Silence of children's boss who quit before Star Hobson murder trial

Children’s services boss who quit £121,00-a-year job days before start of Star Hobson murder trial refuses to discuss tragic case at his £280,000 house after claiming he was ‘extremely proud’ of his time in office

  • Mark Douglas quit as Children’s Service boss a week before the trial began
  • Savannah Brockhill, 28, and Frankie Smith, 20, convicted over Star’s death
  • Mr Douglas refused to speak and said questions would have to go to council 

The £121,000-a-year children’s services boss who presided over the tragic case of Star Hobson has refused to take responsibility for the catastrophic failings in the lead-up to her death.

Bradford’s Director of Children’s Services, Mark Douglas, resigned from his post just days before the trial of Savannah Brockhill, 28, and Frankie Smith, 20, began.

He is now spending his days at his modest £280,000 terraced house in Northumberland and refused to discuss Star’s case when approached by Mailonline.

 Asked to comment on his department’s handling of Star’s case, he replied: ‘I’m sorry you’ll have to go back to Bradford and speak to Bradford council.’

When further asked ‘do you feel any sense of personal responsibility over what happened to Star Hobson?’

He replied: I need to refer you back to Bradford council, I’m sorry I can say no more than that at this time.’

When he resigned in October he said he was ‘extremely proud’ of the improvements brought in under his tenure.

However Star’s family were left in despair when five separate referrals to Bradford City’s Council’s under-fire children’s services department went unheeded in the six months leading up to the tot’s murder by pub bouncer Brockhill.

Mark Douglas quit as Children’s Service boss a week before the trial began in October

He is now spending his days at a modest £280,000 terraced house in Northumberland

Tragic Star Hobson was murdered in October last year by her mother’s girlfriend in attack

Star’s great grandfather David Fawcett, 61, said: ‘Someone in social services needs to be accountable for what happened to Star and so far no one has been.

‘The lack of response from social services was unbelievable, they did nothing and we were dismissed as troublemakers who made the complaint because we didn’t like gypsies or same sex relationships.

‘What an insult to hear that our claim had been called malicious when it was the opposite.

‘We were desperately asking for help for Star because we were worried she was going to be hurt. In the end the outcome was worse than even we imagined. 

‘Nothing was done. Not one thing. Our referral was thrown out within a couple of days and others followed with the same result.’

A council source said: ‘The children’s department at Bradford has been a mess for years, since at least 2014.

‘They just couldn’t recruit experienced social workers or keep the existing ones, they were operating at threadbare levels and that left some children exposed.

‘Some funding was agreed under Mark Douglas’s tenure but it just wasn’t enough to fix the problem, in fact it didn’t even come close.

Partners in death: Savannah Brockhill, 28 and Frankie Smith, 20, have both been convicted over killing Star Hobson

Police have released a harrowing picture of one of the bruises on Star’s face that sparked calls to social services from family

‘Whoever follows him into this job on a full time basis is facing a hell of a task.’ 

Bradford council’s interim Director of Children’s Services, Marium Haque, in a joint statement with other leaders of the local safeguarding partnership from the police and healthcare services, said:

‘We all deeply regret that not all the warning signs were seen that could have led to firmer statutory enforcement action.’

Mark Douglas’s sudden resignation came on October 15.

He knew the trial was due to start at Bradford Crown Court the following week, but he did not refer to it as he announced he’d be quitting.

The case opened seven days later on October 22nd. Mr Douglas is himself a trained social worker who began his career in the North East. His Bradford Council biography credits him with ‘developing new and innovative services, including education services for looked after children that have supported vulnerable children and families.’

He rose to become Assistant Director of Children’s services in Northumberland before moving on to become Director of Children’s Social Care at Doncaster Children’s Services Trust.

He was credited with turning around the fortunes of the children’s service in Doncaster, taking it from ‘inadequate’ to ‘good’ in the space of three years.

It was hoped he would do the same at Bradford when he joined a department that had been savagely criticised in July 2019.

He became Bradford Council’s third Director of Children’s Services to quit in just three years when he suddenly resigned.

The department had been rocked by an Ofsted report in 2018 which branded it ‘inadequate’ and said some children under its care were ‘at risk of serious harm.’ 

Michael Jameson quit as director soon after the report was released and he was succeeded by Gladys Rhodes White, who left less than a year later.

On his arrival Mr Douglas vowed to ‘develop good and outstanding services for the city and district.’

Kersten England, Chief Executive of Bradford Council, said at the time: ‘Mark will be key to us achieving this so we put the voice and needs of our young people at the heart of all we do.’

He steered away from mentioning Star’s case when he quit, releasing a statement which said ‘I am extremely proud of the improvements that we have made in children’s services over the past two and a half years and I am confident that all services will continue on their journey of improvement so that the children and young people of Bradford receive good and outstanding provision.’

His resignation followed quickly after the government appointed a commissioner, Steve Walker from Leeds City Council, to carry out a probe into the ‘slow pace of change’ in the children’s services department at Bradford.

The Ofsted report of October 2018 said services for children in the city have ‘rapidly deteriorated’ since an inspection in April 2017.

More kids were in crisis at the same time as the loss of a ‘significant number of experienced social workers and managers, who left to work for other local authorities’, said the report. Because of the loss of staff the number of agency and short-term staff had increased significantly, it found. 

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