‘Sara Sharif was let down by people meant to protect her’: Campaigner warns authorities are guilty of a ‘catastrophic’ safeguarding failure after it emerged ten-year-old was on social services’ radar before she was murdered

Posted: 22nd August 2023

A campaigner for children in care has accused the authorities of a ‘catastrophic’ safeguarding failure after the local council admitted Sara Sharif was known to them before she was found dead at her home in Woking.

The death of the ten-year-old girl, who was ‘on the radar’, has sparked an international manhunt as detectives leading a murder inquiry try to locate her father Malik Urfan Sharif, 41, his partner Beinash Batool, 29, and brother Faisal Malik, 28, who have fled to Pakistan.

The trio left the UK a day before the girl’s bruised body was tragically discovered at the £500,000 family council house in the Horsell area of Surrey. All three are now wanted for questioning over Sara’s killing.

In the wake of Surrey County Council confirming Sara was known to them, care home consultant Chris Wild told MailOnline: ‘That ten-year-old girl was on the radar, she was known to local authorities, she was a vulnerable little girl and yet again the response was too late.

‘It’s just mass failings, the whole of social services needs a restart and an overhaul.’

The tragic girl’s death comes three years after the horrifying murders of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, who was tortured and killed by his stepmother and father, and one-year-old Star Hobson, who was murdered by her mother’s girlfriend.

Their deaths led to an Independent Care Review which was published in 2021 with a list of recommendations. The Government responded by pledging £200million over the following two years to ‘reduce the need for crisis response at a later stage’.

Mr Wild, who was once a child in care himself, said the country’s social services system is in ‘crisis’ – ‘which stems from social workers being overworked, underpaid and inundated with new referrals’.

Surrey County Council revealed yesterday that the girl was known to them before her death, adding that it was ‘working tirelessly’ to fully understand the consequences that led to Sara’s killing.

A spokesman told MailOnline: ‘We can confirm Sara Sharif was known to Surrey County Council but we cannot comment further while the Surrey Safeguarding Children Partnership’s thorough review process is ongoing.’

When quizzed on whether Sara had been let down by local authorities, Mr Wild – who was part of the Experts by Experience Board for the Independent Care Review – replied: ‘Absolutely. This is a catastrophe.’

He continued: ‘Every year we hear that lessons must be learned. We have delivered a care review outlining what we need.

‘We asked for £2.6billion [over four years] to reinforce the care sector to prevent people from falling off the radar and to stop young people from getting killed.’

Mr Wild believes that shocking child murders are cropping up because social care has ‘become a data analysis job’ with carers trapped behind desks as a result of the constant workload.

He told MailOnline: ‘I speak to social workers and I feel sorry for them. They have a passion to get on the streets, go and meet families, be involved with early intervention, but because of the workload they can’t leave their desks.

‘People are quick to accuse social workers but it’s systemic. They are responsible to a certain degree but it’s a bigger picture – it’s the whole department. Those at the top need to be held accountable for when it goes wrong.’

Mr Wild said that social workers must be out on the streets, visiting houses and young people if they are on a safeguarding alert.

‘You can’t do it behind the desk,’ he added.

‘That’s behind the failures, which has come to crisis and a catastrophe that a young girl has lost her life who was known to social services.’

He continued: ‘This is just one girl, but there are hundreds around the country who are on safeguarding alerts to local authorities but they are just abandoned and neglected due to lack of resources.’

Mr Wild accused the Government of failing to respond quickly enough to the care review ‘which was set to keep young girls like this out of danger’.

He said that social workers leaving university care for 40 to 50 children which is ‘impossible’.

Mr Wild added: ‘What we discussed in our independent review was that heads of departments and directors who are putting pressure on social workers, inundating them with heavy workloads should be getting more involved, getting on the ground and seeing how difficult it is.

‘So many new people throughout the country go unnoticed.

‘I have to say, it’s not social workers’ fault, a lot of local authorities spend the biggest part of their budget on recruitment so they get in agency workers who are not per se qualified, or committed to the job because it’s short term.

‘The short-term recruits are not connected or personally responsible to case load. I work in the game, I see it up and down the country, for most social workers it’s not realistic for them to deal with 40-50 children. Most of the time you have targets. It’s become a target job.’

Mr Wild fears cases like Sara’s will continue if ‘we don’t recruit more social workers, reduce workload, and respond effectively when a safeguarding alert has been made’.

Tim Oliver, leader of Surrey County Council, said on Friday that a multi-agency review into child safeguarding practices is now under way.

He said: ‘An investigation is under way by Surrey Police following the tragic death of ten-year-old Sara Sharif and we are working tirelessly with our safeguarding partners to gain a full understanding of the situation as quickly as possible.

‘This is an incredibly sad situation, and our thoughts and deepest condolences are with everyone affected.

‘We can confirm that, in line with standard process following the death of a child, the National Child Safeguarding Panel has been notified of the death and a multi-agency rapid review is under way.

‘This rapid review will determine whether a Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review (LCSPR) is to be undertaken by the Surrey Safeguarding Children Partnership.

‘A Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review is a statutory process, bringing together partners including the Police, health, social care and education to review practice of all agencies involved, organisational structures and learning.’

Last week, Surrey Police revealed that Sara’s body was discovered on August 10 after Mr Sharif called police from Pakistan, which led them to search the house.

Although post-mortem tests could not determine the cause of death, the results revealed bruises on her body which showed the little girl ‘had suffered multiple and extensive injuries, which are likely to have been caused over a sustained and extended period of time.’

Mr Sharif, a local taxi driver in Surrey, originally comes from Jhelum, in the Punjab region in north-west Pakistan, where police fear he has returned with his partner and brother.

Last week, Imran Sharif, one of Mr Sharif’s brothers in Jhelum, revealed that his fugitive brother did visit the family home once on his own since returning to Pakistan, but left shortly afterwards. He denied knowing his brother’s whereabouts.

On Saturday night, Malik Imran, the investigating officer at Jhelum’s Saddar Police station, which is coordinating the investigation, said: ‘We are facing tremendous pressure from the authorities to find the location of Urfan Sharif.

‘The British High Commission in Islamabad is pressuring us to find [Urfan Sharif] immediately, or they will send their own investigators.’

He added: ‘We have been told to find out his location. But, how can we find the location as we believe he is not carrying any gadgets [mobile phones] through which we could locate him.’

Separately, Sara’s mother, Polish-born Olga Sharif, 36, who was married to Mr Sharif between 2009 to 2017, urged her ex-husband to ‘come forward and explain himself’.

Olga, who lives in Somerset, praised British police, saying: ‘The police are doing a good job finding him.’

Heartbroken Ms Sharif praised her daughter as ‘an amazing child,’ adding: ‘She was so beautiful. I can’t believe she’s dead.’

Ms Sharif hopes to bury her child back in her native Poland.

Detective Superintendent Mark Chapman, from the Surrey Police and Sussex Police Major Crime Team, said: ‘We now know that Sara had suffered multiple and extensive injuries over a sustained and extended period which has significantly changed the nature of our investigation, and we have widened the timescale of the focus of our enquiry.

‘As a result, we are trying to piece together a picture of Sara’s lifestyle but we cannot do this without the public’s help.

‘That is why we are appealing for anyone who knew Sara, had any form of contact with her, or has any other information about her, no matter how insignificant it might seem, to come forward as soon as possible.’

Surrey County Council declined to comment while the safeguard review is ongoing.

Source: ‘Sara Sharif was let down by people meant to protect her’: Campaigner warns authorities are guilty of a ‘catastrophic’ safeguarding failure after it emerged ten-year-old was on social services’ radar before she was murdered | Daily Mail Online

Categories: News