Child Protection in schools
When your children are in school, the school is responsible for keeping them safe from harm and abuse. The school should create a safe learning environment, identify pupils who are suffering or at risk of harm and take any appropriate action. The school also needs to train staff in child protection.
Protect the children – this is the statement made by many, including schools, the police, social services, the media, politicians, the list goes on, rightly so, but are these just words?
I do not dispute that they are said with genuine intentions and belief, but what happens when it’s the children hurting the children? I am not alone with my tragic experience of a flawed Child Protection system which completely failed my children and continues to do so.
How the abject failure of Child Protection policies began for my family
This wretched failure began in February 2020. My son, then 14, walked into school, a supposed place of safety. He was late, only to be met by a large group of teenagers who had been waiting for him to arrive. To say what happened next was not a pleasant experience would be an understatement.
I found out about the assault that occurred when my son, and not the school, phoned me. Incidentally, using a phone that he is not allowed to have in school and which would be confiscated if seen, even if it was just in his bag. He was crying and struggling to speak. This was 30 minutes after the altercation. It was through his sobs that I managed to discover that he had been attacked for (allegedly) being a ‘nonce’.
This attack took place on school grounds, during the school day. It begs the question, where was the supervision or protection?
Obviously, I then contacted the school, only to be informed that they had been given ‘evidence’ that my son (aged 14) had raped a 12-year-old girl. Now as I’m sure you can imagine, I was in shock – the school claimed they were in possession of evidence!
However, the school would not disclose what this evidence was or where it had come from. They refused to explain when they had become of aware of the situation and why my son was left to defend himself against numerous teenagers. When asked how the school had protected my child, there was no response, but they did inform me that the police had been notified.
This is where the story got complicated. I sat down with my son (14 years old) and daughter (11 years old) in an attempt to find out what had been going on. I wasn’t expecting what came next.
After some very awkward looks between my two children, the truth came out.
Apparently, the 12-year-old girl whom my son (aged 14) had been accused of raping, was my daughter’s friend. The alleged rape had taken place in November 2019, some 4 months previously. This same school friend was a regular visitor to our house until this allegation was made. She had stayed quite happily for a week in January 2020 and she seemed the same as she always was, talking and joking with all of us. She certainly did not act scared or quiet, as you would expect when faced with your rapist.
The reason for this is because it never happened.
Background to the assault
My son had had problems with a boy who I will call ‘Peter’ ever since they were in primary school. He had always been a bully towards my son. Why? I have no idea, he just was. Peter (now aged 15) had been messaging my 11-year-old daughter. He was trying to act anonymously, but we knew who it was due to the fact he would also message in his own account and say the same things.
He had been talking to my daughter and managed to persuade her to send a couple of dodgy photos. Fortunately, she was sensible and didn’t put her face in them; they also were not anything too revealing - her in a bra, but this was when things turned. He wanted explicit photos which, wisely, she didn’t send.
It was then that Peter turned nasty and threatened to post the images that he had online. He then proceeded to threaten to get her brother arrested if she didn’t send what he wanted. My son and daughter had talked to each other about the threats and had decided to just ignore him, which is what they did. Peter didn’t like that!
Little did we know that the girl in question (remember she was only 12 years old) had also sent Peter photos, which meant that he could very easily persuade her to send him a message saying my 14 year old son had sex with her. Then, with Peter being the model citizen he is, he presented this message to the school and they appear to have believed him 100%. This despite the history of bullying towards my son of which the school was well aware. It was this message accusing my son of having sex that was the (so-called) evidence the school had referred to when I contacted them in the wake of the assault on my son.
The following day I had a meeting with the Deputy Head at the school. What a waste of time. Child Protection was definitely not on the agenda when it came to either of my children. I showed them the messages I had from Peter blackmailing my daughter and threatening to get my son arrested. They were not interested. The Deputy Head appeared to no more than glance at the text messages and advised me to go to the police “if I was worried”. I was then told that if either of my children had any problems, they were to let him know, although he couldn’t promise they would be all right. Unsurprisingly, the meeting was complete waste of time.
Below are just some of the threatening messages sent to my daughter:
Following the school’s advice, I went to the police with the messages and threats. To start with they were not interested and I was told to just block them. It wasn’t until I reminded them, very emphatically, that my daughter was only 11 years old, that their interest was engaged.
They said they would send a couple of police officers to the house to have a chat with the kids – fair enough. I explained that my daughter was autistic and that she can find it quite difficult to talk with people she doesn’t know. They said that was fine and that and that they would make a note of it.
That afternoon we had a visit from two police officers, one male, one female. We explained everything that had gone on, from bullying to blackmail and accusations, etc. We showed them what evidence we had, but they gave the impression they really were not interested, other than they would have to speak to my son about the rape allegation.
The female officer then proceeded to have a go at my daughter for being ‘stupid’, sending any photos at all. So much so, I had to interrupt her and ask them to leave, as my daughter was upset. You have to remember she was only 11; she was scared, not only for herself but for her brother. Being told she was stupid by a police officer was far from helpful.
It will come as no surprise that a couple of weeks passed and we had heard nothing from the police. The only contact we had had from the school in the meantime was to tell me that my children were absent. They seemed surprised when I informed them that for their own safety they were being kept at home for the time being.
It was just after this that we get another visit from the police, including a plain clothes officer. He asked to see my son, who by now was now 15 years of age. He was surprised when I refused. He went on to advise me that I needed to bring my son into the station for a voluntary interview regarding a rape allegation.
