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JW v Leicester City Council (1) and Leicestershire Police (2)

30 July 2018

Background

The claimant, JW, brought a claim for damages in respect of sexual abuse inflicted upon him by Martin Todd in 2009. The claimant secured convictions against Martin Todd in respect of this abuse on 10 March 2011.

JW was a child in the care of Leicester City Council and was accommodated at Dunblane Avenue Community Home, a home which caters for 7 young people aged between 13 and 18 with the aim of preparing them for independence and life after care.

Martin Todd was and is a Schedule 1 offender. Having been convicted of sexual abuse of children he was released from prison to the Leicester area where he was being managed by way of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order. In an attempt to assess and manage Mr Todd’s behaviours he was the subject of a multi-agency meeting known as MAPPA. 

The lead agency in risk managing Mr Todd’s behaviour was Leicestershire Police. Input was made to MAPPA meetings by a number of agencies including representatives from Leicester City Council’s Children’s Services and Housing Department.

In recognition of the difficulty monitoring offenders if they are homeless or living at an unknown location, the MAPPA meeting requested an exceptional resource of Leicester City Council to find accommodation for Mr Todd. An initial available property located was rejected by the Police when a risk assessment showed that it was in close proximity to a school. A second property was approved by the Police and Mr Todd was placed there. 

It ultimately transpired that this address was around a 5-10 minute walk from Dunblane Avenue Community Home. Mr Todd befriended and groomed the claimant and sexually abused him on three occasions. Once the claimant disclosed this to his social worker, Mr Todd was arrested and convicted of abuse of the claimant.

The claim

A claim was brought against Leicester City Council and Leicestershire Police and can be broken down into three parts:

  1. An allegation that the staff at Dunblane Avenue Community Home did not appropriately monitor him.
  2. An allegation that the Police did not properly assess the placement of Mr Todd or appropriately manage his behaviours.
  3. An allegation that through its involvement in the MAPPA meetings, Leicester City Council was also responsible for Mr Todd’s placement which was said to have been inappropriate.

The claimant’s claim in respect of the management of Dunblane Avenue Community Home failed. HHJ Hampton found that staff there took active steps to warn and advise the claimant of the dangers of alcohol and substance abuse and that they had reasonably believed that the cause of the claimant’s challenging behaviour was ongoing difficulties in his family relationships. The staff there did not breach their duty to the claimant.

The claimant’s claim in respect of the placement of Mr Todd succeeded. He was awarded £52,000 with 80% of this to be paid by Leicestershire Police and 20% to be paid by Leicester City Council.

In respect of the Police evidence was given at trial by Mr Norton. Mr Norton was responsible for the risk assessment of Mr Todd’s accommodation and explained to the court that he had not visited the property prior to approving it, instead relying on a colleague’s earlier risk assessment of a nearby property. Mr Norton told the court that had he walked around the area, he would have come across Dunblane Avenue (the road) and known from his experience that the Home was there. He stated that had he become aware of this, he would not have approved the placement of Mr Todd.

HHJ Hampton considered that the approval of this address by Mr Norton was a positive act as was his decision not to visit the area or make enquiries of local police units about the area. She considered there was also a failure to ask appropriate questions of Children’s Services or the Housing Department of Leicester City Council. HHJ Hampton concluded that the Police approval of accommodation was a positive act giving risk to a foreseeable risk of injury to vulnerable adolescents living nearby.

At trial, members of staff from Children’s Services and Housing gave evidence as to their role in MAPPA meetings at the relevant time. Children’s Services explained that their role was to report on children known to the offender being discussed. The Housing Department explained that it was their role to locate an available property once MAPPA had requested an exceptional resource. They explained that an address would be passed to the Police to accept or reject on the basis of their risk assessment. Both departments highlighted their understanding that the Police would risk assess a property.

HHJ Hampton expressed concern that neither Children’s Services or the Housing Department, under their general duty to assist MAPPA, asked questions of the address proposed by the Police or offer information as to the location of Leicester City Council Children’s Homes. On that basis, she considered that Leicester City Council was a party to creating the risk to the claimant.

HHJ Hampton has refused Leicester City Council and Leicestershire Police permission to appeal this decision. Any appeal will rely on permission being granted by the senior courts.

The implications

In response to the abuse of the claimant, changes have been made to the MAPPA process in Leicester. MAPPA conducted a serious case review which was published in March 2012 and in October 2011 a Police independent management report was prepared.

Both of these documents noted the failure to take into account Children’s Homes when risk assessments of addresses were undertaken by Police. The court heard that Leicester City Council now provides the Police with a list of all Children’s Homes and approved foster placements which is utilised in any Police risk assessment of addresses.

This judgment will have important and wide reaching impact upon any authority dealing with multi-agency meetings and risk management on a national basis. 

The decision imposes liability not only on lead agencies with responsibility to risk manage and monitor offenders in the community but appears to tread new ground, attributing liability to other agencies in attendance at multi-agency meetings who do not volunteer information over and above what is asked of them. 

Browne Jacobson LLP are instructed to act on behalf of Leicester City Council who have sought permission to appeal this decision. We consider that further clarity is required as to the nature and extent of any liability of agencies when contributing to a multi-agency meeting. 

For any further information about this or similar matters, please contact Laura Broadhead or Sarah Erwin-Jones.

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