By Local Democracy Reporter
AN independent investigation into allegations that failings at Thurrock Council contributed to the death of a toddler has found no evidence of wrongdoing.
The investigation was launched in September after the Chief Executive of the authority received anonymous letters in January and September that claimed council officers missed opportunities that may have prevented the death of a toddler, which happened in Grays in January.
They also raised concerned about several officers in Children’s Services and about the recruitment process.
A specialist children’s safeguarding barrister was asked to investigate the claims and has concluded that they were “unsubstantiated”.
While the outcome of this investigation was discussed at the council’s cabinet meeting on November 14, Thurrock Council did not include it on the meeting’s agenda and failed to publish a report on the investigation until after it had taken place.
National guidelines state that information must be available to the public at least five working days before a meeting takes place.
But the council insisted it was a item of urgent business, with the independent report unavailable five days before the meeting – although council officers had enough time to condense a 28-page report into just four pages prior to the meeting taking place.
At the meeting, council Rob Gledhill said this was because “information wasn’t received until the back end of last week” and admitted that even cabinet members had not been provided with the report until 30 minutes before the meeting.
He said: “We received two whistleblowing allegations, one was in January 2018 that was investigated as a significant amount of whistleblowing notifications are internally. The allegations were linked to the recruitment process, competence and references were checked by HR and reported to the monitoring officer. Everything assessed was reviewed against other reports from outside bodies and the monitoring officer completed the report in April, it was found the allegations were unsubstantiated.
“Later, a letter dated August 2018 was received by the chief executive on September 4. It was a lot more in-depth, it had more specifics in relation to a case and reiterated some of the previous allegations. Because of the seriousness of this, in days the whistleblowing case was put to an outside barrister who is a specialist in investigating matters of child safety and child social care. They have had unrestricted access to everything.
“The file was locked down immediately, so it couldn’t be altered or tampered with. The barrister could look at absolutely anything they wished, everything was reported to Ofsted who at the time were coming in to do one of their investigations and regular reviews, which focussed on social workers at the time.
“They were fully appraised of what was going on, they are quite happy that everything has been done and I’m going to reiterate again, the report makes clear that the independent barrister found the case-specific allegations were investigated and unsubstantiated.”
The cabinet report states there is “no indication” the service is experiencing difficulties and claims this is supported by an Ofsted visit in October which was largely positive. However, a council report from the same month found that just 27 percent of children’s services staff thought the management team makes changes for the better and less that half said they could cope with the workload without excessive working hours.
A council spokesman said: “This information item was heard under Items of Urgent Business on the agenda as the report of the independent investigation was not available five days prior to the Cabinet meeting. The information was communicated publicly at the earliest opportunity which was as an urgent item to Cabinet.
“Meetings can hear additional items that the Chair is of the opinion should be considered as a matter of urgency, in accordance with Section 100B (4) (b) of the Local Government Act 1972.
“The barristers report will not be published as it is legally privileged and contains extensive sensitive third party personal data.”