HC Deb 06 March 1979 vol 963 cc618-20W
Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he will make a further statement on the investigations carried out by the officers of his Department into the management of the case of Stephen Menheniott.

Mr. Ennals

The report of an investigation carried out by my Department's social work service into certain aspects of the management of the case of Stephen Menheniott has been published today and copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

Stephen Menheniott died in January 1976 in the Isles of Scilly. He was then 19 years old. His father, Thomas Menheniott, was subsequently convicted of Stephen's murder at Bodmin Crown Court in December 1977. Stephen had been in the care of East Sussex county council for most of his life before being returned to his father's home at the age of 15.

The investigation focused on the decision by the East Sussex authorities in 1972 to allow Stephen to live with his father in the Isles of Scilly, the subsequent exercise of their parental rights and powers in respect of Stephen, and the level of supervision afforded. The main finding of the investigating team was that, in reaching the decision to allow Stephen to return to his father's home in 1972, too much emphasis was placed on Stephen's own wishes to return home and his lack of prospects in East Sussex and too little on the opinion of officers in Cornwall and some officers in East Sussex who, with close knowledge of Stephen and his family, opposed the move. The report points to a failure on the part of the county council to visit Stephen after his return home, and to review the case and exercise its continuing responsibilities for Stephen, who remained legally in its care until his eighteenth birthday.

The team reviewed current policies and procedures in East Sussex and concluded that a satisfactory framework now exists which should prevent the more obvious shortcomings revealed in the handling of the case from recurring. The three authorities—East Sussex, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly—and all the officers concerned co-operated fully in the investigation and, recognising the severe anxiety that the case has caused for them, I hope that the report will help them and others when dealing with similar problems in future.

The report makes a number of recommendations relating to professional practice; my Department's chief social work officer and his staff will be discussing these with professional organisations.

In response to other recommendations in the report my Department is planning to issue general guidance covering placements of children in care outside a local authority's own area. We are also considering the constitutional position of the Isles of Scilly and the possibility of extending the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 together with the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 to the Isles so as to place the social services responsibilities on a comparable basis with the rest of the country.

We will be discussing the report with the three local authorities concerned and are circulating it to all local and health authorities and area review committees.

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