A major investigation has been launched into the failings of police and social services in two counties after a man was jailed for raping his two daughters and fathering nine of his own grandchildren. The 56-year-old businessman from Sheffield held his daughters virtual prisoners for 25 years, moving them around houses in South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire to avoid detection. The sexual abuse, which has chilling parallels to the case of the Austrian rapist Josef Fritzl, started when the girls were eight years old. Their father would rape them up to three times a week and punch, kick and hold them to the flames of a gas fire if they refused his demands.
The women were at Sheffield Crown Court to hear a judge give him 25 life sentences for rape, with a minimum term of 19r years. The man, who cannot be named to protect his victims' identities, refused to attend. The two women became pregnant 19 times in all. Two of their nine children died at birth.
Sentencing Mr X, Judge Alan Goldsack, QC, said: "In nearly 40 years of dealing with criminal cases and 14 as a family judge the combination of aggravating circumstances here is the worst I have come across."
Politicians and child protection experts asked how the abuse was not detected by the numerous social workers, doctors, teachers and police officers who came into contact with the ever-expanding family over 20 years. Sheffield City Council has launched an independent inquiry, and the role of South Yorkshire Police, Lincolnshire County Council and Lincolnshire Police will also be examined. Both councils said that the family was known to them. The court was told of several contacts with authorities that could have raised the alarm.
The details of the case have come to light a fortnight after news of the death of Baby P in Haringey, North London, sparked public outcry and fears that the entire child protection system is fundamentally flawed.
The daughters described their father's sentencing as a final escape from decades of mental and physical torture. "His detention in prison brings us only the knowledge that he cannot physically touch us again," they said in a statement. "The suffering he has caused will continue for many years and we must now concentrate our thoughts on finding the strength to rebuild our lives."
The inquiries are likely to focus on health professionals' failure to raise the alarm. James Baird, representing the defendant, said that it was inconceivable that the crimes could go un-noticed. "All the signs were indicative of an incestuous relationship," he said.
Social services in Lincolnshire had contact with the family when the daughters were young and suspicions were raised about the children's parentage. In 1997 the women's brother came forward with "hearsay evidence" of incest. Police investigated the claim, but no further action was taken. The family moved back to South Yorkshire in 2004 and social services again became involved, but the abuse went undetected.
Chief Superintendent Simon Torr, of South Yorkshire Police, defended the force from claims that it could have stopped the abuse earlier. "This has been a thorough, robust, timely and professional investigation from the moment that the victims first disclosed the abuse, and Sheffield City Council have fully supported the police in bringing about a successful prosecution," he said.
Negligence by NHS doctors perpetuated gross sexual abuse
Doctors treating two daughters who were made pregnant 19 times by their abusive father failed repeatedly to follow professional guidelines on alerting the authorities to suspected rape. Failings by the authorities in the case of a Sheffield father who forced his daughters to bear him nine children included breaches of medical codes and ignoring the recommendations of an inquiry into a recent incest case.
Gordon Brown spoke of the nation's outrage yesterday as he vowed that lessons would be learnt from the “unspeakable” abuse. The Prime Minister said that any necessary changes would be made to the system as a result of the case, in which the 56-year-old businessman — known in court as Mr X to protect his daughters' identities — received 25 life sentences for rape. His crimes against his daughters, committed over at least 25 years, have been compared with those of the Austrian rapist Josef Fritzl.
“The whole country will be outraged by those unspeakable events that have been reported as happening in Sheffield and in other parts of the country and will be utterly appalled by the news of the systemic abuse of two sisters by their father over such a long period,” Mr Brown told MPs at Prime Minister's Questions. “People will want to know how such abuse could go on for so long without the authorities and the wider public services discovering it and taking action.”
The Times has learnt that the repeated failure of health professionals, social workers and the police to intervene, breached a key recommendation of an official review four years ago into an case of rape and incest with disturbing similarities.
