Children’s social services files ‘missing’, court hears

PUBLISHED: 15:52 15 May 2019 | UPDATED: 15:52 15 May 2019

Joseph Douglas Hewitt in 1995. Photo: Archant Library

Joseph Douglas Hewitt in 1995. Photo: Archant Library

Archant Library

Children’s social services records of five alleged victims of sexual abuse on the 1970s and 80s are missing or incomplete, a court has heard.

Woodlands Observation and Assessment Centre in March 1974. Picture: Archant archives.Woodlands Observation and Assessment Centre in March 1974. Picture: Archant archives.

The former superintendent of Woodlands Observation and Assessment Centre in Norwich is standing trial on multiple counts of rape and sexual assault.

But Norfolk County Council has said despite "extensive searches" of all its premises, many files from Woodlands cannot be found.

For one of the alleged victims, her file has been lost "in its entirety". Another four have incomplete and missing records.

Joseph Douglas Hewitt was officer in charge of the Woodlands centre, off Dereham Road, in the 1970s and 80s.

In 1995 he was convicted of rape and sexual assault involving six girls at the home.

The 79-year-old is now standing trial at King's Lynn Crown Court having denied fresh allegations from five alleged victims - three men and two women - who had been children at the home between 1978 and 1983.

Phil Watson, associate director of children's services at Norfolk County Council, was called to give evidence.

He said under current practice he "would expect" all the files to be available.

Tania Griffiths, defending Hewitt, said: "We are told one children's file is missing in its entirety.

"These are important files. These are files social services are under a duty to keep for adopted children for 100 years.

"The reason it is important is if a child were in care it is a chronology of their whole life. You can rebuild a child's life by looking at that file."

Mr Watson said: "These records are extremely important files and we treat them very seriously indeed. It is incredibly important to that child's identity.

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"There is a very different way of doing things today than the period we are talking about."

Mr Watson said two searches were made of the county council's 17 premises across the county.

"The first search was extensive but we could not locate any files at that time," he said.

At the end of April the council were asked to search a second time, and files from Woodlands were found in an unmarked cardboard box in the basement of County Hall.

They were mixed together with files from other children's homes.

"There was a wide range of records found in the second search," Mr Watson said. I could not exactly say what the gaps in the Woodlands records were.

"I think the challenge is monitoring and tracking of old records, being able to ascertain their journey over years and decades. We did not historically have the means of recording and tracking information that was kept."

Mr Watson said files would either be kept at the care home or would "follow the child" to another home.

He added the department now operates an electronic case management system and are digitising old archive records.

"I think symptomatic of the way in which files and records were kept, and the moves of those records, could have meant there was paperwork missing or not completed at the time," he said.

"There could be lots of possible explanations for missing information."

Archives being used by the county council have been subject to a flood and a fire since the 1970s, he said.

Hewitt, of Snelsmoor Lane, Chellaston, Derby, has denied two counts of rape, three of a serious sexual offence, two of indecent assault and two of gross indecency.

The trial, expected to last five weeks, continues. The jury were told of the previous convictions.

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