Judge condemns council over children held prisoner in their home for 14 years
The two children, a boy and a girl, were aged 14 and 16 when they called the NSPCC in 2018 and reported that they had been banned from attending any schooling or medical appointments.
According to the BBC, the boy told the NSPCC call handler that there were “secrets in the family” and that they were “confined to the house and allowed out to the park only outside school hours”.
Their father admitted to child cruelty and neglect at an earlier court hearing and charges against the mother were dropped.
At the father’s sentencing at Snaresbrook crown court on Tuesday, Judge Sandy Canavan said the case was a “complete tragedy” and she “could not comprehend” how Waltham Forest council had missed the children’s situation despite both parents being known to social services.
Both parents, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had “significant limitations” due to their backgrounds and health problems, and the family had never made homeschooling applications for the children, the court heard.
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They previously had one child, who is now 28, taken into care over allegations of neglect. The court also heard that the council was also aware of the mother and grandmother’s health problems, reported the Evening Standard.
The children realised their life was “not right” through watching television programmes. Their education was limited to “colouring in” with their grandmother and they are effectively illiterate.
Judge Sandy Canavan said: “It is a tragedy, a complete tragedy… Their life chances have been so severely limited by what has happened.
“They are going to carry the consequences of those formative years throughout the rest of their lives.
“These children went completely under the radar. On the face of it there appears to have been an overwhelming failure by the local authority.”
The father was a man of “limited capabilities” but knew that his children should have attended school, she said, sentencing him to a two-year community order. A care plan will be put in place for him by the probation service, the judge added.
The children have been taken into care.
An independent serious case review in 2019 found social services could have acted sooner on 12 occasions.
The report said that although the children had missed multiple medical appointments as babies and had never been enrolled in school, social services did not seriously consider them “at risk”.
Dave Peplow, Independent Scrutineer for the Waltham Forest Safeguarding Children Board, said in a statement: “This was an exceptional and shocking set of circumstances.
“There are now more robust processes in place locally for young people known to ensure that elective home education is suitable for their needs including their social and emotional wellbeing.
“Additionally, collaborative working with health partners has been strengthened to ensure that information is shared accordingly.”
A spokesperson for the NSPCC said in a statement: “This is a terrible tragic case which will have had an incalculable impact on the lives of the children involved.
“It is, however, heartening that following the Serious Case Review, improvements appear to have been made by Waltham Forest Council.
“We all have a duty to protect children in our communities. Anyone worried about a child or about past abuse can seek advice by contacting the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.”