THEY were badly let down by those who should have recognised their suffering and helped them.

Two little girls cared for so appallingly by their parents that they looked like they were from a concentration camp were badly failed by authorities who admit they repeatedly missed opportunities to intervene, the Daily Echo can reveal.

City council chiefs have confessed that social services workers, teachers and those in council run community services all ignored glaring signs that the sisters, aged seven and two at the time, were being severely neglected at home.

The shocking case has now sparked a major independent review to examine exactly what went wrong and ensure it can never happen again.

It comes as their 43-year-old mother and father, 47, were found guilty of cruelty by wilful neglect of one of their daughters by a jury.

They were found not guilty on the same charge in relation to the younger daughter.

The couple cannot be identified due to laws put in place to protect the girls, who are now safe and doing “extremely well”.

However the Daily Echo can today exclusively reveal how social services teams in Southampton had been involved with the family historically, having previously removed other children from the care of their mother – sparking questions over why or how they failed to act a second time round.

This evidence was never revealed to the jury for fear it may prejudice their verdict on the neglect charge the pair faced.

The Daily Echo has also not revealed how many children were taken into care or when to protect the youngsters at the centre of the case.

Southampton Crown Court heard how the eldest child was found with infected sores on her scalp, her hair ‘moving’ with infestation of head lice and she was smelling so bad it was likened to ‘rotting meat’. Her complexion was grey, she had sunken eyes and dried clumps of blood on her clothes from scratching at her head which was bleeding and raw.

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Her younger sister, whose case was not as severe, was forced to have six teeth removed under general anaesthetic because they were so badly decayed. She was seen wearing dirty clothes and without a coat on a freezing day.

A doctor giving evidence told how it was the worst case of neglect he had seen in 30 years while health experts described what they saw as “grotesque”.

Both children were likened to “having just come out of Belsen” by a foster carer, who said they were not toilet trained and were distressed – the worst case of children coming in to care that she had seen in her career.

The court heard how it was only when the eldest girl moved schools within the city at the end of 2013 that the alarm was finally raised by concerned staff who described the odour from the pupil as though “something had died” and called in social services and police.

In court the couple claimed they were addressing issues with the older girls head lice and also claimed she suffered from eczema which was causing the issues with her scalp.

The mother said she had visited the doctor a few days before her daughter started the new school and medication was being administered. The girls' father said that he understood the mother was dealing with the issues with the older girl's head and told police in his interview that he didn't think they had failed in their care of the girls.

The mother also told police she did not believe she had failed as a mother and blamed social services for not supporting her better.

The court heard from medical records on the mother which said that at school her IQ was found to be lower than the normal range and at 14 years old doctors suspected her of having low intelligence or potentially "mild retardation".

Jurors were also told the mother has a borderline learning disability, putting her in the bottom two to three per cent of the population.

Sarah Jones, defending the mother, told of visits to GPs and a SureStart centre with the children.

She had argued any effort by the woman had been dismissed as "insufficient, wrong in principle or cruel" but she said "there was evidence at least that she was making these efforts".

Ms Jones said the mother's words had been held against her by one witness but might demonstrate that "it was inadequacy that led to this not a lack of concern or thought."

Meanwhile the father told the court he cared for his children and said they had done the best they could in their situation and were trying to sort out the nits.

Staff at the youngster’s previous school are among a number of authority workers who failed in their duty to protect the children. Today a school spokesman was unable to answer questions from this paper about what went wrong or if anyone had been disciplined as a result.

But they insisted new measures had been put in place to improve staff knowledge around recognising - and then acting on - suspicions of chronic neglect.

They include a new daily electronic monitoring and reporting system so staff can “quickly share knowledge and concerns”.

Meanwhile Southampton City Council admitted it “regrets” the “failings” which led to the neglect of the girls were not addressed quicker – saying it was acutely aware of many missed opportunities to help them.

And when the council were asked why after previously removing children from the mother the other children were allowed to remain under her guardianship the city council refused to comment on details of child protection procedures.

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Describing the horrifying case played out before jurors over the past two weeks as “clearly of concern”, children’s boss Kim Drake said the girls were now settled, being looked after in the care of the council and were “making excellent progress”.

Ms Drake, the council’s service director for children and families, told the Daily Echo: “Southampton City Council regrets that there were failings that led to the neglect of these children not being addressed more swiftly. There were a number of opportunities to intervene earlier and some of these were not taken.

“Neglect of children by their parents is a significant national safeguarding issue and is a challenge in Southampton. The council is fully committed to working with the Local Safeguarding Children Board and our partners to reduce incidents of neglect in the city.”

A full scale Learning Review is currently underway, led by an independent person, which is examining all aspects of the history and involvement with the girls, with conclusions and a report expected to be published now that the court case has ended.

Whether or not anyone from the first school, social services or any other department involved with the girls will face disciplinary action is likely to be determined by the findings.

Ms Drake said that recommendations will be made as a result of the probe which the council will implement in a bid to protect vulnerable children in Southampton and help them “make the right interventions at the right time to prevent the consequences of chronic neglect”.

She added: “The welfare of children in Southampton is the council’s top priority and we are constantly working with our partners to improve our services to children and families.”

Among improvements was the creation, in 2014, of the Southampton Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) which provides a single point of contact for anyone raising safeguarding concerns.

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PICTURED: Keith Makin

THE level of neglect suffered by the young sisters was not enough to trigger a Serious Case Review in to what went wrong and how they were failed.

Southampton’s Local Safeguarding Children’s Board told how what happened to the girls did not meet the criteria for such a review, which the government says must be carried out if a child dies or is “seriously harmed” and there are concerns about how organisations of professionals worked together to protect a child.

However, a spokesman for the city’s LSCB said it has ordered an independent Learning Review to examine what went wrong, where opportunities were missed and what can now be done to prevent such cases in the future.

The organisation is chaired by Keith Makin, who has overseen multiple reviews in to child deaths in Southampton in recent years.

A spokesman said: “The LSCB took immediate action upon hearing of the neglect of these children.

“While the case did not meet the Government’s criteria for a Serious Case Review, we have undertaken a Learning Review to examine what happened in this case and to make recommendations.

“The Learning Review has been conducted by an independent reviewer and will be completed following the conclusion of the trial.”