I know the title seems pure clickbait, since it is the sort of thing that is alleged quite often, but this is a case where the Judge did actually make that conclusion. It involves social workers and managers who set out to change the parenting assessment conducted by another worker (who the Judge found to be blameless) so that it reached different conclusions and painted a wholly different and negative picture and then lied to the Court about it. This is social workers interfering with the parents right to a fair trial. It really is deeply shocking stuff.
A, B, C, D and E (Final Hearing) 2015
The case was decided by His Honour Judge Horton, and involved Hampshire County Council. Some of the workers involved no longer work at Hampshire and they are not spared.
12. This is I hope an unusual case. I certainly have not previously come across one quite like it either at the Bar or as a judge.
13. My previous judgments explain these comments but in my experience it is exceptional to find a case in which there has been deliberate and calculated alteration of a report prepared by one social worker in order to make that assessment seem less favourable, by another social worker and the Team Manager; the withholding of the original report when it was ordered to be disclosed and the parties to the alterations lying on oath one of them twice, in order to try to cover up the existence of the original report. Those people are referred to and named in my December judgment but given the enormity of what they did and the fact they still work as social workers it is right that I should name them again so that practitioners and members of the public coming across them are aware of their shortcomings in this case.
- Sarah Walker Smart the children’s Social Worker lied twice to me on oath. I was told during this hearing that she has been promoted to Team Manager within this authority.
- Kim Goode, Sarah Walker Smart’s then Manager, was the person who initiated the wholesale alteration of the original report and who attempted to keep the truth from the parties and me. At the time of the last hearing she was District Manager for the Isle of Wight. I was told during this hearing that she is still in post.
- Lisa Humphreys was Kim Goode’s Manager. Her evidence was deeply unimpressive. She made a ‘hollow’ apology to the parents during her evidence; she regarded a social worker lying on oath as “foolish” and she failed to accept any personal responsibility for what had gone on under her management. At the date of the last hearing she was Assistant Director of Children’s Social Care with Lambeth Borough Council.
- In my December judgment I concluded that the parents’ and children’s Article 6 and 8 Rights had been breached. The children had been removed illegally and the parents had not had a fair parenting assessment carried out due amongst other things to all professionals both childcare and legal, failing to identify M’s communication difficulties and the need for a psychological assessment. I therefore at the parents’ suggestion, directed that Symbol a parenting assessment organisation which specialises in people with learning and communication difficulties, should carry out a full parenting assessment. This was to be coupled with individual therapy for both parents. This ‘dual’ approach had been suggested by Dr Halari a highly qualified adult clinical psychologist who had seen each parent, prepared reports and who gave evidence. The plan was for the therapists and assessors to work together in order to give the parents the best possible chance of making the agreed and much needed changes to their parenting.
The December judgment had escaped my attention, so here it is
The portions setting out the failings of the Local Authority are long, but because they are so powerful, I will set them down in full (I really can’t believe that I missed this judgment first time around). Underlining, as ever, mine for emphasis (though I could almost underline every word). Apologies that the paragraph numbering goes all over the place.
- The factual matrix underpinning the breaches
- Social worker Ms X was allocated to these children on 27 October 2011 and remained their social worker until Sarah Walker Smart was allocated the case in June 2013. During this time she formed a working relationship with the family.
- She was clearly concerned at A and B’s lack of schooling, failure to engage fully with health professionals and issues of basic neglect. Such was her concern that she initiated the PLO process on 12 April 2012. The PLO letter was clear and Ms X spelt out what was required. See Mrs Randall’s comments at D131.
- As early as 11 May 2012 Ms X had identified that the parents were unsure how to work with professionals and that the parents become aggressive and hostile.
- By April 2013 Mrs Randall’s opinion based on the recordings of Ms X was that little had really been achieved during 18 months of PLO process. D133
- In late Spring early summer 2013 Ms X obtained a new post within the authority. She made her last visit to the family on 4 June 2013. By this time Ms X had begun compiling information for Core Assessments on all the children and it was made a condition of her leaving that she completed Comprehensive Core Assessments. I heard evidence that I accept that Lisa Humphreys and Kim Goode were exasperated by Ms X’s failure to complete them.
