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Category Archives: judicial spanking

Separating twins

 

 

There’s a notorious study from the 1960s, in which an American organisation, the Louise Wise Adoption Agency under the request of a child psychologist, Peter Neubauer, placed twins in separate adoption placements, with a number of different twin pairs, so they could be followed up by psychologists in later life to see whether they, as adults, had similarities (which would give credence to nature / genetic factors being the most dominant) or differences (which would give credence to nurture/environmental factors being the bigger influence on children). It’s the sort of thing that makes us shudder now.  And rightly makes us think that separation of twins is a huge, huge life-changing decision, never to be made lightly.

 

This case isn’t as bad as that, because the separation came about more by a combination of incompetence, lack of thought and dogma that adoption is the best thing always even if it means splitting twins, rather than just carelessly using children as unwitting experiments, but it is still bad.

 

Readers may remember Keehan J opening a can of judicial whup-ass on Herefordshire just before Christmas. After I finished writing THAT post, I found this judgment, which….well. You’ll see.

BT & GT (Children : twins – adoption) [2018] EWFC 76 (29 November 2018)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2018/76.html

 

1.I am concerned with two children, BT and GT who are twins who were born in 2010. It is almost impossible to imagine the circumstances in which it would be considered appropriate to separate twins and place them for adoption by different prospective adopters. This is, however, what occurred in this case and I have before me an application by a couple, whom I shall refer to as A and B, to adopt BT and an application by a single carer whom I shall refer to as C, to adopt GT.

 

 

2.As I shall set out in some detail, I am satisfied and find that the court is in the position of considering applications to adopt the twins in two separate homes because of the incompetence and serial failings of the local authority, Herefordshire Council, and the egregious behaviour of some of its former staff.

 

  1. The failings of this local authority have been utterly appalling. Whilst I accept the assurances of the director of children’s services and of the assistant director that significant and substantial reforms will be made and effected, no child should ever again be cared for in the manner BT and GT have had to endure at the hands of this local authority nor suffer the woeful lack of rational care planning. Further no prospective adopter should ever again have to endure the treatment meted out to A, B and C in this case.

 

This was a case in which twins born in 2010, were made the subject of Care Orders and Placement Orders (authorising them to be placed for adoption) in 2015 – the plan approved by the Court at that stage being that the Local Authority would search for an adoptive placement for the twins together for nine months, and if one was not found to search for a long term foster placement for them together.

 

 

 

 

22.On 19th March 2015 HHJ Hooper QC made all five children the subject of care orders and made placement orders in respect of BT and GT. Their court approved care plans provided for them to be placed together with a search being made for nine months for an adoptive placement and if the search was unsuccessful the following three months would be devoted to seeking a long-term foster placement for them together. There was no question of the local authority proposing, still less the court approving, a plan for the twins to be separated and placed separately whether in adoptive placements or long-term foster care.

 

 

23.On 10th April 2016, however, a team manager made the decision to place the twins separately for adoption. This plan was endorsed by a LAC Review held the following day. I shall return to consider these decisions in greater detail later in this judgment.

 

We aren’t given a huge amount of background as to the decision to make Care Orders in 2015. We know that the twins father was convicted of multiple sexual offences against children and that he is also serving a 21 year prison sentence. (para 5) and we know that 5 children were removed from the mother and made the subjects of Care Orders and that there were issues of neglect, domestic abuse and alcohol abuse.(paras 17-22)

 

The Judge, Keehan J, was faced at this hearing, with applications by two different adopters to adopt one of the twins each. By the time of the hearing, the children had been in those placements for over a year. The Judge had to decide whether to grant the adoption orders, meaning that the two children would permanently live apart, or to refuse them and move the children from those separate placements into presumably a foster placement together. Understandably the Court was more than vexed at being placed in this position after the event, when it would have been very unlikely to have sanctioned separation of the twins in the first place.

 

Let’s look at why that happened.

 

As we know, the social work team manager took the decision on 10th April 2016 that the children should be placed separately for adoption. Their foster placement, a joint one, broke down on 28th April 2016.

 

 

 

26.The allocated social worker undertook a sibling attachment assessment. The report, approved by the then team manager, is dated 7th July 2016: some three months after the decision had been made to place the twins separately for adoption. It is asserted by the local authority that the social worker, whom I shall refer to as D, gave an oral report on this issue but I do not know when nor to whom this oral report was given. Quite astonishingly and wholly contrary to good social work practice, there is no note or minute of the manager’s decision made on 10th April. Therefore, I do not know what material he considered when making his decision and I do not know the reasons or basis for the same. Thus, I do not know whether he considered the oral report of D. Moreover, I have had no explanation as to why it took D three months to write up her assessment.

 

 

27.I will return to this so-called assessment later in this judgment, but I note in the summary of her report D asserted:

 

 

 

“Having considered the legal, policy, moral and best practice guidance, it is essential that GT and BT have the opportunity of an adoptive family.

 

GT and BT’s care plans have remained to be one of adoption (jointly placed) for a considerable period of time. Over the period of 12 months, family finding attempts have not been successful.”

 

This does not reflect the court’s approved care plan which was for a 9-month search for an adoptive placement together to be followed, if unsuccessful, a by three-month search for a long-term foster placement together. I have been given no explanation as to why or how D in her assessment completely misrepresented the care plan: whether it was deliberate or just an error I do not know.

28.I am satisfied that the prospective adopters were unaware of the flawed decision making process relating to the separation of the twins until these proceedings seeking adoption orders in respect of BT and GT had been commenced.

 

GT was placed with prospective adopters in March 2017, BT in May 2017. The Local Authority ended contact between them, there being just two sessions of contact for twins (aged at that time seven) in a YEAR.

 

 

 

35.They did not then see each other again for seven and a half months until there was a contact visit on 27th October 2017 and then no contact for over four months until a visit took place on 4th March 2018. I do not understand how, why or when the hugely important decision was taken to so severely curtail, indeed deny, the children an ongoing relationship once they had been placed for adoption. For the avoidance of any doubt, it was the local authority which determined this level of contact. I make and intend no criticism of the prospective adopters.

 

 

The Local Authority accepted a large catalogue of failings at the Court hearing

The Local Authority: Actions and Failings

44.The admitted failings of the local authority which led to breaches of BT and GT’s human rights and those of the prospective adopters are set out in Annexe 1 to this judgment. These admitted failings are supplemented by further admissions of failings by the local authority, together with notes of the actions taken by or to be taken by the local authority to prevent, or at least, ameliorate the future risk of such failures of the system and of social work practice occurring. This schedule was prepared by Liz Elgar, the assistant director of children’s services and is set out in Annexe 2 to this judgment.

 

 

45.The admitted breaches of human rights and the schedule of failings of the local authority are extensive and grave. They relate to the whole operation of children’s services in Herefordshire. They are both systematic and the fault of individual social workers, team managers and line managers.

 

 

46.This said I commend the approach taken in this case by the new management team of children’s services, including in particular the Director, Chris Baird, and the Assistant Director, Liz Elgar, for the open and forthright manner in which they have responded to the divers criticisms made. I am reassured by their expressed commitment to a root and branch reform of children’s services in Herefordshire and a commitment to ensure that far more robust systems are in place to ensure compliance with good social work practice.

 

 

 

  1. The breaches of human rights may be summarised:

 

  1. i) a failure to undertake a thorough analysis of the need to change the care plans for the children and a failure to consider appropriately the consequences of separating the twins;

 

  1. ii) a failure to disclose in full detail the needs of, the challenging behaviours of and the past life experiences of BT or GT to their prospective adopters;

 

iii) a member of the social work team deleting references to the children’s challenging violent behaviours from the Child Permanence Reports (‘CPR’) and the Adoption Support Plans;

 

  1. iv) the wholly unmeritorious decision and issuing of a s.35(2) notice to remove BT from his placement with A and B;

 

  1. v) the undue stresses and strains caused to the prospective adopters by:

 

  1. a) the local authority’s flawed decisions; and

 

  1. b) as a result, these prolonged court proceedings which have had an adverse impact on BT and GT’s experience of family life;

 

  1. vi) the failure to consider properly the alternative plan for placing BT or GT in long term foster placements and to adhere to the court approved care plans;

 

vii) the failure to hold adoption reviews rather than LAC reviews (adoption reviews have an entirely different mandatory criteria to consider than LAC reviews: see Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005, regulation 36); and

 

viii) the failure of the Independent Reviewing Officer system to take any steps to secure any cogent care planning for the children and/or to protect them from the consequences of flawed and/or ill-considered decisions.

48.The schedule of supplemental failings set out in Annexe 2 may be summarised as follows:

 

 

 

  1. i) a failure in the original care plans to set out what the local authority would do if a placement together could not be found after 12 months;

 

  1. ii) a lack of management oversight;

 

iii) a failure to follow the court approved care plan to a correct conclusion;

 

  1. iv) a failure in the decision-making process to place the twins separately for adoption;

 

  1. v) the failure to acknowledge the significance of maintaining the legal sibling relationship of the twins;

 

  1. vi) the failure to acknowledge the legal relationship between BT and GT and their older siblings;

 

vii) the failure to record the reasons why a manager made the decision to place the twins separately for adoption on 10th April 2016;

 

viii) the failure of the LAC review on 11th April 2016 to consider pursuing a plan of long term foster care or commissioning further expert report(s) on the issue of placing the twins separately;

 

  1. ix) the failure to promote contact between the twins once they had been placed for adoption;

 

  1. x) the failure in applying full and accurate information in the CPRs and Adoption Support Plans including the adoption team manager wrongly and inappropriately deleting information about the twins challenging behaviours;

 

  1. xi) the failures of the IROs to take any steps to oversee and/or challenge the local authority’s decisions;

 

xii) the failure of the ADM decision making process, namely to fail to consider the impact on the children throughout the whole of their lives of separating them; and

 

xiii) the failure of the local authority, as a result of poor record keeping, to provide accurate evidence to the court.

49.Most regrettably all these admitted failures were not the end of this long litany of errors and misrepresentations. On the second day of the final hearing the local authority discovered there were documents and records, which contrary to previous orders and/or the local authority’s general duty of disclosure, had not been disclosed to the court or to the parties. When the disclosure was made it amounted to some 200 pages. I gave the parties the whole of the following day to read and digest the documents disclosed and to take instructions.

 

 

50.It caused the prospective adopters considerable distress to discover that within this disclosed material were matters relating to the children which had not previously been communicated to them by the local authority nor had it been communicated to the adoption agencies supporting the two sets of prospective adopters. [REDACTED TO PRESERVE CONFIDENTIALITY].

 

 

51.The emotional pressure on the prospective adopters was great enough without the added burden of having to receive and cope with the new information revealed. I do not understand the explanation offered as to why this material had not been disclosed earlier, other than it resulted from yet another error by an employee of the local authority. I received no explanation as to why the information revealed had not been previously communicated to the prospective adopters or their supporting adoption agencies.

 

 

However, over and above that, emerged the actions of the social worker who had written the sibling assessment (after the conclusion of proceedings) that formed the basis of the decision to separate these twins

 

 

 

52.It then emerged that the then social worker, D, the author of the sibling assessment had misquoted the opinions of Dr Mair Edwards, a consultant psychologist, who had prepared a report on the children for the purposes of the original care proceedings. The extract contained in the sibling assessment of July 2016 reads as follows:

 

 

 

Dr Edwards concluded, “If GT and BT were not twins, I would be recommending separate placements for them as GT’s challenging and bossy behaviours do impact on BT’s abilities to express himself and he therefore tends to focus in on his love of mechanical objects and machinery, and withdraws from social interactions…Both GT and BT have significant learning difficulties and developmental delay and will have significant needs throughout their childhoods. Their long-term placement would therefore need to be fully aware of the high level of commitment that will be required, and the ongoing support that the children are likely to require from agencies and services throughout their lives””

 

It will be noted three dots appear about halfway down the extract indicating some material had been omitted

 

One hopes, of course, that the three dots are just indicating that there was extraneous and irrelevant information contained which has been snipped out to provide an accurate and thorough summary of what Dr Edwards had said.

 

Oh, dear.

 

Counsel for the children’s guardian, Mr Kingerley referred me to Dr Mair Edwards 2014 report. The passage omitted from the above extract reads as follows:

 

“When observing them together there was very limited interaction (other than GT telling BT to “no talk”), and no real sense of a sibling relationship. However, they are twins, and the sense of loss in later years at being separated would almost certainly be more detrimental to their welfare than placing them together.”

53.The words omitted completely change the import and meaning of the quoted section of Dr Mair Edwards’ report. The social worker was not called to give evidence before me nor has she been given the opportunity to give an explanation. Therefore, I will not name her in this judgment. The prospects of this being an innocent omission are unlikely in the extreme. It is not an opening or concluding sentence that has been missed. It is a passage in the middle of the quoted passage from the report and the deliberate omission of some words was marked by three dots. Given also that the omitted section of Dr Mair Edwards’ report sets out an opinion wholly contrary to the ultimate recommendation of the sibling assessment, the only credible explanation for this omission is a deliberate act to mislead a reader of the assessment to conclude that the recommendation of separate placements for adoption was consistent with the opinion of Dr Mair Edwards. It manifestly was not.

 

 

54.I was informed by counsel for the children’s guardian that in another case, some years ago, the self-same social worker was alleged to have tampered with a document. I asked for the issue of the social worker’s role in drafting the sibling assessment to be referred to the Director of Children’s Services and to the Chief Executive of Herefordshire Council. The social worker had left the local authority in March 2018 but had later been re-engaged in some role on a zero hours contract. It was proposed, in the Adoption Support Plans, that this social worker would be carrying out life story work for the twins. The following day I was told by counsel for the local authority that her contract had been terminated with immediate effect.

 

 

The Judge went on to explore the other expert advice that the Local Authority had (quite properly) obtained when deciding whether to separate twins and if so, how to best manage this so that the damage could at least be reduced (but sadly had largely ignored)

55.The issue of separating the twins was considered by a child and adolescent therapist with the adoption team, in her report of 12th April 2016. On the issues of separation and future contact between the twins if the decision was made to place them separately she said:

 

 

 

“Making the decision that twins should be separated is problematic. Although each child’s needs may be better met in separate families, they have been constant companions to date, and will find separation confusing and stressful. In addition they share a common heritage and history. The complexities of these children’s circumstances and individual needs should be considered at length and in detail, so that a decision can be made which will be of most benefit to both the children.

 

If they are to be separated, it would seem vital that there is ongoing contact between them. Both children would find the separation difficult in the short term especially, and would need the reassurance of frequent contact.

 

Ongoing contact would rely on two adoptive families both being willing to commit to this. If one child is adopted and one remains in foster care, then contact with the adopted sibling needs to be carefully considered, due to the link to the birth family.

 

Separation would obviously need to be done with a carefully constructed programme that takes both children’s needs into account.”

56.In light of this clear recommendation I am at a loss to understand why the local authority did the exact opposite. Prior to placement with the prospective adopters the twins had a ‘see you later’ contact session and that over the succeeding eleven months they had contact on just two occasions. The local authority was unable to explain who had made this decision for there to be very limited contact between the twins post placement or why this decision had been made.

