The mother of Lewes Harby’s youngest victim says that social services actively stopped her protecting her daughter from her rapist, instead accusing her of being a bad parent.
Harby, 20, was yesterday sentenced to 18 years in jail for a series of sex attacks on young girls, which started when he convinced one 12-year-old girl they were in love with each other, and raped her over several months.
The girl’s mother says that before this happened, she had repeatedly raised concerns with social services that her daughter was at risk from Harby and his mother, who allowed her to drink alcohol at her house.
But she says one social worker told her in front of her daughter that she was not allowed to stop the young girl going round there – and that social services also told her to allow her daughter to stay there for two nights “because at least we know where she is”.
The mother said: “Nobody is listening. They’re not following recommendations made after Rotherham, where one of the criticisms is that they don’t listen to the parents – particularly from working class parents.
“The relationship with social services can be quite abusive. They control your life. They took everything from my life and tore it apart.
“She was absconding every day and every night, and nine times out of ten to Lewes Harby’s house. There were other men involved, known to the police. She was once found on the beach out of it and kissing a man who was known to the police for grooming. The police officer who found her said that he would be escalating it.
“But social services only took action if the police reported things to them. Nobody got into contact with me from social services. They received report after report, but nobody was looking at it.
“The social worker seemed more interested in being my daughter’s friend than keeping her safe.
“There’s no acknowledgement of the trauma it causes the whole family. Other victims are having real problems too, struggling with anger which is coming out at home.
“Everything they do is six months too late. I’m lucky – I have done training in this area and I know the reports and laws to quote. If you don’t, what the hell hope do you have to get help?”
Social services became involved with the girl’s family after she started secondary school, and her behaviour began to “nosedive” as she was hanging round with a crowd connected to Lewes Harby which encouraged drinking and sexualised behaviour.
The mother raised concerns with the school, but was told she needed time to settle.
One evening, the daughter was being abusive towards her family at home, and the mother says she slapped her on the leg. The following day, the daughter told a teacher she had been hit, and social services were called in.
But the mother says that any attempt she made to raise concerns about the influence of her daughter’s new friends and deteriorating behaviour was dismissed as her attempting to deflect from her own bad parenting.
Instead, social services concentrated on the effects of an emotionally abusive relationship which the mother was attempting to end – which she succeeded in doing two months later when her partner finally moved out.
By this time, her daughter had been raped by a different boy, a 15-year-old who cannot be named, and who was later convicted of sexual assault at youth court after the original charge of rape was dropped.
But again, social workers told the mother that her parenting was the main issue and that she was deflecting in raising concerns about child sexual exploitation. The mother’s requests for counselling and therapy were also not acted upon for several months.
By the end of the year, the daughter was regularly running away to the Harby house, knowing that her mother could do nothing to stop her going there after hearing a social worker say so.
And the social worker also instructed the mother to supply her 12-year-old daughter with tobacco – to avoid arguments.
The following year, the daughter threatened to burn down the house, which prompted social services to arrange a foster care placement.
But when the daughter ran away again to the Harby house while the placement was being finalised, her social worker instructed the mother to let her stay there, and she remained there for two nights.
By this time, Harby had already raped her, during a New Year’s Eve party when she had got “smashed on vodka”, while in the supposed care of his mother, Anthea Dickson, who knew they were considered a couple and allowed them to sleep together.
And he went on to do it again and again, even after she was moved to a foster placement out of the city, as she continued to run away back there.
In May, her foster carer spotted a large lovebite on the girl’s chest after she came back after a night away, and contacted her mother. The two of them retrieved the tights and underwear she had been wearing and took them to the police, who found Harby’s DNA on them.
The police and social services then worked together to get a harbouring order forbidding Ms Dickson, from allowing her to stay there.
But it was only after she visited the Harby house in July and something happened which made her flee to another girl’s house that she finally cut contact.
The mother said: “I don’t think we are going to get to the bottom of what happened that night for a long while, but she told her social worker that some girls – possibly including my daughter – had been asked to sleep with some men to clear a debt. My daughter was very frightened, and left. She’s still tight lipped about it.
“The police took her out of Sussex for respite. Her social worker wanted to get her back to Sussex the next day, but her manager blocked it.”
The mother says that she pleaded with social workers to give her daughter counselling or therapy – but this took months to arrange, and the first course ended halfway through.
She said: “I don’t want compensation, I don’t want to drag it through the courts, I could go there with lawyers but then the money would be taken away from services.
“They don’t seem to have a plan. It’s all after the horse has bolted.
“I’m sure the council will say that lessons have been learnt. I want to scream whenever I hear that phrase.
“I just want fair dealing. They took my life apart and they were too slow to help my daughter. I will never forgive that.”
The girl is still now in care, and is likely to be so until she is 18. She has missed almost two years of school as a result of what she has been through, but the family hopes they can now finally move on.
A council spokesman said: “As a general point there are very strong legal reasons why we cannot publicly release or discuss detailed information about child protection cases.
“The parent has not so far made a formal complaint to us about her concerns.
“She has expressed some concerns regarding her family’s contact with one of our social work teams, and has met with a senior council officer to discuss these further.
“We have listened to her concerns and have responded to them in writing.
“Our child protection teams are committed to doing their best to protect vulnerable children from all forms of abuse and exploitation.
“We try to keep families together wherever it is safe to do so, because we believe that is what is normally in a child’s best interests.
“In general terms, judges only make care orders when they believe a child is at risk of serious neglect or physical harm if the child stays with their birth parents.
“Before making such orders they consider evidence about a wide range of factors from a wide range of sources, not just from councils.
“We have a statutory duty to use all legal powers at our disposal to protect children we consider to be at risk.”
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