- The new social worker allocated to the children was Sarah Walker Smart. She was new to this team and relatively inexperienced in child protection work. Her manager remained Kim Goode who was and is extremely experienced in such work having been in it for 18 years.
- Kim Goode and Sarah Walker Smart carried out an introductory joint visit on 20 June 2013. I am satisfied that Kim Goode and Sarah Walker Smart found a situation that they had not been fully prepared for by Ms X’s case recordings. This was not only in relation to the condition of the home and children but also the attitude of the parents. The mother in particular was difficult and hostile. I pause there to record that whilst I make criticism of the parents it must be seen in the context of their then unidentified difficulties and the attitude of Kim Goode who I am quite sure did nothing to calm the situation. I have seen and heard Ms Goode. She is a strong willed, forceful, opinionated person who it would be difficult to challenge effectively or at all. Her manner of answering during cross examination amply demonstrated this.
- As a result of what they saw and as a result of there having been 18 months without sustained change Ms Goode and Ms Walker Smart decided that the case should be taken to a legal strategy meeting. This took place on 24 June 2013. see K136.
- It was decided that the Comprehensive Core Assessment “with concerns” should be concluded as soon as possible, that care proceedings should be instigated and that a new PLO letter would be written. This was delivered to the parents on 27 June which was the same date as Sarah Walker Smart’s first statement.
- On 11 July Ms Walker Smart visited the home and found things largely the same as before but that the children’s presentation was “Ok”.
- On 12 July Care Proceedings were issued and on the 15 July directions given including a direction for the LA to file and serve the “current assessments to which the Social Work statement refers”. A21
- Also on this date the Housing Officer visited the home. He was clearly concerned by the condition of the property; a number of problems with the condition of the property that had not been reported and the overcrowding but I am satisfied he does not “condemn” it or say that it is dangerous. He did believe that the family should be temporarily or permanently re-housed.
- On 15 July the court made directions including giving a hearing date for a contested ICO.
- On 16 July Ms Walker Smart spoke to the Housing Officer. She purportedly interpreted what he said as the house was condemned, dangerous and unfit for the family to remain in. It is clear from Ms Walker Smart’s e mail of the same date that she was trying to get Mr Sibley to say that the property was unsafe and dilapidated due to the parents’ neglect and makes it clear that “we are planning to remove the children” and “need as much evidence as possible based on the home conditions being unsafe”.
- I am satisfied that by this date Kim Goode and Sarah Walker Smart had decided that the children should be removed from their parents care and that they intended to bolster their case by involving the housing department. This is clear from the wording of the e mail and I interpret the e mail as pressure being put on the Housing Officer. It was clear from his evidence to me that he was not prepared to do so.
- Lisa Humphreys told me that she had approved the cost of B&B and that she had not approved the removal of the children from their parents. This does not fit in with the content of the e mail and I have trouble believing that Kim Goode would construct a plan for removal without the approval of her DSM.
- On 17 July at 09:00 Sarah Walker Smart made a visit to the home. It was she said her view that the children were “no longer safe in the home and that if they remained they could experience significant harm”. In reality I doubt that anything was very much different from before and I am certain that the grounds for immediate separation were not there. She reported on what she saw to Kim Goode.
- At 11:17 that day Kim Goode set out an action plan. That action plan clearly expected the police to use their administrative powers to remove the children. She does record that if the police won’t agree to do so then the mother is to be asked to go to B&B with the children. Ms Walker Smart never offered this option to the mother and I am satisfied from the video footage and her evidence that this option was never in her mind. It is probable that Kim Goode never discussed this option with her.
- At 15:30 that day a joint police and social services visit took place. The LA accepts that the visit and removal was unlawful and breached the family’s Human Rights. The details of the breaches are set out later in this judgment.
- I have viewed the Body Worn Camera footage. I can well see why the LA makes the admissions it does. The removal was a flagrant breach of this family’s Human Rights. There were insufficient grounds for such action and it is clear the police felt that too as they did not try to use their administrative powers; the correct procedure was not followed; no true consent was obtained, and that which was obtained came from F under duress. Further he did not have power to give consent for the older two children as he did not have parental responsibility a fact Ms Walker Smart should have known.