 

If, like me, you are waiting to see what the reasons given by the Local Authority for the need to separate the twins in the first place was then you, I and the Judge were all equally frustrated that the reasoning just never materialised

 

 

 

 

57.The catalogue of the local authority’s errors and failings in this case is troubling and hugely lamentable. I do not minimise any of the admitted breaches of human rights and/or the other admitted failures by highlighting what I consider to be the most egregious failures, namely:

 

 

 

  1. i) the deletion of important and highly relevant information from the CPRs and Adoption Support Plans by the adoption team manager. This could only have been done to mislead the prospective adopters about BT and GT’s respective behaviours and needs with a view to increasing the prospects of them agreeing to a placement of BT or GT with them;

 

  1. ii) the deliberate and misleading selective quote from the report of Dr Mair Edwards in the so-called ‘sibling assessment’. I am satisfied that the social worker began this apparent assessment with the end result, that of separating the twins, already decided and wrote an assessment to support that conclusion. I do not understand why this assessment was written up three months after the decision had been taken on 10th April 2016 to place the twins separately for adoption or why this decision was not stayed pending the completion of a sibling assessment;

 

iii) the failure to give full and frank information about the twins to their prospective adopters and their respective supporting adoption agencies;

 

  1. iv) the complete and utter failure of the IRO service to satisfy any of its statutory duties in respect of BT and GT. The IROs and the IRO service did absolutely nothing to protect and promote the welfare best interests of the children and did nothing to challenge the local authority’s dreadful and, at times, irrational decision making and care planning; and

 

  1. v) the failure for there to be any note or record of the matters considered, the documents read or the reasons for taking the life changing decision to place the twins separately for adoption taken on 10th April 2016. It is astonishing given the highly unusual and momentous nature of the decision.

 

70.Ms Elgar, the assistant director of children’s services, and Ms Leader, the team manager, gave relatively brief evidence. Ms Elgar had been in post from June 2018 and Ms Leader became the team manager in July 2017. They both offered profuse apologies to the prospective adopters for the actions and failings of the local authority.

 

 

71.Ms Elgar could not explain how or why the material which had been disclosed at this hearing had not been disclosed at an earlier time or had been ‘lost’ by the local authority. She recognised the local authority’s serious shortcomings and sought to assure the court that action had been, and would continue to be, taken to resolve the identified and admitted failings of the local authority. She accepted the deletions from the CPRs and Adoption Support Plans resulted from a deliberate and wrongful act by an employee of the local authority.

 

 

72.It was Ms Leader who, having heard certain observations by me, checked the electronic records and discovered a considerable amount of material had not been disclosed. She readily accepted the decision to terminate BT’s adoptive placement in late 2017 had been wrong and the whole episode had been badly dealt with by the local authority. Mr Noble had noted that some of the documents disclosed in the hearing related to events some months or even up to two years before but had only appeared on the local authority’s computer system within days of each other in February or March 2018. When asked why this was, Ms Leader said that the previous social worker, D, had got seriously behind with her administration and had thus spent the last few days of her employment uploading two years worth of notes, records and other documents onto the system. When asked how this could have been allowed to happen, she could give no answer other than to say it was not good practice. This ranks as a masterful understatement and was a completely inadequate response. For the last seven or eight months of the social worker’s employment in children’s services, Ms Leader had been her line manager and had taken no effective steps to remedy this extraordinary state of affairs.

 

 

73.Finally, Ms Leader confirmed that no note, record or document had been found relating to the decision made on 10th April 2016 that BT and GT should be placed separately for adoption

 

The Court then was faced with what to do for these twins in the future, it having become abundantly clear that they ought not to have been separated, but that the independent expert analysis was now that they had settled with their prospective adopters and moving them would be profoundly damaging to them.

 

88.I have struggled with the concept that a court could find that it was in the welfare best interests of twins to place them separately for adoption. From the time the case first came before me up to and during the course of this final hearing I was keen to find a route by which BT and GT could be reunited in a single placement. If this proved impossible to achieve, I was keen to find a legal framework, short of adoption, which could afford them the degree of permanence, stability and security which I entirely accept they both so desperately require.

 

 

89.For the avoidance of any doubt, as I observed in the course of the hearing, in expressing these views I did not for one moment doubt the love, commitment and care which A, B and C have afford to BT and GT: quite the reverse. I wholeheartedly commend both sets of prospective adopters for the enormous great love and devotion they have shown to BT and GT, for their unswerving commitment to them and for the superlative care they have given BT and GT. It is plain that, notwithstanding the grave harm and damage they suffered in their past lives, they are thriving beyond expectations in the care of A and B and C. The stoicism each of these adults have displayed in the course of these lengthy proceedings has been admirable.

 

 

90.Nevertheless, BT and GT are not just simply siblings they are twins. In making adoption orders in favour of two separate sets of prospective adopters, I would sever the legal relationship of BT and GT as brother and sister. Further I would sever their legal relationship with their elder siblings. Whilst the latter is very important, it is the former consequence of adoption that principally troubles me.

 

 

91.There is no question of it being a realistic option in the welfare best interests of the children for either of them to return to the care of either parent. The mother manifestly is not capable of caring for them and neither is the father. In any event, he is serving a very substantial custodial sentence and is convicted of offences of child abuse.

 

 

92.Is there any other realistic placement together or apart? On the basis of the powerful and compelling evidence presented by the Anna Freud Centre and the most impressive and persuasive oral evidence of Dr Morris and Ms Mautner, supported by the children’s guardian and the local authority’s assistant director, and the compelling evidence of the prospective adopters, the answer is a resounding no.

 

93.I am of the view that if this local authority had exercised good social work practice and exercised a modicum of child focused judgment in its decision-making processes, there was, in my judgment, a real possibility that the children could have been placed and lived together for a substantial period of their childhoods. They had, I note, lived together in their foster placement for nearly three years albeit not without presenting their foster carers with immense challenges from time to time. Whatever the possibilities of being placed together, I am completely satisfied that the actions of this local authority denied them the opportunity of this option being properly explored which is, to put it mildly, deeply regrettable and will have an impact, great or slight, for the whole of BT and GT’s lives.

 

 

94.I am satisfied on the totality of the evidence before me that I cannot now contemplate moving either BT or GT, or both of them, from their placements without causing them serious harm and, potentially, lifelong grave harm. They are well settled with their prospective adopters and are plainly well integrated into what they consider to be their respective families. They are, for the first time in their lives, allowing themselves to believe they have their forever family. If one or other of them or both of them were to be moved, I accept the evidence of the Anna Freud Centre, that one or both of them would be devastated. They would suffer a sense of considerable loss, their behaviour would undoubtedly regress and they are likely never to allow themselves to trust a future carer or others involved in their lives: even if not likely, there is a substantial risk this would be the consequence of a removal.

 

 

95.To embark on the removal of the children with all the attendant serious adverse consequences cannot, in my judgment, be in the welfare best interests of either BT or GT. Accordingly, I am now persuaded and satisfied that both BT and GT must remain in the care of their respective prospective adopters.

 

The Court was driven to make the adoption orders, though not without a great deal of anguish.

 

Damages claims were agreed and settled.  (I think they seem very low for the twins, but that’s a personal view and opinion rather than a legal one, as damages is not my field)

 

  1. The damages agreed in satisfaction of A and B’s HRA claim were £5,000.00. The same sum was accepted by C in respect of her HRA claim.
  2. When considering the infant settlement approval of BT and GT’s respective claims for breaches of their human rights I had the benefit of advice on quantum by Mr Kingerley dated 16th November 2018. The local authority offered in settlement of the children’s claims the sum advised by counsel, namely £20,000.00 each. I was satisfied in all the circumstances of this case and having regard to recent authorities on the issue of HRA damages, that these were entirely reasonable damages to offer just satisfaction to both children. Accordingly, I approved the settlement achieved for BT and for GT. Further I made the declarations of the breaches of human rights of BT, GT, A & B and C in the terms agreed and set out in Annexes 1, 3 and 4 to this judgment.

 

 

 

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Multiple failings, IRO and whistleblowing

 

It is part of the Christmas tradition of Suesspicious Minds that some Local Authority takes an almighty judicial kicking in a published judgment,  and this year I’m afraid it is Herefordshire behind the door on the advent calendar.  This is a damning judgment by Keehan J

 

 

 

2.The care of and care planning for both these young people by Herefordshire Council has, over the last ten years or so, been woeful.

A & B (care orders and placement orders – failures) [2018] EWFC 72 (30 November 2018)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2018/72.html

 

Herefordshire County Council obtained Care and Placement Orders on two children, A and B in May 2008. At that time, A was 11 and B was 10 (that sounds immediately to me like a highly optimistic order…)

 

Neither were placed for adoption, and the plan of adoption was abandoned by the Local Authority in September 2009. No applications were made to revoke the placement orders for A, and it discharged on her 18th birthday. An application was finally made to revoke the placement order for B, when she was 17 ½, it being revoked the day before her 18th birthday.

The girls were separated in 2013, and nobody was really able to explain to the Judge why that was

 

This was followed by a LAC Review held on 13th December 2013 at which it was decided to place A and B in separate foster placements. I do not know the reasons why this important decision was made nor the evidence on which it was made. A and B were never again placed together. I have no explanation as to why not.

 

 

 

 

22.On 19th November 2016 A and B had their first face to face contact since 2014. This has been requested by A who was pregnant.

 

 

23.On 12th March 2017 A gave birth to her first child, F. She had no secure or stable accommodation. A whilst pregnant and after F was born had been living in an annexe at her former foster carer’s home. In May 2018 A reported to the local authority that she and F had been evicted by her former foster carer and that she had nowhere to go. The local authority’s response to the plight of this young mother and care leaver was wholly inadequate. The response was so poor that, the Head of Service, Gillian Cox, accepted that the local authority had failed A and her daughter.

 

 

 

 

26.Between December 2013 and 1st September 2017, when she had attained her majority, A had had at least 5 changes of placement in various different areas of the country. There is no doubt that the instability in A’s life during these formative years, including the numerous changes of placement, have caused her significant emotional and psychological harm.

 

 

27.Between February 2016 and 6th March 2018 B endured 7 changes of placement in various different areas of the country. The harm suffered by B as a result of these changes in placement in terms of her emotional and psychological wellbeing are incalculable.

 

 

28.Between November 2008 and May 2018 A has had 6 different social workers allocated to her case. Between June 2014 and August 2018 B has had 8 different social workers allocated to her case. I accept the reallocation of case in October 2016 to a social worker in the 16+ Team was inevitable. There is, however, no good or cogent explanation for the high turnover of the other social workers which, to put it mildly, must have been unsettling and unhelpful.

 

 

29.From the time the children were made the subject of care orders and placement orders in February 2008 until October 2018 this local authority has had eight different independent reviewing officers (IRO) responsible for the oversight of their care plans.

 

 

(In 25 years of practicing family law, in various different local authorities, I don’t think I’ve MET 8 different IROs, but these girls had 8 different ones allocated to them at various points…)

The Head of Service filed a statement setting out the admissions that the LA made as to their failings in this case

 

 

30.I was so concerned at the failures of the local authority in respect of A and B that I ordered Ms Cox, the Head of Service, to file a statement setting out an explanation for the same. Her statement is dated 1st November 2018.

 

 

31.In respect of A, Ms Cox said as follows:

 

 

 

“In my view our service has failed to support [A] as I would expect since she first became homeless and in particular I would identify the following:

 

 

  1. In May when [A] first contacted our team to say that she was homeless we should have offered her supported lodgings accommodation in Herefordshire with [F] on a temporary basis whilst a longer term solution was identified. We should also have pro-actively supported [A] to search for private rented options in Birmingham and made it clear to her that we would financially support her with a bond and act as a guarantor if required.

 

 

  1. As time progressed and [A] continued to ask us for help and was not able to obtain suitable accommodation for herself in Birmingham we should have revisited these options and again offered her short-term solutions in Herefordshire and proactively supported her to find private rented accommodation. On the 15th June [A] specifically requested to return to Herefordshire but I can find no evidence of this being responded to which is unacceptable.

 

 

  1. The situation should have been escalated through Heads of Service to our Assistant Director and Director who have all asked to be kept informed of any young person who is placed in Bed and Breakfast accommodation. In the turnover of team managers and Heads of Service this expectation was not understood.

 

 

  1. On the 18th June [A] was informed that the local authority decision was that we would not pay a bond for her to secure private rented accommodation for her. This was not the case as this was agreed by the Head of Service when she was made aware of the situation. It is concerning that the team lack clarity about the support they are able to offer and did not escalate the situation earlier.

 

 

  1. There was a delay of almost a month in authorising a placement request made in July and this is unacceptable. The delay was due to further information not being provided to the Head of Service but in the circumstances the Head of Service should have been more pro-active in gaining the information she required.

 

 

  1. On the 11th October the personal advisor supported [A] and [F] to move from the Travel lodge to Northbrook hostel but did not look around the shared facilities. She described the accommodation as “basic” but did not raise concerns about the suitability of it for [A] and [F]. Having seen the photographs that [A] sent via her legal representative I was appalled by the state of the accommodation she was living in and was very clear that this was unsuitable and she should not have been left there.

 

  1. [A] is currently living in a supported lodging placement in Herefordshire with her daughter, [F]. She moved there on Tuesday 23rd October as an interim arrangement whilst suitable private rented accommodation for [A] and [F] is sourced in Birmingham. I received photographs and an email that [A] had sent her legal representative on the 23rd October and I was appalled at the state of the accommodation that she was living in. I telephoned [A] directly myself and asked if she would be willing to move to a supported lodging placement in Herefordshire if I could arrange that whilst we sorted out a suitable place for her to live in Birmingham. [A] was concerned about moving away from Birmingham but I was able to reassure her that this would be for just a short time. [A] agreed and so I made arrangements for our fostering team to find a placement for her and [F] and for her personal advisor to go to Birmingham to collect her that day.

 

  1. [A] was supported by her personal advisor to view flats in Birmingham on Thursday, 25th October and found a flat that she liked in an area that she is happy to live in. Herefordshire Council has paid 6 months’ rent up front and all relevant administrative fees to enable [A] to move into the accommodation. [A] will pay the housing benefit that she receives to the local authority as she receives it. At the time of writing this statement the plan is that [A] and [F] will move into their new home on Friday, 2nd November.

 

  1. [A] will continue to receive the support of her personal advisor. She is being referred for “floating support” and the most suitable provider for this is being investigated. The local authority will fund this support if [A] is not entitled to receive the support at no cost.”

32.In respect of B, Ms Cox observed in respect of the current placement that:

 

 

 

“[B] continues to live in a supported lodging placement with her boyfriend and his mother. She has lived there since March 2018. She is reported as happy living there although understands it is unusual to be living in the same home as her boyfriend at such a young age and is keen to move to live independently soon after she turns 18. She has been supported to register for housing and in the meantime can remain where she is. [B] will continue to receive the support of her personal advisor.”

33.I was told by Ms Cox that substantial steps have now been taken by the local authority to ensure:

 

 

 

  1. i) the mistakes and serious errors made in respect of A and B are not suffered nor endured by any other child or young person in the care of Herefordshire; and

 

  1. ii) far more robust procedures are now in place to ensure issues are escalated to more senior managers and, where appropriate, to the assistant director and/or the director of children’s services.

