WE are deeply sorry.

They are the apologetic words of social services bosses after they failed to intervene and stop young girls being abused by a paedophile foster carer they employed.

Southampton City Council today admitted their “mistakes of the past” had led to “tragic outcomes” for the girls forced to endure horrific sexual abuse by evil Rex Case – as he was jailed for 21 years for his “abhorrent” crimes.

As exclusively revealed by the Daily Echo yesterday, Case, 68, subjected five young girls in his care to repeated abuse to satisfy his own depraved ways.

They included a girl who was staying with him at his home in Holly Hill, Bassett, Southampton, between the ages of three and five, who he raped – but when she revealed what happened both social services and police failed to act.

Yesterday at Southampton Crown Court Judge Peter Henry told Case he had been entrusted with the care of some of the most damaged and vulnerable children – many of whom had been sexually abused before – but he betrayed them.

Describing how Case had groomed the little girls, Judge Henry said he had developed his own opinion of him during the course of his trial and said he was “devious, manipulative, cunning, aggressive and obsessive” and had followed “a path of systematic abuse”.

He told him: “You have had a terrible and traumatic effect upon five girls who have now grown into women.

You acted in the most appalling and depraved way.”

Judge Henry went on to question why the authorities never stepped in to stop Case, despite the alarm being raised by a desperate fiveyear- old girl, who revealed the extent of his sickening abuse of her in 1997.

He said: “For reasons that still escape me there was no prosecution at that stage.

Social services did not prevent you from being involved with young children thereafter.

You must have been manipulative and persuasive and persuaded them you were not an abuser.”

In a statement, Southampton City Council apologised and revealed that investigations at the time were simply not good enough.

It said: “The history of this case suggests there may have been opportunities that were missed that could have led to an earlier prosecution of Rex Case and we are deeply sorry that mistakes of the past have led to such tragic outcomes for vulnerable young people.

“Earlier investigations were not pursued fully and we recognise that in one case, in 1999, the investigation carried out jointly between police and social services was not as thorough or robust as it could have been.

“Whilst we have every confidence that the issues raised by this case have been addressed by the dramatic improvements to how we work since the 1990s, we have referred it for review by Southampton’s S a f e g u a rd i n g Children Board to ensure that all lessons have been learnt. This is important going forward, although we accept this will be of little comfort for Case’s victims.”

H a m p s h i r e County Council, which first sanctioned Case and his wife Carol as foster carers, however, denied it was anything to do with them.

John Coughlan, director of children’s services said: “We are very sorry to learn of the abuse suffered by the victims of Mr Case. Hampshire County Council did not place any children with Mr Case and had no involvement with these foster carers after July 1997 – which was prior to any allegations being made.

“The offender was a foster carer for Hampshire, but transferred to Southampton in 1997 at the establishment of the unitary authority. All of our records indicate that up to that time no concerns had been raised about this carer.”

Case, who blew his wife Carol a kiss as he was sent down, was told he would have to serve at least half of his jail term before he can even be considered for release. He will be on the sex offenders register for the rest of his life.