Skip to main content

Families: Bullying

Volume 713: debated on Monday 26 October 2009

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the death by fire in 2007 of Fiona Pilkington and her handicapped daughter, what steps they have taken to investigate how many families in England and Wales are subjected to bullying of the type inflicted on the Pilkingtons; and what is their assessment of the scale of the problem.

My Lords, this was a horrendous case that demonstrated the devastating effects of anti-social behaviour. Thankfully, such cases are rare. We have announced increased support for victims, tougher action on ASBO breaches, locally set minimum standards, and improved support to targeted partnerships. The policing pledge ensures that the police help the victims, and this work will be strengthened in the White Paper.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. He is aware, I believe, that the Home Secretary has said that we have slipped behind on this and that the Government took their eye off the ball. Can they now get their eye back on to the ball and think a little more about the victims? I have a specific question. We have acceptable behaviour contracts, which can be entered into in writing, and anti-social behaviour orders, which can be obtained from the courts. However, no one seems to pay any attention whatever to what happens at the house of the victim on the night. Mrs Pilkington appealed 33 times over a decade for help and assistance, but the local authority took almost no interest in her. She told social workers that she had suicidal tendencies, but they ignored that information. There should be a system—will the Minister undertake to look at this?—whereby the police and local authorities know which homes are being targeted by bullying and some sort of force, obviously the police, can be deployed to the house on the night. Some of these attacks last for about eight hours.

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point about the victims. We have extended the victim support service to victims and witnesses, and have put up funding for 85 new victims’ champions in pioneer areas and in areas with anti-social behaviour perceptions of more than 25 per cent. There is also a national training campaign for co-ordinators to improve their victim work, but I will take away that point and get back to the noble Lord in writing about what happened on that evening.

My Lords, interestingly there have been three independent looks at this: by a House of Commons Select Committee; in a PAC report; and in an NAO report. All of them congratulated the Government on the successful introduction of robust and effective tools and powers that work against anti-social behaviour and support the law-abiding majority. Those tools and powers clearly have to be applied within local regions and used properly. There is no doubt that we are taking this seriously, but there is equally no doubt that, in the appalling Pilkington case, as the coroner found, there was a police failure to join up the incidents, the local borough council failed to record and monitor its anti-social behaviour incidents, and the county council failed in a number of areas. Overall, things were not joined up. There were failings and failures, but this Government have put in place things that can be used. They were not used in this case, and they need to be used properly because this is a blight on our society. I know that the Home Secretary feels that this is very important and wants even more concentration on it.

My Lords, the fact is that ASBOs were not in place before this tragic incident. That suggests, does it not, that, as the Minister said, the 33 calls to the police were not linked up, so there was no request for an ASBO. What guidance has the Home Office since issued to the police to ensure that 33 calls from one victim are linked up?

My Lords, we have come out with a raft of new announcements saying how these tools and powers should be used and how the crime and disorder reduction partnerships, set up in 1998, should be involved. We are stepping up action on breach of ASBOs and we are putting on pressure to ensure effective links behind neighbourhood policing and neighbourhood management teams to resolve these issues. But in the end these things have to be done at the local level. Perhaps I did not answer the first Question of the noble Lord as well as I might have done. We have contacted the 338 crime and disorder reduction partners to ask whether there are any other cases in their areas that are anything like the dreadful Pilkington case, and to date we have not heard there are any. I have real concerns because there is no doubt that this sort of thing is a blight, and I am aware of the situation in the particular street, partly because one of my relatives went there for another reason and was quite appalled by it. However, the police are taking this seriously and these efforts need to be joined up.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that despite all our laws, rules and regulations, bullying is still going on on a very large scale indeed, especially against disabled people? The reason for it is that many politicians, policemen and head teachers simply do not take bullying seriously enough, but they should do so. Can my noble friend say whether the Government are prepared to launch a major investigation into bullying as soon as possible?

My Lords, there are some people who do not recognise bullying for what it is, which is totally objectionable. Bullies are normally cowards and need to be confronted.