County council apologises after child care worker sexually abused youngsters

Pictured is Derbyshire County Council, at County Hall, Matlock.
Pictured is Derbyshire County Council, at County Hall, Matlock.

Derbyshire County Council has apologised after former care worker Duncan Ritchie was jailed for sexually abusing five teenagers during the 1980s.

Ritchie, 71, of Highfields Way, Holmewood, Chesterfield, was jailed for 11-and-a-half years after he was found guilty of eleven sexual charges involving five teenagers following a trial.

Pictured is Duncan Ritchie, 71, of Highfields Way, Holmewood, Chesterfield, who has been jailed for 11-and-a-half years after he sexually abused five teenagers.

Pictured is Duncan Ritchie, 71, of Highfields Way, Holmewood, Chesterfield, who has been jailed for 11-and-a-half years after he sexually abused five teenagers.

Derby Crown Court recently heard how Ritchie committed the offences between 1984 and 1987 when he worked at Greenacres care home, in Clay Cross, and Lindenhurst care home, in Chesterfield.

The council’s Strategic Director for Children’s Services, Jane Parfrement, said “Clearly, we now know that Duncan Ritchie’s victims have had to endure many years of distress and trauma as a result of the terrible crimes he committed while he was employed by the council, and for that we do sincerely apologise.”

Judge Robert Egbuna told Derby Crown Court that the “culture of Greenacres was to turn a blind eye” as child abuser Duncan Ritchie sexually assaulted five teenagers.

The court heard how Ritchie had been jailed for a theft in 1978 but was employed by Derbyshire County Council as a residential care worker.

Pictured is Derby Crown Court.

Pictured is Derby Crown Court.

Some victims claimed they felt helpless to complain at the time.

One claimed the defendant told her “she could say what she liked, do what she liked, tell who she liked - it would not make any difference”.

Ritchie claimed there had been protocols, back-up night staff and a system where a third party had to be present to ensure against false allegations.

But Judge Robert Egbuna told him: “You weren’t worried about being apprehended because the culture of Greenacres was to turn a blind eye and as you said the accusations were ten-a-penny.”

The council stressed that the safety of children is its highest priority.

Ms Parfrement added: “Duncan Ritchie’s crimes were an appalling abuse of trust and his victims have had to live with the memory of what had happened to them for decades.

“It has taken huge courage for them to come forward and talk to the police about this and to then give evidence in court.

“We are absolutely determined that victims must be heard and we have given our full support and co-operation to this police investigation.

“The safety of children in Derbyshire is the council’s highest priority. We encourage anyone who knows or suspects a child has been exploited or abused, no matter how long ago, to report it to the police on 101.

“Derbyshire County Council continues to work with the police under Operation Liberty to eradicate child sexual abuse.”

She added: “There were clear rules for staff working in Derbyshire children’s homes in the 1980s about how to deal with a complaint made by a child. If a complaint of improper behaviour by a member of staff was made by a child in care, the practice should have been to report the matter to the manager of the home and to inform the child’s appointed social worker.

“Each child also had regular reviews of their care and the suitability of their placement at which [point] concerns could be discussed.

“Disciplinary action was taken at that time against staff members at children’s homes in response to complaints made by children or about that staff member’s behaviour around children. Cases were also referred to the police where this was considered to be appropriate.

“These particular historical offences became known to the council when the police investigation began in 2015, so it is extremely difficult for us to provide his victims with a clear explanation of how this could have happened more than 30 years ago.

“We deeply regret if there have been complaints that may not have been dealt with as they should have been at the time they were made.”

Ms Parfrement stated that today the council has a very robust processes for the recruitment of staff for children’s homes, for the assessment of the needs of every child in care and for the implementation of safeguarding policies and procedures and each home is regularly inspected to ensure children are suitably placed and properly protected.

She added: “Victims can be assured that should they come forward now they will be heard and their allegations will be fully investigated. Perpetrators of such terrible acts should be clear that we will ensure we do everything possible to work with the police to bring them to justice no matter what time has elapsed.

The council stated there are no plans for an internal investigation but the national Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse exists to independently examine such matters.

Due to rules on retention of job application documents, the council could not confirm what consideration was given to Duncan Ritchie’s theft conviction, although having a conviction may not necessarily have been a bar to him being appointed at that time.

Ritchie’s charges included one count of indecent assault against a boy, three counts of indecent assault against a girl, one count against another girl, four counts against another girl and two counts against a further girl.

In some cases, individual counts had involved multiple incidents.

His victims, who cannot be named for legal reasons, revealed how they were so badly affected by the abuse that some turned to drugs and alcohol or became suicidal and have needed counselling and rehabilitation. They revealed how they have struggled to trust people and have had difficulties developing relationships.

One of the five victims of child abuser Duncan Ritchie said if he had the opportunity he would give him “a good kicking”.

His victims provided statements to Derby Crown Court on the traumatic struggles they have faced during the intervening years.

The boy, who was only aged 13 when he went to Greenacres, stated: “I have wasted 20-odd years of my life taking drugs trying to deal with it and to push it to the back of my mind.”

He revealed that Ritchie’s abuse had contributed to the lifestyle he was drawn into and he had to go into rehabilitation.

Judge Robert Egbuna revealed how this victim also said if he was given the opportunity he would give Ritchie “a good kicking”.

Ritchie’s other four victims were aged between 14 and 16 when they went into the care homes.

One became suicidal, has struggled to trust anyone and has needed counselling. Another revealed how she has struggled to trust people and feels vulnerable. A further complainant said she contemplated suicide and she had been left feeling disgust towards men.

Another stated: “Because of what Duncan did to me I have suffered from a lack of confidence and have suffered panic attacks and anxiety.”

This victim added she has had difficulties expressing emotions and has struggled with trust and relationships and with people in authority and had also turned to drink and drugs.

Judge Egbuna, who jailed Ritchie on November 30, told Ritchie: “You considered vulnerable children under your care as sexual tools. You did not care about their well-being.”

He added: “You wreaked havoc and the effect has been devastating.”

Defence barrister Clive Stockwell said Ritchie, who is a married man with family and grandchildren, suffers with a heart condition, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Mr Stockwell added: “The impact is going to be most keenly felt by his family rather than by him.”

Ritchie was found guilty of 11 counts of indecent assault concerning the four victims from Greenacres and one from Lindenhurst.

The defendant originally faced 28 sexual charges against seven teenagers and he was found not guilty on 12 counts and the remaining five were ordered to lie on file after the jury failed to return verdicts on these counts.

Judge Egbuna also placed Ritchie on the Sex Offenders’ Register for life.

Greenacres is still a county council property but it is not in use and Lindenhurst is no longer a children’s care home, according to the council.

Victims can speak to trained counsellors at the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000 while Childline is available for 24 hours-a-day, everyday, on 0800 1111 or they can visit www.childline.org.uk for information.