 

 

The Judge was concerned that the IRO system, which should have tackled these failings and drift, and got the LA to apply to revoke the placement orders and tighten up their planning for these girls (including ensuring that they had contact with one another) had not done so. He ordered a report from the Head of the IRO team

 

 

35.Accordingly I ordered the Head of Service, Safeguarding and Review (i.e. the head of the IRO service for this local authority), Cath Thomas, to file a statement. I am grateful to Ms Thomas, as I am to Ms Cox, for providing the court with a statement dated 1st November 2018. I regret to note that the statement contained a number of matters which caused me very profound and grave concern.

 

 

36.The statement of Ms Thomas concluded with the final paragraph:

 

 

 

“It is very clear that the issue of revoking [B]’s placement order continued without resolution for a significantly long period of time, both prior to and since the data error was realised in early 2016. This length of delay is absolutely unacceptable and I apologise unreservedly to [B] and her sister. The IRO service failed to fulfil its statutory responsibilities to [B]. I failed to robustly challenge the views of my assistant director at the time, which I recognise I should have done and as head of service I take full responsibility for these failings and apologise unreservedly to the court.”

 

This is a frank acceptance of a proper degree of responsibility by Ms Thomas. I accept her apology without reservation. Some of her actions or more properly her lack of action may be explained or, at least, put into context by a number of events set out in her statement which I shall now turn to consider.

37.In the autumn of 2008 Children’s services in Herefordshire moved from paper files to electronic records. It was not discovered until January 2016 that the placement orders made in respect of both children had not been recorded on their electronic records. This may explain why subsequent IROs did not raise the issue of revocation of these orders, but it does not explain why the IRO at the time the care plan was changed in early 2009 from one of adoption to long term fostering did not do so.

 

 

38.Ms Thomas asserted that in an unrelated case an IRO had concerns about a child’s case and wished to obtain independent legal advice and/or refer the matter to Cafcass. She said she raised this issue with the then senior lawyer and the then assistant director in January 2017. The response from the assistant director to Ms Thomas was that she was not to seek independent legal advice nor to refer the matter to Cafcass. She was further told that if she did not comply with this ‘advice’, disciplinary procedures would be invoked. Ms Thomas asserted that this assistant director did not recognise the independent nature of the IRO service.

 

 

39.It is not for me to determine the truth of these assertions, not least because I have not heard from the former assistant director. The council’s legal department did, however, immediately upon receipt of Ms Thomas’ statement invoke a whistleblowing investigation which has been reported to the Chief Executive of the local authority and members of the council. I note that the then deputy county solicitor agreed with Ms Thomas’ recollection of events.

 

 

40.Ms Thomas asserted that it was because of the ‘advice’ given by the former assistant director that she did not escalate the case of A and B beyond the Head of Service level, did not seek to obtain independent legal advice and/or refer the matter to Cafcass. As Ms Thomas readily acknowledged this was, to say the least, deeply regrettable.

 

 

41.The former assistant director left this local authority in March 2018.

 

 

Obviously the Judge did not hear from the former assistant director who allegedly told an IRO that escalating a complaint about a child’s case would be treated as a disciplinary matter, so there is not a finding as to whether or not that happened. (He notes, however, that the Deputy County Solicitor agreed with what Ms Thomas was alleging)

 

So we can’t say that this actually definitively happened, but if it DID, then there’s a complete failure to understand the role of the IRO and how vital their independence is. The Judge set out the framework and the importance of independence and the ability for IROs to obtain independent legal advice in detail, concluding this

 

 

 

 

50.I am appalled at the manner in which and the serial occasions on which the social workers and their managers have failed these two young people. The fact that I have chosen in this judgment to focus on the role and actions of the various IRO’s should not be taken in any way to diminish the failures of the social workers and/or their mangers in this case. Rather the failings of the IROs has been so stark and grave that, in my judgment, it was appropriate to focus on the failings of the IROs and the IRO service in this case.

 

 

51.Once a court makes a care order it entrusts, as by statute it must, the future care of the child to the local authority. The essential safeguard the court and the public at large have that a local authority will be a good corporate parent is the function and role of the IRO. Any obstruction of an IRO performing their statutory role or any diminution in an IRO, or their manager, feeling empowered to do so, is a matter of the utmost consequence. For otherwise a looked after child is subject to the vagaries of social work practice and the local authority’s different pressures and priorities. The IRO is, or should be, the child’s protector or advocate. If the IRO is silenced or pressured not to act as the child’s interests demand and require, it is the child who will suffer – just as these children, A and B have suffered.

 

 

 

Conclusions

52.This local authority, as it has accepted, failed both young people in the errors made by its social workers and their managers over a very prolonged period of time.

 

 

53.The IROs failed them on a serious and serial basis.

 

 

54.I entirely accept and acknowledge that in these straitened financial times all local authorities are stretched. Furthermore I recognise that this local authority, like very many around the country, have difficulties recruiting and retaining social workers. As a consequence many social workers have to carry very heavy case loads, may not have sufficient experience to deal with the more complex cases and/or have limited time to work on a particular case.

 

 

55.These difficulties, however, do not begin to explain the wholesale failure of this local authority, in its role as a corporate parent to plan adequately or appropriately for the care of these children. I simply do not know or do not understand why the care plan was changed from adoption to long term fostering in 2009. The explanation given in B’s 2018 Care Plan is plainly false or, at best, inaccurate.

 

 

56.This means that neither A nor B can now be given a clear and cogent explanation of why they suffered such instability when in the care of this local authority. I find this to be profoundly regrettable.

 

 

57.The fact that the local authorities are under financial pressures, and there too few social workers who carry too many cases, increases the importance of the role performed by the IROs. When it is known deadlines may be missed, visits not undertaken, assessments not completed or other actions in furtherance of a child’s care plan not addressed, the IROs must take active steps to ensure a child’s welfare and future care is not disadvantaged by these omissions.

 

 

58.Whatever opposition or obstruction the IRO or Head of Service faced from a local authority, the IROs and their managers must remember that their first and foremost duty is to the children and young people that they serve. If this is ignored or obstructed, it is only the children or young people, who are our future, who will be harmed.

 

 

59.The clear message must go out that IROs serve a vital and essential function to ensure that a child’s or a young person’s interests are met post the making of a care order or other orders. If those functions and roles are not exercised in a clear, robust and untrammelled fashion, the children or young people will suffer.

 

 

You’ll find us all, doing the Lambeth Walk (oy!)

 

Gosh, it’s been ages.  Not been any juicy cases to write about, as the big beasts of the High Court are all on holiday, but this is an odd one.

 

It is a Court of Protection case, involving a woman who lacked capacity and whether she should be transported back to her home country of Colombia, interminable wrangling about the costs of transporting a wheelchair, a Court hearing where nobody shows up much to the Judge’s chagrin, and an eventual description of the approach of the public bodies as ‘verging on petulant’  with costs orders following.

London Borough of Lambeth v MCS & Anor [2018] EWCOP 14 (31 August 2018)    

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2018/14.html

 

  1. The documents do not reveal a clear picture, but it appears at least likely that P may have been ready for discharge in 2014; self evidently by the date of P’s assessment on 9 January 2017 P was clinically stable and ready for discharge. In fact I am certain that those conditions arose much, much earlier. It should be recalled that the original application to the Court (made by P’s RPR) was itself an application dated 20 December 2016, challenging P’s deprivation of liberty, pursuant to section 21A of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, made out of frustration because, despite the local authority and the Lambeth CCG supporting P’s wish and desire to return to Columbia, they had simply failed to progress it. “Support” has always been offered, and is still, but when something concrete had to be done, they have been found wanting. Even with the institution of proceedings, it has taken a year to achieve what should have been organised much, much earlier, and significantly, proceedings should have been, and were, unnecessary; all of this could and should have been achieved outside any application.

 

Bear in mind that this woman was ready for discharge in 2014 and the unit she was in was costing £2,000 per week, there ought to have been at the very least a financial incentive to move this along and get her back to Colombia where she wanted to be.   It has cost nearly a third of a million pounds to keep someone in a place where she didn’t want to be, when she could have gone back to her home country.

(Having been rebuked on Twitter during the World Cup for conflating Columbia – the city, with Colombia the country, I am spelling it correctly during this piece, although the judgment does not)

 

The Judge captures the human misery of this awful situation very well.

 

  1. There has never been any formal provision supporting P’s need for Spanish speaking staff, which at best has been provided on an ad hoc basis. P is distressed by receiving care from people who cannot speak Spanish, this has happened almost every day, several times a day, for over 3 years. It takes very little imagination to consider how additionally miserable and isolated she must have felt. Reports describe her as distressed, feeling like she is drowning, feeling scared, complaining of pain, each impacting severely on her everyday wellbeing.

 

  1. Having now had several hearings (in an application that itself was, or should have been, as I have said, unnecessary), I can only begin to imagine P’s sense of frustration and loss at being kept here for years against her wishes, and for no good reason. As even the proceedings have demonstrated so fully, the arrangements could and should have been established and implemented long ago, years ago, but because of disorganised, muddled and unfocused decision making, and what has at times verged on an arrogance, P has just had to wait. It should be remembered that P had been kept here against her wishes, at a cost to the taxpayer of over £2,000 per week. If the authority had done what it should have done in a timely professional manner, not only could they have saved themselves over £100,000 a year, and saved the cost to the taxpayer of these protracted High Court proceedings, they could have avoided P the years of misery from being kept a prisoner here, against her will.

 

Some of the hearings in this case were just a debacle

 

 

  1. At the hearing on 16 November 2017, very distinct progress towards repatriation had finally been achieved. Frustratingly, there were however, still significant details missing, not just an interim plan if there was a delay, but there was no detailed transition plan. I have seen some of the documents in relation to this and they are depressingly scant; frankly, they are unedifying. I entertained the hope, since the remaining matters seemed really very straightforward, that it might even have been possible to agree a draft order encompassing the transfer to Columbia and the deprivation of liberty involved in that move. Accordingly I felt able to make qualified declarations (including being transported to Columbia). But a detailed and realistic transfer plan was obviously still necessary. A proposed draft transfer schedule was provided for that hearing, but it was a poor document lacking any detail, proposing transfer on 20 December 2017.
  2. In view of the history, the shocking history, I made provision for a “long stop” hearing on 13 December 2017 whilst sitting on circuit (hoping still to retain the transfer date of 20 December 2017). I do not think I ever received a position statement from the applicants, who attended by new counsel, who had been inadequately instructed. No one from the applicants, CCG or solicitors had the courtesy to attend. To say this was unfortunate (leaving aside any other issues) is an understatement. No transfer plan had been filed, and important missing detail prevented any progress being achieved. No one appeared to be qualified to make what in some instances were trifling decisions involving a few hundred pounds, e.g. innumerable communications occurred over the provision of, cost of, source of, import duty on, or who should pay for the transport of a wheelchair so urgently required by P, far, far exceeding the cost of the chair itself. Information was given to the Court in relation to, for example, the air ambulance, which subsequently appeared to be wholly misleading and totally without foundation. The approach taken was unhelpful and, at times, verging on petulant. Despite my best efforts it appeared to reflect a deeper, most unfortunate perspective that has, from time to time, permeated these proceedings. In any event, as I say, no one had the courtesy to turn up, so nothing constructive could be achieved at all. Yet again the case was listed for hearing on 19 December 2017, making detailed and contingent directions.
  3. At that hearing, absolutely astonishingly, I was told that, whilst the CCG had approved funding for P’s flight to Columbia, it had arranged its meeting inter alia in relation to the cost of transporting the wheelchair and any import duty in Columbia (see above) for 20 December 2017, the following day – apparently those concerned were rather busy with other meetings. An additional issue concerned the provision for the cost of any care if P was taken ill on the flight; who would pay, was it possible to obtain insurance? The authority, in common with its actions before and since the institution of proceedings, conducted itself without regard to anything else, certainly not the welfare of P, and yet further evidence that the institution of proceedings had had no effect. They have had no regard to Court orders, or the involvement of the Court. This hearing occurred just a day short of the first anniversary of the issue of proceedings, and still the simple goal seemed a mile away.

 

Bear in mind that the unit was costing £2000 per week, and that the hold-up was the cost of flying a wheelchair that she needed out with her, this is just crazy.  Even if you paid for the wheelchair to go first class, that’s just 2-3 weeks of the unit. And as the Judge rightly noted, it would surely have been cheaper (even ignoring legal costs) to have just bought a wheelchair in Colombia and avoided the flight costs.

 

  1. Finally, on 15 January 2018, it was possible to approve a final order. Contrary to previous occasions when either no one attended, or those present had not obtained delegated financial responsibility, on this occasion, what should have occurred much, much earlier, probably years ago, was obtainable, and significant assurances and undertakings were forthcoming for the provision of care in the unlikely event P was taken ill in transit and required hospitalisation en route. All that should have occurred several months earlier and it is entirely symptomatic of the malaise which has beset these proceedings from the outset. For which P has been the unhappy victim, and the Applicant entirely responsible.
  2. P left the UK on 25 January 2018 by air ambulance. Her move is described thus:
    1. “The move went very well. There were no health concerns en route. P remained calm, restful and slept during the journey. The ambulance crew were extremely impressive and efficient. The doctor could speak Spanish. Upon arrival P “recognised many of her relatives and smiled all over her face.””

Finally, a happy ending to a tragic story.

  1. I set out a summary of these unhappy proceedings, not just because they should not have been necessary, but to highlight the very deeply frustrating and disorganised thinking, planning and management within the authority. As a result a vulnerable adult has been kept unnecessarily miserable against her will, confined in an environment for much longer than was necessary. In my best estimate, for 3 years.

 

 

Social worker on the naughty step


 

 

 

This is a decision of a Circuit Judge, so not binding, but illuminating as heck.

M and N (Children : Local authority gathering, preserving and disclosing evidence) [2018] EWFC 40 (1 June 2018)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2018/40.html

 

It revolves around an investigation into a child who was two months old and how they sustained bruising to the neck and a fracture to the clavicle.

The social worker interviewed the parents, took handwritten notes and later produced a typed note. The LA case was that neither of the explanations for the injury offered by a parent (a trip and fall whilst carrying the child, or a bump in a car) accounted for the injuries, and the experts agreed.

 

On later enquiry within the care proceedings it emerged that the handwritten notes were used to produce that typed note two weeks later

 

 

  1. Social worker, (SW1), was charged with investigating the matter on behalf of the local authority. SW1 spoke with the mother on 22nd September when she was given the seatbelt explanation. On 25th September, the Monday, SW1 visited the parents’ home and met with the mother and the maternal grandmother. At this meeting, she was given specific details of the fall explanation. On 26th September, the following day, SW1 visited M at her school. Each of these meetings need further expansion but before doing so, I must comment on the way the meetings were recorded.

 

  1. During her evidence SW1 referred to her formal recording of the meetings which was set out in case notes and notes prepared for the purpose of the local authority section 47 report. Both sets are very similar as there was clearly a lot of copying and pasting from one to the other. Significantly, the formal notes were largely made up on 9th October, some two weeks after the meetings took place. When questioned by Miss Mallon about the potential for these notes being inaccurate because of the delay, the social worker was adamant that they were accurate as she relied on her memory, supported by her handwritten notes taken at the time. The cross-examination was highly relevant as there was a material dispute as to what was said during the meeting on the 25th.