In 2003 a man from Swindon was jailed for 15 years after fathering six children by his eldest daughter during 30 years of abuse. The inquiry into the failure to halt the abuse found serious failings in the way the agencies worked together and shared information despite growing suspicion about the origin of the children. It recommended that in future cases of suspected rape within the family, agencies should prepare a family tree and a chronology of significant events.
Details of the case involving the sisters from Sheffield show that, after one of them had given birth, doctors began questioning whether the baby's father was also the father of the newborn's mother. They failed to follow procedures set out by the General Medical Council dictating that authorities should be alerted in such cases.
Doctors in hospitals in South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire who became aware of the family's history of recurrent genetic disorders also advised the sisters on separate occasions not to have more offspring with the man fathering the children. Two of the nine children died within hours of being born because of conditions caused by genetic defects. Nicholas Campbell, QC, for the prosecution, told Sheffield Crown Court this week: “Someone in the hospital asked whether the father of the child was her own father. The daughter was terrified and she denied it. “Her mother was present and she collapsed on the floor crying out, 'no, it can't be true', but at no time did she ask her daughter questions about the identity of her child's father.”
A Serious Case Review is being carried out into why social services in Sheffield and Lincolnshire, and the police in both counties, failed to protect the girls despite warnings. Lincolnshire Social Services admitted yesterday shortcomings in the work of their staff, which allowed the abuse to continue for 25 years. Peter Duxbury, director of children's services at Lincolnshire County Council, said that the way information was shared between the authorities had changed since the family lived there and that nowadays the case “would have been dealt with in a different way”.
The role of schools and teachers will also be examined as part of the case review. On one occasion in 1988, burn marks on the face of one of the girls were spotted at their school but were put down to bullying. The other daughter suffered a broken arm but stayed off lessons to conceal her injuries.
Woman netted $200,000 by making 22 claims under stupid British "ageism" laws
She was only stopped when she got too greedy
A woman has made up to 100,000 pounds by claiming 22 firms discriminated against her because of her age. Taking advantage of controversial new legislation, 50-year-old Margaret Keane made identical applications for jobs as a chartered accountant, responding only to advertisements seeking 'recently qualified' staff. She then made swift follow-up calls demanding to know why she had not been offered the posts, before immediately launching waves of age discrimination claims - even though her error-strewn CV had not included her date of birth.
Up to 12 firms, fearing huge legal costs, caved in and gave her out-of-court payouts understood to be between 4,000 and 10,000 pounds each, underlining fears raised by employers about European age discrimination laws introduced in 2006.
But Miss Keane's campaign has suffered a setback when five of her cases were rejected by an employment tribunal which accepted that she was a 'not a bona fide job applicant, but a serial litigator' purely seeking compensation. The five firms are each demanding she pays them more than 10,000 in costs.
Miss Keane, from Harrow, north London, qualified as a chartered accountant in 1991, and at one time had a 75,000 a year post with HSBC. She currently works part-time for a publisher.
On May 4 last year she applied by email for posts offering up to 60,000 a year advertised through ten accounting recruitment agencies. In her tribunal claim she said: 'All these agencies use words in their advertisements like "newly qualified", "entry level role" and "high calibre candidate", I believe to attract younger and exclude older candidates.'
Miss Keane waited two weeks before phoning the agencies and demanding to know why she had not got the job. She then began actions for damages through the Watford Employment Tribunal. Days after the first wave, she applied for jobs through another 11 employment agencies, again swiftly making follow up calls and launching more claims for age discrimination, this time through the London Central employment tribunal.
Some agents tried to explain that although she was unsuitable for the job she had applied for - often because she did not have a degree - they might be able to find her another. She showed no interest in other opportunities, however, and was described as 'rude' on the phone by one recruitment agent.
The first cases to be put to a tribunal were the 11 London Central ones, but six firms settled out of court - largely, it is believed, because of the regulations applied to discrimination cases. If a claimant can prove simply that they might have been discriminated against because of age, the employer must show its actions were not motivated by age.
