Judge hits out at social workers' lies
An angry high court judge has reported social workers to the social services inspectorate for lying to a magistrates court and to the mother of a one-year-old boy whose foster father had been arrested for downloading child pornography.
Mr Justice Wall censured the unnamed metropolitan borough council over the "extremely worrying sequence of events", in which social workers also denied the boy's independent guardian access to documents about his case and tried to invoke public interest immunity to keep them secret.
A court order protects the identities of all the parties, including the local authority, but the judge has authorised his judgment to be made public because of its importance.
The boy, S, was put into voluntary care by his mother, JJ, three weeks after his birth in October 2001. He was placed with the Bs, foster parents with 33 years' experience who were also looking after another, unrelated, child.
The council's application for an interim care order was due to be heard on October 17 last year. The day before the hearing, however, police arrested Mr B as part of Operation Ore, the international child pornography investigation.
Social workers removed the two children and decided to take them to hospital for medical examinations. JJ's consent was needed to examine S and to move him to another placement because the council had no care order for parental responsibility.
C, the social worker dealing with the case, was told by her boss to telephone JJ, but to let the telephone ring only twice. Then, assuming there was no answer, the magistrates could be told the council had tried, but failed, to reach her.
What the judge described as "this grossly unprofessional and wholly improper stratagem" failed, because JJ answered after the second ring.
But C told her that the placement was being changed because of "personal reasons" and that her consent was needed for a "welfare medical".
"Incredibly", said the judge, the magistrates were not told that S had been removed. C's statement, prepared before the police swoop, said that the "foster carers have been able to offer S a stable, loving home".
The judge described the council's conduct in "comprehensively misleading" the court as "quite shocking".
JJ opposed the care order and told the magistrates that her parents wanted to care for S, but the magistrates decided to make the care order.
Children involved in care proceedings are entitled to have a guardian, an independent social worker, to safeguard their interests. But because of the ongoing crisis in the children's court service, it took nine weeks to get a guardian appointed.
"Such a delay is unacceptable," the judge said. It was only when the guardian started his investigations that the behaviour of the social workers came to light.
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Thursday May 29, 2003
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