AN influential committee of MPs has grilled Bradford Council's chief executive over the Star Hobson tragedy - and demanded to know why she had not resigned.

Appearing before a Parliamentary Select Committee today, Kersten England has rebuffed talk of resignation but said she would 'step away' if improvements were not made.

The Commons’ Education Select Committee grilled both Bradford Council and Solihull Borough Council Children’s Services in the wake of the murders of Star and Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.

Addressing Ms England, Committee chair Robert Halfon said: "You've been around, if I'm not mistaken since 2015. Given what has gone on, the tragedy that has occurred, given the problems of being rated inadequate by Ofsted, why did you not think of resigning? Why did you not resign?"

Ms England responded: "I have thought of resigning and have considered my position. Frequently, I have reflected on all the actions I took and things that could and could not have been done.

"I take responsibility. This happened on my watch and I'm deeply sorry it happened on my watch.

"Taking responsibility is all about staying in position and putting it right. Stability in leadership is critical."

When asked about their pace of improvement after Bradford Council Children's Services was rated inadequate in 2018, Ms England said: "We accept the pace of improvement has been too slow. It's generally viewed improving from inadequate takes up to three years."

When asked how involved she was in turning around a failing children's services, Ms England said: "I would estimate I spend two-thirds of my time on children's and that is about supporting the business as usual activity, the improvement activity and about building the new organisation, the Children's Trust."

When asked what would happen if she did not succeed in turning things around, Ms England said: "I'm straining every nerve to get as many social workers recruited in place as possible. If we cannot turn that around, then I will step away."

She was also asked about her timetable for turning around an 'inadequate' children's services.

Ms England said: "Within the year, we will be adequate children's services, adequate with the intention to good with features of good."

Ms England began her testimony with an apology, saying: "I'd like to start by expressing my deep sorrow at the death of Star.

"She should never have had to endure the horrific crimes and abuse to which she was subjected."

Star Hobson report highlights 'shameful chapter in Bradford Council history'

She continued: "I apologise now unreservedly. We missed key signs that could have meant we'd done better to protect her.

"I want to apologise to the family of Star and all those who loved her and the wider community who cared for her. Their loss is devastating.

"It's clear that we missed many things.

"The assessments we made of the circumstances in which Star was living were too positive and optimistic about the potential of her mother to care for her.

"The mother and partner's views were taken at face value and there was insufficient probing.

"Our social workers were distracted or dissuaded from probing further.

"It's clear the changes of social worker and management oversight played a part in this.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Keighley baby Star Hobson Keighley baby Star Hobson

She continued: "Secondly, we did not build a full picture of what life was like for Star.

"She was born to a vulnerable young mother and had a relationship which was difficult with the father and then with her partner.

"Star had multiple wounds in her short life.

"My final point is the multi-agency response was insufficient.

"We did not share information and we could have held strategy meetings which might have allowed us to protect her more fully."

Sixteen-month-old Star Hobson was murdered by her mother’s girlfriend, Savannah Brockhill, at her home in Keighley, in September 2020. Star’s mother, Frankie Smith, 20, was found guilty of causing or allowing the youngster’s death.

Mr Halfon, giving his opinion as chair of the committee, said that due to “poor staffing and lack of oversight, pivotal moments to save Star and Arthur were missed.

“These children became invisible to the professionals who could have stepped in at crucial moments to save them,” he said.

Annie Hudson, chair of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, said that there were “critical opportunities” where concerns about bruising and injury surfaced.

She added that family concerns about both Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson were “not listened to, not followed up and just generally disregarded” and that there “should have been much more heed taken of those concerns”.  

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