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Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:14 pm on 11th February 2020.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:14 pm, 11th February 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Lucy Allan who has done so much to champion justice especially for those people who have been abused as children. I welcome the two sets of provisions in the Bill. I will constrain my remarks to Vanessa George and the abuse of babies and toddlers in Plymouth. First, though, let me say how grateful I am to Mr Speaker and to the Opposition for allowing me to speak from the Back Benches instead of from my usual spot on the Front Bench. This is a very important constituency issue for those whom I represent.

Speaking up on behalf of those children who attend Little Ted’s Nursery has been, although very difficult, a privilege and an honour. The experiences of those children have been so utterly harrowing. Because their identities are still unknown and because there is a desire to keep what is left of their childhood innocence intact, not many people have come under the media spotlight and been recognised publicly for what they have done. I want to thank all the families for their courage, their steadfast determination and for their love of their kids. Without them and their work, we would not be here today with this Bill in front of us. I would love to name all of them and give them credit, but I prefer to give them the even better privilege of just knowing that they were listened to and that their children’s innocence is safeguarded.

Ever since the news of Vanessa George’s release came to light, I have been campaigning to keep her behind bars. I am not a hang ‘em and flog ‘em politician. That is not my style. But when it comes to the abuse of babies and toddlers, what Vanessa George did both in terms of the acts she committed and of her continual refusal to name which children she abused and which she did not has cast a whole new light over my views on the Parole Board and her release.

As the Front-Bench teams have touched on, the case around Vanessa George is exceptionally disturbing. The abuse, including the penetration of babies and toddlers and the photographs of that penetration and abuse, is something that is really, really difficult for many of us to understand—how someone could do that and how someone could then share those images. The severity of that case was part of the reason why she was given an indeterminate sentence. It was for reasons of public protection. The indeterminate sentence has somewhat complicated this case along the way due to its particular legal position. When sentencing, the words of the judge to Vanessa George were quite profound. She said:

“I cannot emphasise too strongly that this is not a seven-year sentence. It is emphatically not. It is, in effect, a life sentence. Many, and I suspect everyone deeply affected by your dreadful deeds, will say that would not be a day too long.”

The parents of those babies and toddlers were let down twice: first, by a system that did not protect their children in a place where they should have been safe; and, secondly, as one parent told me through tears, that George was released with the identity of those children still not known.

When we talk about matters such as this, we sometimes talk about the identity of the victims, but, in this case, it is not only the victims, but those young children who could be victims. We do not know precisely which children she abused. I have heard the stories of what happened when this news came to light. Parents gathered in a hall and were separated into two groups. One group was the parents of the children who could have been abused and the other the parents of those who were probably not abused. Hearing about how friends were separated into two groups was just harrowing.

I will return to that in a moment, but there is a point about communication that is also key. Many of the families heard about this on social media. The campaign that the parents and I started after her release called not only for a change in the law, which is what we are seeing today, but for a change in how the Parole Board works. The hon. Member for Telford spoke about the operational side of this, which is also really important. Changing the law to keep people like Vanessa George behind bars is important, but how that is communicated and how parents and victims are involved is especially important.

I want to echo the words of my hon. Friend Conor McGinn in thanking the Secretary of State for the way in which he has engaged on this. Much in this place is a disappointment, but in this case the cross-party working and the professional way that not only the Secretary of State but his Ministers engaged with me and with the families’ concerns are truly remarkable. It is an example that shows that cross-party working can deliver results, and I thank the Secretary of State sincerely for that work.