A Family Court judge has accused social workers of a “deliberate and calculated” alteration of a parenting assessment, the withholding of the original report and lying on oath.
His Honour Judge Mark Horton’s ruling in A, B, C, D & E (Final Hearing), Re  EWFC B186 followed a final ‘welfare’ hearing in care proceedings that began in Juiy 2013 and concerned the welfare of five children aged between 3 and 16. The threshold criteria were proved at a hearing in November and December 2014.
In his latest ruling the judge said he hoped this was an unusual case. “I certainly have not previously come across one quite like it either at the Bar or as a judge.”
HHJ Horton said: “[In] my experience it is exceptional to find a case in which there has been deliberate and calculated alteration of a report prepared by one social worker in order to make that assessment seem less favourable, by another social worker and the Team Manager; the withholding of the original report when it was ordered to be disclosed and the parties to the alterations lying on oath one of them twice, in order to try to cover up the existence of the original report.
“Those people are referred to and named in my December judgment but given the enormity of what they did and the fact they still work as social workers it is right that I should name them again so that practitioners and members of the public coming across them are aware of their shortcomings in this case.”
The social workers named were:
- Sarah Walker Smart, who HHJ Horton found had lied twice to him oath. The judge said he had been told during the latest hearing that she had been promoted to team manager within the authority.
- Kim Goode, Walker Smart's then Manager, who the judge said was the person “who initiated the wholesale alteration of the original report and who attempted to keep the truth from the parties and me”. The original report had contained ‘positives and negatives’. At the time of the last hearing Goode was District Manager for the Isle of Wight, the judge said. He had been told during the hearing that she was still in post.
- Lisa Humphreys, who was Goode's Manager. “Her evidence was deeply unimpressive,” the judge said. “She made a 'hollow' apology to the parents during her evidence; she regarded a social worker lying on oath as ‘foolish’ and she failed to accept any personal responsibility for what had gone on under her management.” At the date of the last hearing she was Assistant Director of Children's Social Care with Lambeth Borough Council, the judge said.
HHJ Horton said he was concerned to learn that the three social workers had not apparently been subject to disciplinary proceedings. He directed that his December 2014 judgment and this latest ruling be sent by the Director for Children’s Services at Hampshire to the council’s Director of Social Services, Ofsted and those social workers’ supervisory bodies “with a view to them considering whether further action against them is required”.
In the latest judgment HHJ Horton recorded that the parents loved their children and the children loved them. “There is a sense of deep and positive emotional relationships within this family. They are very close even after being out of each other's daily company for over 2 years. All professionals have remarked on the positive quality and strengths of their relationships and in delivering this judgment I hold that firmly in mind.”
Despite the quality of these relationships, however, the parents had had difficulty parenting the children to the required minimum standard, he said.
“The harm attributable to the parents was caused by their chronic and deep seated mistrust of professionals who challenge them and which pre-dates the events of July 2013 and their desire not to inflict on their children the experiences they themselves had as children,” the judge reported, noting that both parents had had very difficult childhoods and adolescent years.
“In addition the parents tended to undermine each other as they did not support each other in decision making. These factors led the parents to fail to provide effective boundaries for the children. From this flowed the significant harm I found in December.”
The judge said this inability to set consistent boundaries had “led to appalling neglect of the older children's educational, emotional and social development and neglect of all of the children's health needs”.
The family home had at times been of a standard that fell below that required to meet the children's basic needs, HHJ Horton added. “The younger children were at risk of suffering similar significant harm unless the state intervened.”
After the final hearing, the judge decided he was satisfied that he must make care orders with respect to all five children to the county council.
“I approve the plans for their placements as they are the plans that will promote the children's welfare throughout their minority and protect them from significant harm,” he said. “I am satisfied that no lesser intervention or order can achieve this aim due to the parents' inability to work with professionals, in particular the LA.”
Commenting on the ruling, a spokesperson for Hampshire County Council said: “We are pleased for the sake of the children that the courts have agreed our applications for care orders. This is a very complex case as evidenced in the findings - involving very serious neglect to vulnerable children. We are very pleased that the outcome of the court case was consistent with the local authority’s original application to the court - to safeguard very vulnerable children who were at risk of suffering significant harm as a result of neglect.
“There are some aspects of the Court’s criticism that we believe are not quite correct however, and are considering our position in this regard. We do accept that there were deficiencies in some of the social worker practice in this case and subsequent action was taken, including the termination of one social worker’s employment with the county council. We are satisfied that at no stage did any of the named officers deliberately mislead the courts.”
In his December 2014 judgment HHJ Horton had concluded that the parents' and children's Article 6 and 8 Rights had been breached. “The children had been removed illegally and the parents had not had a fair parenting assessment carried out due amongst other things to all professionals both childcare and legal, failing to identify M's communication difficulties and the need for a psychological assessment.”
Damages claims are to be heard by Hampshire’s designated family judge at a future date.