- I am asked by F to find that the use of the police was a manipulation to coerce the parents. I am not satisfied that the social workers were deliberately trying to manipulate the police although I am satisfied that the effect on the parents was to coerce them. The parents, mother in particular could be verbally aggressive and had been so to Ms Goode. In circumstances where it had been decided to remove the children from their parents and it could reasonably be anticipated that the parents could be hostile, it would be appropriate to involve the police to avoid there being a breach of the peace. However, the video footage shows that the situation was badly handled with 8 police officers and two social workers descending on the parents and presenting them with no choice but to relinquish their children. There were no grounds for such removal, there was no discussion, no alternatives offered and it was clearly the intention of Ms Walker Smart to remove the children from their parents’ care come what may by asking for consent to s20 accommodation if the police did not act.
- Factual matrix underpinning the failure to disclose material evidence
- This relates to the Comprehensive Core Assessment that Ms X completed and sent to Kim Goode for what has been described “Quality Assurance”.
- Ms X completed writing her CCA on 18 June 2013. See P125. The Assessment contained both positives and negatives. It was therefore a balanced report. She e mailed it to Kim Goode.
- On 27 June 2013 Sarah Walker Smart swore her first statement asking the Court to read her statement along with the ” Core Assessment (July 2013) completed by Ms X” (my emphasis).
- On 10 July Ms Melanie Kingsley asked Kim Goode to forward Ms X’s core Assessment. Kim Goode replied saying she just wanted to “pad out the conclusion before it goes off”.
- On 15 July the court directed the LA to file and serve the “current assessments to which the Social Work statement refers”.
- On 16 July Kim Goode made substantial changes to Ms X’s Comprehensive Core Assessment (CCA) which are recorded by the word processing programme by way of tracked changes. All the substantive changes made are negative. The changes change the tenor and conclusions of the report completely. The picture painted by it is now wholly negative and would if accepted, have the effect of substantially improving the LA’s case for removal of the children, probably permanently. In my judgment these changes amounted to a wholesale rewrite and were not a proper use of the Quality Assurance system.
- Ms X never approved the changes.
- Kim Goode sent the track changed document to Sarah Walker Smart on 17 July at 13:02 who made few if any and no substantial changes. She could not make many changes as she had little knowledge of the family due to her brief involvement. She signed the assessment as if it were her own and it was served on 6 August.
- Ms X’s CCA was not filed in accordance with the court order.
- An order was made for the CCA to be filed by 30 July. Ms X’s version was never filed.
- Solicitors for the parents asked on numerous occasions for the disclosure of the document referred to in Ms Walker Smart’s statement and for any documents prepared by Ms X.
- On 22 August 2013 Melanie Kingsley in response stated in an e mail: “an assessment was started by Ms X but not concluded. The decision was taken that because Ms X no longer works for the department, the new social worker SW would compile an entirely new assessment, as it would not be appropriate for her to complete another person’s partially completed piece of work. Accordingly Sarah Walker-Smart wrote and filed a new Core Assessment which is in this bundle. There is nothing outstanding from Ms X which may be filed with the parties”
- I am satisfied that this e mail gave a deliberate and entirely false impression. Kim Goode and Sarah Walker Smart knew that Ms X had completed her assessment. The problem was that Kim Goode did not like it. In her opinion it did not fit in with her assessment of the family’s circumstances. Kim Goode knew Ms X had completed it because she had changed it. Ms Walker Smart knew Ms X had completed it as she had seen the tracked changed document which was obviously based on Ms X’s completed work.
- I am also satisfied that the legal department knew of the existence of the Ms X piece of work as Ms Kingsley had referred to it in her e mail of 10 July.
[A quick break here to say “Holy F**ing s**t!”]
- Twice more did Ms Coates ask for Ms X’s “draft” to be filed and served. Ms Kingsley replied on 13 November 2013 “there is nothing that can be filed”. Again this was patently untrue.
- On 31 March 2014 Sarah Walker Smart commenced giving evidence before me. A transcript of her evidence is at 72.1 of the transcript section.
