Children left at 'unknown risk' by council inspected after Arthur Labinjo-Hughes' murder

21 February 2022, 12:03 | Updated: 21 February 2022, 13:02

Arthurs step mum was found guilty of his murder.
Arthurs step mum was found guilty of his murder. Picture: West Midlands Police

By Emma Soteriou

Children have been left at an "unassessed and unknown risk" by child services at the council inspected in the wake of the murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.

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A report has found young people in Solihull "wait too long for their initial need and risk to be assessed".

"This means that for a significant number of children, they remain in situations of unassessed and unknown risk," the report, published on Monday, said.

It comes after six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes was murdered in June 2020 by his stepmother Emma Tustin at their home in Solihull, having been seen by social workers just two months before his death. However, they concluded there were no safeguarding concerns.

Tustin was sentenced to a minimum term of 29 years, after being found guilty of his murder, while Arthur's father, Thomas Hughes, was sentenced to 21 years for manslaughter.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi called for the inspection in December 2021, with Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the Chief Inspector of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and the Chief Inspector of Probation (HMIP) for England and Wales looking into multi-agency responses to risks to children in Solihull.

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Inspectors said they were concerned by incomplete police records which left children potentially "at risk of significant harm".

They saw examples of separate records for the same person because their name had been spelt incorrectly, while children had not been linked on the system to family relatives who could pose a risk to them.

"This means that when officers and staff research 'Connect' (the police record system) they may miss important information, potentially leaving children at risk of significant harm," the report said.

Inspectors reviewed the records for one young child who was not linked to her father in the system, despite his history of domestic abuse and drug use and the fact he is subject to a non-molestation order.

"Consequently, a domestic abuse incident the child was exposed to, involving her father, does not appear on her 'Connect' record," the letter said.

"It also means that when officers conduct searches on the system, it is not obvious that the man poses a significant risk to her."

Some frontline police officers have also recorded children in the wrong place in the system or not at all when making referrals, it added.

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The report also found that the local authority has faced "long-standing difficulties in ensuring there are enough social workers" in the area, and that attempts to improve this in 2021 had "limited impact".

"These difficulties were compounded by concerns raised following the court case for the murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes in early December 2021, which made social workers highly reluctant to work in Solihull either on a permanent or agency basis," the report said.

It went on to say that the current workforce is "committed and knowledgeable and dedicated to meeting the needs of children" but that they face "immense pressure" to meet daily demands and that this "reduces their ability to respond swiftly to all concerns for children".

The report called on agencies in Solihull to send a written statement of action to Ofsted by May 30 2022.

In a joint statement, Minister for Children and Families Will Quince, Minister for Care Gillian Keegan and Minister for Safeguarding Rachel Maclean said: "Arthur's death was horrific and deeply disturbing.

"The two individuals responsible are in prison - but we must do everything we can to prevent any more cases like this.

"His death serves as a daily reminder of the urgent need for all the agencies tasked with protecting vulnerable children to work together.

"That's why we commissioned this joint inspection of services in Solihull, which has identified two clear areas where priority action is needed.

"Each agency - police, health and children's services - has an equal duty in this work and we are writing to all three to make clear our expectation that they participate fully in producing and delivering on a written statement of action."

Joanna Barrett of the NSPCC said: "It's hugely concerning that this inspection has found systemic problems with the 'front door' of safeguarding services which mean a significant number of children are waiting far too long for their initial assessment, leaving them at risk of harm and cruelty.

"It is absolutely crucial that safeguarding agencies in Solihull are better resourced and work together more quickly and efficiently to share information and intervene as early as possible to prevent any more tragedies like the death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes."

Ms Barrett said that the issues higlhighted were not "confined to one area" and the Government needed to ensure "the recommendations from the National Child Safeguarding Review Panel and the Independent Review of Children's Social Care are a watershed moment that leads to significant change in our child protection system".