Home-schooled children are at risk of becoming "invisible" to local authorities, politicians have warned, following the "horrific" case of a young Welsh girl locked away from the world and abused.
Calls have been made for children taught at home to receive visits to make sure basic health and education needs are being met.
In a series of hearings covering several months, Swansea Crown Court heard how a husband and wife kept their young daughter locked away from the world in their west Wales home and subjected her to years of rapes and sexual abuse.
During her time at home - in a normal-looking house on a quiet street - she was subject to years of abuse by her parents, much of which was photographed by the pair.
The child was never allowed out to play, never sent to school, and had no friends.
On Friday, WalesOnline reported that when officers raided the couple's home they found sex toys, pornographic magazines, and newspaper cutting about young girls, along with home schooling books they had used to teach their daughter.
On the mother's phone officers found 76 indecent images of the couple's daughter being raped by her father, and sexually assaulted by her mother.
The name of the abusers and the specific location of their property cannot be reported to protect the identity of the child, who is now in foster care, but the man is in his 50s and the woman in her 20s.
The court heard the man had effectively sexually groomed his younger wife after spotting and exploiting her vulnerabilities.
The couple met in a pub in England when the woman was aged just 16 - within months she was pregnant. They moved to Wales later.
Robin Rouch, prosecuting, had previously told the court that the family did not socialise with neighbours, the daughter was home-schooled, the garden gate was kept padlocked, and curtains at the windows closed.
The male also controlled his wife's mental health medication and contact with doctors, cut her off from her family, and would not allow her to go shopping.
Mr Rouch said he defendant deliberately created the secluded and tightly controlled home environment "in order to systematically and regularly abuse" his daughter without being discovered.
The prosecutor said it appeared the youngster had become "conditioned to see the abuse as normal".
The abuse eventually came to light when the husband and wife's relationship broke down and she told police.
Judge Geraint Walters said the husband had "psychopathic tendencies" and a "devious, wicked and flawed personality" - that combined with his wife's flawed personality and vulnerabilities was the "chemistry" that allowed the abuse of the little girl to happen.
The judge said that their daughter had been kept locked up at home and cut off from the outside world, that she had never seen a playground, a cat or a dog, or gone on a bus.
He said: "She is so damaged that it is hard to see how she will ever recover from it. Every day brings new challenges for her. "She will remain forever vulnerable to future abusive relationships. She will carry the serious psychological scars for the rest of her life."
The husband was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 12 years after pleading guilty to 16 counts of rape, sexual assault, and causing a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity, the charges involving both his daughters.
The wife was convicted of 11 counts of sexual assault, causing a child to engage in sexual activity, cruelty by neglect, and taking indecent images after pleading not guilty due to duress.
She was given a 10-year sentence with an extended licence period of one year, and was ordered to by detained in a hospital for psychiatric treatment.
Renewed calls for actions have now been made, proposing both inspections of home-schooled children and a stronger legal foundation underpinning a compulsory register for children who are educated at home.
The NSPCC argued such a compulsory register was essential to make sure children receive the safeguarding and support from local authorities. The Welsh Government's current plans only propose a voluntary register.
Concerns were first raised following the death of a home-educated 11-year-old called Dylan Seabridge in 2011. Dylan, died suddenly of scurvy - an "easily preventable disease" - caused by a chronic vitamin C deficiency.
During an inquest into his death, the court heard that Dylan had failed to attend development checks with a childcare team in 2006. Attempts by health care workers to rearrange the appointment were declined by his parents. Although Dylan was registered as a patient at Newport doctors surgery, there was no record of him being seen as a patient or any appointments being made for him.
On Sunday Mid and West Wales AM Helen Mary Jones said checks should be made by local authorities to ensure home-educated children are receiving basic medical and educational needs. She said: "Parents have an absolute right to home-school their children and you can get great outcomes but I do think that children should be in regular contact with health care experts.
"Children in schools would receive these checks anyway and advice can be given to make sure the basic needs of a child are met. The whole point of homes schooling is not to enforce what is being taught but children have a right to be able to read, write and have basic mathematical skills.