- She was asked in chief: “Have you ever seen a core assessment completed by Ms X? “No” “Can you explain the reference to one in your statement?” “.. there was an assumption that Ms X had completed a Core Assessment..so I relied upon an assessment that did not exist. That’s completely my error.” I then asked: “You have given the date of July 2013 which rather implies that you had some basis to believe that there had been a Core Assessment carried out. What was your factual basis for that?” Answer:” The team manager” Kim Goode, “assumed that Ms X had written one”.
- I asked whether Kim Goode had checked for the Core Assessment. I was told that she had and that she could not find it.
- Sarah Walker Smart went onto to say that she had not checked. She said: “I’ve never seen a Core Assessment in Ms X’s name.”
- I have considered this evidence very carefully and been mindful of the two fold test in the R v Lucas direction that I must give myself when encountering lies.
- I am satisfied that her evidence that she had never seen a completed Core Assessment by Ms X was a lie. Sarah Walker Smart had seen a completed Core Assessment by Ms X. She had seen the tracked changed version e mailed to her by Kim Goode. I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that this was a deliberate lie to try to deflect attention from the existence of that document. I do not make this finding lightly or willingly but the evidence drives me to it. This lie was repeated in her evidence given to me on 25 November 2014.
- I am also satisfied that she lied when she said that the reference to such an assessment in her statement was a “mistake” based on an “assumption”. I am satisfied that the reason she mentioned it was because she had seen Ms X’s Core Assessment and she did not think there was anything wrong in referring to it. It was only afterwards that the import of what she had done became clear. In my judgment this is the only logical reason why she would have mentioned it. Her attempts to say it was a wrong “assumption” on the part of herself and Kim Goode was a fabrication. Again I do not reach this conclusion lightly but it is an inevitable one. Again she repeated this lie in evidence in November.
- Ms Walker Smart had the opportunity to disclose the existence of the Ms X assessment during the April part of this final hearing but did not take it. She chose to try to get away with the deception she had practised. I made it clear at the end of that hearing that I was worried about this issue and that I required full enquiries to be made to see if such a document existed. See 72.45 line 30 of the transcript of Ms Walker Smart’s evidence.
- Lisa Humphreys was also at court during the April hearing. She knew that the parents’ advocates wanted Ms X’s assessment disclosed and she knew of its existence yet she did not then or afterwards bring its existence to the attention of the court, the new social work team or the legal department. She could have accessed it easily as it was located in her ‘Outlook’ programme on her computer.
- The completed Ms X Comprehensive Core Assessment was eventually disclosed inadvertently as part of the disciplinary proceedings’ file in relation to Ms X in early August 2014. Kim Goode had initiated disciplinary proceedings against Ms X as a result of what she saw were serious failings in her work. As a result Ms X was dismissed from her employment. Her health is now so poor that she was unable to give evidence. I do not know whether her poor health and the disciplinary proceedings are linked but they cannot have helped her. This is not the place to comment on the appropriateness of that investigation, its fairness or its conclusions but I do ask the LA to robustly review their conclusions and decision in the light of this judgment and all that is now known about this case.
- Kim Goode’s involvement in this deception was examined in the November hearing.
- I am satisfied she knew of Ms X’s completed CCA as she had changed it. I am also satisfied she knew that the parties and court wanted it disclosed and she had decided that she would not.
- At one point I asked her: “So it was a deliberate decision by yourself not to let the court and the parents have” the Ms X Comprehensive Core Assessment and the guardian. Is that right?” “Yes” she answered.
A second break to say again “Holy f**ing s**t!”
- Whilst she tried to persuade me that she did this out of concern for the children as she felt the assessment was not accurate, I find this suggestion breathtaking. This is a manager with 18 years experience deliberately flouting the lawful request of the parents for disclosure of information and more to the point flouting court orders for such disclosure. At one point she tried to suggest that she was unaware of the duty to disclose, which I find as Mr Ker-Reid put it “incredible” in both senses of the word.
- There was a particularly telling piece of cross examination by Mr Ker-Reid when he put this question to her: “You were overtly, determinedly, seeking to deceive courts of justice, put your head together with other professionals in your department, whether legal or social workers, to tell judges of the Family Court that there was not an assessment by Ms X which you knew there was? That is right is it not?” Answer: “It is but I..” Q: “It is”. Answer: … “gave the explanation”. Q: “We have your answer, done”.
- I am satisfied that this question and answer perfectly sums up the thinking of Kim Goode and her approach to this case. I heard Kim Goode’s “explanation” and I am not satisfied by it. Her perception of whether the assessment was correct or not was not a reason for non-disclosure particularly in the face of a Court order. It was as she conceded dishonest to have said that there was no assessment from Ms X. I am satisfied that this “explanation” was in fact an attempt to deflect blame away from herself.
- I have already commented on my impression of Ms Kim Goode from my observation of her in the witness box and from her work on this case. She is a strong personality and I am satisfied that those subordinate to her would find it hard to challenge her. This atmosphere is probably what led Ms Walker Smart into such grave error. Whilst this may be an isolated incident in her career I have very grave concerns as to Kim Goode’s working practises in this case and in my judgment a thorough review of her work and management style should be undertaken by the LA.
- I have made some comments about the involvement of Lisa Humphreys in this case. I found her to be a very strong and forceful personality. Whether her management style fed into or off Kim Goode I cannot say but I am clear that they are similar in management style. Subordinates would find it hard to say no to or challenge her.
- Her response to hearing of Ms Walker Smart’s lies to me was astounding. She thought it was “foolish”. I am afraid that is not the way I see it and it is not the way she should have seen it. Such a comment makes the lies seem like minor misdemeanours which they are not.
- I also found her failure to accept personal responsibility for what has happened in this case depressing. Whilst of course managers cannot be responsible for rogue employees and their decisions are only as good as the information they are given by their subordinates, they should at least sound as if they mean any apologies they give. The one she gave the parents during her evidence did not sound heartfelt and I noted that there was no apology to the Court for the lies that had been told or the unnecessary delay that had occurred by those under her. It is probable that she saw no harm in withholding the Ms X CCA as she seemed to me to be fully in support of withholding it, because in her view it was not an accurate piece of work.
Wow. Just wow.
- Conclusions and Findings on Human Rights breaches
- It follows from my conclusions above that this family’s Human Rights have been breached. The parties have produced one combined document for me to consider covering the breaches that the parents, A, B and the Guardian allege have occurred and the LA’s response to each of them. In short the LA has albeit late in the day, conceded all of the general breaches alleged and most of the specific facts that go towards those general conclusions. I have amalgamated the various breaches from this composite document and my findings and condensed them into a manageable form. My findings are as follows.
- Removal of the children on 17 July 2013
- The LA accepts and I find that it acted unlawfully and disproportionately by removing the children from the care of the parents on 17.7.13 purportedly pursuant to section 20 of the Children Act 1989. I am satisfied that it did this by:
- a) Taking a decision to pursue police protection in preference to the provision of alternative accommodation;
- b) Failing to consider making an application for an EPO or short notice ICO;
- c) Failing to consider whether any family placements were available;
- d) Failing to inform the parents of the available options such as B&B
- e) Failing to encourage the parents to seek legal advice or the advice of family or friends;
- f) Acting without the Father’s informed consent to the removal;
- g) Acting without the consent (informed or otherwise) of the Mother;
- h) Acting without the consent of any person with parental responsibility for A and B;
- i) Purporting to act under section 20 of the Children Act by seeking the consent of the parents in the presence of 8 uniformed police officers presenting an overt threat of police protection;
- j) Acting in knowledge of the Father’s expressed belief that the police would act to remove the children in any event;
- k) Removing the children in circumstances which did not reach the test for an emergency removal;
- l) Purportedly justifying the removal at the time and subsequently by way of reasons which were incorrect and/or known to be untrue by the Social Worker namely that the home had been condemned; and
- m) Failing to obtain the wishes and feelings of the children contrary to section 20(6) of the Children Act 1989.
- n) Failing to have in place a policy document guiding procedures when social workers attend a family with police, such document having been directed by HHJ Levey DFJ to be produced in or about January 2013;
- o) Upon it becoming known to the Team Manager and/or District Service Manager that the Social Worker had acted disproportionately by removing the children from the care of the parents on 17.7.13 the LA should have taken steps to rectify matters by offering to reunite the children and parents in alternative accommodation but failed to do so.
