Two former Norfolk councillors claim they were driven out when raised concerns about children's services
PUBLISHED: 08:49 06 March 2017 | UPDATED: 08:49 06 March 2017
Two former Norfolk county councillors have spoken for the first time about how they felt driven out of the authority because they asked questions about children's services cases.
Both are speaking to this newspaper as part of our investigation into Norfolk County Council’s children’s services department.
Stan Hebborn, former UKIP deputy leader and former Labour councillor Deborah Gihawi, claim nplaw, the council’s lawyers, heaped pressure on them when they began to question cases involving the department.
Mr Hebborn, who resigned in 2015, having been elected in 2013 as councillor for Watton, said during his time as councillor he had been contacted by people whose children had been taken into care and who had alleged miscarriages of justice.
But he said his attempts to investigate the truth behind claims ended up with him quitting the council after what he described as “harassment” by the council’s lawyers.
The former police officer had called for a public inquiry after getting involved in some of the cases featured in this newspaper’s investigation.
Mr Hebborn said he tried to rally support from other councillors, but with a handful of exceptions, little support was forthcoming.
He said the council’s law department wanted him to hand over documents.
Mr Hebborn said it felt like a “fishing trip” was being conducted to see what information he had - and who could be incriminated by it.
“I felt my efforts were being undermined, just because I had been asking questions, which I thought councillors were meant to do. It was totally disheartening.
“I was constantly hearing from people who said their children had been taken away and they would never see them again, but there seemed nothing I, as a councillor, could do to look into those cases.”
Mrs Gihawi used to work as a social worker for the council.
In 2012, she wrote to then director of children’s services Lisa Christensen to say she had got involved in cases involving children’s services where she felt poor social work practice was in danger of leading to miscarriages of justices in the removal of children.
She was suspended from her city council duties amid a claim from nplaw she had committed a criminal offence in sharing information about a case, although she was later reinstated and no further action taken.
She then got elected onto the county council and became a member of the children’s services committee, before resigning in 2015.
She said she felt under pressure from nplaw when she quit.
She said: “My aim was that if I could not do it from the outside, I would do it from the inside because this show needed to be stopped.
“I was challenging the ivory tower, but they would hide behind ‘it’s in the best interests of the children’, I said ‘I’m a councillor, I need to know about it’, but the information would never come forward. If we don’t question things, who will?”
Norfolk County Council were asked a series of questions about both cases but did not answer any of them.