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Forced out: review finds no error in DET hire of UK scandal official

A public service review has found no error in the hiring of Dr Sonia Sharp (pictured), who was headhunted for the Victorian Department of Education and Training two years before a highly critical report of her earlier role for a council in the United Kingdom plagued with child sexual abuse.

Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings issued a short statement today:

“The Government makes no apology for raising these issues nor for seeking a thorough investigation after these very serious issues came to light.

“I am advised that Dr Sharp is now seeking opportunities outside of government and I wish her well.”

Sharp was moved aside from her deputy secretary role heading the department’s early childhood and school education group after the independent Rotherham report was released in August 2014. Sharp was recruited in 2012. After the report became known in Australia, Education Minister James Merlino ordered a review by the Victorian Public Sector Commission:

“Pending the outcome of the review, Dr Sharp will move to the Department of Health and Human Services to develop policy advice on the strengthening of collaborative practices between the health and education systems.”

The VPSC investigated the department’s recruitment process, not Sharp’s role in the child protection failings at Rotherham.

Only two key findings of that review have been released today:

  • Sharp’s recruitment was conducted in accordance with appropriate processes for senior public sector appointments; and
  • There was no specific matter arising from the review’s assessment of Sharp’s recruitment or other relevant material that provides reasonable grounds to find that Sharp’s continued employment in DET is incompatible with the maintenance of the high standards of integrity and conduct required in the public sector in Victoria.

The original Rotherham report estimates approximately 1400 children were sexually abused over the period from 1997 to 2013. Sharp was director of children’s services at Rotherham Borough Council from 2005 to 2008. The report states:

“In just over a third of cases, children affected by sexual exploitation were previously known to services because of child protection and neglect. It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered. They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated. There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone. Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators.”

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The Mandarin

The Mandarin staff journalists.