"While parents have a role of responsibility for their children the whole community have responsibility for those children too."
The Carmarthen West and South Pembroke AM said: "Thankfully these extreme cases are rare but I have dealt with other families where kids run feral, schooling is minimal and 'outsiders' are not welcome.
"I have also dealt with cases where families have chosen to home school their child because the child has been bullied or has special needs not met in a state school setting.
"We do have to examine this issue very carefully and the Welsh Government should involve the responsible home schooling community and local authorities to see how we can strike the right balance between empowering parents and children by enabling choice and protecting children who can easily be marginalised and left without protection.
"There is a world of difference between loving parents, home schooling their child for any number of valid reasons and neglectful parents looking for an off-grid lifestyle where the child is left to its own devices at best or seriously neglected and abused leading to harm and even death.”
In January Welsh Government education Secretary Kirsty Williams said councils will have to create a database to identify children not on a school register.
However, the database will not force parents to register their child, and will instead invite parents to submit their details.
Figures show there are around 2,000 electively home educated children in Wales, although figures could be higher as parents do not have to register them.
NSPCC Cymru said keeping children from school had been used to cover abuse in a "minority of cases".
A NSPCC spokesman said: "Every family has a right to educate their child as they choose, but children being home schooled should receive the same protection wherever they are taught.
"We know that in a minority of cases keeping children at home has been used as a cover to abuse children out of sight of the authorities. We are concerned by the ease at which a child can become invisible to their local authority and hence denied the basic support and protection available to other children.
“It is therefore vital that councils are able to identify home schooled children in their area and ensure they receive the education, safeguarding and support they need. A compulsory register would help to ensure this is the case for every single home-educated child."
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “Earlier this year the Education Secretary announced plans to consult on regulations that will require local authorities to establish a database to identify children not on a school register.”
“The safeguarding of children in Wales has been strengthened through the introduction of legislation and the establishment of regional and national safeguarding boards.
"We are also reviewing and updating national protection procedures to examine how social services and education practitioners can work together and share information to ensure children who are home-schooled get the support they need.”
The child sex abuse case that saw pop mogul Jonathan King handed a seven-year jail sentence has been reopened in the light of fresh evidence – including documents which dramatically undermine the testimony of a star witness at his 2001 trial.
Fresh evidence is being considered by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which will decide whether to order a new appeal. It emerged as a result of King’s trial this year on separate, though related, charges of ‘historic’ sex abuse, some dating back to 1970.
That case was brought to an end last week when the judge issued a damning ruling, accusing Surrey Police of failing to disclose critical evidence and misleading the court.
Judge Deborah Taylor told Southwark Crown Court that it would be impossible for King to get a fair trial because ‘the integrity of the criminal justice system and processes have been undermined publicly in a fundamental way by disclosure failures and persistent misleading of the court’.
She added: ‘A trial has been aborted due to the failures. The time of the court and public money have been wasted, in a time of scarce resources… Continuation would undermine public confidence in the administration of justice.’
