Criticism has been levelled at Sussex Police and West Sussex child protection services for poor practice that delayed child sex abuser Christopher Mancini being caught and brought to justice.
Mancini, 19, from Hurstpierpoint, was convicted of 49 offences, including rape, and involving 13 teenage boys, in October 2013. He was sentenced in January this year to 10 years in prison, eight years extended licence and a Sexual Offences Prevention Order.
But a Serious Case Review by West Sussex County Council has highlighted seven areas where the response and practice by professional agencies fell short.
Annie MacIver, head of Children’s Social Care at West Sussex County Council, said: “The report has highlighted areas where our response lacked the pace and purpose necessary in this case. Staff were confronted with the unusual set of circumstances and since the investigation we have instituted changes in working practices that have strengthened our processes.
“We accept there were practice shortcomings and will take the recommendations on board as we work to ensure our response in these circumstances is as good as when dealing with allegations of abuse in the home.”
Chair of the West Sussex Safeguarding Children Board, Jimmy Doyle, said he was committed to ensuring that future practice was strengthened.
Mr Doyle said Serious Case Reviews were not about attributing blame but about emphasising how practice can be improved for children and young people. He said: “The review found there were seven reasons to explain why professionals were not effective in protecting the children in this case and we have put together an action plan that should help to reduce the possibility of similar situations in the future.”
He added: “West Sussex Safeguarding Board very much regrets the weakness in systems and practice identified in the review and which contributed to a lack of timely and effective intervention in this situation.
“This review will not help the victims, but it may provide some satisfaction to them that the findings from this review will help to strengthen multi-agency safeguarding practice for the future.”
Det Supt Paul Furnell said the findings and recommendations relating to police responsibilities were accepted.
He said: “This was an unusual and difficult case for our officers and social workers. But communication between agencies was not as effective as it should have been and this meant that we did not grasp the complex and challenging reality of what was happening with the young offender and his young victims early enough.
“A number of the failures identified centre on each agency’s child protection structure which clearly were not effective enough in dealing with abuse outside the family environment.”
Det Supt Furnell said the review underlined the importance of police and partner agencies working even more closely and the weaknesses referred to in the report had been identified already and acted on by a police review and planned changes.
He continued: “As part of this process, work is already taking place in Sussex to locate police and social services teams together. This process will continue over the coming year and we are also planning to bring our successful child protection and adult protection teams together, with added responsibility and resources to investigate all rape and serious sexual assaults which will ultimately bring all sexual offences relating to children into the specialist child protection arena.
“Despite this case, we successfully safeguard children by working with children’s social care across Sussex on a daily basis and have made significant improvements in doing so in recent years. This report has focused our attention on the need to improve yet further.”