‘All of this should have created an immediate response from services.’
By Claire Colley.
Kimberley Franks’ grave is marked by a simple headstone surrounded by roses. An 18th birthday key to the door hangs from her name.
But Kimberley didn’t see her 18th birthday; when she was murdered, along with her friend Samantha Sykes, on 9 March 2012, she was just 17 years old. Sam was 18.
Kim and Sam were murdered by Ahmad Otak, the ex-boyfriend of Kim’s older sister Elisa. In a jealous rage, Otak stabbed them both to death in Kim’s flat in Wakefield.
Samantha had gone to the flat to help Elisa Frank, her old school friend.
Samantha had previously reported threats made by Otak to both the United Kingdom Border Agency and the Police. Tragically, as the judge sentencing Otak remarked in his summing up said, ‘nothing came of those complaints’.
Otak was found guilty of the young women’s murders and sentenced to life imprisonment in November 2012.
These brutal murders have been well reported, but now Samantha’s mother, Julie Sykes, has criticised the police, child protection services and the Council for failing to investigate the child sexual abuse that Kimberley experienced over a 5-year period.
At the time of her murder Kimberley was in the care of Wakefield Leaving Care Team.
She and her sister Elisa first became known to Wakefield Social Services in 2007. Kimberley, then aged 12, was initially referred after concerns around her being sexually exploited by older men, as well as her relationship difficulties with her mother – who had asked for help from social services.
Both sisters were taken into care, and became ‘looked after’.
However, it was while ‘in care’ that her older sister Elisa met her abusive boyfriend in a children’s home, and it was ‘in care’ that Kimberley experienced sexual exploitation, rape and abuse.
During the 5 years Kim was being ‘looked after’ she lived in 7 different areas of the country and in 11 different housing placements; 13 different services were involved.
The 2013 Serious Case Review which investigated Wakefield Local Authorities’ care of Kim provides shocking testimony into her life as a ‘looked after’ child.
According to the 90-page document resulting from an investigation by Wakefield District Children’s Safeguarding Board, written by Professor Pat Cantrill and published using the pseudonym ‘Christine’ for Kim, there were at least 24 reports in official documents that Kimberley had suffered from child sexual exploitation (CSE) from the age of 12.
But at no stage during her short life was there a formal investigation into this.
Indeed, the report is a devastating roll call of inaction from social services, health services and the police.
And the Serious Care Review (SCR) into Kim’s murder was scathing regarding the missed opportunities to protect her.
It was critical of the lack of partnership working between key services, as well as issues around housing for vulnerable children.
And it also noted the importance of taking a proactive, child-centred approach to child sexual exploitation, focusing on early intervention, as well as the importance of disrupting and prosecuting any perpetrators.
It also pointed out that it is crucial to realise, when working with young people who are being exploited, that they often do not perceive themselves as victims. Kimberley was perceived by some to be ‘a challenge’ to work with, having little motivation to change, when in fact ‘misunderstood’ might be more accurate.
“There’s a dearth of research on adolescence,” Professor Cantrill said. “Teenagers aren’t wired in the same way as adults are. We’ve got a real problem helping some of our children and we have this because we don’t understand them.”
Kim’s behaviour as a result of grooming and her vulnerability should have resulted in a risk assessment, a coordinated plan of care and a systematic review of the effectiveness of that care.
This did not happen, despite ample evidence she was being sexually and physically abused.
“All of this should have created an immediate response from services. There was no urgency. Can you imagine what she was going through? She was scared,” Cantrill said.
Moreover, a significant failure in Kim’s care was placing her in her own flat when she was only 16 – she simply didn’t know how to manage her life safely.
“Young people leaving care are negotiating the transition to adulthood at an earlier age than their peers, but how many 16 year-olds coming from a supportive, stable environment could manage to live independently?” Professor Cantrill asked.
Julie Sykes, Sam’s mother, is a trained social worker and was a specialist safeguarding nurse at the time of the murders.
Sam had told her mother about the abuse Kim was suffering.
“When Samantha came home one night and described to me what was happening to Kim, she cried, describing signs of grooming and sexual exploitation. I contacted the Manager whose team was working with Kim within Children’s Social Care and explained in detail my concerns. It was a lengthy conversation,” Julie said.
But, again, an opportunity to help Kimberley was missed.
In March 2012, a full five years after the first report that Kimberley was suffering from child sexual exploitation, social services finally convened a meeting to discuss Kim’s abuse.
She was murdered, along with Samantha, before this could take place.
Julie has since been campaigning for the police and Wakefield social services to act, to find and bring to justice those who abused Kim.
