SOCIAL workers in Cornwall have defended their procedures after it was revealed that they placed a young girl into the hands of a foster father who persistently raped her.

Now 17, the teenager has talked exclusively to the Packet about her ordeal and appealed for others in the same position as her to speak out.

The girl - now living in the Falmouth-Penryn area - was just 12 when she was put into the care of a foster couple by Cornwall county council.

Within weeks of her arrival the man started to sexually touch her before moving on to raping her over a three-year period from the age of 13 onwards. The teenager, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, told the Packet that she was too frightened at first to tell anyone about the rapes because he threatened to kill her if she did.

She said: "I just want people, if they are in care and are abused, to come forward and tell someone. Don't be scared. It will come all right in the end.

"He threatened to kill me and said that his wife, who is disabled, would be left on her own if I told anyone. I believed him. When it first started happening I was so young. He said it was one of his daily chores'.

"It started off with just touching, building up gradually to rape, which went on for three years. In the end I told my boyfriend.

"It was really hard to tell anybody. I thought nobody was going to believe me. I told my boyfriend on a Friday and on that Saturday my foster father raped me.

"My boyfriend told me if I didn't go to the police then he would, so I went to the police the same day and I had to undergo a rape exam."

The girl lived in the foster home for four years. She had been placed there by social workers after it proved impossible for her to live with her mother.

"Social services took me from a bad place with my mother to somewhere which was even worse," she said. "I just wanted to die there. I just hated it. I just cried and cried but I was just told that I had emotional problems.

"He even stopped me going to bereavement counselling over the death of my dad because he was scared I might tell somebody what he'd done."

Despite the county council carrying out police checks on the man and his wife nothing came up because he did not have a criminal record and he was given clearance. It later emerged at his trial that he had also been raping his own step-daughter for ten years.

The man's wife was all right but her daughter told her that she was being abused and her mother didn't believe her, the girl told the Packet.

"I am angry with the council because I thought they were going to put me in a better place.

"I have nightmares all the time and I get days when I am feeling really low and sad. If anyone else out there is going through the same thing as me I would just say go and tell someone. It will work out all right in the end."

Her attacker, who cannot be named because this might reveal his victim's identity, was jailed for ten years by a judge at Truro Crown Court after pleading guilty to three specimen charges of rape and 12 less serious sexual offences. The judge said the effect on the two girls he assaulted was "terrible" and described him as "evil and wicked."

A statement issued this week by Cornwall County Council Foster Care and Short Break Service said that following this "isolated incident" procedures had been reviewed.

"This is clearly a very concerning and thankfully an isolated incident, which does not reflect the immense amount of good work and high quality care that is provided by almost 500 carers within the Cornwall County Council Foster Care and Short Break Service, who look after children from the county during approximately 12,000 placements that are made each year," said a council statement.

"All carers undergo a rigorous assessment and statutory checking process in complete accordance with the National Minimum Standards and Fostering Regulations (2002) and this authority's procedures are audited annually against these standards by the Commission for Social Care Inspection.

"Following this incident we have reviewed our procedures and are confident they are comprehensive and robust."