- Failure to disclose material evidence
- The LA accepts and I find that it acted unlawfully by materially failing to comply with its duty to disclose documents which modified and/or cast doubt on its case and/or supported the case of the parents by:
- Failing to disclose the Comprehensive Core Assessment of Ms X as directed as early as 15 July 2013 or at all prior to its inadvertent disclosure pursuant to a court order on 11.8.14 relating to disclosure of disciplinary proceedings concerning Ms X;
- Failing to disclose the ICS Core Assessments of Ms X as directed or prior to 1.4.14;
- Failing to disclose ICS notes with the District Service Manager’s comments due to inconsistent practices in recording information by her;
- Failing to disclose case recordings until directed to do so by the court on 3.3.14; and
- Failing to inform the parties of the existence of the video of the children’s removal and/or disclose the video itself until directed to do so by the court in May 2014. This video was in the possession of Kim Goode and viewed by her within weeks of the unlawful removal. She knew that the removal was unlawful but failed to do anything about it.
- The non-disclosure of the Comprehensive Core Assessment of Ms X in the face of repeated requests from the parties and directions of the court was deliberate and the decision not to disclose the document was known to Sarah Walker-Smart, Kim Goode, Lisa Humphreys and the Legal Department.
- The LA misled the court and the parties as to the existence of a Comprehensive Core Assessment undertaken by Ms X.
- In particular the LA does not dispute and I find that Sarah Walker Smart lied on oath on 31 March 2014 when she said she had never seen a core assessment completed by Ms X; that Kim Goode had looked for one and had not found one and that the reference in her first statement to such an assessment was therefore an error.
- Further, Sarah Walker-Smart repeated the lies on oath on 25 November 2014.
- The LA’s failure to comply with its duty of disclosure caused an incomplete picture to be presented to the Guardian and to the court within the LA’s evidence filed before 7.4.14.
- Denial of fair opportunity to participate in decision making
- I make the following findings in relation to this head.
- The parents were not consulted about the removal of the children.
- Neither the Court nor the parents were provided with the investigations and recordings which precipitated the applications to separate C from A and B or to apply for a section 34 order to “terminate” contact;
- In respect of the application to terminate contact, Hampshire County Council relied upon reports from foster carers upon which they did not seek the parents’ instructions. The foster carers’ reports were inconsistent with Hampshire’s own evidence such as contact supervisor recordings;
- Hampshire County Council undertook sibling assessments without discussing the children and their attachments with their parents, or indeed observing the children together;
- Hampshire County Council failed to convene a Family Group Conference or take any steps to explore potential family support, which led to their overlooking the Gs and issuing placement applications although the parents did not bring the existence of the Gs or their willingness to offer care to the attention of HCC until August 2014;
- It is alleged that the parents have been excluded from LAC and PEP reviews and all medical appointments for all of the children. I have not been addressed in submissions on this point and so can make no findings. If it is thought significant I will hear further submissions on this point;
- Hampshire County Council failed to provide the parents with contact notes and foster carer records in accordance with the Court’s direction or on a regular basis. This has deprived the parents of the ability to address any identified issues and effect change.
- Hampshire County Council had been “put on notice” of their Human Rights breaches by the order of 07.04.14 (A121); further order on 08.05.14 and Mother’s detailed skeleton argument setting out both limbs of her argument which was filed and served on 17.06.14. However, they continued to deny any wrongdoing until:
- On or about 10.11.14 in respect of the unlawful removal;
- On or about 14.11.14 in respect of the material non-disclosure. Indeed this was described by Hampshire on 29.07.14 as a ” last minute fishing expedition speculatively raised” .
- Failure to promote family life
- The LA breached the children’s right to family life by failing to set up or maintain regular family or inter-sibling contact during proceedings up until 31 March 2014.
- I am also satisfied that FC2 particularly Mrs FC2 became inappropriately attached to the children she was looking after. She allowed herself to become emotionally involved so that she tried to “claim” them for herself. This was not picked up upon by the social workers quickly enough. They were getting reports from FC2 that conflicted with the reports of their own contact supervisors yet this was not properly or timeously investigated. It was this failure to control FC2 that led to no proper inter-sibling contact taking place and E not seeing his parents for a considerable period of time.
