Last month saw the mother of Alfie Steele and her partner jailed for killing 9 year old Alfie after a life of physical abuse. Dirk Howell was jailed for life with a minimum of 32 years, whilst Alfie’s mother, Carla Scott was given 27 years with a minimum 17-year term.

This poor little boy seems to have been subjected to months, if not years of physical abuse which involved him being repeatedly beaten with belts and shoes, being made to stand outside in the cold, naked, and being dunked and held down in cold baths as part punishments inflicted by the depraved pair.

The court heard how neighbours had been calling 999 months before Alfie’s death, warning the police the couple seemed to be abusing the child.

At the time of Alfie’s death his mother had been the subject of a social services plan designed to protect Alfie which dictated that Howell was not allowed to stay overnight at the family home, something social services knew was being “continuously” flouted.

The NSPCC report, on average, at least one child is killed each week in the UK due to abuse or neglect, and the figures are likely to be more.

So once again a young child dies under the watch of social services. Why?

Half a million children a year suffer abuse in the UK, on average 62 children per day are referred to agencies to investigate for abuse or neglect.

The law is complex when it comes to removing a child from the family home and even more complex when we try to hold social services responsible for not removing a child when the circumstances seem clear, in hindsight, that such child should have been removed.

Recently there has been some clarification in the case of AB v (1) Worcestershire County Council and  (2) Birmingham City Council.

It seems the only real recourse for making out a claim against a Local Authority for failing to take appropriate steps to protect a child in the care of their parents in such case is the Human Rights legislation.

Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) provides that no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The state must take action to protect you if someone else is treating you in this way. If they know this right is being breached, they must intervene to stop it.

In AB the two local authorities had received 11 reports of mistreatment of AB over a 10 year period and a case was brought against them for their failure to protect AB under Article 3. For a claim to succeed under Article 3 it must be shown that:

  1. There is a real and immediate risk of torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  2. The child/person is being subjected to ill-treatment of such severity as to fall within the scope of Article 3
  3. The state knew or ought to have known of that risk
  4. The state failed to take measures within its powers which, judged reasonably, might have been expected to avoid the risk

AB failed as some of the reports of abuse turned out to be false, and social services had carried out previous assessments after concerns had been raised and found there to be no great concerns.

The case clarified that there is no additional requirement that the child has to be under the care and control of the local authority for there to be a duty to a child pursuant to Article 3; so long as the authority assumed responsibility for the child’s safety and welfare by social services actively taking part in the family’s life with monitoring and assessment. However, the burden of proof is high and it seems unless particular social workers can be criticised for their record keeping or the decisions made it will remain very difficult to succeed in claims against the state for failing to remove children from abusive homes.

If such a claim cannot be made out, save for the criminal prosecution of offender(s) and seeking monetary redress from the compensator themselves, the only other method the victims of such crimes can receive some sense of justice is through the government’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority scheme.

Through this scheme survivors of physical and sexual abuse can claim compensation for the abuse they have been subjected to and the effects of such abuse, such as psychological injury and lost earnings. To qualify for this scheme all one has to show is that on the balance of probabilities they have been subjected to abuse, usually by making a report to the police and the abuse being investigated.

Many survivors just want justice and to know they have been believed. In cases where there has been no prosecution receiving compensation from the government scheme leaves many feeling as though they have been believed and there has been some justice, although this will never substitute for the perpetrator being prosecuted and imprisoned.

Ison Harrison Solicitors specialise in securing compensation for the victims of abuse.

If you or anyone you know has been the victim of physical and/or sexual abuse whether it is recently, years ago or as a child, they may be entitled to compensation.

For free confidential advice please contact our Assault and Abuse team at Ison Harrison Solicitors on 0113 284 5000 or email

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