Anguished parents were let down by a school, a complex abuse inquiry into a sex offender’s role in a children’s art project has concluded.
The review found that compliance with safeguarding policies had not been robustly applied at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Primary School in Douglas.
Improvements have since been made at St Mary’s but an action plan has now been drawn up to tighten up policies and procedures on keeping pupils safe in all island schools.
Findings of the inquiry were disclosed to parents last week, more than two years after it was launched by the Safeguarding Board.
It focused on an art project that was suspended at the school in August 2017.
The project was led by freelance photographer Brian Mitchell, who was convicted in March 2018 of possessing indecent photographs of children - offences that had no connection with the school.
Mr Mitchell, then aged 63, of Woodbourne Road, Douglas, was sentenced to 12 weeks’ custody, suspended for two years, and also put on the sex offenders’ register for five years.
He admitted taking naked photographs of a two-year-old girl and downloading images of teenage boys, with one image exposing the boy’s genitalia.
In total he admitted possessing nine images but claimed he had taken them for an art project.
He had formerly worked as a youth worker with the Department of Education, Sport and Culture but none of the charges related to his time there.
The inquiry by the Safeguarding Board found there had been ’elements of complacency’ at St Mary’s and the DESC as they ’assumed an individual was ok as they were well known’.
It said: ’This led to standards not being applied and parents being let down by the school they had entrusted their children’s safety and wellbeing to.
’The anguish of parents cannot be underestimated.’
Compliance with safeguarding requirements for activities and the use of external facilitators had not been robustly applied at the school, the review report concluded.
This meant neither the school, DESC nor those involved in the complex abuse investigation could assure all parents that their children were safe and protected at all times.
’This will continue to cause some anguish to parents,’ it added.
The report also found that there was a delay in launching a large-scale inquiry after parents raised concerns. ’In this instance it was not recognised, or acted upon in a timely manner when parents themselves raised the need for this,’ it said.
’It is possible that without their tenacity this matter would not have been investigated as widely or as thoroughly as required.’
The inquiry also found that regular DBS (Disclosure and Barring Services) checks were not being carried out on professionals working in regulated activities for children.
It noted: ’In this situation, future protection of children and young people rested solely on the fact that the individual was convicted.
’Many perpetrators are not convicted and so civil processes are necessary to ensure protection of children and vulnerable adults.’
In a letter to parents DESC director of inclusion and safeguarding Sue Mowle and director of social care at the DHSC Deborah Brayshaw said an action plan has been developed, with timescales for necessary improvements to policies and procedures within schools.
This, they said, will be ’robustly monitored’ by the Safeguarding Board.
They added: ’We would like to reassure all parents that rapid improvements in all aspects of safeguarding compliance have been recognised by colleagues from both the DESC and DHSC at St Mary’s School over the last two years.
’Both departments are confident of the school’s commitment to keep pupils safe and to continually review and improve their policies to achieve this.’