- As a result of the failures of Hampshire County Council to provide all relevant material and to conduct the matter in an open and fair way, the care plans for A and B as presented to the court for the hearing commencing 31 st March 2014 were particularly distressing in that they provided not only for separation of the siblings but that for B he was to have very restricted contact with his parents and siblings; such care plans were wholly unjustified and were changed by the then Service Manager Lisa Humphreys on or about 1 st April 2014 it being noted that this was without the court or any party having heard any evidence on this issue.
- Other failures
- The evidence presented to the court in the statement of Sarah Walker-Smart dated 27.6.13 upon issue of the LA’s application and in support of its application for interim care orders was unfair in that it was unbalanced and in parts inaccurate.
- As conceded immediately in evidence by Ms Gibson the LA purported to but failed to undertake a full and fair assessment of the parents’ ability to care for the children by way of the assessment by the family centre worker and the social work assessment of Sarah Walker-Smart.
- The LA purported to but failed to undertake a full and fair sibling assessment in particular because they were undertaken without sibling contact being observed.
I have read law reports where Local Authorities have got things wrong. I have read law reports where Local Authorities have got things badly wrong. I have read law reports where they have been unfair, or stupid, or failed to act promptly, or acted in a knee-jerk way. I have read law reports where the Court disagreed with their recommendation and told them that they had badly misunderstood the law. But I’ve never read anything like this. It is utterly astonishing. It is every conspiracy theory about what social workers do, come to life.
It is shocking, it is appalling. It is a damn scandal. It brings the profession into disrepute. The only tiny crumb of saving grace in the whole affair is that those involved were caught and that His Honour Judge Horton has shone a light into this scandal. I can only do my small part by telling my readers about it.
Back to this November 2015 judgment. (I haven’t read the end of it yet, but I hope it ends in a whacking big cheque being written, or indeed the judgment being sent to the Attorney General)
The Judge had sent everyone away in December to conduct fresh assessments and also for the parents to be given therapy – there were problems with their parenting, but clearly in light of everything above, they had not been given a fair assessment.
There is a bit in the judgment about the mother clandestinely recording meetings with professionals (it is rather hard to blame her for doing that)
During the mother’s evidence she mentioned that she and F had covertly recorded a meeting with the Guardian and some contacts. The M had used her phone and F a digital recorder that looked like a slightly fat pen. He produced the pen recorder and 4 recordings. As the Court security staff had not come across such a device before I took steps to inform HMCTS of the existence of such devices. The recordings provided by F were not listened to by me and no one sought to rely on their contents.
Sadly, the assessment work with Symbol – an independent specialist assessment service had not gone as well as one might have hoped. Against the backdrop of everything above, it is perhaps no surprise that the parents found it difficult to trust professionals.
She [The Symbol worker] told me that it became clear that the parents have an absolute antipathy towards the LA and social workers to the extent that they even objected to Ms Hinton being involved in the assessment. In her and Symbol’s opinion it was an impossible task for the parents to work with or trust any professional which was a significant barrier to moving on. She said that whilst professionals were not challenging or agreeing goals, things went fine but when they tried to work with the parents the situation broke down “sharply, remarkably and quickly”. Anyone who attempted to monitor or change their parenting behaviour would she opined, meet great hostility.
116. She was criticised by the parents for not acknowledging properly or at all the enormity of the emotional toll and distress on the parents and the children caused by the events of the summer of 2013. In particular Symbol were criticised for not going through the judgment with the parents and not recording any discussion about these topics. If they had it was submitted, the parents could have ‘moved on’ and the assessment would not have stopped
The Judge spends several pages discussing the assessments and the evidence, and that I’m afraid would make an already long article too long. Sadly, he reaches this conclusion
In my judgment it has not been evidenced that the parents have made the necessary changes that could allow them to make sustained improvements to their parenting styles or allow them to co-operate with professionals. Whilst they have demonstrated some ability to engage with therapy and have attended a parenting course they have not demonstrated that their fundamental attitude towards professionals has changed. Indeed I saw evidence during their oral evidence of their continued, deep seated mistrust and their tendency to accuse professionals of lying when challenged or disagreed with. Furthermore, I am satisfied that the failure of the Symbol assessment has reinforced in their minds that professionals cannot be trusted and this will make it even more difficult than before for professionals to work with them.
