In January 2011 a twenty-year-old man called Paul Wilson came to the attention of West Midlands Police as a result of an accusation by a 13-year-old girl of online grooming. Examination of his computer revealed many indecent images, including a serious assault of a toddler which he had recorded on his mobile phone. Wilson was working at the time at a small neighborhood nursery called Little Stars in Birmingham, and the little girl he filmed was one of the children attending the setting. He was jailed for life in July 2011 after pleading guilty to raping a child. He also admitted 47 counts of grooming of teenage girls over the internet.
Wilson was first taken on by the nursery as a student. It was Wilson’s second placement relating to the childcare course he was enrolled on. His first placement had taken place in a school and by all accounts it had gone well – when interviewed in prison he said he had not thought about abusing children in that setting as there were a number of rules there that would have made it difficult for abuse to take place.
Shortly after starting employment at the nursery, concerns began to be expressed amongst the staff team about the “special” relationship that Wilson had with the child who he went on to abuse. Students at the nursery commented to their college tutor that they had heard of a male member of staff at the nursery who had been taking children into the adult toilet on his own and sitting them on his lap. They weren’t taken seriously. Later an incident form was completed in the nursery recording that a member of staff had heard the toddler cry out when alone with Wilson in the sleep area. The records state that the child screamed and said “I want my mummy”. Nothing was done. Another worker had observed him cuddling the child, rocking her for hours at a time, wrapping her in a blanket and refusing to leave her, spending time with her to the exclusion of all others. The last was an anonymous referral to Ofsted and did not progress.
Wilson admitted that the abuse took place in the bathroom which was located off the room in which he worked. The children had been playing outside and he said the child had wanted to go to the toilet where the abuse later took place. Although mobile phones were not permitted in the nursery, they were kept in staff’s coat pockets which hung in the kitchen area. The room within which the Perpetrator worked was off the kitchen and it was relatively easy for him to retrieve his phone and use it to film the abuse.
This case raises a number of issues which I highlight during my training. I think a key point is that every setting must be proactively promoting an ongoing culture of vigilance. Wilson did not have a criminal record and no concerns had ever been expressed about him before his time at the nursery. Effective recruitment processes therefore need to move beyond a focus on DBS checks. Every setting needs to communicate to staff a deep commitment that abuse will not be tolerated and work towards creating environments where abusers cannot abuse.
On the Safer Recruitment training I attended recently delivered by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, the features of a safe culture are:
- An open culture, no secrets
- A belief that it could happen here
- Clear procedures for reporting concerns, including whistleblowing
- Support for children and adult who raise concerns and commitment to take action
- A code of conduct that makes clear what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour
- Policies and procedures that are put into practice
- Good induction and use of probationary periods
- A commitment to safeguarding and an ongoing culture of vigilance
For more information on this and other Serious Case Reviews, see: