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Missing child – left in police station

 

In this case, Newton J was very critical of both London Borough of Brent and the advocate who had originally appeared (who is not named and who is NOT the Mr Bain representing the Local Authority at this hearing)

 

London Borough of Brent and K 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/658.html

 

B was a 16 year old child, in foster care. She had had a very difficult life and had been drawn into Child Sexual Exploitation as a victim. She absconded from her foster home. The Local Authority applied to the High Court for a collection order, and the Court was told that arrangements were in place for what would happen if and when the police located her.

 

In actuality, what happened was that the police located her that same day, at 7.30pm. They notified Brent of this. Brent were told at 7.58pm, by which time the case was with their Emergency team. Nobody turned up to collect this child until 2.30am, during which time she had remained at a police station. She didn’t leave the police station to go to a foster placement until 3.02 am

What happened in those intervening hours is nothing short of disgraceful. The Local Borough of Brent was told at 19:58 that the order had been executed. The Duty Team responded half an hour later. When they did respond it was to say that no adequate arrangements were in place, either for placement or transport. 

 

Remember that in making the collection order, the High Court had been told that afternoon that such arrangements WERE in place.

The strong message must go to all authorities that what occurred in this case is totally unacceptable, it has failed everyone, but principally B. It must not happen again.

 

What was happening in the meantime for B was deeply wrong

  1. The police, who self evidently ought to be dealing with other matters, had two response officers to sit with B, this vulnerable young person for several hours whilst the business of a busy police station continued around them. It hardly needs stating how inappropriate such an environment must have been for B. As a result of that, six extra officers were needlessly kept on overtime to cover their duties, at considerable expense. The police in this, as in other examples, in my experience discharged their responsibilities with enormous skill and care, not sadly reflected by the Local Authority.
  2. The police endeavoured to contact the emergency duty team in fact run by a different Authority, Harrow Social Services. The only information that was available to them were the details of the emergency duty team social worker, which, of course, the police already had, and who appeared to be quite unable to assist. The response was slow, she had received no arrangement details (because none existed), and seemed unable to put any in place. They refused to give details of anybody else in authority. The police were able eventually to speak to the emergency duty team social worker, but only after they had called her repeatedly. She refused to give the number of anybody in authority and able to take any decision, and in fact it was only, as I understand it, late in the evening (at 23:50) that the police were eventually given the number and name of the operations director for social care (who had been involved since 21.50), there continued to appear to be a lack of urgency. As a result, in desperation, the police contacted the council call line which is in Liverpool; it is a national call line dealing with all manner of emergencies. They had no contact numbers for Brent. The individuals there were unfortunately unhelpful, and refused even to identify themselves. As a result, B continued to be held in police custody for over seven hours. She was extremely distressed. Whilst I could not fault the dedication and professionalism of the police, it is difficult to imagine a more unsuitable environment.
  3. Eventually an escort arrived at 2.30am. Inexplicably, the Tipstaff were not notified when B had been collected from custody, nor were they notified subsequently of the details of the placement.
  4. It must be clearly understood by all authorities that when they apply to the court for these important and urgent collection orders that firm and appropriate arrangements MUST be in place, and MUST be held in place whilst the child is located. It is simply not acceptable for an application to be granted, as it most usually is, by a Judge and only then for enquiries to be made as to (a) placement and (b) transportation. Failure to do so is a failure by the individuals concerned and by the Authority amounting to abuse upon an already vulnerable child who has a right to protection.

 

 

The Judge was clear that in seeking the collection order itself, Brent had done the right thing and did not want to discourage Local Authorities making such applications when they were warranted, but that there had to be proper plans in place for what would happen when the police located the child, and proper lines of communication between the Local Authority and the police.  It seems ridiculous that the police in this case were driven to ringing numbers for a Council in Liverpool to get some communication with an out of hours service.

  1. What I say should not be thought to be an impediment on authorities making applications for such orders. They have parental responsibility and clearly such orders must be urgently sought in order to protect vulnerable young people, but it is totally unacceptable for them to have to remain in police custody while some sort of plan is cobbled together and then put in place.
  2. I have on this occasion deliberately not named the social workers involved in this case. It is now apparent that details were available to the Emergency Duty Team, because no arrangements had been put in place. [Suesspicous Minds note – I think that should read ‘no details were available’]It is unacceptable, to say the least, that the information given to the court was either inaccurate or misleading, or that placements or transport arrangements were allowed to fall, leaving it to the emergency duty team to try to devise a plan for placement for B, which they were not apparently well placed to do. I have the gravest reservations that the emergency systems in this authority are not remotely suitable or fit for purpose.
  3. The purpose of this judgment is to make sure that the practical arrangements on which the order is based must be in place and durable. Authorities must ensure that they are properly represented by advocates who understand what is required, and are able to give the information that is required by the court, accurate information, that the placements and consequent transport arrangements are ones which are available now and will be retained until the child has been safely recovered.
  4. If this situation ever arises again each individual can expect to be publicly named and shamed. It is incumbent on Authorities to ensure that robust processes are in place. That leaves aside any issue that the child or children concerned may have in their own right in applications or actions against the authority for a lack of care. I make it clear that what has happened in this case demonstrates a lack of proper practice and responsibility and must be rectified.

 

All of this would apply equally to applications for Recovery Orders (save for the bit about notifying the tipstaff) and Recovery Orders are somewhat more common than collection orders.