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the fresh evidence to be considered by the CCRC includes:
Witness A – one of five underage victims King was convicted of abusing in 2001 – who gave a long, unpublished interview to the News of the World four years before he spoke to the police, in which he revealed a very different story from his trial testimony. This newspaper has established he told the reporter in 1997 that he met King when he was with a friend at an amusement arcade, and was not assaulted until weeks later;
In 2001, Witness A said former DJ King first approached him when he was alone at a market stall, drove him in his Rolls-Royce to a ‘peep show’ and, later that same day, took him to his home, where he assaulted him. The police knew of these discrepancies seven months before the 2001 trial, but allegedly did not disclose the 1997 account to the defence team;
As the MoS first revealed in 2016, an investigation by the author Bob Woffinden, who died earlier this year, shows that another boy King was convicted of abusing was not in the same country as the music mogul throughout the period when he claimed he was certain the alleged abuse took place. He was in England, but tickets, receipts and credit card bills unearthed by Woffinden show that King was in America;
A 2014 report by Merseyside police on Operation Arundel, the original 2001 Surrey investigation, was only disclosed to King’s lawyers shortly before the 2018 case finally collapsed. The report, triggered by Surrey’s widely criticised investigation of allegations against Jimmy Savile before his death, made sweeping criticisms of the way Arundel officers took statements from alleged victims, saying the method they used ‘increases the possibility of error’, and ‘the integrity of any statement taken in this manner is open to question’;
The report says officers failed to tape the questions they asked during interviews, while victims’ statements were written up and signed ‘days if not weeks’ afterwards from short ‘trigger notes’, instead of immediately. The CCRC will now decide whether this casts doubt on all the evidence that convicted King in 2001;
The first Arundel detective to take a statement from an alleged victim of King was Mark Williams-Thomas, now a TV presenter. According to Judge Taylor’s ruling, after Williams-Thomas left the force, police found ‘a document on his computer offering for sale names and introductions to victims of Mr King’. The judge also said that when he left, Williams-Thomas took his police notebooks concerning King with him. The prosecution said he should not have done this because they were force property;
In 2018, though not in 2001, King was charged with abusing Witness B, the alleged victim interviewed by Williams-Thomas. Witness B could not have testified in person because illness had destroyed his ability to speak: the jury would have been asked to convict King on the basis of his 2001 statement. Witness B’s medical records, which showed he had been in numerous mental institutions and had been a drug addict, were only disclosed in June, shortly before the trial collapsed.
Yesterday, King, 73, told this newspaper in an exclusive interview: ‘I’m naturally delighted by the outcome, but my real hope is to protect others in future, and to let the many teachers, care workers and others who have also been wrongly convicted of so-called historic sexual abuse to have their cases reopened too.
‘There needs to be change at all levels. But as Judge Taylor has done, we must start with the behaviour of the police.’
He said that Surrey Chief Constable Nick Ephgrave, the man ultimately responsible, should resign.
King’s long career in pop began in 1965 when he had a top five hit while still a Cambridge student. He went on to write, perform and produce many more, while also discovering bands such as Genesis.
His contacts were also impeccable. In 2001, Simon Cowell stood him bail, and when he was arrested, King had been offered the chairmanship of recording giant EMI on an annual £5 million salary. Other famous friends included former Page 3 model Samantha Fox.
He admits the sexual opportunities that success gave him were endless, and some might find his promiscuous behaviour reprehensible. But he says he never made any secret of it, and was always clear he was not interested in settling down. In a recent video, he ironically described himself as a ‘vile pervert’.
‘I’m bisexual,’ he said, ‘and I had sex with hundreds of people. About 40 per cent were women.
‘But I found it absurd that in the 1970s and 1980s, I could legally have sex with a 16-year-old girl but not with a boy the same age because the age of consent for gay sex was 21.
‘So I deliberately broke the law with young men who were over 16, and who wanted to have sex with me.’
King insisted he went to elaborate lengths to ensure he never slept with anyone under 16, adding: ‘I was very good at seduction. I’m sorry if some people have come to regret having sex with me in later life. But if anyone said no, I accepted it. I knew some of those who made allegations, but I didn’t have sex with any of them.’
In all, King has faced four trials.
The first – in which he was convicted of abusing boys aged 14 and 15, with offences ranging from buggery to touching inappropriately – led to his seven-year jail sentence, of which he served three and a half years.
The four cases against him
King was convicted at the Old Bailey in September 2001 of four counts of indecent assault, one of buggery and one attempted buggery on five boys aged 14 and 15 when the crimes took place in the eighties. He has protested his innocence ever since, but was jailed for seven years. He served half his sentence. This case has now been reopened because of fresh evidence.
Two months later, in November 2001, he was found not guilty of sexually assaulting two other underage boys, after one admitted in court he might have been over 16 at the time of the alleged offence.
He has been due to face further charges in late 2001, but the prosecution decided not to go ahead with the trial. The charges were ‘left on file’ – and King was told by his lawyers this meant they would never be revived.
