The murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes by his step-mother was so shocking it was hard to take in.
After seven years as a police and crime commissioner, I have become used to reading about the appalling things human beings are capable of doing to one another. Even so, this still made me shudder with disbelief. How could those who had the care of this little boy do anything so cruel?
Inevitably it will raise, and in the most acute form, something I wrote about last week: the scope of what the modern police service is asked to do. Safeguarding children who may be at risk of harm is on that list, and what the police, along with other agencies, knew and did or didn’t do in this case will now be scrutinised intensively. We will have to wait for some time before the full facts become clear and we see what role the various agencies played and how much information they shared. Whatever the outcome, we should not forget that the ones who were intent on causing this little boy harm were the ones who are now behind bars.
But following this terrible crime, I was pleased to hear last week about an initiative that South Yorkshire police have taken to help officers understand how children might need protection, even from those who we assume are looking after them. After all, police officers often find themselves in people’s homes, not least as a result of being called to a domestic incident.
Assistant Chief Constable Dan Thorpe told us at a meeting of the Public Accountability Board that the force is developing an innovative form of in-house training for all who might come across issues of child protection, safeguarding or neglect. It is a day of intensive training called Child Matters. (The force had a similar day on Domestic Abuse Matters.) Officers will be trained to be ‘professionally curious’, to recognise when a child might be at risk, to spot the signs of neglect and to understand the need to act on what they are finding. The initiative shows clearly that today’s force is in a very different place from where it was at the time of the Jay Report in 2014.
In addition, each district – Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield – has a bespoke Child Protection Team. In all this, the force is working with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
We don’t know to what extent there will be criticism of any of the agencies that had dealings with the father and step-mother of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. They were clearly sly and highly manipulative people. But we cannot let the neglect of that little boy and the cruelty he was shown pass us by. Child Matters training is the appropriate response.
I was elected. The Chief Constable was appointed. What we have in common, however, is that we are both public office holders who must serve the public and be good stewards of public resources. The same goes for all others who are either elected or appointed to work in the range of public services – police, probation, courts, prisons, civil service, local government, education, the NHS, the town hall, parliament, and so on. We measure ourselves against what are known as the seven Nolan principles of public life. (Lord Nolan was a High Court Judge.) From time to time it is a good idea to remind ourselves of them:
The Nolan Principles of Public Life
1 Selflessness – we must act in the interest of the public and not ourselves
2 Integrity – we must never take decisions that are for our own benefit or that of people to whom we might have an obligation, but only in the public interest
3 Objectivity – we must take decision impartially, fairly and on merit
4 Accountability – we must submit what we say and do to public scrutiny
5 Openness – we must take decision in a transparent way, only withholding information where there is a justifiable and legal reason to do so
6 Honesty – we should tell the truth
7 Leadership – we should act according to these principles in our own life and encourage others to do the same
If we act according to these principles, whether we are police officers or chief constables, police and crime commissioners or ministers of the crown, then public life is elevated and enhanced. If we don’t, we start to create something corrosive in our life together.
It is a great pity that other, more theatrical matters in parliament last week overshadowed what the government had hoped would be an emphasis on crime. A pity because there were not only important announcements on policy but also a shift in tone and approach. It was a return to a recognition that if we are going to get crime down, we must not only be ‘tough on crime’, but also ‘tough on the causes of crime’. And a major cause of crime is drugs. So I very much welcomed the announcement by the government of a drugs strategy with funding to implement it.
We need to seize this moment and ensure that over the next few years, as well as coming down heavily on drug-dealing gangs (tough on crime), we also make a determined effort to get as many offenders as possible off drugs (tough on the causes).
And finally …
Danielle Taylor, South Yorkshire police’s Sustainability Manager, has been named Sustainability Manager of the Year by the Energy Managers’ Association. She not only helps us to think through what a sustainability strategy should look like but inspires us to make it happen. The award is very well deserved.
Stay safe and well