 

The handwritten notes were duly requested and produced. Were they good? My good friends, they were not. Did they show an accurate record mapping clearly onto the typed version? My good friends, they did not.

 

 

  1. The handwritten notes had not previously been disclosed by the local authority and did not form part of the bundle. At the conclusion of SW1’s evidence, the court asked her if the notes existed and if they could be produced. It transpired the notes did exist and they were produced the following day and circulated. The contemporaneous notes comprised seven pages of handwritten material. It is difficult to overstate how unprofessionally prepared these notes were. They were largely undated, they failed accurately to recall who was present, much of the handwriting is illegible, they were in large part disjointed and had to be translated by SW1 who gave further evidence but despite their unsatisfactory condition, the notes were illuminating.

 

  1. Until the notes appeared, no plan of the living room of the family home had been prepared. The notes, however, contained a sketch plan of the room with a faint line which the social worker confirmed denoted the path M was taking when it was alleged that she had tripped falling on to N. The path is clearly towards N’s head and right shoulder. It is entirely consistent with the evidence given by the mother and the grandmother and suggests a graphic explanation for how M could have placed her knee on N’s right shoulder causing bruising to her neck but not to the remainder of her torso.

 

  1. The significance of this is twofold. Firstly, the fact that the mother was denied this crucial contemporaneous recording of what she said four days after the event was to deny her the opportunity of supporting her version of events with crucial evidence and left her to rely on her memory many weeks after the event. Secondly, it deprived the experts of corroborative evidence to explain how the neck could have been bruised but not the body.

 

  1. 16.             The handwritten notes contained a record of SW1’s meeting with M. They are as illegible and disjointed as the other notes but start with the words, “Naughty step”. SW1 was unable to explain why these words appear and could only speculate. The note contains a record of the child saying something and then correcting herself and concludes with the words, “Said never tripped/fell on to N/mat”.

 

  1. 17.             As a result of this meeting, it is claimed there is formal record supporting the local authority’s case that M has denied falling on to N. This has been taken up by the experts who have used this in support of their opinion that the event did not happen. This is not a criticism of the experts as they are entitled to assume M was interviewed in a professional manner. Unfortunately, she was not. During the social worker’s evidence she said that she had been ABE trained. If this is the case, I have grave reservations as to the quality and effectiveness of that training.

 

Ticket for one to the Burns unit please. Oh, that’s a deep burn.

 

 

Two tickets to the gun show

 

 

 

  1. On the third day of the five day hearing the local authority took stock of the evidence and, quite rightly, concluded that there was an unrealistic prospect of establishing threshold and asked the court for permission to withdraw its application. The court ordered the local authority to make its application formally by way of C2, supported by a child-in-need care plan. These have been filed and the children’s guardian has had the opportunity to consider the way forward.

 

 

 

  1. My analysis is as follows. If N had been injured by her seatbelt, she would have woken up and cried. She did not. It is medically implausible that this event caused the injury and, in my judgment, it did not.

 

  1. There is unanimity between the experts who attended court that N could have been injured in the way she was by M’s knee landing on her clavicle. I accept the evidence of the mother and the grandmother that this event occurred precisely as they say it did, that M was walking back to N who was lying on her changing mat, that M tripped, that M’s knee was the first part of her body to make contact with N and it did so directly on to her right clavicle. The break was caused by this mechanism. I am entirely satisfied that this was an unfortunate accident and that neither parent was in any way responsible for its occurrence.

 

  1. The local authority was right to apply for leave to withdraw its application but we now have a dreadful situation where both children have been separated from their mother and in N’s case her father’s unsupervised care for over six months. The parents have separated and it is unknown how much the stress of these proceedings has contributed to that. M, who we are told cannot understand why she has to live with her great grandmother, must now be told at some point and in the most sensitive way possible that the reason was because her parents had been accused of harming her sister when, in fact, the injury was actually caused by M herself. There is a significant amount of work to do to put this family back together again.

 

  1. The local authority has prepared a care plan and I am content that the care plan meets the children’s needs. Having considered the children’s welfare and in doing so having had regard to the welfare checklist, I am satisfied that it is in the best interests of both children for the proceedings to be withdrawn and give leave accordingly.

 

That’s all desperately sad – what a cost this family has paid for the failure of the social worker to properly record her notes, transcribe them accurately and grasp the importance of what was in them.

 

Judicial comment on gathering, preserving and disclosing evidence

 

  1. I cannot leave this case without making comment on the manner in which the local authority has conducted itself. I have three main areas of concern. Firstly, the gathering and recording of evidence by the social worker was, in my view, wholly inappropriate. The local authority was investigating an allegation of serious child abuse where it was thought possible that an 8-week-old baby had been seriously injured by one or other of the parents.

 

  1. 34.             In discharging its duties, the local authority could and should, in my view, have kept proper notes in a professional way which would have served as a coherent, contemporaneous record and this did not happen. To compound the problem, the notes were not made up into formal case notes until several weeks after the event, leaving much room for error caused by the inadequate contemporaneous notes and failing memory. If the local authority thought it appropriate to obtain evidence from a 4-year-old child, and it clearly did, it should have followed the ABE guidelines. Failure to do so renders any evidence obtained from the child to be of no value.

 

  1. Secondly, I have concerns over the failure of the local authority to present a full picture to the experts. If Dr. Elias-Jones had known the explanation given by the parents days after the event in the manner that it was given to the social worker, this would have changed his opinion. This is clear because when he did understand it, his opinion changed but unfortunately this was four and a half months after he filed his report. Dr. De Soysa in his report dated 27th September, which will have been read by the other experts, reports:

 

“SW1 had interviewed M with regard to this incident. SW1 informed me that M had no recollection of this event.”

 

  1. There is reasonable scepticism as to whether a 4-year-old should have been interviewed at all. However, if she had been interviewed appropriately, and by that I mean in accordance with the ABE guidelines, the outcome may have been very different. It may be that she would have given an accurate account of events which would have meant this whole case could have lasted days rather than six months. One can only speculate. In any event, to have given an account of events of what M said was, in my judgment, irresponsible as the experts could not be expected to question the basis upon which this information had been obtained.

 

  1. My third and final area of concern is on the matter as to whether the parents and the children have had the benefit of natural justice in this case and thereby whether their Article 6 rights have been breached by a local authority which is, of course, an instrument of the State. These proceedings are borne out of a serious allegation of child abuse which, if found, would have had a profound effect upon the parents and the way they would be able to care for their children in the future.

 

  1. 38.             I have already given my comment upon my interpretation of the local authority’s duty of care on gathering evidence but I feel obliged to comment on the local authority’s failure to disclose material evidence in advance of being required to do so during the final hearing. It is clear that the content of the social worker’s contemporaneous notes was material in securing the sea‑change in the professional opinion of Dr. Elias-Jones. The parents should not be expected to have to go on a search to obtain such important evidence which supports their case.

 

  1. 39.             The local authority should have made this evidence available to the parents and their advisors at the earliest opportunity. It is again speculation as to what effect this would have had on the length these proceedings have taken but it is, in my judgment, worth speculating. For the future, the comments I have made highlight, in my view, that there may be significant areas for improvement in the training the local authority gives to its social workers, particularly in the areas of gathering, preserving and disclosing evidence in care proceedings

 

If you’re a social worker, now would be a very good time to find your handwritten notes, and have a serious hard look at whether the typed ones capture everything.  If you’re a local authority lawyer, ask your social worker on any NAI/CSA case to let you have their handwritten notes. If you’re a parent solicitor or representing a Guardian, ask for those notes.

 

Local Authority unlawfully caring for child for four years (section 20 abuse)

 

Herefordshire Council v AB 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2018/10.html

 

This is the case referred to in my earlier blog posts, and in this news story in the Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/16/council-kept-boy-9-in-care-for-whole-of-his-life-judge-reveals?CMP=share_btn_link

 

The Guardian piece is not overselling it.

 

  This judgment concerns two unconnected young people who have been accommodated pursuant to the provisions of The Children Act 1989, section 20 (the 1989 Act) for a very considerable period of time.  Their treatment by Herefordshire Council (‘the local authority’) represents two of the most egregious abuses of section 20 accommodation it has yet been my misfortune to encounter as a judge.

May as well open with the key bit

 

In the case of one of the 42 children accommodated by the local authority referred to above, the mother withdrew her consent for her child to be accommodated in 2013.  The local authority not only did not return the child to her mother’s care, it effectively did nothing in terms of care planning for the child.  Thus, for four years the local authority unlawfully had care of this child. 

 

That wasn’t the only example.

 

On 28 March 2010 CD’s mother gave formal written notice to the council of the withdrawal of her consent to CD being accommodated.  In response, the local authority (1) did not return CD to her care, but (2) advised her to seek legal advice if she wished CD to be returned to her care.  The director has acknowledged that this was a misuse of the local authority’s powers and it should have made immediate arrangements to return CD to his mother’s care.  It is, however, far worse than being a misuse of powers.  The local authority acted unlawfully and unlawfully retained care of CD until at least February 2013 when it appears from the chronology that the mother was engaging with the local authority and agreeing to CD remaining in care. 

 

The Judge, Keehan J, made orders that the Director of Children’s Services file statements explaining what had gone wrong with these two children and to set out all of the children that were in section 20 accommodation with details.

 

  1. I required the Director of Children’s Services to file and serve (i) a statement explaining the events and lack of planning in respect of CD and GH, and (ii) a statement detailing the circumstances of each and every child accommodated by this local authority pursuant to the provisions of section 20.
  2. The latter document made very grim reading.  Excepting CD, GH and three other children who are now the subject of public law proceedings, the local authority is accommodating 42 children.  Of these 42 children, the local authority have now recognised that 14 have wrongly and abusively been the subject of section 20 accommodation for a wholly inappropriate lengthy period of time and/or should have been the subject of legal planning meetings and/or care proceedings at a much earlier time.

 

My mathematical skills are not perfect, but that’s about a third of the children that they were accommodating that were being wrongly and abusively accommodated.

 

Gulp.

 

  1. Mr Chris Baird was appointed the permanent Director for Children’s Wellbeing for this local authority (otherwise known as the Director of Children’s Services and hereafter referred to the as ‘the Director’) on 10 November 2017.  It is right that I record at an early stage in the judgment that he (a) has readily and timeously complied with all directions made by this court for the filing and serving of statements and letters (b) has been completely frank and open about the past failings of this local authority (c) has provided a ready explanation of the steps he has taken or will take to remedy past mistakes, and (d) has chosen to attend court hearings in person.
  2. Later in this judgment, I will be roundly critical of egregious failings of this local authority in relation to CD and GH but also in relation to the 14 children to whom I have referred above.  Nevertheless, it is important for me to recognise and acknowledge that Mr Baird and the new senior management team at this local authority have taken and will take steps to ensure that such dreadful failures in the care of and planning for children and young people in its care will not occur in the future.  I have every confidence in the sincerity and commitment of this director to improve very significantly the planning for and provision of services to the children and young people for whom it is responsible.

 

 

Very decent of Mr Baird not to throw his predecessor under the bus.

 

(I also note with pleasure the use of the word ‘timeously’ which I was naming to a friend as one of my favourite words just last week)

 

  1. In February 2017, I sent a letter to the Director of Children’s Services of each of the 22 local authorities on the Midlands circuit with the consent and approval of all of the circuits’ designated family judges and of the chairs of the circuits’ ten local family justice boards.  One of the principal topics addressed was the use of section 20 accommodation.  I offered the following guidance:

“The use of section 20 by a local authority to provide accommodation to children and young people is perfectly legitimate if deployed in appropriate circumstances.  It is a useful tool available to local authorities.  I offer the following as examples of the appropriate use of section 20 but I emphasise these are examples only and not an exhaustive list: (a) a young person where his or her parents have requested their child’s accommodation because of behavioural problems and where the parents and social care are working co-operatively together to resolve the issues and to secure a return home in early course; (b) children or young people where the parent or parents have suffered an unexpected domestic crisis and require support from social care to accommodate the children or young people for a short period of time; (c) an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child or young person requires accommodation in circumstances where there are no grounds to believe the threshold criteria of section 31 of the Children Act 1989 are satisfied; (d) the children or young people who suffer from a medical condition or disability and the parent or parents seek respite care for a short period of time; or (e) a shared care arrangement between the family and local authority where the threshold of section 31 care is not met yet, where supported, this intensive level is needed periodically throughout a childhood or part of a childhood. 

“In all of the foregoing, it is likely the threshold criteria of section 31 of the Children Act 1989 are not or will not be satisfied and/or it would be either disproportionate or unnecessary to issue public law proceedings.  It is wholly inappropriate and an abuse of section 20 to accommodate children or young people as an alternative to the issue of public law proceedings or to provide accommodation and to delay the issue of public law proceedings.  Where children and young people who are believed to be at risk of suffering significant harm are removed from the care of their parent or parents, whether under a police protection and emergency protection order or by consent pursuant to section 20, it is imperative that care proceedings are issued without any delay.”

 

  1. This guidance, which was given by me in my role as the Family Division Liaison Judge of  the Midland Circuit, has neither legal effect nor greater significance than, as was intended to be, helpful advice to the respective directors, their senior staff, their social workers and the local authority’s child care solicitors. 

 

 

We shall see whether the Supreme Court agree with that formulation – they might well do.

 

CD was accommodated on 14th October 2009.

 

On 28 March 2010, the mother wrote to the local authority formally to withdraw her consent to CD remaining accommodated by the local authority pursuant to the provisions of section 20.  The local authority did not act on this withdrawal of consent and, instead, advised the mother to seek legal advice if they wished CD to be returned to their care.  I shall return to this issue later in the judgment. 

 

 

To make it absolutely plain, once mother does that, the LA have to return the child to her care or obtain an order from the Court authorising them not to do so.  They can’t just pretend she didn’t say it.  It is particularly rich to suggest to the mother that she seeks legal advice, when the LA obviously weren’t doing that themselves, or at least weren’t following it.

 

If the LA had asked me at that point what the legal status of the child was, I would have sent them this image

 

And, if you want to make provision for the damages claim that’s about to follow, you may want to locate “Treasure Island”

 

  1. A further LAC review was held on 29 April 2010.  That review recommended that the local authority should take steps to address CD’s legal security and permanence.  A legal planning meeting was held on 4 August 2010.  The legal advice given was to issue care proceedings to gain greater clarity around the parties’ views and timescales to secure permanence for CD as early as possible and for CD to have a voice in the proceedings through his guardian and solicitor.  Nothing was done.
  2. A further LAC review held on 18 November 2010, during which CD’s independent reviewing officer raised concerns about the delay in achieving permanence for CD and reiterated that the legal advice given needed to be followed.  Nothing was done.
  3. Two further legal planning meetings were held on 16 February 2011 and, following the completion of an updated assessment of CD’s needs again, on 30 March 2011, there was agreement at that latter meeting to initiate care proceedings.  At a further LAC review on 6 April 2011, no further recommendations were made as a clear decision had been made on 30 March. 
  4. On 5 May 2011, the decision to initiate care proceedings was retracted by the then Assistant Director of Children’s Services who stated she was not, “agreeing to issuing proceedings and considered that seeking a care order would not make a significant difference to CD’s care given he had been accommodated for some time”. 
  5. This decision was fundamentally misconceived and fundamentally wrong.
  1. The next LAC review was held on 28 February 2013 where it was agreed that CD should remain looked after until his 18th birthday.  There had been a query about his legal status.  The decision was made that he remained accommodated pursuant to section 20, noting that CD’s mother was engaging well with the arrangements.  A further LAC review was held on 16 July 2013.  No changes were recommended to CD’s care plan.  The same approach was taken at the next LAC review on 9 December 2013 but there were discussions about the possibility of CD’s foster carers applying for a special guardianship order. 

