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Councillors called for heads to roll at an extraordinary general meeting held to discuss Herefordshire’s failing children’s services after an Ofsted inspection slated its social work as “inadequate” in all areas.

Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

After a slew of damning high court judgments since 2018 that detailed how Herefordshire social workers had breached children’s human rights, the criticisms in a recent Ofsted report were described by councillors as “painful”, “extremely upsetting”, and “harrowing”.

The report’s opening paragraph states: “Children and young people in Herefordshire are not protected from harm.”

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In the five years leading up to August 2021, Herefordshire council paid out £290,000 in human rights damages to children and families it had harmed, according to a freedom of information response from the council. Financial compensation is rarely awarded even in cases where liability is proved.

Families sitting in the public area of the council building on Friday cheered as councillor Carole Gandy told the meeting that the report was “very difficult reading and makes me very angry … we have failed to keep many of our children safe [and] we are in the last chance saloon”.

The leader of the Liberal Democrat group, Terry James, said parents who had tried to ask oral questions at the start of the meeting had been shut down. “Families have been intimidated into not attending,” he said, “and most of their questions have been ruled out of order.

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“We are destroying their lives. I recently had to rush back from chairing a meeting to see a mother who had tried to [kill herself]. Her daughter was in hospital, with anorexia, and they were still being bullied by social workers.”

Hannah Currie, 38, whose five-year-old son has just been adopted, said: “If you’re a parent, you’re just seen as angry or unruly. They build a case against you, and there’s no support. When you challenge social workers, you get managers saying: ‘I will not engage with you.’”

Angeline Logan, 34, a mother who has experienced allegations of fabricated and induced illness, which were not found to be established by a family court, has founded a pressure group called A Common Bond.

She called for Darryl Freeman, the director of children’s services, David Hitchiner, the council leader, and Diana Toynbee, the cabinet member for children and families, to resign. “They’ve failed the children of Herefordshire,” Logan said.

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It was the third extraordinary general meeting to be called since 2018, when Herefordshire’s children’s services were rated as “requires improvement” by Ofsted. The second EGM was called last spring after the publication of a judgment in which the high court judge Mr Justice Keehan deplored the decision of the then director of children’s services, Chris Baird, to authorise the life support machine of a seriously ill child in care to be switched off, knowing that her mother was on the way to the hospital to say goodbye. The mother did not arrive in time.

After the “inadequate” rating by Ofsted, the education secretary issued Herefordshire council with a statutory direction , installing Eleanor Brazil as commissioner and charging her with assessing whether the council had the capacity to improve.

Her judgment will determine whether Herefordshire’s children’s services department is ultimately taken over by central government. Her report is due by 12 December.

Toynbee said she accepted Ofsted’s criticisms and apologised to all Herefordshire residents for the council’s failings.

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