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Social worker loses appeal over ruling by judge she improperly altered records

The Family Court has dismissed an appeal by a social worker against a finding that she improperly altered records concerning children in care proceedings.

Baker J heard the case in July 2016 but the judgment has only now been published.

Social worker Linda Fraser was employed by Bristol City Council and sought to appeal against findings by District Judge Exton in March 2016.

The care proceedings concerned two children, whose mother was alleged to have failed to care for them. The case concluded with no order made and the children are now with their mother who has support from Bristol.

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Judge Exton made directions at an earlier hearing including the production of case logs.

The judgment of Mr Justice Baker noted: “The central allegations made against Ms Fraser are that, following this direction, she (a) obtained authorisation to access the logs relating to certain observations of the mother with the children contrary to the policies of the local authority (b) thereafter made alterations which, in a number of respects, added critical comments about the mother and (c) subsequently, when challenged about this, lied about editing the logs, stating that she had not done so, knowing that to be untrue.”

Ms Fraser said she accepted there was no other explanation for the editing of the case logs other than that she was responsible, but said she had no recollection of having done this, and denied lying in her evidence.

In the appeal she relied on evidence that she was stressed and suffered significant mental health problems.

Baker J said Judge Exton had shown “a paradigm example of how it is the trial judge who is best able to carry out the evaluation of evidence in reaching findings.

“The judge found no reason to think that Ms Fraser's powers of recall were affected in any way, particularly when the events she was being asked to recall occurred only 11 days previously.”

Refusing permission to appeal, he concluded: “I see no prospect of any appellate court concluding that District Judge Exton was wrong. Her finding that Ms Fraser had altered the records was unchallenged. Her finding that she did not believe Ms Fraser's evidence that she could not remember what had happened is unassailable. The conclusion that she drew as to motive was entirely within her discretion.”

Mark Smulian

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