Ombudsman censures Havering Council over delay in telling mother of sexual abuse claim

Havering Council failed to tell a woman about the alleged sexual abuse of her son for more than two weeks after learning of it, an ombudsman report reveals.

The council has since offered to pay the mother, referred to only as Ms X to protect her privacy, £500 compensation to make up for the injustice and distress she experienced.

In February 2019, her older son, at the time living with his father in Kent, told a psychologist he had sexually abused his younger brother six years ago, when his sibling was around eight.

Ms X’s younger son, by this time 14, was living with her in Havering. Havering Council was informed of the alleged abuse but took more than a fortnight to tell her.

The ombudsman report reads: “Ms X’s complaint against Havering Council is that, after it eventually found out about (her older son’s) disclosure, it delayed telling her about it.

“She says Havering Council also refused to investigate the risk to (her younger son).”

Havering Council was only informed about the alleged abuse by Kent Council two months after it was first revealed, meaning that in total it was three months before she was told.

During this time, her younger son had “fortnightly overnight contact with his father” while his older brother was in the house.

The council claims to have tried to contact Ms X three times by phone and left voice and text messages for her. However, “a later record says it may have got her number wrong”.

After being informed, Ms X reported the alleged abuse to the police, who spoke to her younger son and found no evidence he was a victim of abuse.

The ombudsman wrote: “Ms X’s younger son, who, it appears, was not actually a victim of abuse, suffered no injustice.

“If (her son) had been suffering sexual abuse, then the potential consequences of the councils’ failures can hardly be overstated.

“Both councils were at fault for failing to tell Ms X about it in good time… (and) also failed to properly communicate with each other when considering safeguarding action.

“Both councils have agreed to provide remedies to recognise Ms X’s distress, and to change their procedures and train their staff to prevent similar failures in future.”

Havering Council was given the opportunity to comment but had yet to respond at the time of writing.

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter