HEALTH watchdogs have attacked the ‘secrecy’ surrounding neglect probes after it emerged at least seven Lancashire children had died as a result of suspected abuse.

Reports into whether these children – and another five who were seriously injured – were adequately protect- ed by statutory bodies were compiled following investigations.

The findings are meant to be made public, but the results of only three of these reviews led by Lancashire county and Blackburn with Darwen councils are available.

Health watchdogs and an politicians said ‘secrecy’ meant they were not able to monitor how social services, health bodies, schools and police were protecting these at risk children.

Figures obtained by the Lancashire Telegraph show that Lancashire County Council has ordered serious case reviews into eight children - five who have died and three who have been seriously injured - since 2007.

Blackburn with Darwen Council has begun four serious case reviews since the beginning of 2007, with three still ongoing. One, investigating a child death, was started just weeks ago.

The reviews, conducted by members of council, health, education and police agencies, are undertaken only when a child has died or been seriously injured, and abuse or neglect is known or suspected to have been a factor.

Social services departments' ability to protect children from serious harm has come under the spotlight after the death of Baby P in Haringey, after months of horrific abuse which was not spotted by social workers or hospital doctors.

Blackburn's health watchdog Coun Roy Davies attacked the "culture of secrecy" which he said made it hard for even elected representatives to scrutinise services.

Coun Davies said: “The numbers are worrying, but the fact is that we don't know how worrying, because you can't find out anything that's going on.

"We are told as councillors that the social services departments are doing things right and that's the end of the matter.

“I've been on the council a long time and still have no idea how these people work and what their criteria are for stepping up involvement in a child at risk, but it's not for want of trying.”

Executive summaries of serious case reviews published by Blackburn with Darwen Council include the case of Naseem Patel, who died in the care of foster parents in March 2007.

His mother had poisoned him with a huge dose of paracetamol three years before, when he was just eight weeks old, and the long-term damage led to his death.

In another case, a review was ordered after a two-month-old baby suffered a badly broken arm.

Lancashire County Council has published the executive summary of only one review report on the internet - into the death of Burnley's Adam Rickwood, 14, who hanged himself at the Hassockfield young offenders' centre in 2004, becoming the youngest person ever to die in UK custody.

The 2008 government ratings place Blackburn with Darwen Council's services as "good", while Lancashire County Council's was rated "adequate".

Both councils have faced criticism over their fostering services, for failing to carry out checks on carers.

Laurence Loft, chairman of Blackburn with Darwen Local Safeguarding Board (LSCB), said: "The safety and well being of all children and young people is our first priority and because of that, we are very proactive on this issue.”

Ellis Friedman, director of public health at NHS East Lancashire and chairman of the East Lancashire LSCB, added: "Serious case reviews are designed to hold us to account by investigating the actions of every agency involved in the life of a child who has died or been seriously injured.

“It's important to remember that not all of these cases represents a serious failing."

County Hall chiefs said the large area Lancashire covered meant more serious incidents were inevitable, adding that they were in the bottom half of North West authorities for numbers of incidents per 10,000 children.

Helen Davies, Lancashire County Council's executive director for children, defended her service. She said: "Thankfully incidents involving serious injury or death of children where abuse or neglect is a factor are relatively rare, but we take each one very seriously indeed. If there are any recommendations for change then we would look to learn those lessons immediately.”

Blackburn MP Jack Straw said he had "Never seen evidence that Blackburn with Darwen is not acting in anything other than a professional and responsible way to protect children who are at risk."

He added: "Some parents can be highly manipulative and avoid being found out.”