One can quite see how it would be extremely difficult for any parent to trust professionals after that December hearing – even with wholly fresh professionals to work with and therapeutic help, there was just too much damage done for the relationship to be repaired.
406. I am therefore satisfied that I must make care orders with respect to all five children to Hampshire County Council. I approve the plans for their placements as they are the plans that will promote the children’s welfare throughout their minority and protect them from significant harm. I am satisfied that no lesser intervention or order can achieve this aim due to the parents’ inability to work with professionals, in particular the LA.
It is very hard to feel comfortable about this. The Judge was clearly a Judge who was prepared to take on the Local Authority when they had been unfair and dishonest and who set up fresh and independent assessments and ensured that the parents got therapeutic help. So the parents got a fair hearing from the Court. But weren’t they just screwed by a system that says “you’ve got to work with professionals” and condemned them for not being able to, even though almost anyone in the same position would not have been able to trust again after the most shocking breaches of trust? Very hard.
Even though I’ve had nothing at all to do with this case, or any of the sort of things that have happened in it and I never would, today is one of those days where I feel ashamed to even be part of the Family Justice system.
The damages bit hasn’t yet been dealt with. When I see the report of that, I will share it.
I was reminded by the parties that the parents and children have outstanding damages claims for the breaches of their Human Rights. As I indicated at the beginning of the hearing I have agreed with Hampshire’s DFJ that he should hear this part of the case. I will direct as part of the order arising from my judgment that a directions hearing be listed before him at his convenience.
417. I was concerned to learn that the three social workers who I previously criticised had not apparently been subject to disciplinary proceedings. I direct that my December judgment and this one be sent by the Director for Children’s Services to the Director of Social Services, Ofsted and those social workers’ supervisory bodies with a view to them considering whether further action against them is required.
I know that my commenters will want to talk about this case, and will probably be very cross about it. Please try to stay away from defamatory remarks (what the workers did in this case and what you think about it is fair game, what you think of them as people is for somewhere else, not here)
I also know that some of you will be wondering about perjury. It is true that lying under oath is a criminal offence. The police aren’t able to investigate perjury unless directed to do so by a Judge and a prosecution for perjury can only take place if the Attorney General authorises it
The Perjury Act 1911
1 (1)If any person lawfully sworn as a witness or as an interpreter in a judicial proceeding wilfully makes a statement material in that proceeding, which he knows to be false or does not believe to be true, he shall be guilty of perjury, and shall, on conviction thereof on indictment, be liable to penal servitude for a term not exceeding seven years, or to imprisonment . . . F1 for a term not exceeding two years, or to a fine or to both such penal servitude or imprisonment and fine
section 13 of the Perjury Act 1911, which sets out the corroboration needed to prove perjury can sometimes be difficult
A person shall not be liable to be convicted of any offence against this Act, or of any offence declared by any other Act to be perjury or subornation of perjury, or to be punishable as perjury or subornation of perjury, solely upon the evidence of one witness as to the falsity of any statement alleged to be false.
[I.e Victoria saying that Colin is lying is not sufficient, there needs to be something more. Here of course, there were the computer records and emails in addition. The criminal standard of proof is high, and perjury prosecutions are very rare. And I am no expert in criminal law, so the furthest I can go is to say that it is a possible case where the Atttorney General might have a decision to make if asked]
Misfeasance in a public office is the other one that comes up from time to time. Not a criminal offence, but a civil tort. That’s probably not much use because the compensation for that would be something that could be awarded under the Human Rights Act for the breaches already found in any event. Though it is possible that the damages would be higher.
[Watkins v Home Office 2006
There is great force in the respondent’s submission that if a public officer knowingly and deliberately acts in breach of his lawful duty he should be amenable to civil action at the suit of anyone who suffers at his hands. There is an obvious public interest in bringing public servants guilty of outrageous conduct to book. Those who act in such a way should not be free to do so with impunity.
  UKHL 17, paragraph 8. ]
And there’s the social work regulatory bodies who could be asked to take action. Social workers can and have been disciplined for bad conduct.