Zahawi: 'Whole nation is distraught' at 'horrific' death of six-year-old Arthur

6 December 2021, 18:32

Nadhim Zahawi confirmed a review into the murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes
Nadhim Zahawi confirmed a review into the murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. Picture: Parliamentlive.tv/West Mindlands Police

By Daisy Stephens

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has said the "whole nation is distraught" at the "tragic and horrific" death of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.

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Addressing MPs in the House of Commons, Mr Zahawi said everyone was "seriously troubled" that concerns raised over Arthur were not effectively acted on and said it was "impossible to imagine" how Emma Tustin and Thomas Hughes could carry out "such evil acts".

"We across this House and across this country find it impossible to imagine how any adult could commit such evil acts against a child," he said.

"I know that colleagues and people outside of this place are seriously troubled that Arthur was subjected to a campaign of appalling cruelty and murdered after concerns had been raised with local services."

He went on: "I am as determined as everybody in this House to get to the truth and expose what went wrong, and take any action necessary to protect children."

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Mr Zahawi confirmed a review and targeted inspection would take place to assess why things went "horribly wrong" and look at "what more could be done to prevent abuse such as this happening again".

"Since the horrendous deaths of Peter Connelly, Daniel Pelka and, sadly, others, the Government has established stronger multi-agency working - putting a shared and equal duty on police, councils and health in local areas to work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, alongside a role for schools," he said.

"I am sure members across the House will recognise that improvements have been made from previous reviews, but the question now is whether that is enough."

The inspection is being jointly carried out by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services and HM Inspectorate of Probation.

Mr Zahawi said it "will mean we can truly look at where improvements are needed by all the agencies tasked with protecting children in the Solihull area, so that we can be assured that we are doing everything in our power to protect other children and prevent such evil crimes".

He added: "No Government anywhere in the world can legislate for evil, but we will take action wherever we can to stop it from happening again because we must do more."

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Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said Labour welcomed Mr Zahawi's "clear determination to get to the bottom of what has happened and his action in ordering a national review and a joint targeted area inspection".

She said it was right for enquiries to look at not just "how individual agencies acted but how they acted together".

"It's vital that whatever lessons can be learned from what has happened and what didn't happen in Solihull are acted on as soon as possible," she said.

"Searching questions must be asked about the way in which services operated locally, but questions must also be asked nationally."

But Ms Phillipson also said the Government had "tolerated failure" in children's services across the country.

"Failure should never be an acceptable outcome for any public service," she said.

"That is especially true when it comes to protecting children.

"For too long this Government has tolerated failing children's services and a failure to protect children.

"Vulnerable children are being failed and that cannot go on... That is the challenge [Mr Zahawi] faces and that is the standard by which he will be judged."

In response, Mr Zahawi said: "She spoke about a long way to go and I would recognise that there are challenges, but it is also worth praising the team both in the department but also in local government up and down the country."

He made references to the improved Ofsted inspections of local authorities in the last year, rising from 37 per cent of local authorities in England rated good, up to 50 per cent rated good.

Concerns were also raised about the general wellbeing of children, with the chair of the Education Select Committee saying there were 100,000 "ghost children" who have not returned to school.

Robert Halfon said putting aside the 200,000 children who have been been sent home with Covid, "there are another 100,000, what I call the ghost children, who are lost in the system and who haven't returned to school for the most time, who are subject to potentially safeguarding hazards, county lines gangs, online harm and, of course, awful domestic abuse".

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He asked the Education Secretary to "proactively" make a "real effort to work with the local authorities, to work with the schools and the regional commissioners to make sure that those 100,000 children who are mostly not in school are returned to school and are being watched by those authorities when they need to be watched".

Mr Zahawi replied: "He is absolutely right to raise this issue. It is a concerning issue and it is a focus for my department. I am working closely with other departments and agencies to work through this."