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Barnstaple mum's anger over secret checks about daughter

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: December 13, 2012

APOLOGY: Catherine Elvey complained after learning false allegations about her had been investigated. Picture: Rob Tibbles. BNRT20121124A-002_C

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A MOTHER has received an apology after discovering anonymous allegations about her had been secretly investigated.

Catherine Elvey exposed a loophole which meant damaging and false claims about her were recorded on a file without her being told.

An investigation was launched after she made a formal complaint about Devon's Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub – known as the MASH.

Catherine, who teaches English at Petroc in Barnstaple, learned by chance that officials had called her daughter's nursery, asking questions about the four-year-old's welfare.

The checks followed an e-mail to the MASH from a woman who wanted to remain anonymous.

She reported that a friend had seen a woman she thought was Catherine behaving in a disturbing manner in a Bideford supermarket.

This claim sparked an investigation by the MASH, which operates from an office in Exeter and is made up of representatives from police, social services and other agencies.

The idea is that by working together the organisations can work swiftly to identify where children are at risk.

But Catherine, from Barnstaple, was horrified to discover that – despite quickly dismissing the allegations as untrue – the MASH did not tell her about the false allegation.

Staff at her daughter's nursery in Barnstaple were also instructed not to tell her that checks were being made.

Yet the damaging allegation was recorded on her daughter's file.

Things got worse when Catherine learned about the investigation by chance.

She challenged the MASH but was wrongly told it had not called her daughter's nursery.

The MASH said it must have been an imposter and suggested she call the police.

A formal inquiry upheld Catherine's complaint that the MASH had failed to fulfil its commitment to keep parents informed if an inquiry is made about them.

It concluded: "The information for parents and carers on the MASH is quite clear. It asks 'Will I be told if there is an inquiry about my child?' The answer given is 'Yes'.

"This leaflet is clear and well written. It is disturbing that there appears to be confusion amongst Devon County Council managers as to what it means."

The report noted that Catherine felt as if the MASH "had tentacles everywhere".

It said: "As safeguarding is everyone's business this may be a sign of success.

"But if this means the public see things being recorded of which they have no knowledge, this begins to look sinister."

A year after the anonymous e-mail was sent to the MASH Catherine received a letter of apology from Rory McCallum, Devon County Council's Head of Child and Adult Protection.

Catherine said: "I am delighted that Mr McCallum has acknowledged that a person should have a right to know if information – or indeed slander – about them has been added to their child's file.

"The MASH appears to be encouraging anonymous referrals from members of the public.

"In doing this they are very aware that, while some people act anonymously due to fear, other people make anonymous calls and send anonymous e-mails because they are malicious slanderers. It is simply unacceptable to keep a secret permanent record of an anonymous referral on the file of a child.

"It is no use saying that something is 'probably just malicious' and then storing it. That malicious gossip could be used against a parent at a later date – for example in a child custody case.

"People have to be able to protect their families from slander. While I am pleased the MASH has expressed a commitment to inform parents now I have raised this issue, I am concerned about the anonymous gossip that may already be on people's files."

In a statement Devon County Council said this week: "Partner agencies across Devon take the safeguarding of children very seriously and the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) has a duty to look into all concerns raised about the welfare of children."

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  • eyeopener  |  December 13 2012, 10:33PM

    @2ladybugs I'm sorry but we will have to stop meeting like this. People will talk. This is the second occasion on the SAME DAY that you and I have agreed 100%! Be careful tho'. Don't get too close. You know I'm a major resevoir of infection for typos! Nites :))

    |   5
  • maddogwoman  |  December 13 2012, 3:26PM

    Yet the children who do need protecting are ignored

    |   7
  • 2ladybugs  |  December 13 2012, 10:49AM

    Anonymous emails and phone calls!! I am sorry, but if somebody is unable to leave a name and contact number then surely they should be dismissed as troublemakers. If there is a genuine concern then the reporter shouldn't mind giving their name, even if their concerns are unfounded.

    |   15
  • accom  |  December 13 2012, 10:46AM

    The person who made the completely false and fabricated allegation should be prosecuted.

    |   14
  • kizzykat  |  December 13 2012, 9:06AM

    What a weak statement from Devon County Council. They have a duty to protect their taxpayers from being spied on too. We employ them to do a job, not to intimidate us or treat us unjustly. They seem to think "safeguarding" absolves them from acting decently. This hysteria over safeguarding needs to stop and we need to go back to the mindset of innocent until proved guilty.

    |   17