 

There are a string of further LAC reviews, all thinking that the section 20 was okay  (basing that presumably on the Feb 2013 view that “Mother was engaging well with the arrangements”), then

 

There was a further LAC review on 3 April 2017.  On 5 September 2017, legal advice was sought at a legal gateway meeting.  It was recognised that CD had been accommodated under section 20 since 2009.  Somewhat surprisingly, the section 20 accommodation arrangement was deemed appropriate.  Thereafter, the decision was made to issue these public law proceedings. 

 

GH was accommodated on 9th July 2008 – the LA relying on the purported consent given by his mother, who was fourteen.

 

  1. At a LAC review held on 4 March 2014, there was a change of plan by the local authority.  The local authority decided to take GH’s case to a legal planning meeting.
  1. It was decided at the legal planning meeting that care proceedings should be instigated. The care plan of the same date stated that the local authority is considering the need to obtain a full care order. Nothing, however, was done

Well, at least they decided after nearly six years to issue care proceedings. Job done.

 

  1. In June 2016 a comprehensive review was undertaken of all section 20 accommodation cases by this local authority.  A LAC review was then held in respect of GH on 8 December 2016 where it was reported that legal advice regarding the continuing use of section 20 had been sought.  The decision was made that (i) an application for a care order needed to be initiated, and (ii) the local authority needed to gain parental responsibility due to GH’s complex health needs and the fact that he might need to move to a new placement in the near future. Nothing was done.

 

Okay, so having decided after six years that they needed to do something, they didn’t do anything for a further two years, then reviewed it and realised that they needed to do something. Then did nothing.

 

A further legal gateway meeting took place in March 2017.  The case was escalated by the independent reviewing officer to the Children with Disabilities Team at regular intervals between May and July 2017.  The independent reviewing officer then raised the matter with the Head of Service for Safeguarding and Review, who in turn escalated it to the relevant Head of Service in July.  It was not until 22 September 2017 that this application for a care order was in fact made. 

 

 

Oh boy.

 

  1. I have never before encountered two cases where a local authority has so seriously and serially failed to address the needs of the children in its care and so seriously misused, indeed abused, the provisions of section 20 of the Children Act 1989.  By happenchance alone, as it appears to me, both children have remained in the care of quite extraordinary and superlative carers who have met their respective needs extremely well.  I offer the warmest of thanks and congratulations to CD’s foster carers and to GH’s foster carer.  For periods of at least eight years they have each cared for the two boys without any parental responsibility for either of them.  Both sets of foster carers have in many ways been failed by this local authority, but their commitment to CD and GH respectively has been undaunted and unfailing. 
  2. Nevertheless, serious and long lasting damage has resulted.  Contact between CD and his mother had never properly been considered nor promoted.  The mother is not without blame on this issue.  It led however to an extremely unfortunate event recently where the mother and CD inadvertently came across each other in public and the mother did not recognise her son.  CD was dramatically affected.  What child could reasonably cope with their mother or father not recognising them?
  3. In respect of GH, his mother was so young when he was born that she needed the greatest possible advice, support and consideration.  She was not given any of the foregoing.  The local authority, as referred to above, did not even consider whether she was capable of consenting to GH’s accommodation.  Thereafter she was frankly side-lined.  As she grew older and matured, little, if any, consideration was given as to whether she could then care for GH or whether she could and should play a greater role in his life.  I have a very real sense that her role as his mother, albeit, or perhaps because, she was so very young, was simply overlooked and ignored.  Fortunately, with the issuing of these proceedings it has been possible to secure the placement of both children.  In respect of CD with his current carers as special guardians.  In respect of GH, to secure his placement with ZA but then to consider where his interests lie in a future long-term placement.  It has also enabled CD’s foster carers to be invested with parental responsibility for him.
  4. I have been seriously critical of the actions and inactions of this local authority.  I do not, despite the explanations offered, understand how or why this local authority failed these two children so very badly.  Nevertheless, I am satisfied that the appointment of a new director and a new management team, who are alive to the past failings in these and in other cases, will lead to an improved service for the children and young people who are now or hence forward will be placed in the care of this local authority.

 

 

The Local Authority argued that they should not be named in this judgment.  Given that the title of the case is Herefordshire Council v AB 2018,  how do you think that application went?

 

Publicity

  1. I have indicated to the parties at earlier hearings that I was minded to give a public judgment in respect of both cases.  It was submitted on behalf of the local authority that I should anonymise the names of all parties, including the local authority, because the adverse publicity would be damaging to the council.  I subsequently received a letter from the director bringing to my attention Hereford’s struggle to recruit solicitors and social workers and that “adverse publicity for the local authority does count in the minds of some prospective employees and it would be unfortunate if our historic failings were to turn people away.”  The contents of this letter, which had been disclosed to all of the other parties, caused me to consider once more whether it was necessary for me to name the local authority in this case.  After long and careful reflection I have concluded that it is.  I decided that a public judgment which named the local authority was necessary for the following reasons: (a) the President has repeatedly emphasised the importance of transparency and openness in the conduct of cases in the Family Division and in the Family Court; (b) the public have a real and legitimate interest in knowing what public bodies do, or, as in these cases, do not do in their name and on their behalf; (c) the failure to plan and take action in both of these cases is extremely serious.  There were repeated flagrant breaches of guidance from the judges of the division and of standard good practice; (d) it is evident that this case emanates from the Midlands Circuit.  Not to identify the relevant local authority would unfairly run the risk of other authorities on this circuit coming under suspicion; and (e) the President and the judges of the division have always previously taken a robust approach on the identification of local authorities, experts and professionals whose approach or working practices are found to be below an acceptable standard. 
  2. The director is understandably concerned about the potential adverse consequences of a public judgment.  I fully understand those concerns, but, for the reasons I have given above, I do not consider these concerns should lead me to anonymise the local authority.  In my view these concerns are addressed, or at least ameliorated, by the court making it clear, as I do in paragraphs 11 and 12 above and in the paragraphs below, that the criticisms set out in this judgment relate to the past actions of this local authority and that there is now a new director and leadership team in place who are committed to change and to improve the care and provision of services to the children and young people in its care.

 

To be fair, even as someone who practised law for ten years in the Midlands, I had no idea that Hereford was considered to be in the Midlands circuit, so it wouldn’t have been on my suspect list had the Court just said “a Local Authority in the Midlands”

Geography is not my strong suit.  I have yet to establish what my strong suit is, other than snark.

 

Hereford will now be waiting to see what the Supreme Court decide in Hackney about human rights claims arising from section 20 misuse.  These are very bad ones.  If HRA claims are still going after Hackney, expect this to break all records.

Words fail me. (But I spend a long time telling you, via words, why) #verywellthenIcontradictmyself

Apply the handkerchief or scarf as directed by these fine gentlemen

Before you start this piece, could you briefly find some cloth? A scarf, or a clean tea-towel or anything of that ilk will do. Please tie it so that the bottom rests under your jaw and there is a knot at the top of your head – much like a cartoon character who is suffering from a toothache.

 

 

 

Why?

 

Because this case is so jaw-dropping I want to be sure that your jaw bone doesn’t actually leave your head.

 

Ready?

 

Here we go.

 

It is the original judgment from the case that went to the Court of Appeal because the social worker and police officer involved considered that the findings made against them by the Judge were career-threatening and that the process of making those findings was unfair.

 

The Court of Appeal said that the social worker and police officer needed to have been placed on notice that such strong findings were going to be made and have the chance to make representations about them beforehand, so THOSE findings were overturned. The social worker later made an application to sue the Lord Chancellor for judicial failings on the basis of vicarious liability.

 

On that basis, and in short, the complaint relates to the judge’s finding that SW and PO, together with other professionals and the foster carer, were involved in a joint enterprise to obtain evidence to prove the sexual abuse allegations irrespective of any underlying truth and irrespective of the relevant professional guidelines. The judge found that SW was the principal instigator of this joint enterprise and that SW had drawn the other professionals in. The judge found that both SW and PO had lied to the court with respect to an important aspect of the child sexual abuse investigation. The judge found that the local authority and the police generally, but SW and PO in particular, had subjected C to a high level of emotional abuse over a sustained period as a result of their professional interaction with her

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/11/20/judge-making-findings-about-a-witness-fair-trial/

 

 

This is the judgment, with the most dreadful findings about the social worker and police officer snipped out. Do not for one second think that this makes the judgment dull or removed of any controversy. There’s so much in it, it makes the mind boggle as to what was taken out.

Re W (fact-finding) [2014] EWHC 4347 (Fam) (17 October 2014)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/4347.html

 

(I’m not sure why it has taken 3 years to publish this – it was certainly held up until 2016 pending the appeal – I do understand that the Judge has passed away, which probably caused difficulties in editing the previous judgment, since normally the Judge who wrote it would do that)

 

 I thus hope that no court ever again has to see and hear what this court has seen and heard during the past weeks.

 

This was a care case involving five children, the main subject was C, who was a teenager. C had made serious sexual abuse allegations against three of the adults in the family.

 

There was a finding of fact hearing, and the evidence in the finding of fact hearing lasted 19 days. There were ten parties to that hearing, nine of whom were represented by silk and junior counsel.

 

 

 

 

  1. From a conventional beginning in front of HHJ Davies at the Luton County Court, the case has taken unprecedented twists and turns with the intervention of the Court of Appeal, a re-hearing in front of myself, and the collapse of that re-hearing after three days in the most dramatic manner. This occurred when a key social worker in the case contacted me directly by email through the court office to allege ‘corruption and malpractice’ within the local authority in relation to this particular case as well as other cases.

 

Is your jaw bandage still in place? I worry about you all, you know.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Following what was effectively a whistle-blower email sent to myself, the local authority sought to abandon the fact finding hearing and withdraw all allegations, saying that it could no longer rely on the key social worker as a witness of truth. The local authority’s counsel, Mr. Bain, withdrew from the case for professional reasons. Fresh counsel were then instructed; they withdrew the application by the local authority to abandon the proceedings, and thus these have continued ever since.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. The proceedings have been surrounded by suspicion and mistrust, for reasons which have become obvious. These emotions have been shared, it must be said, at times by the court, and have been exacerbated by serious problems about disclosure. Despite strict orders made by the court for full disclosure by the local authority, these have not been complied with in full. Indeed, more than 1,300 pages of important material were disclosed to the court during the current hearing, and 1,000 pages of these were disclosed only in the second week of this hearing, after Mr Geekie for the local authority organised a search of its premises following a social work assistant’s evidence. This failure to disclose added some three days to the case. Disclosure continued even into the fourth week of this hearing. Furthermore, many important documents have been shredded or are still missing.

 

 

 

  1. According to the lead social worker there were six, not four, ABE interviews of the child, C, as contended by the police and the local authority. Indeed, there is even the suggestion that an alleged meeting on the 30th September 2013, reported by social workers to have happened, may not have taken place at all. The court therefore has the unenviable task – unparalleled in the history of this particular tribunal – of deciding how many ABE interviews there were, and whether one meeting ever occurred.

 

I’ve seen many cases where Courts had to decide whether an ABE interview was conducted properly, where they had to decide whether leading questions were asked, whether it is reliable. I’ve never before heard of a Court having to decide HOW MANY ABE’s there were.

 

So much has gone wrong in this case. In fact, almost everything that could have gone wrong has, almost to the point of defying credulity. In consequence the court has no choice but to undertake the arduous task of scrutinising all aspects of the case very carefully. This judgment will therefore be longer than would normally be the case. This is for several reasons:

 

 

 

  1. a) Reaching the complex truth requires a detailed analysis of all that happened;

 

  1. b) In view of what they have suffered, those accused of serious abuse deserve nothing less;

 

  1. c) The consequences for individuals beyond the parties in the case, for example within the local authority and the police, may be profound;

 

  1. d) It is unlikely that any other will have the time or resources to trawl through the immense body of papers in the way the court has done, and thus what has been uncovered must be recorded fully;

 

  1. e) Lessons need to be learned so that what happened in this case never happens again.

 

  1. I am most grateful for the assistance given by all counsel in the case, both leading and junior, who have ably assisted the court in its unenviable task. I include in this commendation not only all those who appeared in front of me during the current hearing but also Mr. Giles Bain, who appeared for the local authority during the earlier part of these proceedings.

 

 

C had made allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Findings of fact were made by HH J Davies and those were overturned on appeal.

 

The Judge notes, dryly

 

 

 

  1. The reasons for the successful appeal are not relevant in this hearing save in one respect which I shall address shortly. Suffice it to say that the learned judge had before her four ring binders of documents when she heard the case. I have 18 ring binders. More importantly, relevant evidence was not placed before the learned judge and such evidence as was placed in front of her, as I shall determine in due course in this judgment, was highly incomplete and wholly inadequate.

 

So there was then a re-hearing, before His Honour Judge Arthur, sitting in the High Court. Here’s where it begins to go spectacularly wrong (as opposed to merely disastrously wrong)

 

 

33……On 31st January 2014 SW left the local authority employment. In the four months that followed I, who was now seized with the case, was asked by the local authority to give various directions, including directions for SW to provide a statement.

 

 

 

  1. By April, 2014 it became obvious to all that SW was reluctant to give a statement. On 14th May the court asked Mr. Bain, counsel for the local authority, to take instructions as to why that was, and in particular to inform the court whether there was anything in the circumstances in which she had left the local authority employment which had a bearing on the proceedings, and which might affect her credibility. Counsel faithfully relayed his instructions from the social work assistant sitting behind him, namely that SW had left in entirely amicable circumstances. ‘They were all sad to see her go, and asked her to stay working for the local authority.’

 

 

 

  1. In April 2014 the court permitted fresh matters to be included in the schedule of allegations to be proved. These related to evidence not before the court in June 2013. The first was that the mother had hit C with a rolling pin. The second listed general allegations of neglect by the parents of the younger children.

 

 

 

  1. On 27th May 2014 the final hearing began. On the third day of that hearing, on 29th May, the court suddenly received a ‘whistle-blower’ email from SW, directed to myself personally, in which she alleged corruption, malpractice and bad work practices by the local authority in respect of both C and T, and in respect of other matters too.

 

 

 

  1. On 30th May, having taken instructions, counsel for the local authority confirmed that the local authority no longer relied on SW as a witness of truth. It would robustly challenge some of her assertions in her email, and in the circumstances was no longer seeking further findings. It sought leave to withdraw their application for such findings to be determined. Unsurprisingly, the parents consented to this course of action, but the guardian for the younger children, who was absent from court, was not able to give instructions himself. In due course the guardian objected to the course proposed by the local authority.

