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UPDATE: Child Protection Concerns

Cornwall News
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12:56pm 21st November 2014
(Updated 12:56pm 21st November 2014)

A Cornwall councillor at the centre of an investigation over child protection concerns speaks out.

Alex Folkes was arrested during an inquiry into credit cards linked to a site with indecent images of children.

But posting on his blog, the member for Launceston says he was cleared by police:

"In 2006 (and before I became a councillor) I was one of many people who was arrested when credit or debit card details were found which linked the cardholders to a site containing indecent images of children. I have never viewed any such images nor had I ever visited the site or any others like it. I was able to show the police that my card had been cloned at some time in the past and used illegally for various things including a hotel in Brazil. I reported that at the time and my bank refunded the money. Of course I cannot be sure, but that is how I believe my card details came to be linked to the site as it fits the time my card was used fraudulently. When details are stolen on the internet they tend to come in a package and hackers can also have access to your address, email, password, phone, IP address, etc, which can easily be cloned and used by another person to cover their own identity and make it look like the victim of their fraud is the guilty party. The police searched my computer and other electronic devices I owned. Because I had done nothing wrong, and therefore there was no evidence against me, the police did not bring any charges and they told me the matter was closed.

"I cannot blame the police for investigating based on the information they received. The whole episode put me through a huge trauma but I am reassured that they took such matters very seriously and I am glad that they were able to establish my innocence as they did.

"In 2009 when I was elected to Cornwall Council my arrest was flagged up in an enhanced CRB check. I discussed this matter with the chief legal officer of the council. He told me that he would discuss it with the (then) leader Councillor Alec Robertson. I heard no more about this from the legal officer, Mr Robertson or anyone else. I assume that they took the view, quite rightly, that the matter was properly dealt with by the police and considered closed."

Alex Folkes has already stood down as the man in charge of finances at Cornwall Council.

Officials have asked him to resign as Councillor for Launceston.

The authority has released this statement: "The Council has an overriding responsibility to safeguard the welfare of children and young people in Cornwall.  After receiving the initial information raising serious child protection concerns relating to Councillor Folkes on 16 October, we launched an immediate investigation into the circumstances.  As part of the investigation we were given information by the police which was assessed by the Local Authority’s Designated Officer (LADO) as part of the Council’s formal safeguarding process.  Based on the information supplied by the police at this stage, the LADO process concluded that Councillor Folkes represented a serious and enduring risk to children.  This decision was later confirmed by additional information supplied by the police. This led to the Director for Education, Health and Social Care writing to schools and children’s settings in the Launceston area.

"We took legal advice on all aspects of this matter in order to make certain that the process was conducted fairly and properly and in the interests of ensuring the maximum safety of children in Cornwall.  We are confident that the investigation, which was aided by the police, has been dealt with appropriately and all proportional steps have been taken to ensure children in Cornwall are protected to the maximum possible degree.

"The Council also took legal advice on when it could share details of the evidence which had been provided to the LADO with Councillor Folkes and provided him with the information as soon as it was legally able to do so.

"An internal investigation is currently underway into the way the matter was dealt with in 2009."

Its original statement, issued on Thursday, read:

"On 16 October, the Council received information raising serious child protection concerns relating to Alex Folkes and immediately launched a formal investigation into the circumstances. In view of the potential seriousness of the issues raised, Councillor Folkes was asked to stay away from the Council whilst the investigation was carried out by senior officers from the authority in consultation with other agencies.

"As a result of the information which came to light during this investigation, the Leader of Cornwall Council, John Pollard, decided that Councillor Folkes could not continue to carry out his Cabinet responsibilities and demanded that he either resigned with immediate effect or he would remove him from his role as the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources.  The Council received his resignation on 4 November.

"Although the concerns arose in relation to specific incidents which occurred in 2003 and, therefore, before Councillor Folkes became a member of Cornwall Council, the authority has an overriding responsibility to safeguard the welfare of children and young people in Cornwall.  The Director of Education, Health and Social Care has, therefore, written to schools and children's settings in the Launceston area to alert them to the potential risk posed by Councillor Folkes.

"Following the 2009 unitary elections, some Council officers became aware of an adverse entry on a CRB disclosure form relating to Councillor Folkes. The way the matter was dealt with at that time is now subject to an internal investigation.

"The Council totally condemns any action which poses a threat to children, but does not have the legal power to remove Alex Folkes from his position as an elected councillor. Nevertheless, the Chief Executive Andrew Kerr has written to Councillor Folkes urging him to resign from the Council with immediate effect."

12:56pm 21st November 2014

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