Shannon Matthews was taken off the British child protection register on the orders of social services’ managers despite warnings from social workers, it was claimed today.
According to the Daily Mail newspaper, the social services department at Kirklees Council, in West Yorkshire, was under pressure from UK government targets to reduce the number of children on the register.
It said the watchdog Ofsted had decided the council had a high level of children on its child protection register and wanted it to reduce the length of time “children remain the subject of a child protection plan”.
These claims come just hours after the authority announced it was commissioning an independent Serious Case Review into the contacts all agencies had with Shannon’s family in Dewsbury, including social services, before she vanished in February.
This announcement was made after mounting pressure for a review into whether anything could have been done to help the little girl, who is now 10, before she was kidnapped by her own mother, Karen Matthews.
The Daily Mail said unnamed social workers at Kirklees had warned that Shannon faced dangers but were overruled by their managers.
It said the social worker involved was put under “massive pressure” to remove her from the register because “there were other priorities to focus”.
Last night the announcement of the independent Serious Case Review into the case were welcomed.
UK Children’s Secretary Ed Balls told the BBC it was needed to find out “whether there were warnings that should have been acted upon”.
Mr Balls added: “It is important we know exactly what went on, so that if there are lessons that need to be learnt and changes that need to happen, they can happen and they will.”
He said he was glad “justice has been done” and that Shannon and her siblings were now safe.
Dewsbury MP Shahid Malik, who had led the calls for an independent review, said everyone wanted to know if anything had gone wrong and if so, “how we can ensure we can put things right”.
Mr Malik added: “I want to know, and I think we all want to know, if anything has gone wrong, what has gone wrong, what can we learn from it and how we can ensure we can put things right.”
On Thursday, Matthews (aged 33) was found guilty of kidnapping her daughter, along with Michael Donovan, (aged 40).
Allegations emerged yesterday that some of Matthews’ children, including Shannon, had been placed on the child protection register but were later taken off despite concerns about violence in the household and poor living conditions.
Shadow Children’s Secretary Michael Gove had called for a “transparent inquiry into what went wrong” and said the case “emphasises that there are serious problems with children’s services that need urgent attention”.
Kirklees Council said the review was the right course of action to take.
Council leader Robert Light said “any responsible local authority would want to be constantly reviewing its processes and working practices”.
He added: “Matters surrounding the Karen Matthews trial are among issues that have put child care and safeguarding in the public eye this week.
“I think it is important that there is an independent review of the history and records of all agencies’ dealings with the family.”
Earlier, another local MP warned against comparisons with the Baby P case and the associated criticisms levelled at Haringey Council in north London.
Barry Sheerman, who is MP for Huddersfield and also chairman of the Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee, told BBC Look North: “I think we’ve just got to look at it dispassionately, calmly and see what lessons we could learn.”
Yesterday, Karen Matthews was condemned by police as “pure evil” after she was convicted of her daughter’s kidnap alongside her co-accused, Donovan.
A judge told her she faces a substantial jail sentence.
The court was told Matthews conspired with Donovan, her partner’s uncle, to keep nine-year-old Shannon drugged and imprisoned for 24 days in a desperate plan to claim £50,000 (€57,585) in reward money.
A BBC documentary team, which was given exclusive access to West Yorkshire Police’s investigation, said social workers commissioned a psychological report about Matthews, highlighting her “inability to successfully place the children’s needs above her own”, in December 2003.
The programme also featured allegations by a former neighbour of Matthews at a previous address, saying she had repeatedly warned social services about the terrible conditions next door but provoked no response.