The Officer had no knowledge of the earlier complaints that I had made regarding the threatening and intimidating messages. I asked who the rape allegation had been made by, but I was given to understand he could not tell me. So, I asked if it had been made either by the 12-year-old friend of my daughter or her parents. On account of the specific nature of my question, the Officer informed me he could give me a direct answer. Which was ‘no’.
I learned that the matter was being pushed by the school and I was told that it would be best for everyone involved if I brought my son in for a ‘chat’ just to clear up the issue. I was told I could bring a solicitor, but that I really didn’t need one. It was at this point I asked the police to leave and that if they wanted to speak to my son, they would have to find some evidence and arrest him.
They never did!
It wasn’t until July 2020 that I received a phone call informing me that the police had decided the case against my son required NFA (no further action).
There had still been no news regarding the mobile phone messages, other than they couldn’t definitively prove they were related to the rape allegation against my son. Seriously, that must be the biggest coincidence ever.
I feel that I need to point out that because my children hadn’t been in school, Peter and his friends had spread the rumours that my son was a rapist and a nonce, which has led to a never- ending avalanche of on-line hate mail. The intimidation has been further intensified by verbal abuse and by eggs and rocks being thrown at our home.
Once Covid and the lockdowns started, the situation for my children got much worse. Kids couldn’t go to school and tragically the online bullying increased. It may be easy to say “well just block them” or “don’t go online”, but during lockdown that was all they had. It was just the three of us for months. Mum, son and daughter.
Time passed and we reached September 2020. We had a break in the lockdowns and the kids went back to school. Well, that is to say they both managed one day. On the second day my son refused point blank to go in, destroying his glasses so he wouldn’t have to. He can’t see without them.
We dropped my daughter off at school and went to the optician to try and get him some new ones. As I pulled up at home, not quite 2 hours after dropping my daughter off, the school phoned to inform me that my daughter has been put in exclusion. That was the last straw. We picked up my daughter and that was the last time either of them stepped foot inside that school.
I managed to get my daughter into a new secondary school in the hope that it would be better. The staff seemed to show an understanding of the situation and it gave me some hope. She managed a few months but in that time she was called names, had things thrown at her, was pushed and hit. The final straw was when she was pushed down a flight of stairs and had yoghurt poured over her head. That was the end of that. We had a visit from the child welfare officer as I had removed both children from school, to which I was told it was “probably for the best”.
In March 2021 my son turned 16 and got a 50cc motorbike so he could get around. He was looking forward to starting college in the September and would use it to get there and back. He had it two weeks before the same group of people stole it. He was devastated.
We did get it back, and although the police found fingerprints on it, no one was ever prosecuted. It’s worth noting that once we did get the bike back, we were told by the police that because of the trouble we had had, we should be extra vigilant as there was a good chance that the culprits would come back and set fire to the bike, which was parked up against the house.
It was due to this incident with my son’s bike that we finally met a police officer who actually took us and all of the previous events seriously. Unfortunately, due to the fact that they had already been ‘investigated’ - I use that term very loosely - the officer couldn’t do much about the earlier blackmail and photos. At this point, however, the bullying text messages had started again, and this police officer was determined to do something, and he stuck with it. This happened to coincide with my son starting at college, having been out of formal education for the last 18 months. He managed just two weeks before the jungle drums started again, and he was back to being called a rapist and a nonce.
After a couple of different people were questioned and the officer conducted a number of interviews with likely suspects. Shock, horror – Peter was identified as the originator of the threats and on-line abuse against my daughter. According to the police officer, when he turned up, Peter went white and sang like a canary!
This was all well and good, but all that happened to Peter was that he was given a community resolution order, which meant he had to write a letter to my son apologising.
Wow! Brilliant. That really added insult to injury.
So, Peter managed to blackmail my daughter for nude photos, bully both of my children online, tried to get my son arrested, lie to the school, waste police time, got my house attacked numerous times, got both my children physically attacked and threatened on numerous occasions. In one terrifying incident, he orchestrated a gathering of about twenty kids outside a shop, lying in wait for my daughter who was inside.
My children lost their education. And, all Peter had to do to put it right was to write a letter of apology.
I would love to say that all of this is in the past, however it is now the end of March 2023. In January 2023 my son, now 17 years of age was attacked and robbed while getting a pizza with a friend. Why? Because he is a sex offender, that is what he was told. Then he was sent a new poster that had been made up, with his photo on it, a photo of an erect penis (not his) his actual phone number and his Instagram account details. The message reads:
“Wanted rapist post to all social media. He raped a 5 year old girl to death.”
He was told if he didn’t give them £300 it would be put online.
This has been going on for just over three years, and I very much doubt that we have seen and heard the last of it. The effect that it has had on both of my children is immense. It will stay with them for the rest of their lives. They will constantly be untrusting and fearful of people. They have lost their education, therefore their earning potential and quality of life have been stolen from them.
In my experience the innocent children who have a stigma placed upon them, through no fault of their own, lose their rights to child protection. Why? Is it because of a fear that the stigma will attach itself to those protecting them? Is it because we are a society that tries to sweep these things under the carpet? Or, has it filtered through to the children, because after Jimmy Saville, Kier Starmer brought in “believe the victim” so anyone claiming to have been abused, automatically was believed: going from being called the “claimant” to the “victim” and leaving the defendant seen as guilty by those who should investigate all claims fairly and without bias or prejudice?
So, yes, we do need to protect the children, all our children. And, we can only do that by acknowledging that similar nightmare scenarios continue to happen, every day, up and down the country.
By Jo Wheeler
Jo is the founder of Fighting For The Falsely Accused justice reform organisation.
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