AS the official report into the killing of 16-month-old Jack Shackleton by his brutal father reveals how the tot was let down by child protection agencies, what makes the findings all the more dreadful is the heard-it-all-before aspect of them.

For, just as little Jack died at the hands of a drug-addict father while he and his family were under the evidently-deficient supervision of Social Services, so, too, in the same town and in similar circumstances, did baby Levi Rose die less than three years earlier.

Then, as now, the aftermath was full of mention of failures of communication and social workers being offered extra training.

And yet, today, in the wake of more damning criticism of social workers, we find the chairman of Lancashire County Social Services Committee, Doreen Pollitt, stating that the system has to be put right, lest a third such tragedy occurs.

Two such avoidable tragedies are two too many but yet again the 'system,' rather than individuals, is being blamed and none of the slammed social workers is to be disciplined.

But has not the time come for the 'system' and those in charge of it to be properly held to account?

We have had two innocent children killed in East Lancashire while under the supervision of Social Services.

Only last month we saw this department subjected to withering criticism by the Audit Commission, in particular over its handling of child protection cases. Indeed, it was revealed that 13 children on the at-risk register did not even have a social worker allocated to them.

And the needless, dreadful deaths of little Jack Shackleton and baby Levi Rose stress twice over how lethally inadequate the department's protection has been, even when at-risk children are allocated social workers.

Is this abysmal 'system' to be allowed to continue with just the tweaks here and there of 'improved' inter-agency communication and 'extra training' - so that, as we are told, staff may be made more aware of such things as the links between child neglect and drug abuse, when they should already be evident to all but a moron?

We saw how disinclined Social Services chiefs were face up to their failings when last month they complained that the Audit Commission's report was "over harsh" and "contradictory" even if, subsequently, they have agreed to appoint outside consultants and top managers' posts have been advertised and their current holders made to re-apply for them.

But if this and other action is not taken to reform the 'system' by root and branch and the third tragedy that County Councillor Pollitt dreads becomes a reality, let those responsible be warned today.

After this, blame for an anonymous system will not suffice in the event of another tragedy.

Those in charge should also be in the criminal dock for their negligence.

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.