Safeguarding: What does it do and what does EDDC need to learn?
Updated: May 23
We need the investigation into EDDC over the John Humphrey affair to be swift and impartial, and the council’s membership need to wake up to our responsibilities, and quickly.
If you want to know the thoughts of your local councillor, or what they knew in 2017, whatever their party, please email them. They may not answer but it’s your democratic right to do so.
I wasn’t a councillor at the time, but I know what I would have done…
In recent times, the word safeguarding has been increasingly in the news, especially locally.
The case of former councillor John Humphreys, recently jailed for 21 years for sex offences with a minor, has highlighted what I perceive to be a huge chasm between what is expected of individuals with regards to keeping people safe, and what is actually happening.
To give this some context, I work in an all through school as a forest school teacher and Support Assistant. We’re trained to look for the tiniest signs that something may not be ‘right’ for a child. Has their behaviour changed? Have they become withdrawn? And if we have any doubts, we talk to them. If from those conversations, they disclose something that has happened that leads me to believe that they have been or are in danger of being harmed, I report it sensitively - and it occurs far more frequently than you’d think. This is then investigated by a safeguarding lead and, usually, a reasonable explanation is found and the matter is resolved. This procedure has basically been the same in my 20+ years of working in the education system, in London and the South West. The same occurs with staff- whistleblowing - which thankfully is incredibly rare. If there’s any scintilla of doubt regarding the intentions of anyone coming in to contact with young people, or the potential for them to come to harm, we speak out. It’s not easy, and it’s not nice. But we do this because there will always be that one occasion when real harm has occurred. A huge catch all, safety first approach is the only way this works.
The first, and most important rule of safeguarding, is ‘If in doubt, report it’.
To put it bluntly, if a member of staff in a school had been arrested and was under investigation for alleged sexual offences, against children or adults, there is no way in the world that they would continue to attend their place of work until that investigation had been completed. An employer will be told of the investigation, and the employer will act.
East Devon District Council has some serious questions to answer about the John Humphrey affair.
If recent articles are to be believed, East Devon District Council’s members (both current and now no longer on the council) and officers may not have reported what they knew. I hope that doesn’t turn out to be the truth, but if it does, it’s important the council as a whole learns from it.
The role of a councillor, being deemed a position of trust, is full of meetings with families and children, especially if you carry out a lot of casework. The Devon Joint Safeguarding policy states that senior management need to identify jobs and roles which may lead to contact with vulnerable people. Clearly, the role of councillor is one of them. So we need to quickly find out who knew what during the investigation into John Humphreys, be that members or council staff. Because if in doubt, we should have reported it and removed him from councillor duties until the investigation was complete. And yes, no DBS check would have prevented this, and we can’t legally get them as councillors - it’s not a ‘designated role’ eligible for such checks. But it should be. I wonder if Simon Jupp may be willing to investigate this further on EDDC’s behalf?
Finally, a new report in the inews on Sunday 21st May by national journalist David Parsley suggests that the police investigation may not have run in a manner which it should have - indeed, quite the opposite.
Polive and Crime commissioner Alison Hernandez should, I believe, launch an inquiry into this. It’s her chance to prove that her Conservative background doesn’t stop her from investigating issues that may implicate her party colleagues. And, while we’re here…why is the Police and Crime Commissioner a political appointment?!
This is not a witch hunt - though if it’s found at the forthcoming investigation that information was withheld to protect mates, colleagues or brothers, that’s an entirely different matter - nor is it political. It is about learning from mistakes and making damn sure we do the right thing next time. It’s everyone’s responsibility, always.