The remaining five London cases were heard together in March. All were rejected. Miss Keane continued with the process of taking the first ten agencies to the Watford tribunal. After one agency told her the name of the employer for whom it was advertising the job, Sony BMG Music Entertainment UK Ltd, she added it to her list. Before the case began, six of the companies concerned, including Sony, settled out of court. The remaining five fought on, all represented by barrister Peter Linstead.
Mr Linstead told the tribunal: 'Miss Keane has suffered no detriment as these were not bona fide applications. 'The evidence suggests she made these applications with the sole intention of bringing a claim, not doing the job. 'She has not explained why suddenly she wanted to do a job apparently aimed at someone with little or no experience. 'She deliberately obstructed the process of finding herself a job, failing to tailor her applications for different roles, gave the wrong date for her qualifications and left four typing errors on her CV, and failed to apply for jobs commensurate with her 18 years of experience.'
Before the tribunal's decision, Miss Keane told the Daily Mail: 'Bringing these claims has not been easy - it's taken me full-time study almost every night to try to understand the law. If the judge decides my cases were an abuse of the system, I'm stuffed.'
Outrage over film's 'disabled theme' warning
Must pretend that disabled people are no different from anybody else:
"The British film classification board is in trouble after slapping a "disability theme" warning on a comedy starring disabled actors. When the British Board of Film Classification rated the low-budget film Special People, it tagged on a warning to viewers that the film contained disabled people, the Daily Mail reports.
The film's director, Justin Edgar, told the Mail the guidance that the film had a 'disability theme' unfairly singled out a section of society. "We have already had complaints from the actors and some disability groups in the audience who were angry about the advisory note warning people that disabled actors were used. "You don't get films with black people or women being categorised in this way, so why do it for films with disabled people in them?"
The 350,000 pound movie, part-funded by the UK Film Council, was shortlisted for the People's Choice award at the Edinburgh Film Festival and takes a wry look at life from the perspective of a group of disabled film students. The board has now withdrawn the disabled guidance but the filmmaker said it was too late to change publicity.
I imagine that the disability must have been pretty major to warrant a warning.
ANOTHER CONFIRMATION THAT THE POOR ARE SICKER
This too is consistent with a pattern of general biological fitness
Co-occurrence of risk factors for cardiovascular disease by social class: 1958 British birth cohort
By C Power et al.
Aim: To establish whether social differences in multiple risk factors for cardiovascular disease are due to a greater strength of association (higher correlation) between risk factors in less advantaged groups.
Methods: Co-occurrence of five risk factors (smoking, hypertension, low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, obesity, diabetes) in 3614 British 45-year-old men and 3560 women in the manual and non-manual social groups.
Results: 4.0% of women in manual groups had 3 or more risk factors compared with 1.7% in non-manual groups: 6.2% and 3.4% respectively for men. There was a higher than expected percentage of the population, overall, with 3 or more risk factors assuming independence between risk factors; correspondingly, there was a slightly lower than expected proportion with one factor. However, patterns of observed to expected ratios were consistent in manual and non-manual groups and did not differ by the number of risk factors.
Conclusions: Higher prevalence of multiple risk factors in manual groups was due to the higher prevalence of individual factors rather than a greater tendency of those with an individual risk factor to have additional risks. Strategies to reduce multiple risk factors in less advantaged groups would help to lessen their health burden.
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2008;62:1030-1035
Regular blackouts to hit Britain within three years because there is a shortage of new power stations
Families face regular blackouts within three years because Britain has not built enough new power stations, it has been claimed. Consumers will be hit by an 'energy gap' when a number of existing stations are shut down, a study suggests. Nine oil and coal-fired power plants are to close by 2015 because of an EU directive designed to limit pollution and associated acid rain. At the same time, four ageing nuclear power plants will be shut, further reducing the electricity available to homes and businesses.
