Alarming weight loss, foraging for food at school, bruises covering his four year old body and a broken arm; if just one of these things had been fully reported and followed-up, Daniel Pelka might have survived the child abuse that led to his tragic death.
Daniel died following months of torture, beating and starvation at the hands of his mother and stepfather. No one at his school reported Daniel's multiple visible injuries including black eyes, broken bones and strangulation marks around his neck, nor did they report his severe weight loss and desperate attempts to scavenge for food. Four-year-old Daniel died slowly, apparently 'invisible' in full view of staff at his school, over a period of months; how can the collective failure of staff at Daniel's school to report his abuse be within the law? That's why I started my petition on Change.org calling for mandatory reporting of child abuse.
In this week's Panorama "After Savile, no more secrets?", the country's most senior prosecution lawyer Keir Starmer said that reporting child abuse should be a legal requirement, that there needed to be a clear, direct law that everyone understands. With many MPs, Mandate Now (a coalition of charities), 66,000 people who have signed the petition on Change.org, and now Keir Starmer all saying the same thing, the Government cannot ignore the message.
Yet they are refusing to move from their position. I received a letter from Michael Gove in response to my petition recently. In his letter, he says he does not believe mandatory reporting is the answer and that current 'statutory guidance' is 'crystal clear'.
'Statutory guidance is an oxymoron; it can either be statutory or it can be guidance, it can't be both'. This means our safeguarding system is based on the optimistic assumption that staff working with children will always interpret guidance correctly and have the courage to 'do the right thing', even in what are inevitably very difficult circumstances.
Daniel Pelka's story shocked the nation. My daughter was seven years old when we heard what had happened on the radio - 'is that really true, mummy?' she asked 'why didn't his teachers help him?' That's the point - Daniel was attending school, in regular contact with staff who could have helped him. Yet, in spite of the fact that they registered their concerns internally, no one made the formal report to Children's Services which could have saved Daniel. No one reported and no one came.