Council admits failings over forced marriage case

Questions asked over local authority’s handling of child protection case, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Charles Babbage House in Melling Drive is home to Enfield Council’s children’s services
Charles Babbage House in Melling Drive is home to Enfield Council’s children’s services

Opposition councillors have demanded urgent answers on the political oversight of a case in which Enfield Council failed to prevent a forced marriage.

Judge Oliver Jones found the council and its social services missed opportunities to protect a girl, now aged 15, from being married to a man ten years older than her, who beat and allegedly raped her.

The council failed to take action despite warnings from teachers and social workers in 2019 that she was at risk of a forced marriage, Barnet County Court heard. In June 2020 the girl, who could not be named for legal reasons, was forced to marry the man after travelling to a different country.

Enfield Council – which said it “accepted the judge’s findings and should have dealt with the case far better” – has pledged to do more to ensure all potential victims of forced marriage are protected from harm.

But councillors from opposition group Community First are demanding answers over the case and are calling for stronger and more robust safeguarding procedures.

The group has written to council leader Nesil Caliskan asking what the then-cabinet member in charge of children’s services, Rick Jewell, did about the case, and when he was personally notified about it. 

Their letter also asks why he was not attending the safeguarding partnership board meetings “and asking the important and relevant questions, particularly as the lead cabinet member legally retains a statutory responsibility for safeguarding”.

Cllr Jewell was cabinet member for children’s services from May 2019 until June this year, when he was handed the environment portfolio by the council leader. 

Ayfer Orhan, an ex-Labour councillor who is now Community First’s shadow lead for children’s services, said that when she was cabinet member for children and schools she regularly attended the children’s safeguarding partnership board “to hear first-hand from all stakeholders […] to see how diligent they all were in protecting children and young people”. 

Community First’s letter, co-signed by group leader Dinah Barry and Cllr Orhan, also asks when the council leader and cabinet were made aware of the case, and why the leader “failed to take all necessary action […] to protect this vulnerable young person”.

It continues: “Going forward, it is essential that the council takes urgent action to put in place a learning review and much stronger and robust safeguarding procedures. 

“We therefore want assurances that the new lead cabinet member will be instructed to attend with regularity the children’s executive board meetings so as to have political oversight into the procedural workings of the partnership at its highest level.”

Responding to Community First’s comments, Tony Theodoulou, the council’s statutory director of children’s services, said: “First and foremost, on behalf of Enfield Council, I would like to express my deepest regret for the harm suffered by the victim of this horrendous abuse. All the professionals involved with her are doing everything they can to help her recover from the trauma she has experienced.

“Enfield Council has an unwavering commitment to do everything we possibly can to protect children from abuse, and the council has invested in additional staff and services in response to a rising demand for child protection services in recent years.

“Investigating child abuse is complex work that requires a range of checks and balances to ensure that high standards of practice are maintained. 

“I am extremely disappointed that those standards were not fully met during this investigation and, in consultation with the administration, have commissioned a comprehensive review of the actions taken by officers in relation to this case and an investigation of all similar cases. The officers involved will be performing alternative duties while the outcome of the investigation is pending.

“If any member of the public or professional suspects that a child is being exploited or at risk of becoming a victim of a forced marriage, I would urge them to contact the children’s multi-agency safeguarding hub on 020 8379 5555 [and] always call 999 in an emergency.”