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Family Law

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22 OCT 2009

CHILD PROTECTION: R (Webster) v Swindon Local Safeguarding Children Board (Department for Children, Schools and Families) [2009] EWHC 2755 (Admin)

(Administrative Court; Kenneth Parker J; 22 October 2009)

A white child was attacked at the school by a group of Asians, some of them pupils at the school. A hammer was used, and the child suffered serious head injuries. Following criminal proceedings, which resulted in 12 convictions, the child, with three others, brought civil proceedings against the school, claiming that the school had failed to take adequate measures to prevent the assault. Two years after the assault the minister wrote to the local safeguarding board, indicating that this seemed to be a case worthy of serious case review, as provided for by the Children Act 2004 and the Local Safeguarding Children Boards Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/90). The board eventually concluded that a phased review was appropriate, and that, because of the pending civil proceedings, the only issue for the first phase was what had happened since the assault; all other issues, including what had actually happened during the assault and what could have been done to prevent it, were postponed. It emerged later that the school's position was that the school could not cooperate with a review because of instructions received from their insurers.

Serious case reviews were appropriate primarily, but not exclusively, in the field of parental or carer neglect or abuse. Given the gravity of the injuries sustained by the child in an incident with apparent racist overtones, it was imperative that the local safeguarding board should have promptly initiated a comprehensive serious case review to report expeditiously on all the issues. If the board was minded to adopt a procedure that would substantially defer a comprehensive serious case review, there had to be a compelling reason, well formulated and properly substantiated. To assess, in any effective or rational way, the efficacy of measures taken after the assault, it was necessary to examine and evaluate conditions at the school before the attack and to scrutinise carefully the actual events. The judgment in the civil action might overlap with matters considered in the serious case review, but it was not reasonably necessary to await any such judgment before undertaking a comprehensive review. The board should have addressed and sought to resolve the school's approach; the spectre of statutory serious case reviews being stymied by the insurance industry was of great potential significance.

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