British ‘Fritzl’ Case Puts Child Protection Under Spotlight

November 27, 2008 Updated: November 27, 2008

The British prime minister has vowed to change the system that failed to protect two women from repeated rape by their father that led to 19 pregnancies over a 25-year-period.

Gordon Brown’s denouncement of the “unspeakable events” coincides with an independent inquiry launched into how social services, police and health care professionals did not act to stop the father’s violent abuse against his daughters, despite having contact with the family.

"People will want to know how such abuse could go on for so long without the authorities and the wider public services discovering it and taking action,” said Gordon Brown during Parliament’s prime minister's question time.

Dubbed the British ‘Fritzl’, after the Austrian Josef Fritzl who held captive and fathered 7 children with his daughter over a 24-year period, the 56-year-old Sheffield man received 25 life sentences for 25 counts of rape, and will serve a minimum of 19 and a half years in prison.

Sheffield crown court heard how the businessman, who cannot be named for the sake of his daughters’ protection, sexually abused and beat the sisters from the ages of 8 and 10. The girls bore 7 living children, 2 more died at birth and the other 10 pregnancies ended in terminations or miscarriages.

Nicholas Campbell QC, for the prosecution said: "When either one of his victims tried to end the sexual abuse, he threatened to kill them and their children, and when they threatened to tell police, he said they would not be believed. He said that if they went public then the children would be taken away from them.”

Over 20 years teachers and doctors voiced their concerns about the high mortality rates of the girls’ babies, but the cases were not followed up by social services.

"All the time, when the sisters were challenged about the paternity of their children, they would cover it up," added Mr Campbell.

To avoid detection by the authorities, the father frequently moved his family from the northern English counties of South Yorkshire to Lincolnshire, living in isolated villages.

The man was eventually arrested in June after the daughters reported their father’s reign of terror to social workers.

Sentencing Judge Alan Goldsack QC said: "As a result of this case, questions will inevitably be asked about what professionals, social and medical workers have been doing for the last 20 years."
This case follows in the wake of the Baby P case, where Haringey Council in London have been blamed for failing to prevent the death of the 17-month-old boy, despite 60 visits by the social services.