Pembrokeshire child abuse row: Police given new details

The Welsh government says "time out" rooms should not be locked, as is alleged at Neyland Pupil Referral Unit

Related Stories

New information about the controversy surrounding child abuse allegations in Pembrokeshire has been passed to the police, it has emerged.

Pembrokeshire council confirmed it had given "new material" to officers on Wednesday as the row over child protection failings deepened.

The council leader has backed his top officials after they were criticised for the handling of the allegations.

There are claims that some children were locked in padded "time out" rooms.

It remains unclear to which allegation the new information given to the police refers.

Earlier a father also criticised the council's response after a teacher tied his son's hands behind his back.

WHISTLEBLOWER'S CONCERNS

Hayley Wood

The whistleblower who first raised concerns about children being locked in "time out" rooms at the Neyland Pupil Referral Unit (PRU)back in 2009 says she was asked to keep the issue "hush hush" when she referred it to Pembrokeshire council.

Hayley Wood, who was working for an advocacy service for children at the time, said she became aware of the issue after being asked to work with a young person who had been excluded from the PRU.

She said he told her he had been locked in a room at the PRU but when she referred it to Pembrokeshire social services, she was asked to keep it "hush hush". An investigation later took place.

Ms Wood said that as far as she was aware similar rooms were sometimes used when children were being violent - but she had been told by the Children's Legal Centre that it was illegal to use them for detention or punishment.

Ms Wood, who no longer works with Pembrokeshire council, said she believes the situation there is isolated.

"In my work which takes me all over Wales there's a lot and lot of outstanding good practice taking place," she said.

"Pembrokeshire authority are still providing a service which is pretty Victorian."

Ministers have given the council a final warning after raising questions about how many schools have used the "time out" rooms.

After a meeting with council leader Jamie Adams on Wednesday, the Welsh government said serious questions remained about events and the council's response.

"Additionally, we understand new material has come to light within the last 24 hours which has today been passed to the police," said the Welsh government, which called the safeguarding of children "absolutely paramount."

The Welsh government stepped in last year when inquiries by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales and schools inspectors Estyn warned about failures. It appointed a panel of experts to oversee the council's procedures.

Ministers are now considering giving the chair of the board - retired judge Graham Jones - the power to issue instructions so the authority meets its duties. Mr Adams has been given a deadline of 17:00 BST on 22 June to respond.

In a letter to Mr Adams on Tuesday, ministers asked how he can have confidence in his senior officers.

They said that on occasion officers "appear either not to know what is happening in the authority's schools or do know but then fail to disclose information appropriately or take appropriate action".

'Improved agenda'

After what Mr Adams called a "very constructive" meeting, he said: "I think I was able to provide them with evidence that they may not have been previously aware of with regard to improvements that we've made to the safeguarding agenda in Pembrokeshire.

A FATHER'S ANGER

Mike Lee

The letter sent by ministers to Pembrokeshire council's leader highlights an incident in March when it is claimed that Scott Lee, a six-year-old pupil at Meads Infant School in Milford Haven, had his hands tied by a teacher.

His father Mike Lee said: "There was an independent inquiry - a Welsh government investigator came down and did an interview with me and my wife, and with all parties involved.

"We weren't very happy with the response from the council."

He said the police told the family the teacher would probably be cautioned if they took the matter further.

"If I approached a child and did something like that, I'd be arrested straight away, but because it's a teacher, nothing is done, except disciplinary procedures," he added.

"I have faith that we are undertaking a journey of improvement in Pembrokeshire.

"The officers in question have been part of that journey and I see them as part of the solution in terms of delivering an improved agenda of safeguarding in Pembrokeshire."

He said some disciplinary procedures were under way "and we shall ensure that we meet the expectations of our public and indeed those who look in upon us".

The ministers' letter to Mr Adams highlights an incident in March when it is claimed that Scott Lee, a pupil at Meads Infant School in Milford Haven, had his hands tied by a teacher.

The Welsh government letter also details cases from 2009 in which children are said to have been locked in a small padded room with no natural light or ventilation at the Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) in Neyland. The unit caters for children with behavioural problems and with special educational needs.

The ministerial board also learned of similar rooms at a primary school in Pembroke Dock.

Ministers say they have heard about at least five rooms at schools in the county in which children were locked "and there may be several more".

'Very serious issues'

Last month the board found out that a further 18 rooms were apparently being used for "time out" purposes in other schools in Pembrokeshire.

Council social services director Jon Skone, who is conducting an audit of those 18 schools, said in a report he did not have "significant safeguarding concerns" about the 12 he has visited so far.

His audit does not include the PRU, Pembroke Dock Community School and a third school for children with special needs.

Mr Skone said Pembrokeshire and others had to balance the safeguarding of children with "very serious issues" arising in inspection reports.

He initially requested that Fenton Primary in Haverfordwest stop using a "dark room" because some of the walls and the door were padded.

In his report, the room is described as a "snoozelum", which are common in some special education schools and units.

He advised the head teacher to remove the padding - as it was "not an integral part of the room and its presence ran the risk of being interpreted in a variety of ways" - and that records need to be kept about using the room for therapeutic purposes.

"Once these conditions have been met then I have no safeguarding concerns about the use of this facility within the school," he said.

More on This Story

Related Stories

More Wales stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.