 

 

The hearing collapsed on day 3 with LA counsel having to withdraw for professional reasons.

Something peculiar happened late (in week four) into the second attempt at it (this actually being the third attempt at the fact finding overall, as HH J Davies had already done one, overturned on appeal)

 

 

 

 

 

  1. In September 2014, in the fourth week of the hearing, to the surprise of all, counsel for the local authority suddenly put two very serious, entirely new allegations to the father in cross-examination. The first was that the father had been grooming “another child” A for sex, and secondly that C had conceived two babies while living at home. As the determination of these allegations would add little or no extra time to the proceedings, because they were so serious, and because the court believed they might assist in the assessment of the credibility of the witnesses, the court insisted the allegations should be articulated in the correct form and added formally to the schedule of allegations to be proved.

 

 

 

  1. At the conclusion of the evidence I invited all parties to set out, prior to written submissions, any concessions made by any party in relation to the evidence. In respect of the local authority, I asked them to set out any concessions about whether allegations were being pursued or not. The local authority was the only party to respond and did so with the following concessions:

 

 

 

  1. a) The local authority no longer sought to rely on any statement made by C in the three ABE interviews held in January 2014. This was subsequently clarified to include anything she said at the police station before or after the interviews, or in breaks, save, astonishingly, for comments about pregnancies and babies she may have made during a break in, or after, the interview on the 31st January, 2014.

 

  1. b) The local authority no longer pursued the allegations that the mother was aware of the abuse of T and chose to ignore it, and that the mother remonstrated with T on the 13th March, 2013. The local authority also abandoned the allegations of neglect of the three younger children.

 

  1. c) The local authority had already put in train preparations for a Serious Case Review of their conduct of the case. This would take place regardless of what findings were made.

 

I have not seen that Serious Case Review. I imagine that Luton are going to be receiving many many telephone calls from the Press wanting to see it.

 

There had been retractions from another child, T about the allegations. A LOT of retractions. Ten in all.

 

The Court of Appeal (in the appeal from HH J Davies) had given this advice about retractions

 

Re W (Fact-Finding Hearing: Hearsay Evidence) (2013) EWCA Civ 1374, (2014) 2FLR 703 at paragraph 25.

 

  1. Furthermore:

“The retraction of a complaint normally requires careful and specific consideration and this case was no exception. Obviously the fact that a complaint is subsequently retracted does not prevent a judge from accepting that it is in fact true but it gives rise to questions which must be addressed sufficiently fully and directly in the judge’s reasons so that one can be confident that the fact of the retraction has been given proper weight in the judge’s conclusions about the subject matter of the retracted allegation” [para 28].

 

 

The Judge comments on the SW evidence about the retractions (including the retractions made by another child, T)

 

 

 

  1. She was reminded that by 8th March T had retracted her supposed allegation. SW’s response was instant and dismissive, “It’s perfectly normal for victims to retract. We know it is common from victims”. Later she said, “I agree with the Court of Appeal that we should take retractions seriously”. From her demeanour, however, the court did not infer that she was in any way convinced by what she was saying. She further accepted that she had asked C whether she was worried about what had happened to T also happening to her. She saw nothing wrong with this question:

 

 

 

 

“It was in accordance with social worker practice… It is a practice all good social workers use… The fact that the court sometimes does not catch up with research is very unfortunate.”

 

 

The Court made these general comments about the SW evidence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Credibility of SW – court’s findings

 

  1. She was at times truculent and downright rude to counsel and to the court and sometimes quite threatening and menacing. She variously accused counsel for B of raising his eyebrows at her in an inappropriate manner (he was in fact doing no such thing), loudly demanded to know the names of all the counsel in court, said that she had ‘clocked what you lot are up to’, and accused the court and counsel of trying to prevent her having her say when, in fact, wholly proper efforts were being made to curtail seemingly unquenchable outpourings. She was dismissive and disdainful of correct social work practice and the way the court operated. She was liberal in blaming others for things that had gone wrong. Apart from blaming the court (by inference both HHJ Davies and the Court of Appeal), she blamed the police, other members of the local authority, teachers at C’s school, the school itself for obstructing her, (this was wholly unfounded), counsel for the parents and counsel for the guardian.

 

In the light of that, it is rather commendable that counsel for B was able to control his eyebrows. Mine would have been on the ceiling.

 

SW’s evidence – general matters

 

 

Her current memory of events

 

  1. She explained that she had been very reluctant to give evidence. In her tenth and last statement she had said that she could not trust the local authority case notes in view of the time lapse. She had resisted making that statement as she did not think she could usefully add anything, for now she could no longer recollect any details but, as the case had progressed, some matters had come back to her as she was questioned and shown documents, and so things had become more alive for her. Even so, she said that all the events with which the court was concerned took place over two years ago and she had not retained memories of the case in the same way she would have done if she was still the social worker. This is something she repeated many times during her evidence.

 

 

 

 

 

Disclosure of her own notes

 

  1. She was referred to the email of the local authority’s in-house counsel, Miss Manassi, on 28th February of this year which asked for her notes and said that a comprehensive statement would be needed from her. She was referred to the current President of the Family Division’s words twelve years ago, “Professionals should keep comprehensive notes. Social workers should routinely exhibit notes to statements”. SW said that, contrary to this, she had shredded all her notes. In fact, she had tried to shred all her notes on a daily basis when she worked for the local authority. She could not keep them because they might be stolen from her car or lost and she had no desk in the office where they could be kept. “I shredded notes because I did not need them”.

 

 

 

  1. Furthermore, in February 2014, Dawn Smith, her supervisor at Luton Borough Council, had told her to delete all her own records including all texts and emails from T. She deleted, she thought in all, about 500 texts to and from T. She was ordered to delete or shred all this material. She did so, she accepted, knowing that the proceedings were still underway and that a retrial of the sexual abuse allegation for C had been ordered, and that in relation to these T’s own allegations of sexual abuse against the father were relevant.

 

 

 

  1. She was reminded of one text in particular. T had alleged that SW had sent her a text telling her not to be in denial. Ms Lynne Jackson, the psychologist, had reported that this text had, in fact, been read out to her by T. SW said this:

 

 

 

 

“I knew all about this allegation of unprofessionalism and that T was saying this and other things too. I remember thinking whether I should delete this trail but I was told to”.

 

  1. In any event, she said she had never sent T this text.

 

 

 

  1. We have not heard from Dawn Smith. So whether or not SW was generally ordered to delete all her records, texts and emails still remains to be decided. Further investigation is needed. But the court notes that it seems very surprising that SW should have deleted a trail of texts which would have exculpated her from this particular accusation. (For the avoidance of doubt, I make no findings that any member of staff obstructed the Local Authority.)

 

[So I should make it clear that SW was alleging that she had destroyed all her emails and texts because the manager had told her to, but the Court didn’t hear evidence from the manager about this and didn’t make any findings. I have a little bit of sympathy about the handwritten notes- social workers don’t have paper files any more, and most of them don’t have their own desks any longer. Everything is on computer and workers hot-desk. Whilst the President did say 12 years ago that handwritten notes should routinely be exhibited to SW statements, there are not many Judges who would thank social workers for doing that. There’s no way that one can do that and comply with the 350 page limit. I would suggest that handwritten notes, particularly of conversations with children or adults about allegations ought to be scanned and kept, if they are not contemporaneously typed up]

 

Interviewing a child

 

  1. She was aware that, with a child who has learning difficulties, the interviewer has to be very careful of suggestibility. She said she herself would have been outraged if anyone had asked C leading questions, “One should be sensitive of this” she said emphatically. She was reminded that, according to Miss G, she had hundreds of conversations with C, some of which referred to sexual abuse or abuse allegations. SW assumed that Miss G would have had the appropriate training about how to talk to children who had made allegations. The school should have given her advice about this. The social workers were quite disappointed with the school about a lack of training and had to discuss giving general training to the staff at the school or arranging for that to take place.

 

 

 

  1. SW was very strident when giving evidence about how allegations of child abuse should be dealt with. She said, “Research shows that we must be more direct with children in abuse cases”. This was accepted in her social work team at the local authority. Dr. Van Rooyen, a psychiatrist in the instant case, too had said they have to be ‘more direct’ with the child. She said, “I suspected that she meant we had to talk to C and perhaps initiate conversations”. She then seemed to contradict this by saying, “We had to wait for C to speak, we know”.

 

 

 

  1. She repeatedly referred to research by Keir Starmer, a former Director of Public Prosecutions. “His work should be accepted by the court”, she said. Her tone and demeanour made it clear that she was very critical of the courts. Later she said the social worker should keep an open mind in investigations like this. She hoped that she herself had kept an open mind. When asked whether it was her working hypothesis that C and T were sexually abused, she said that C’s behaviour especially was indicative of abuse but she repeated, she hoped she had kept an open mind. Her actual words which follow are important. Her tone was distinctly barbed as she uttered them:

 

 

 

 

“I do not know whether C was abused or not. As her voice in social care I am directed by our research at the local authority even though the court may not be… C’s behaviour led to a very strong correlation with sexual abuse. The first time she presented as a victim of sexual abuse was on 17th December.”

 

  1. When asked what was indicative of sexual abuse on that occasion she answered:

 

 

 

 

“C’s behaviour. I was hearing all sorts of things from the school and what she had done… It’s the skill of a social worker to ascertain what is the likely cause of her behaviours.’

 

 

 

Use of the word “disclosure”

 

  1. She said:

 

 

 

 

“I was told this judge doesn’t like the use of the word ‘disclosure’ for allegations by children. I understand that courts in general don’t like the use of the word ‘disclosure’.” She had not read the Cleveland report of 1987 and did not know if it criticised the use of the word “disclosure” by professionals.

 

(It does disappoint me that a social worker dealing with a sexual abuse investigation would never have read the Cleveland report, but I can’t say hand on heart that I’m astounded by it. I do think there’s a general lack of understanding that ‘allegation’ should be used instead of ‘disclosure’ and why that is – broadly that disclosure as a word is perjorative – it implies truth. I can disclose that I ate your Jaffa Cakes (because it is true), I can’t disclose that I walked on the surface of Mars. So if I say that Mr X punched me, you don’t know whether it is true until the Court have decided it – it is an allegation at that point, not a disclosure. )

 

There was a very peculiar exchange about SW’s first meeting with C.

17th December 2012

 

  1. I must examine the events of this day very carefully, for they set the tone for what was to follow and go to heart of the case. This was the day of SW’s first meeting with C. The case had been closed by the local authority a couple of weeks before following earlier complaints by C. On the 14th December, as we know, the school told the local authority that C was still unhappy and did not want to go home. When she was allocated the case, probably on Friday 14th, SW skimmed through the electronic file provided to her by the local authority. She would have done this as quickly as possible, she said. (The court notes that this file was in fact just seven pages – a very short file indeed, and would not have taken long to read fully.) Part of this short file comprised the handover notes of Fiona Johnson, the previous social worker. These were reported as follows:

 

 

 

 

  1. a) C had alleged being hit, though the school believed there were no marks ever left on her. According to her, everyone seemed to cause her upset. The family upset her and all the family hurt her, except for D. Her brothers, especially B, beat her up.

 

  1. b) Other children had all been spoken to and all had said that they had never been hit by the parents.

 

  1. c) C had reported no major health issues.

 

  1. d) There were no concerns about A.

 

  1. e) All the other children were happy at home.

 

  1. SW appears not to have accepted this. ‘I wondered if C was unhappy, did it mean that the other children were unhappy.’ On skim-reading the notes, ‘I wondered if something was going on.’ Although, she accepted that there was nothing in the notes to this effect, it was her impression on reading them that this was Mrs Johnson’s impression too. So she had gone to the meeting believing that there was more she needed to understand about C’s self-harm, and about the pictures and drawings which she had drawn and made at the school. She had no idea of what this might be. She was asked whether she had any suspicions and there was a noticeable pause before she answered, “No” but she then added, “But we can partner certain behaviours with certain types of abuse”.

 

 

 

  1. On the second page of the seven pages of files notes handed on from Mrs Johnson, there is mention that, “The child has a bit of a fixation with Miss G”. The note also referred to Facebook entries which needed to be dealt with. SW said she did not recall this entry or how she had dealt with it. At any rate she had not known whether the fixation comment was correct or not. She was quite dismissive in giving evidence about this topic, the court noted from her demeanour. It is obvious that she did not think, and has never thought, it to be of any relevance whatsoever.

 

 

 

  1. SW duly met C at school in the presence of Miss Z on the 17th December, 2012. The child was anxious and ‘difficult to engage in so many ways”, she elaborated. She found the meeting very difficult. Sometimes her head was down, she was kicking the chair, her head was behind her ‘hoodie’, she was challenging and unwilling to talk about anything. Most of the time she was ‘a shrinking violet’. She seemed frightened and anxious and unwilling to talk and engage. There were very long silences. Nonetheless SW that she wanted to engage. In spite of this, the meeting took what the court considers a quite extraordinarily long time. According to SW, it started at 12 noon and ended at 3:30 or 4 p.m. (The note she wrote in her car afterwards was timed at 3:30 p.m.) During those 3½ hours she had left the room to contact the child abuse unit at Luton Borough Council and in particular Mr Graham Cole, the head of legal services there. And of course a lot of time, she repeated, there was, silence. As her evidence progressed, the court’s impression was that she trying to row back from her original time estimate. Eventually she said that the interview was perhaps ‘1½ hours, maybe shorter, maybe longer’. C had been given the chance to leave the meeting several times. Once she did leave but returned of her own volition. In this meeting it was difficult to understand what C said. Miss Z would say what C had said and C would either nod or shake her head. She soon realised that C hated to be asked to repeat what she had said. Neither she nor Miss Z took a note during the meeting, “It would be an abnormal thing for a social worker to take notes when interviewing a child other than during an ABE interview.’

 

 

 

  1. At 3.30pm, in her car, she made notes of the meeting. It was her practice to note down as soon as possible the important points of an interview note, which appears to two pages, is one of the few handwritten notes by her before the court:

 

 

 

 

“Very difficult meeting”, “Comes in when no one is there”, “Does stuff, bad stuff”, “Really bad things”, “Secrets”, “Where’s mum? Downstairs, out”, “Have you tried to talk to her about it? No point”, “Not allowed to talk about it”, “Couldn’t expand”, “Hits me. Kicks”, “Notice leg was sore, limping a little. Said dad had kicked/hit her last Sunday”, “Wouldn’t show me”, “Appeared very frightened/frozen”, “Didn’t want anyone to know what she’d said”, “Wanted to go into foster care”, “Hate family, hate mum, hate him”, “Gets beaten up at home – brothers, dad”, “Doesn’t feel safe at home”, “Does not feel there is anyone she could turn/talk to at home”, “Said she wanted to die”, “Does stuff he shouldn’t”, “Happened more than once”.

 

  1. A crucial element in this case revolves around what SW said in her statement of 20th December, 2012 about the interview three days before. The relevant part of the statement reads as follows:

 

 

 

 

“[C] disclosed sexual abuse by her father during this meeting. She told me that her father comes up to her room and does really bad things. Through discussion it was established that she clearly understood that there were areas of her body that no one should touch and this is where her father touched her. [C] found it extremely hard to expand on this although did manage to share that her father told her that she must not tell anyone and that the bad things would happen if she did. It was also established that [C] knew about her body, her sexual organs and other people’s. After ensuring I was confident [C] knew what sexual abuse was, she confirmed that this is what had been happening to her.”

