Serious case review highlighted how chance after chance was missed by child protection agencies to save Daniel, who was starved and then beaten to death
A new law placing a legal duty on social workers, doctors and school teachers to report child abuse would not have saved a four-year-old boy who was starved and then beaten to death by his mother and stepfather.
Children and families minister Edward Timpson said “mandatory reporting is not the answer” to providing better protection for children against physical and emotional abuse and neglect.
His comments follow the publication of a serious case review which highlighted how chances were missed by child protection agencies to intervene in the case of Daniel Pelka.
Daniel, from Coventry, died from a head injury in March last year after suffering months of cruelty and emotional abuse at the hands of Magdelena Luczak and former soldier Mariusz Krezolek.
The pair, both originally from Poland, were jailed for a minimum of 30 years each after a trial at Birmingham Crown Court earlier this year.
The review found Daniel was at times rendered “invisible” in the eyes of health professionals, school staff and social workers in the presence of controlling Luczak and her partner Krezolek, who “misled and deceived” a host of child protection agencies by spinning a “web of lies” to conceal systematic abuse of the boy.
The report also highlighted the fact that Daniel was never individually spoken to about his home life, without his mother or stepfather present.
During their trial at Birmingham Crown Court, the jury heard how Daniel was kept locked in a box room as a virtual prisoner, fed salt and routinely beaten. At one point his mother held his head under water in the bath.
At school he was so hungry he stole food from other children’s lunch boxes and hunted for scraps in bins, with teachers concerned he was “wasting away”.
Police were called to the family home 27 times between 2006 and 2011, because of repeated problems of domestic violence between Luczak and three male partners – including Krezolek, yet despite referrals to child protection officers Daniel’s welfare was never followed up in detail.
Despite seeing doctors, nurses, community paediatric workers, social workers and teaching staff, the report found that at no point was a “holistic approach” taken to the injuries and ailments he was presenting with, and the warning signs pointing to his abuse were missed.
The case review by Coventry Safeguarding Children Board has published 15 recommendations aimed at preventing such failures, after detailing how social services, teachers, police and medical professionals all came into contact with Daniel but failed to see a pattern of systematic abuse.
The recommendations include calls for greater communication and co-ordination between child protection agencies, and a strengthening of working procedures and staff training.
Separately, a petition calling for all those working with children to be under a mandatory responsibility to report any suspicion of child abuse – known as “Daniel’s Law” - has attracted 50,000 signatures, and was handed to 10 Downing Street yesterday ahead of the report’s publication.
The online petition, on the website change.org, was set up by Paula Barrow, a mother of two from Manchester who said Daniel was “let down by all the relevant agencies”.
She said: “One way in which we can help better protect children is to make those around them legally responsible.
“Legislation is needed which requires staff working in regulated activities - schools and early years etc - to report concerns.
“This will not only help children in distress, but it will also help staff to report abuse without hesitation or fear of reprisal.”
The chairman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people’s board, David Simmonds, said: “The proposed change in the law to strengthen the legal responsibility to report suspected abuse may be one element of driving the necessary cultural change.”
But Mr Timpson ruled out Government support for any new legislation, and has instead written to the safeguarding children board urging them to “dig deeper” into the reasons why mistakes were made in Daniel’s case.
He said: “Mandatory reporting is not the answer. Guidance is already crystal clear that professionals should refer immediately to social care when they are concerned about a child.”
He added: “Other countries have tried mandatory reporting and there is no evidence to show that it is a better system for protecting children. In fact there is evidence to show it can make children less safe.”
In its conclusion the safeguarding children board said concerns about the boy’s health were too often “viewed in isolation”.
Addressing the question of whether Daniel’s death could have been preventable, the report said: “It could be argued that had a much more enquiring mind been employed by professionals about Daniel’s care, and they were more focused and determined in their intentions to address those concerns, this would likely have offered greater protection for Daniel.”
Following the publication of the serious case review, Coventry City Council chief executive Martin Reeves offered an apology on behalf of the local authority for not doing enough to help Daniel.
He said: “Daniel was murdered by the two people who should have loved and protected him most, but all organisations in Coventry involved in Daniel’s short life now have to face up to their responsibilities and the part they played in the missed opportunities that could have protected Daniel.
“We are sorry we did not do enough to protect Daniel.
“The report makes clear that the sharing of information and communications between all agencies was not robust enough and no one fitted together the jigsaw of what was really happening to Daniel.”