“My motivation isn’t to victimise individual workers, but to seek justice for Kimberly through the prosecution of those who sexually exploited her prior to her death.
“There are other girls who are likely being abused, and something must be done to safeguard them,” Julie said.
“I have been told that Kim shared the names of some of the suspected perpetrators and also gave information regarding an area in Dewsbury where these men were taking her to be sexually exploited. As corporate parents, the lack of appropriate action in this case is unforgiveable.”
When Julie presented her concerns to Wakefield Safeguarding Children’s Board after the girls’ murders, she met with the Director of Children’s Social Care, John Wilson, who, she said “treated me like a complaining parent”.
She also met with West Yorkshire police.
“The police said it’s almost impossible to prosecute when the victim is deceased, despite the fact they had possible perpetrators’ car registrations. I was told that there are no outstanding criminal cases against Kim’s abusers.”
And Mark Burns-Williams, the Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire, did not respond to suggestions to meet.
Following the child abuse revelations in Rotherham in 2010 and the subsequent 2014 Jay Report, Wakefield and District Safeguarding Children Board (WSGB) said that they have worked together with partners to ensure that the District has systems in place to ensure that children at risk of CSE are protected.
They have set up a multi‐Agency Action on Child Sexual Exploitation panel, which meets monthly to discuss cases, and have also identified a CSE lead as a single point of contact.
John Wilson said at a council meeting in 2014, that, since 2013, Wakefield police have investigated 18 cases where child sexual exploitation was suspected.
However, West Yorkshire police confirmed in 2015 that there was no live investigation into Kimberley’s abusers.
Wakefield is just 24 miles from Rotherham.
In September 2014, John Wilson wrote to staff: “The story of Rotherham is one we all read with dread – is there a parallel here? I don’t believe there is. Our culture is one of openness, we listen to children, and where we find abuse, we act.”
But were Kimberley and Samantha heard?
Julie wonders if he’s read the serious case review, because, she said, “as far as I can see, she was not heard and people did not act.”
Indeed, the Serious Case Review into Kim’s murder identified many other issues, including the systemic failure to address Otaks’ violence and threats to kill, issues around the placement of men claiming to be children in children’s homes, and the lack of coordinated multi-agency responses to the abuse that both sisters were suffering.
“There are major problems with our Looked After care system,” Professor Cantrill said. “The least we can expect as a society is that when you take young children into care that you give them the protection they should have.”
“She was a looked after child and the State had the responsibility as acting as her parent to protect her. If a parent had left a child in this position then social services would have probably intervened. The LA was her corporate parent.”
Wakefield District Children’s Safeguarding Board accepted the findings of the review into Kim’s murder.
Kim’s Serious Case Review is not the only one to have been critical of Wakefield’s Young People’s and Children’s Services.
A local multi-agency review in Wakefield in 2010 following the death of another teenager had also identified that many agencies experienced challenges in protecting young people.
And in 2012 there were four Serious Case Reviews launched into murders of children in Wakefield.
Despite this, Ofsted, who are responsibile for inspecting and regulating children’s services, found Wakefield Children’s Services ‘good’ for overall services and frontline CP services ‘adequate’ in 2012, the year of the murders. A 2016 Ofsted report found Wakefield Children’s Services ‘requires improvement’.
A report published in 2015 into Ofsted by the Communities and Local Government Committee said that “Ofsted’s inspection framework lacks sufficient focus on child sexual exploitation and a reporting regime which risks offering false assurance to local authorities that events in Rotherham are not being repeated in their localities.”
When WSGB were contacted for comment on the lack of action taken, Independent Chair Edwina Harrison said: “As a result of the Serious Case Review, and in accordance with guidance, WDSCB drew up a comprehensive action plan, which addressed any issues that had been identified. The action plan has been fully implemented.”
Edwina Harrison sent Julie Sykes a letter of condolence 216 days after her daughter was murdered, and has said publically that the girls’ deaths could not have been prevented.
But Julie, perhaps not surprisingly, disagrees: “Sami was murdered because of the support she gave to two young people in need of love and protection that the State should have given them.
“Kimberley’s life seems to have meant so little to so many and Wakefield Children’s Social Care failed them both.
“In the Serious Care Review, I counted 15 occasions where had appropriate action been taken, things could have been different.
“The persistent lack of acknowledgement that Kimberley was failed by the very services that should have protected her, leads me to believe that this could happen again to another child.”
Claire Colley is a UK-based journalist, working on investigations and documentary film-making. She worked for Women’s Aid for 12 years, and has a special interest in and knowledge of violence against women.