Analysts Capgemini warn that we will not have new nuclear power plants until around 2018. And they are concerned that the rush to build wind farms will not deliver the power needed to ensure the lights stay on. Energy consultant for Capgemini UK, Alistair Green, said: 'An energy gap is looming, which could lead to black-outs or so-called brown-outs.' Brown-outs occur when the voltage in the system needs to be turned down because of a lack of electricity in the system, effectively dimming the lights.
Mr Green said: 'We are looking at the possibility of black-outs and brownouts within three to four years. 'We might get to a situation of rota disconnections, where all the domestic homes and businesses are cut off in an area of a town on a rota basis.' He added: 'Electricity is key to homeowners and businesses. This is a pretty frightening prospect.'
Mr Green said the problem had occurred because Britain's privatised power industry has not taken the decision to build more stations sooner, largely because they could not be sure of making a profit from them. The first application to build new plants will not be made until next year, which will trigger a public consultation that is expected to take more than a year. Even if permission is granted in 2010, it would take at least seven years to build stations and upgrade the National Grid wires network to cope.
Mr Green said the National Grid might have to commission its own new power stations if there are any further delays. Similar measures have been taken by the authorities in Ireland, Greece and South Africa to ensure the lights stay on.
Dr Jon Gibbins, of Imperial College, recently issued a similar warning of black-outs because of a failure to replace ageing power plants. 'You can't guarantee that the lights will stay on,' he said. 'You are just taking a tremendous risk. People die when you lose electricity supplies.' Dr Gibbins and many other industry experts are concerned the UK is becoming increasingly reliant on imported gas. This puts us at the mercy of gas-rich states in the Middle East and Russia, which is flexing its muscles as the world's first energy superpower. Dr Gibbins said it is vital that Britain takes its electricity from diverse sources.
Energy minister Michael O'Brien insisted that the UK is building enough power stations. He pointed to the fact that French company EDF is committed to spending 12.5billion pounds on new nuclear power stations. 'It is the case that National Grid has said total power station capacity is predicted to rise by 37 per cent by 2015. Not only will the lights not go out, but actually they will be brighter,' he said. 'In the long term, there will be new nuclear. In the shorter term there will be gas, renewables and the oil industry has the flexibility to deal with supply emergencies.' He said that new North Sea exploration licences are being granted to firms that aim to recover an additional 20billion barrels of oil.
Black Anglican archbishop attacks British immigration boss
The Archbishop of York is to launch a blistering attack on Britain's beleaguered immigration minister, accusing him of making dangerous and inaccurate claims. Dr John Sentamu will say Phil Woolas has made serious allegations about the conduct of lawyers which were not supported by the facts, and express concern over the minister's "unmerciful" attitude. He says the minister has been immature in his handling of immigration at a time when the Government should be setting an example to brutal regimes in countries such as Zimbabwe. Instead it has tried to make political capital out of the issue by "tough-talking" designed to win votes, says the archbishop.
In a wide-ranging critique of British society, Dr Sentamu argues that such cynical tactics have contributed to a breakdown in community and neighbourliness and are "a worrying development". Consumerism and materialism have become rampant under Labour and have led to the current economic crisis, he says.
In a speech at the Royal Society to be delivered on Thursday evening, Dr Sentamu will urge the Government to find a vision for the country rather than just concentrating on short-term solutions to the recession. He says that society deserves better than politicians such as Mr Woolas, who recently attacked lawyers representing asylum seekers for "playing the system". "Speaking as someone without a vested interest and is not a member of any industry to which the honourable member was referring, I would suggest that the allegation that lawyers are undermining the Law is very serious indeed." The archbishop suggests that Mr Woolas is suffering from "terminal inexactitude" and is ignoring the facts.