In what legal experts say was a highly unusual move, two of the ‘on file’ charges were revived in 2015. King was also charged with crimes reported to police in 2001, but where they had taken no action. Facing claims he had abused a total of 10 further underage boys, he was found not guilty of two of the revived charges in June 2018. The whole case was aborted last week after the judge found the police had ‘misled’ her and so ‘undermined the integrity’ of the criminal justice system.
In the second, in November 2001, he was accused of abusing two boys but found not guilty on all counts. A third trial due after that was dropped by the prosecution. The charges he would have faced then were ‘left on file’. But King was assured by his lawyers that they would never be revived.
Legal experts say it is highly unusual for charges of this kind to be tried years later. However, this is what happened in King’s fourth trial, which ended last week.
Of the ten alleged victims, seven – including Witness B – had first made statements in 2001, when their claims were either left on file or did not lead to charges.
The other three came forward after King was arrested in 2015 amid huge publicity.
The 2001 trial started in June. In April, King’s defence, led by solicitor Steven Bird and Henry Blaxland QC, had tried to get the case stopped as an ‘abuse of process’, arguing it was unfair to revive the old allegations.
At that stage, the judge disagreed. But then, following pressure from King’s defence, further documents were disclosed, including the Merseyside report on Operation Arundel and Witness B’s extensive medical records.
The prosecution, acting on information from the police, had wrongly told the court these documents contained ‘nothing of relevance’, and that there was no ‘final version’ of the Merseyside report – when, in fact, there was, and Surrey Police had a copy in their files.
King was found not guilty on the two charges which had lain on file, including the claim he abused Witness B. Then the case was aborted.
Meanwhile, a long statement to police by the News of the World reporter describing his interview with Witness A in 1997, with its many discrepancies from his 2001 evidence, had also come to light.
It had been sent to King’s office as part of a package of ‘unused material’ in October 2001 but he never examined it because by then he had been convicted, and was in Belmarsh prison.
King said he was sure that the reporter’s statement had not been disclosed before his trial, and if it had been, his barrister, Ron Thwaites QC, who had a formidable reputation, would have used it to undermine Witness A’s allegations.
The 2018 prosecution lawyers said ‘it is not possible to say’ if the reporter’s statement was disclosed before the 2001 trial or not, but admitted that the information it contained was ‘not in any statement made by [Witness A] himself’.
‘I was misled,’ Judge Taylor said at the end of last week’s ruling.
She added that, whether the misleading was deliberate or not, to allow this ‘would give rise to a belief that in this type of case, where there are sexual allegations against figures in the public eye, the courts are prepared to sanction the end justifying the means’.
Perhaps most astonishingly of all, she also suggested that the 2018 case had ‘not been driven by complainants’ allegations’, but ‘by concerns about reputational damage to Surrey Police in the wake of the Savile case and the consequent Merseyside investigation’.
Last night the CCRC confirmed that it had reopened the 2001 case. A spokesman said: ‘We will examine whatever material there may be which is relevant. Anything that concerns witnesses’ credibility will have a bearing.’
Williams-Thomas said he ‘not been given any opportunity to defend myself’ before the judge issued her ruling, saying that he should have been. He said he left the police with an ‘exemplary record’ and only kept his notebooks because he was advised to do so.
As to the document the judge said was found on his computer offering to sell details of King’s alleged victims, he said: ‘After two investigations, no action was taken against me.
‘It must follow that no offences were disclosed. I categorically deny any wrongdoing here or in relation to any of the other criticisms… I pride myself on my ability to protect victims of such crimes.’
A Surrey Police spokesman said: ‘We recognise there were serious organisational failings in the investigation, particularly in relation to disclosure.’
The force ‘deeply regret we did not meet the required standards to ensure a fair trial. For this we wholeheartedly apologise.’
The spokesman added that the force had commissioned an ‘independent review’ and a formal complaint by King was now being investigated. However, Chief Constable Nick Ephgrave had ‘no intention of resigning’.