 

  1. When it was pointed out to her that the handwritten notes make no mention of sexual abuse, SW caused, it must be said, considerable consternation in court in all quarters by asserting that there was a page missing from her notes. There was definitely a third page, she remembered. She remembered the Local Authority solicitor, Ms Abana Sarma’s collecting this document. She was most concerned that this page was missing because this page dealt with the sexual abuse allegations made by C on 17th December. Furthermore, this page had been before HHJ Davies at her fact finding hearing in June, 2013.

 

 

 

  1. She was referred to a number of documents from the court bundle. First was a police note of 17th December which states, ” [C] did not disclose sexual abuse”. Then she was referred to the transcript of HHJ Davies’s judgment at the end of the 13th June, 2013 hearing, which made mention of the content of the two pages long since disclosed, but none of the contents of the apparently now missing third page. Furthermore, the transcript of that hearing shows that the father’s counsel cross-examined SW on the discrepancy between the note of 17th December interview which did not record sexual abuse being mentioned and her later assertion that C had alleged sexual abuse at the interview. Indeed, when SW was specifically questioned about the fact that her notes did not include any mention of sexual abuse, she did not refer to any missing page. She was again referred to the transcript of evidence given at the earlier hearing when she was specifically herself asked under oath whether in the discussion of 17th December C had elaborated on “bad things” and she had answered, “No, not at this point”. Nonetheless, she said, she would not agree that C only went as far as saying “bad things”, although she did not recall what other words C had used. It was two years ago.

 

 

 

  1. Mr. Geekie, for the local authority now rose and said that the local authority was totally unaware of any missing third page of notes. Indeed, he said the whole of the fact finding trial was conducted on the basis of the two pages of notes only. This accorded with the memory of all those counsel for the other parties who had been present at that earlier hearing. If that was not enough, it was pointed out by the Local Authority’s solicitor, and agreed by counsel who had been present at the earlier hearing before HHJ Davies, that the bundles that the court was using at the current hearing were those used then, merely brought up to date by the addition of further documents. The court bundles then and now, did and do not include any third page of notes.

 

 

 

  1. In spite of being faced with what might have been thought an especially daunting body of evidence, SW was not to be budged. She repeated that she had given the third page of notes to Ms Abana Sarma of the local authority, that it was definitely referred to during HHJ Davies’s hearing, and that the missing page had stated that C had alleged sexual abuse. She could see the second page in her mind’s eye. There were several entries on it. Furthermore, it was shown to the police at the strategy meeting shortly after 17th December 2012, even though the police record of what happened on that date says that no sexual abuse was alleged by the child.

 

 

 

  1. When further questioned, she accepted that pages one and two of the notes before the court were consecutive, and were a complete document, so the third page could not have been the middle page of the three. The missing page was, she said, a second note written at a different time in the interview. This was despite her earlier evidence that she had not taken notes during the interview, and that it was her practice never to do so during interviews. She said she had discussed the contents of the third page with the police and her team manager. She then said belligerently, “I want to know why the second page is missing”.

 

 

 

  1. She then added that, apart from words, she relied on the non-verbal signals from C; the self-harm, the fact that she walked out of the interview, the hiding behind the hoodie, the fact that she started and stopped saying things and the fact that she wanted to go into care. She said this:

 

 

 

 

“Because of her words, in my professional opinion I felt she was the victim or at risk of sexual abuse. It is important that a social worker should be brave enough to say this.”

 

  1. She was then rude to counsel saying, “I’ve clocked where you’re going a long time ago” and then to me, “I hope this court does this case justice”.

 

 

The Judge had to make findings about this

 

Findings about the 17th December interview

 

  1. As for SW’s contention that C alleged sexual abuse to a total stranger on this occasion, this is plainly mistaken. The police note of the same date specifically records that no sexual abuse was alleged. The application for an Emergency Protection Order dated the 20th December and signed by the Local Authority’s Head of Legal services does not say that sexual abuse was actually alleged, only that C’s remarks ‘were suggestive of sexual abuse’. The notes made by SW after the conversation make no mention of sexual abuse. Her contention that a page of notes is missing, and that this page was before HHJ Davies in the earlier hearing, is simply ludicrous, for this would have meant that all counsel and solicitors, not to mention HHJ Davies, must have, unless through quite startling collective amnesia, willfully colluded in ignoring vital evidence during the hearing, and that the learned judge deliberately omitted mention of it in her judgment. It is also ludicrous to suppose that, when writing her notes in her car, SW wrote down relatively trivial allegations, but omitted to record the infinitely more serious accusation of sexual abuse.

 

 

 

  1. The reality is that when one stands back and looks at what happened, one can see just how serious this situation was and is. Based in part on, the Local Authority now sought and obtained the peremptory removal of C from her family on the 20th December 2012, and the following day sought and obtained an Interim Care Order. In each case the tribunal notes show that the decision was made, in part, on the basis that C had alleged sexual abuse. The removal of children from their parents, especially without notice, is one of the most draconian actions any court can take. It strikes right at the heart of basic human rights, on family life; it is frightening and traumatic for the children involved, and profoundly distressing for parents and other family. Sadly, the courts are required from time to time to sanction such removal, but only when safety and urgency requires it. In making such urgent orders, the courts must rely on the accuracy of Local Authority evidence. Whilst they cannot know whether any allegation is true or false, the courts are entitled to be told the truth by Local Authorities as to whether such an allegation has been made at all. The Family Court and the child-care justice system cannot function if Local Authorities do not tell the truth about this, for justice will inevitably be perverted.

 

 

 

  1. Responsibility for this cannot be laid wholly at the feet of one social worker. Others in the Local Authority must share responsibility, although, as I have said, on the evidence before it, the Court cannot and will not apportion this to particular individuals. The court freely acknowledges that all Local Authorities’ resources are over-stretched, and that social-work professionals are often alarmingly over-worked and under time pressures. Nonetheless, there should have been proper, efficient supervision of SW. Furthermore, the application for an EPO did not record an actual allegation of sexual abuse, whilst an application of the same date for an ICO did. With proper supervision and scrutiny this discrepancy should surely have been picked up by senior professionals at Luton Borough Council

 

 

After the first finding of fact hearing, and knowing that there was an appeal pending, the SW went to see the child to talk about the findings that had been made. It gets worse

 

Telling C about HHJ Davies’s findings of the 22nd June 2013

 

  1. SW visited C immediately afterwards to tell her of the findings. This was on the advice of CAMHS. C said that ‘he did it to A too’. SW had known then that there was going to be an appeal, but C was desperate to know what had happened and she was worried that C was at risk of suicide. The note of that meeting reads as follows:

 

 

 

 

“I then began by telling her that the local authority, us, had, as she knew, concerns about a number of things but we had asked the court to make a judgment/decision on these. I asked C whether she knew what those concerns were, she nodded but I decided to go through these. I said from what you have told me so far and from what I have learned from working with you and your family, I have been concerned that you are a victim and have suffered sexual abuse. C looked at me eyes moist but intently listening, she nodded. I said the concerns were also that the person who caused this to you was your father. C starred very intently at me nodding again and I carried on. I said the judge decided that after hearing all of the information that it was mostly likely to have been him. C remained staring at me, eyes a little more moist and said, ‘It was’. I then said the judge also found/decided that this had happened to T. I clarified this and said that the judge decided it was more likely than not that your father had also sexually abused T. C remained looking intently at me. C then said, ‘He did it to A too. She told me and I promised to keep it a secret, you need to talk to A. I said that we would and could she tell me a bit more. C said, ‘I promised I would keep it a secret'”.

 

 

  1. She herself has always been adamant that it never happened. The court is wholly satisfied that she was never abused by her father. It follows, therefore, that either C herself was making up the allegation to please SW in the light of the learned judge’s findings, or SW was making it up. On the balance of probabilities, the court is satisfied that SW was, as usual, putting words in the child’s mouth and then pretending they had come from the child.

 

That’s an incredibly damning finding, and one that clearly survived the Court of Appeal decision. The SW was, as usual, putting words in the child’s mouth and then pretending they had come from the child. Incredibly damning.

 

On the total number of ABEs

How many ABE interviews were there in January 2014?

 

  1. SW’s initial evidence was that there were six ABE interviews of C in all. One was on 4th October when “C said nothing” and another five in January 2014. When she returned to complete her evidence a few days later, she disclosed further documentation she said she had found at home, as well as her mobile phone she brought to court her 2014 diary and some loose sheets of paper she said she had found in the 2013 diary. She had not brought her 2013 diary with her to court as she did not think it was necessary.

 

 

 

  1. It was interesting that some of the loose pages of typed notes do not appear in or are cross-referenced to the documents previously disclosed by the local authority. She was asked how she had typed these notes. She said she would ‘audibly’ type notes on the local authority’s Care First system and sometimes this would go down and so she would type the notes on a standard word document format and transfer them later onto the system. Many times she was asked by the local authority to type up her documents on her own computer. She complained about being required to do this by the local authority to their legal department. When she did type documents at home, she never saved them. She would scan them and then ask someone else to scan them into the system back in the office. She would have expected all the loose pages found by her to be on the local authority’s Care First system. She typed up the notes of every substantial meeting with C and would expect them all to be on the system. She did not know why these notes were not on the system.

 

 

 

  1. She referred to her 2014 diary and to a number of entries in it. These contain the words, “C ABE on…” and then five dates …’ 23rd 27th, 28th, 29th and 31st January’. There are question marks next to the 27th, 28th and 29th January. She explained that the question marks were because the social workers were not sure whether C wanted to go through with the interviews. She still believed that C had done five ABE interviews in January, and six in all if the October ABE interview was counted, for that was what her records showed. She said, “My memory was that it went on for several days in January… I am ‘sure’ it was six interviews in all”. For the avoidance of doubt, there were no times when they took C to a police station and an interview did not take place.

 

 

 

  1. She later was referred in due course to her a file note of 12th December, 2013 which reads as follows, “C has now completed five ABE interviews, disclosed rape by father and V. She has also said she has been pregnant twice”. The date of 12th December 2013 does not make sense in the context of the timescale, the court notes. As to the substance of the note, SW commented that the reference here to five ABE interviews, “accords with my recollection. I recall five that week”. She then changed her evidence, something she did very frequently whenever she was in the witness box, saying that there had been, in fact, one attempted ABE interview that week in January and one aborted ABE interview. Added to those ABE interviews for which we have recordings and transcripts, that made six ABE interviews in all.

 

 

 

  1. It shows the extraordinary nature of this case that the court has had to consider whether C was ABE interviewed three or five times in January 2014. The evidence of the police officers, SWA ‘Y’ and Miss G collectively suggest that were but three. SW believes there were five. I prefer their collective memory. Accordingly I find that there were four ABE interviews only

 

It won’t surprise any reader to know that that the ABEs were very flawed – with leading questions, pressure, questions about things that weren’t alleged, the child being praised for giving answers that the questioners wanted to hear, disappointment from professionals where the child wasn’t making allegations (those being described as ‘failed ABEs)

 

And on the number of times C was interviewed about her allegations

Findings about the January ABE Interviews

 

  1. Save with one exception, the local authority does not rely on anything said in these interviews.

 

 

 

  1. It is submitted by Mr. Storey that C underwent literally hundreds of interviews. This is partly based on Miss G’s agreement that she had hundreds of interviews/discussions herself with C. The court is satisfied that this is, in fact, an exaggeration. The court must be cautious not to confuse spontaneous remarks made by a child or short informal chats with formal questioning. Nonetheless, doing its best, the court is satisfied that the child has had no fewer than 33 interviews about abuse with one or other social worker between 17th December 2012 and 31st January 2014. By “interviews” I mean either formal interviews or detailed question and answer discussions which went beyond the odd throwaway mark, or the odd question and reply. In addition, there appear to have been five similar discussions of a detailed nature with school teachers, seven with a foster carer and, of course, with Dr. van Rooyen and one with PO. On top of this, there were four ABE interviews. This makes, if the court’s mathematics is correct, an alarming total of 51. 12 of them were conducted wholly by untrained interlocutors in the form of the foster carer and the school teachers, and the rest were professionals whose ability to follow guidelines seems to have been non-existent. In addition, there can be no doubt that there were many, many other informal unreported conversations at school, in the foster home and when social workers brought C to and from school, which happened ’99 per cent of the time’.

 

 

 

  1. Furthermore, the court’s criticism is directed not only to those who conducted the interviews, but to those who sat outside and saw and listened to what happened: the social workers and teachers in the room next door. As professionals working in the field of childcare, they should have intervened to stop the 28th and 31st January interviews. They did not.

 

 

 

  1. Quite apart from the content of the interviews which were recorded, it is thoroughly reprehensible what was said before, during breaks and after the recorded parts was either inadequately noted, or not noted at all. The court is wholly satisfied that relevant matters were discussed at the police station at these times. All the professionals seemed to have operated on the false premise that what was said outside the interview room did not count.

 

 

As has been mentioned earlier, at around week four of the finding of fact hearing, an allegation was made that C had been pregnant twice. By the end of the hearing, the Local Authority were not relying on anything said by C in her ABE or other interviews other than this.

 

Findings about the 31st January pregnancy allegations

 

  1. It is incomprehensible to the court that the local authority, having conceded that no reliance should be placed on what was said by C during the three January ABE interviews, in the talks before it, in breaks or afterwards, should seek to rely on one short interchange about pregnancies, which took place during or immediately after the 31st January interview. How can a few words only, during or at the end of one of them, be exempted? It seems to the court illogical and perverse.

 

 

 

 

  1. The evidence about this episode is far from complete. Nonetheless, the court is satisfied that either during a break or at the end of the 31st January ABE interview, C made drawings and said things which led the police and the social workers to believe that she was alleging that she had been pregnant twice when she was much younger, and had either born two babies or lost them for one reason or another. Their names were Jack and Rose. She had also been given the morning-after pill. We do not know precisely what C said because the note-taking was hopelessly inadequate. The allegations were and have been taken seriously, for allegations that C conceived twice were added to the schedule of findings to be sought during the currency of the present hearing. Yet these allegations seemed, as was put to IO ‘W’, to have disappeared into the ether until they were unearthed late in the day.

 

 

 

  1. These allegations were very, very serious. So why was it that the first the court and the parties knew of this issue was during the hearing? Why did no social worker or police officer ever mention it? Why does it appear in no statements? The answer, regrettably, must be, not because the allegations were made outside a formal ABE interview, but because the local authority and the police realised only too well that they were ludicrous. They simply could not be true. They did not fit in with C’s medical records or the age when she attained puberty.

 

One of the other children, T, gave evidence

 

 

 

 

  1. T in her oral evidence disputed much of SW’s evidence about this meeting. She was particularly adamant that on 1st February 2013 she had never mentioned sexual abuse by the father. They had not really talked about this at all. Furthermore, she had never told SW that she had reported the abuse to her mother. “This was wrong!” Nor had she ever said that her mother had sent her off to live with her Aunt B, because of the abuse, nor was SW’s note accurate when it recorded that T had said that Aunt B had not believed her until she caught it out actually happening. “I did not say these things”.