The attack from the archbishop follows a string of high-profile gaffes made by Mr Woolas since he took up the immigration brief in October. He appeared to call for a cap on migration to Britain in a strongly worded newspaper interview, saying he would not allow the population to reach 70 million, only to backtrack the next day. Mr Woolas then admitted Labour had made a series of mistakes in handling the number of people coming to the country, but was again forced to issue a "clarification" hours later. He was further humiliated when he was pulled from a scheduled appearance on the BBC's Question Time debate, and at a public appearance in Manchester he was hit in the face by a custard pie thrown by a pro-migration campaigner. Mr Woolas has also caused controversy during his brief time in the spotlight by predicting the disestablishment of the Church of England, going against stated Government policy.
Dr Sentamu will claim that the Labour Government has failed to provide a vision for Britain, and that despite growing prosperity society has been allowed to fall apart. "It seems to me that the poison fruit that has sprouted within our democratic system is that of apathy, disempowerment and a loss of memory of our history, culture and tradition," he will say. "It is a lack of interest, or boredom borne not only of material excess, where consciences have grown so fat on consumption that they ceased to function but also through a lack of shared big picture. The lack of a bigger vision to hold us all together. "Whilst we have all benefited from the economic progress of past decades the consequences of rampant consumerism and individualism - both economic and social - have been to eradicate the glue that coheres communities together."
Dr Sentamu will also argue that Government policy and the legal system in Britain takes no account of morality or of the Christian imperative to love one's neighbour. He is to cite the example of a seriously ill Ghanaian woman, Ama Sumani, who in 2006 was deported from the UK back to her home country because her visa had expired, and who later died because she could not afford treatment. "Sadly, the separation of religion, morality and law has gone too far, leading to such dire unintended consequences," the archbishop will say.
Don't outlaw boisterous banter in the playground
As Britain launches another Anti-Bullying Week, the author of Reclaiming Childhood says demonising teasing can do more harm than good
This year's anti-bullying week in the UK - with its theme of `Being different, belonging together' - kicks off today. And it provides a powerful reminder that official fretting over children's wellbeing, over the supposedly terrible dangers of bullying in the playground, can do more harm than good, stunting children's developmental growth and harming their social interaction with others.
The annual anti-bullying week is an initiative launched by the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA), founded in 2002 by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the National Children's Bureau. The ABA brings together 60 organisations `with the aim of reducing bullying and creating safer environments in which children and young people can live, grow, play and learn'.
At the launch event for anti-bullying week, in the Globe Theatre in London, the secretary of state for children, families and schools, Ed Balls, said: `When I talk to mums and dads, when I talk to children in primary school and secondary school to ask what is really important about school, often they will say that the most important thing is to make sure there isn't bullying.' (1)
In last month's Ofsted survey of more than 150,000 10- to 15-year-olds in England, 39 per cent said they had been bullied at school and over a quarter said bullying was a `significant' concern (2).
In preparation for this year's anti-bullying week, ABA sent every school in England a resource pack to help prepare them for a stream of anti-bullying initiatives and activities. These include an `Ideas for pupils' section, with suggestions such as: `Get everyone in your school to wear blue for the day', and `Get all the people wearing blue into the playground to form different shapes or words - for example "Say No", "No", "Stop", "Stop Bullying", "Be Unique"' (3). The packs also include a `Briefing for school leaders' explaining that the theme `Being different, belonging together' will encourage schools to `open up the central issue of difference in their communities to further scrutiny, and to use Anti-Bullying Week as an opportunity to ask what it is that makes people unique and different, whilst retaining a key focus on what unites and unifies them' (4).
As an aside, surely this slogan sits rather uneasily with the government's anti-obesity drive, and its plan to weigh all children in Reception and Year 6, to see if they are an `acceptable' size? If anything will make children feel different from the `norm', and cut off from their classmates, it will be something like the government's top-down shaming of chubby children and its celebration of slim children. This government measure is likely to encourage overweight and obese children to obsess unnecessarily about their bodies, to feel like failures in comparison to other children and as a drain on the nation's resources. It is striking, and very worrying, that almost a third (32 per cent) of the children in the Ofsted survey said they were concerned `about their body' when asked what worried them most.
