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ESSEX Council paid an independent consultant to spend years investigating allegations that some of its employees had molested children – but now refuses to publish her report, claiming she didn’t find anything out.
The Yellow Advertiser has taken legal action in an ongoing battle with County Hall over the report, which was written in 1998 ’to provide senior managers with a view of issues relating to certain individuals’.
It contains ’many allegations’ of abuse and ’identifies people, organisations and places’.
The YA is fighting to force Essex Council to publish the report after learning that at least one witness gave evidence to its author about the ’cover-up’ of a 1980s Shoebury paedophile ring.
The YA has been investigating the ’Shoebury Sex Ring’ since 2015 and was this month nominated for four national awards by the Society of Editors for its work.
Police sources told the press when the ring was uncovered in 1989 that its members were thought to include civil servants.
But in an effort to get out of publishing the report, Essex Council has now rubbished its contents as ’speculative, conjectural, unproven and un-evidenced’, claiming its author was ’unable to reach any concrete conclusions or recommendations’.
The author was Helen Kenward, an independent consultant who had run similar investigations for other local authorities. The Essex document is therefore known as ‘The Kenward Report’. Mrs Kenward has failed to respond to previous approaches for comment from the YA.
Despite Kenward’s supposed failure to deliver on the 1998 report, the YA has seen evidence that County Hall continued to pay her to investigate internal child sex allegations for years afterwards.
A letter sent to one whistleblower by an Essex Council lawyer in early 2001 said Kenward was still interviewing witnesses and her work was expected to continue for ’the next few months’.
Last year, the YA published excerpts of evidence given to Kenward by a whistleblowing ex-social worker in 2000, some of which concerned the ‘Shoebury Sex Ring’.
The YA has filed legal papers with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) seeking a tribunal, after the Government-funded Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) backed Essex Council’s claim that covering up the report would help keep other children safe in future.
The council’s monitoring officer claimed releasing the 21-year-old report would dissuade Essex Council from commissioning investigations into future child sex complaints, in case somebody asked to see those down the line as well.
They wrote in formal advice to the council: “A report of this nature cannot easily be destroyed for many decades because records relating to allegations of this nature may have future relevance. The only safe option would be to not commission reports of this nature.”
Therefore, they said, by suppressing the child sex report, the council was actually ’promoting the wellbeing of children’.
The ICO’s report revealed the council’s safeguarding director, director of children’s services and executive director for children and families had all also been involved in suppressing the report.
The ICO sided with the council, writing: “The commissioner is convinced by the arguments that disclosure could deter the council’s senior management from commissioning similar reports in the future, thus impacting on its ability to offer an effective public service.”
Peter Saunders, founder of abuse charity NAPAC, said: “What it sounds like to me is, Essex Council is saying that if they are forced to be open and transparent on this occasion, they will ensure that there can be no openness and transparency in future. In my opinion, it sounds almost like they are blackmailing you.
“I’ve never heard of children’s lives being endangered because of appropriate openness and transparency. I’ve only heard of children being endangered by secrecy and cover-ups.
“What has Essex got to hide, that it feels it has to put this pressure on our media, which represents us, the people? It seems very dark and very sinister.”
Essex Council claimed last year it could have redacted and released the report, but that would have taken ’many hundreds of hours’, rendering the YA’s request ’vexatious’.
The YA later discovered the report was only 142 pages long – shorter than some documents the council has previously redacted and released without complaint under the Freedom of Information Act.
The YA complained to the ICO about the council’s extreme time estimate and said that in truth, it was entirely possible for County Hall to redact and release the report.
But when the ICO adjudicated over the case, it failed to even acknowledge the council’s bizarre claim. Thus, the YA has filed papers with the MOJ seeking a tribunal.
Essex Council also claimed last year that there was ’no public interest’ in releasing the report, which the YA is strongly disputing.
By Charles Thomson
April 24th 2019