Three Years on, Social Workers in Rikki Neave Scandal Are Failing to Protect Children at Risk

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Byline: STEVE DOUGHTY;JAMES GOLDEN

SOCIAL workers whose actions were censured after the death of six-year-old Rikki Neave are still failing to protect children, a report found yesterday.

Almost three years after he was found strangled, social services in Cambridgeshire are riddled with drift and inefficiency, it says.

Rikki died despite being on the county's register of 'at risk' children.

In October last year, his 28-year-old mother Ruth was jailed for seven years for cruelty and neglect of Rikki and two of his sisters.

Yesterday's report by the Social Services Inspectorate - one of the most scathing ever about the incompetence of social workers and their managers - says the Neave family had been known to Cambridgeshire social workers for 20 years.

The Government inspectors say they have no confidence that children at risk in the county are safe from harm or neglect.

Today, Health Minister Paul Boateng will carpet council chiefs in a meeting that may herald an upheaval in its social services department.

The Minister said: 'Today's report shows how Cambridgeshire failed to { Vital measures are needed| provide proper protection for children at risk of abuse or neglect.

'It is a legacy of incompetence at senior level. We cannot be confident that children at risk are being properly protected. Only limited progress has been made and the council's action plan has failed. Vital and robust measures are needed to protect children from the evil of abuse.' The report blamed managers for the failings, rather than the demoralised social workers who dealt with amphetamine addict Ruth Neave. None of those officials are still with the authority.

Tad Kubisa, social services director at the time of Rikki's death, was on leave when Ruth Neave was cleared of her son's murder. He then took early retirement.

His successor Ted Unsworth left the authority two weeks ago and is now an adviser to drugs charity Turningpoint.

Council chief executive Gordon Lister left in August.

None of these officals would comment yesterday. But Rikki's grandfather Maurice Harvey said: 'They should be

brought back here and held personally responsible.' Rikki's aunt Sandra Chesney said: 'They are like rats abandoning a sinking ship.' The social workers who dealt with Rikki's case have also left the authority. Case worker Debbie Lawson is now with another local authority.

Case worker Linda Marshall left to work in the private sector, and practice manager Sue O'Halloran left last year.

Yesterday's report contrasts sharply with an internal inquiry commissioned by the

council and carried out by the Bridge Consultancy agency.

That report, published in January this year, was dismissed by critics as a near-whitewash. It failed to name staff and managers guilty of chaotic organisation and allowing Ruth Neave to terrorise social workers.

At the time, Sir Herbert Laming, chief of the Social Services Inspectorate, gave Cambridgeshire three months to bring its operation up to scratch. …