With Oxfordshire County Council set to be slammed by an inquiry into child and grooming rape tomorrow, the councillor with legal responsibility for children’s services during an eight year period of failure not only represents Witney West in David Cameron’s constituency, but is the daughter of his election agent, Barry Norton.
The serious case review — described by an insider as “brutal” — is expected to reveal that more than 300 young people were subject to grooming in the county between 1999 and 2014. According to The Guardian:
“Oxfordshire social services – which had responsibility for the girls’ safety – will be … damned for knowing they were being groomed and for failing to protect them despite compelling evidence they were in danger. One social worker told a trial that nine out of 10 of those responsible for the girls was aware of what was going on.
The lead member with statutory responsibility for children’s services from May 2005 — the year in which evidence of abuse was first presented to Oxfordshire children’s services — until May 2013, when an operation by Thames Valley Police finally led to the conviction of seven men on charges including child rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking, violence and illegal abortion, was councillor Louise Chapman.
Rather than being sacked or resigning, however, Chapman was promoted to a new cabinet-level role of ‘policy co-ordination’ — created at a £12,000 per-annum expense to the taxpayer — with oversight of policy across the whole authority. On the same day as the child abuse verdicts were handed down at the Old Bailey, Chapman told the press:
“It’s a new challenge for me. I have been doing children’s services for eight years and I think [council leader Ian Huspeth] wanted to refresh my role a bit.
“Part of my responsibility will be for the corporate plan, looking right across the council to make sure the way we’re doing things in the way people want us to be.
The cabinet role no longer exists, with council minutes suggesting that Chapman was quietly dropped in Summer 2014.
The Oxfordshire findings come in the wake of a similar report in Rotherham, which saw a string of resignations and sackings at the Labour local authority before Eric Pickles used powers to effectively sack the entire council. While the Oxfordshire chief executive is to stand down in the Summer, this is being spun as a cost-saving exercise.
While heads should be rolling, the political establishment in Oxfordshire seems determined to quietly manage the protagonists out of their jobs with a minimum of fuss.