 

 

 

  1. T then denied that she had ever told SW that the sexual abuse was the reason why she did not get on with her parents and why she would not leave her children with them. The reason she did not get on with her parents was, “because they always have a go at me’. She clarified this by explaining that her parents had not approved of her sleeping with a boyfriend from school. When she had left home she did it not because she was forced to and because she wanted to. Furthermore, she had, indeed, left her children in the mother and father’s care on many occasions. Indeed, she had not had a conversation with SW about her own children at all.

 

 

 

  1. During this part of her evidence, the court noted that T spoke with particular conviction. The court accepts her version of what was said, not least because the pattern here is similar to what happened on the 17th December.

 

 

 

  1. T did not like this. SW was aware of that. On 5th February 2013 she rang T, “To tell her that she did not have to do anything she did not want to”. This was in response to a telephone call from the mother to the Local Authority earlier that day. The next day, 6th February, the Local Authority received a typed letter signed by T. The key passage of that letter is as follows:

 

 

 

 

“SW from the children’s social services department in Luton keeps ringing me and keeps trying to contact me regarding me to make a statement about my dad, F, saying he had molested me at a young age to which of my knowledge none of this has happened. I am not willing to make a statement as it would be a false allegation. In my eye SW is dealing with my sister’s case, C, as she has no success in that one she is trying to manipulate and intimidate me to make a statement which I will not do. I would like SW to have no contact with me.”

 

  1. For reasons I shall give later, I am satisfied that this letter did genuinely reflect T’s feelings. Furthermore, I am wholly satisfied that T did not make any allegations of sexual abuse on the 1st February 2013.

 

 

 

I could do an entire post about the flaws in the ABEs, to be honest, but there’s just so much in this judgment. I will end with the concluding remarks

 

 

 

 

Concluding observations

 

  1. One can only pray that the adults, and children, may recover from their unimaginable ordeal, though I fear that they will carry the scars of their suffering for the rest of their lives. As for C, with her underlying problems, the damage may well be irreparable. So much now needs to be done to see what damage can be repaired and how family relationships can be restored.

 

 

 

  1. This court has no jurisdiction over C beyond this fact-finding. But that cannot prevent my emphasising how urgent it is that her case be re-opened. The existing care order was made on the basis of incomplete evidence. The parents’ approach in not opposing the order was adopted in ignorance of the true facts. This injustice must be rectified.

 

 

 

  1. The court cannot entrust the care of children to those who abuse or fail to protect them. That applies to local authorities as much as to family members. Parties must have faith in those who care for their children.

 

 

 

  1. The local authority have already undertaken to commence forthwith a Serious Case Review, and rightly so. But it must go further.

 

 

 

  1. This situation poses grave dangers for family justice. Valuable court time is taken up weighing such breaches against the evidence and of course, there is the risk that not only may false information be garnered in interview, but that genuine allegations may be so contaminated that they cannot be relied upon. Those who permit their employees to question children and vulnerable witness must therefore be certain that not only have they received the standard training but they understand what it means in practice.

 

 

 

  1. This case has taken up an inordinate amount of the court’s time, but rightly so in the circumstances. Yet the cost to the public purse in one form or another will be immense. There has been a significant disruption of court lists, with other cases being delayed. Family justice cannot perform the vital task it does in protecting children without honesty, objectivity, transparency and fairness. I thus hope that no court ever again has to see and hear what this court has seen and heard during the past weeks.

 

 

High Court admonishes Guardian, psychiatrist and (to a lesser and interesting extent) Child’s Solicitor

Re F v H and Another 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/3358.html

This was a knotty and horrendous private law case in which parents separated and mother made a series of grave and utterly unfounded allegations that the father had sexually abused the child. She persuaded a series of doctors to undertake intimate examinations of the child and later left the country with the child when the Court hearings were going against her. The Family Court then placed the child with the father and directed that there should be a psychiatric evaluation of the mother to see if there was any prospect of contact taking place.

The judge said that “the court cannot envisage a situation whereby it could be considering looking at direct contact again other than where she has received extensive psychological therapeutic help.” The decision of the judge in respect of the need for the 1st Respondent to receive treatment prior to contact taking place or to any reintroduction of her mother was based on the welfare of B and the evidence of the 1st Respondent’s behaviour. It was wholly justified.

During the period where mother was awaiting criminal trial for the child abduction, she continued to make a series of allegations about father to professional agencies, all unfounded. Mother received a four month sentence for the child abduction offence, suspended for six months.

When the psychiatric report finally emerged, it wasn’t terribly useful, since the psychiatrist had decided to do the report without reading the judgment from the family Court about her behaviour that had led to the need for the report… And he believed everything that the mother said and recommended strongly that the FATHER was the one who needed a psychiatric assessment.

Safe to say that Ms Justice Russell was unimpressed by that approach.

28.There was no psychiatric assessment of the 1st Respondent so that on the 20th March 2017 when there is a further hearing before the judge this issue remained outstanding as the reports ordered by the court on 29th February 2016 and 25th May 2016 have not been produced. In March 2017, the Court again “made it clear” that this is 1st Respondent’s last opportunity to cooperate with a psychiatric assessment and she did not attend the next appointment arranged for her, her application would be dismissed and a s91(14) (CA) order would be made for a period of two years.

29.Finally, on 25th May 2017 the 1st Respondent was seen by a psychiatrist, Dr Oyebode, who filed a report on 5th June 2017. For reason that are far from clear to this court and to the court below Dr Oyebode conducted his assessment of the 1st Respondent without reading the court documents provided to him, including the judgments; instead he read and relied on the documents given to him by the 1st Respondent and the report of Dr Beider (who had not seen the documents or had access to them at all). Thus, his assessment was partisan, based on the 1st Respondents version of the history of events and on psychiatric evidence obtained outside the family court proceedings and without the permission of the judge.

30.Moreover, not only had Dr Oyebode had not challenged the 1st Respondent on the basis of the court documents or judgement (because he had failed to read them) he also accepted her assertion that the 1st Respondent had made no further allegations since 2014; this was patently untrue as she had made allegations in 2016 and sought to defend the criminal case on the basis of duress and necessity. He neither referred to or considered the 1st Respondent’s behaviour which led the court to make non-molestation injunctions against her. In direct contradiction of the judgment of the court he reached the conclusion that the 1st Respondent was a capable mother who had genuine concerns for her daughter’s welfare. He suggested that the Appellant undergo psychiatric treatment, having accepted the 1st Respondent’s version of events. Quite rightly the judge, at the hearing on the 9th August 2017, described Dr Oyebode’s report as offering the court no assistance and as being “completely flawed”.

That psychiatric assessment being worthless, the case then took a significantly wrong turn.

31.At a further hearing before the judge on 21st June 2017 B was joined as a party to the proceedings and on 5th July 2017 Catherine Callaghan (a Cafcass officer) was appointed as her guardian. Ms Callaghan was provided with some limited papers, consisting of parents’ last statements and Dr Oyebode’s report on 7th July 2017. She met the Appellant and B briefly on 19th July 2017. The guardian spent some two hours with the 1st Respondent on 26th July 2017. She did not receive the court papers, which include the judgments, until 28th July 2017. She could not have been, and was not in, a position to challenge the 1st Respondent’s version of events when she met her; and her views at the time would have be based on what she knew then, which included the flawed and inadequate report of Dr Oyebode. The Guardian did not see the parties or the child again. Although she had had sight of the case papers before preparation of her position statement this was not until after she had seen the parties and her meetings with them to place in ignorance of the circumstances of this case.

32.At six o’clock in the evening of 8th August 2017 the guardian’s solicitor sent her position statement to parties which included the recommendation that there should be direct supervised contact for the 1st Respondent with B. I shall return to her position below; but she had not prepared any analysis or report for the court, which considered the welfare of the child with reference to the statutory provisions contained in s1 of the CA 1989; nor did she explain to the court what form the contact would take; any details of the explanation of what was to happen, and by whom, would be given to the child. She did not proffer any advice to the court as to what would happen if, on the receipt of competent psychiatric assessment of the 1st Respondent, it was found that the risks to B of further harm was considered to be high, without some prior professional intervention. The judge did not hear any oral evidence.

33.The next day on 9th August 2017 the judge, in what she described as a finely balanced decision, which from her judgment, was a decision based largely on the oral submissions made on behalf of the guardian, acceded to the application made on the instructions of Ms Callaghan and made an order which provides for direct contact between B and the 1st Respondent supervised by the guardian herself. The judge stayed the order for direct contact until 30th August to allow for the application for permission to appeal to go before the High Court. In her short judgement, the judge set out her reasons for reaching the decision that some supervised contact should go ahead which, as previously observed were based largely, if not wholly, on the guardian’s recommendations.

34.The precondition for any reintroduction of contact, which the judge had repeatedly reiterated, was not only that the 1st Respondent’s mental health had to be assessed, but also that there should be some treatment with her commenced to avoid repetition of her previous harmful behaviour towards B. Following the oral submission of the guardian (who is not qualified to assess the 1st Respondent’s likely psychiatric or psychological response to any reintroduction to B) the judge reversed the decisions she had made previously. The decisions she had previously made were properly based on the evidence before the court that there should be prior assessment and treatment (as set out above) there was no evidence before the court which supported a reversal of that decision. Moreover, as a result of the inadequacies of the psychiatric report, on 10th August 2017 an agreed letter of instruction was sent to Dr Datta to carry out a further assessment of the 1st Respondent. This letter, agreed by the parties, contained the instruction that the “Mother continues to be of the view that [B] is not safe in her father’s care.”

Ms Justice Russell sets out in detail why the Judge was wrong to have resiled from her earlier position that contact could not be countenanced until there had been a proper psychiatric evaluation of the mother, and largely blames the Guardian for persuading the Judge to do so, and moreover, to have fallen into much the same trap as the psychiatrist – in conducting investigations and reaching conclusions without having properly engaged with the source material.

The father, obviously, appealed and that is how the case came before Ms Justice Russell.

37.The history of this case has been set out at some length as it forms the background to the decision the judge made on 9th August 2017. When viewed as a whole the harm caused to this child by her mother was significant. Not only was she found to have repeatedly subjected to intimate examinations, solely at the behest of her mother, she was prevented from having uninhibited relationship with her father as an infant. On any view, the repeated invasive intimate examination, as found by the judge and set out in her judgment, were in themselves abusive and any long-term effects on B, along with any emotional trauma that may have been at the time, has never been investigated or assessed.

38.The guardian has seen this child on one occasion for a brief period yet she has seen fit to reach conclusions as to the child’s resilience and current psychological and emotional status and ability to deal not only with the re-introduction of her mother but also with the possible, if not probable, cessation of contact should that prove to be necessary. There is no analysis of how she reaches these conclusions, no details of her qualifications to do so and no application of the welfare checklist in reaching her conclusions. Consequently, the judge was wrong to rely on them and to effectively reverse her previous decisions on what amounts to flimsy evidence.

39.The emphasis and assumptions of the guardian are apparently based on the need to reintroduce contact with the child’s mother. If so this is a misinterpretation of the law; although that the amendments to section 8 of the CA and section 1(2A), introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014 emphasised the presumption that unless the contrary is shown, involvement of a parent in the life of a child will further the child’s welfare, this presumption is subject to the requirement that the parent concerned may be involved in the child’s life in a way that does not put the child at risk of suffering harm. This case includes findings of abusive behaviour towards B by her mother, which, if repeated would compromise the child’s safety and reintroduce the possibility of further harm, both physical and emotional.

40.B is a young and vulnerable child whose first few years of life were blighted by her mother’s irrational, abusive and harmful behaviour culminating in an B’s unlawful abduction. The courts can and should consider ordering no contact when the child’s welfare and safety demand it

(illuminating to compare and contrast with the Court of Appeal stance on the transgender father v ultra-Orthodox jewish community case earlier this month…)

Get ready for the pain

Conclusions
47.While it is understandable that the judge acceded to the guardian’s application, it is the decision of this court that she was wrong to do so. The guardian was quite simply not qualified or equipped to reach the conclusions that she did in respect of this child’s psychological and emotional resilience. She was even less qualified to assess the 1st Respondent’s mental state and her ability to conduct herself appropriately when B spent time with her. She had carried out anything other than a cursory consideration of the history, evidence and court documents before she briefly met the child with her father; little wonder failed adequately to explain the basis of her conclusions.

48.In a case such as this with a protracted, complex and convoluted history it is incumbent on the professionals who are called on to proffer advice and recommendations to the court, be they Cafcass officers or others concerned with child welfare, to fully inform themselves about the case and, at the very least, read through the judgments before they commence their investigations. Nor should they consider experimenting or trying out with contact for the child or children concerned against a background of previous harmful behaviour and abduction; in this case the guardian even accepted that contact may prove to be unsuccessful and be terminated or suspended again. Any contact that took place would have provided little or no useful evidence for the court as the guardian is unqualified properly to assess this mother’s ability to deal with and contain her behaviour. For that reason, and for those set out above this appeal will be allowed.

That’s a serious burn. Is it fair and justified? Well, I will leave that to the reader to decide.

The bit that interested me was this, however.

In relation to the position statement filed on behalf of the Child’s Solicitor (bear in mind that the child in question is 4 1/2, so absolutely no prospect of the child being competent to give instructions or even to give their views to the solicitor independently) the Court said :-

There was and are no submissions on behalf of the guardian as to why and on what basis she purported to have reached this conclusion on behalf of this child. A child who as, on any view, be subjected to repeated intimate physical intrusion, flight to Israel and had been fed misinformation about her father throughout her infancy. The solicitor for the child has, apparently, acted solely on the instructions of guardian and failed to include any separate analysis of the child’s position in her position statement.

I’ll give you the last bit again

The solicitor for the child has, apparently, acted solely on the instructions of guardian and failed to include any separate analysis of the child’s position in her position statement

I suspect there are many solicitors for children saying to themselves, well of course the solicitor acted solely on the instructions of the guardian. The child was 4 1/2.

Is it the place of the solicitor for the child to disagree with the instructions of her professional client (where the lay client is not in a position to give instructions?) – is it the place of the solicitor for the child to lay out in a position statement a case wholly in the alternative to that the Guardian is instructing should be pursued?

That seems a stretch to me. I think it is acceptable that the solicitor for the child ask the Guardian to address some of the consequences of the course recommended and provide analysis as to why, despite any adverse consequences it is the preferred option. But if the Guardian sticks by her course, I don’t think the solicitor for the child can advance in a position statement an argument contrary to her instructions.

(Of course, if the Guardian is making a mistake in law, or there is authority contrary to the position being advanced the solicitor for the child has to draw this to the Court’s attention, but I’m not sure that’s the case here. That possibility is raised earlier, so I may be misreading. It seems to me though that this is an issue not as to law and principle but a welfare and risk analysis by the Guardian. If the child’s solicitor and the Guardian disagree about welfare and risk analysis then they should thrash it out in discussions, sure, but ultimately it is the view of the Guardian that goes into the position statement and is advanced at Court, not the view of the child’s solicitor. )

I shall keep an eye out as to whether this theme recurs.