However, setting aside government hypocrisy over `differences' between kids, surely it is a laudable aim to try to reduce bullying and create a safer environment for children?
For a small minority of children, bullying is undoubtedly a profound problem. Every year we read tragic news stories about children taking their own lives after years of incessant bullying. In 2004, 13-year-old Laura Rhodes from Neath, South Wales, took a fatal overdose. Her parents said she had been terrified by the bullying and taunts she endured at school every day. That same year, 12-year-old Aaron Armstrong was found hanged in a hayshed at his family farm in County Antrim in Ireland after being bullied at school.
Such stories are heartbreaking - and they are precisely why we need to put the discussion about bullying in some proper perspective. Unlike these tragic cases, much that is defined as bullying today is not bullying at all. It is boisterous banter or everyday playground disputes that could - and should - be resolved without adult intervention. Treating all playground disputes as serious acts of abuse does not help victims of terrible bullying, like Laura or Aaron. Indeed, as I argue in my forthcoming book Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear, it discourages a proper sense of vigilance about real brutality perpetrated by a handful of children in favour of seeing all relationships between all children as somehow problematic.
Today's obsession with bullying is not good for children and it is not good for teachers, either. Teachers are increasingly lumbered with the task of looking after children's health and wellbeing, rather than being allowed to get on with the task of educating them. And children are encouraged to assume that their relationships with other children are damaging, and are tacitly encouraged to look upon their peers with trepidation and suspicion.
As more and more forms of behaviour are labelled as `bullying' - from arguments to group-creation, from name-calling to actual violence - so more and more children come to be labelled as `bullies' or `victims'. Professor Dennis Hayes, co-author of the 2008 book The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education, believes anti-bullying policies are making mattes worse. `The more you talk about bullying, the more it sensitises people to every social slight, and the more it becomes a problem', he argues.
In the ABA's school resource pack teachers are told that they need to `keep the signs of bullying in the forefront of their minds' (5). But if teachers become involved in every playground spat or squabble, they will both blow incidents out of proportion and, more worryingly still, undermine children's ability to manage uncomfortable situations.
Some childhood experiences are of course hurtful; and for children, a nasty taunt or a fallout with your best friend can genuinely feel like the end of the world. That does not mean, however, that these experiences actually are harmful. Being left out of a playground game may make a child cry for a week, but by the following week he or she is likely to be involved again and earlier antagonisms will have been forgotten. Children are not emotionally scarred by these experiences: they get over them and move on. Once the experience is labelled as `bullying', however, and a teacher becomes involved and makes it an Official Issue, then it becomes an issue of much greater significance, driving a more permanent wedge between the putative victim and that week's bullies, and making it far harder for the spontaneous dynamics of playground life to resolve themselves.
There is a real danger that by focusing on bullying we can end up denying children the experiences they need to develop. American sociologist William Corsaro shows that conflict, especially arguments and teasing, can `help bring children together and help organise activities': `Recent research on peer conflict among elementary school children shows how disputes are a basic means for construction of social order, cultivating, testing and maintaining friendships, and developing and displaying social identity. Disputes, teasing and conflict can add a creative tension that increases [play's] enjoyment.' (5)
If we treat children as if they cannot possibly cope with hurtful experiences, then we will likely undermine their confidence and make them less likely to cope with difficult events in the future. In effect, we will prevent them from growing up.
The UK government document Building Brighter Futures, which outlines a 10-year `Children's Plan', states: `Bullying can destroy lives and have an immeasurable impact on young people's confidence, self-esteem, mental health and social and emotional development.' This obsession with the long-term effects of bullying leads to a situation where children might become unwilling, and even incapable of, resolving their own problems with their peers - and that could damage children's development, and their relationships with each other, far more than the odd stone thrown or insult shouted.