abuse cases in Essex had been handled by the authorities during the 1980s and 1990s.
In particular, each had concerns about the way in which several agencies had dealt with a paedophile ring, which abused ’dozens’ of children in and around Shoeburyness.
Two men were prosecuted and jailed but documents from the time showed many of the children had reported being abused by more perpetrators, who appeared not to have been pursued.
Police only used a handful of boys’ evidence as ’specimen cases’ in the two men’s prosecution. As other complainants were not involved in the criminal case, the whistleblowers said, Social Services did not recognise them as victims. As a result, they were not case-conferenced and given the appropriate support.
Contemporaneous documents showed several of the children went on to self-harm, attempt suicide, fall into drug addiction, become child prostitutes or even abuse children themselves.
Whistleblowers added that some had since been jailed for serious criminal offences whilst others had died from suicides and drug overdoses.
In late 2015, the YA introduced the whistleblowers to then Essex Police Commissioner Nick Alston, who found them ’eminently credible’ and introduced them to Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh.
In March 2016, as a direct result of the YA’s work, Essex Police announced Operation SANDS.
Last October the YA revealed that despite whistleblowers supplying Essex Police with contemporaneous paperwork detailing alleged police corruption, and despite three new victims coming forward, the force had decided to close the investigation down.
But the YA rescued the case at the last minute by supplying detectives with a dossier of new evidence.
Operation SANDS remains ongoing as police investigate information provided by a fourth victim, who came forward late last year with specific, detailed allegations about a number of men and women in Southend, Castle Point, Basildon and other areas.
The man was known to investigative agencies at the time of the original investigation, in 1990, as a suspected victim – but was not interviewed by police and did not form part of the prosecution case.
As part of Operation SANDS, Essex Police has been allowed to view the ’Kenward Report’, but for now it remains off-limits to Essex taxpayers.
Essex Council has refused to release it, claiming it would ’prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs’ by dissuading people from contributing to future investigations.
It also claimed that the report contained personal data and information which had been provided in confidence.
It described the YA’s request to see the report as ’vexatious’, claiming it would take ’many hundreds of hours’ to redact or remove all the personal or confidential information.
The YA has submitted a new Freedom of Information request seeking some statistical data from the report, making clear that it does not wish to receive any personal or confidential information.
The council is required by law to answer within 20 working days.