Daily Mail in accurate reporting of shocking case shocker

The headline and sub-headlines :

Judge blasts social workers for LYING under oath and doctoring a report as part of an attempted ‘cover-up’ over the future of five children taken away from their parents

  • Judge Mark Horton said there was a ‘deliberate and calculated’ change
  • Original report of parents’ assessment provided ‘positives’ and ‘negatives’
  • Workers at Hampshire council wanted the children to stay in foster care
  • Judge said changes improved the case for removing children from family

Suesspicious Minds has already checked its accuracy with the judgment from BAILII (A, B, C, D and E (Final Hearing) [2015] EWFC B186) and written it up here – and he is rightly flabbergasted. This is not a wind up or a massive hyper-exaggerated summary of some run of the mill case – it is awful and shameful behaviour properly brought to light by the judgment and the media.

It is the sort of thing that parents fear happens all the time, and whilst I don’t think it does happen all the time, we cannot say it never happens.

Sadly, the negative outcome of the proceedings is a reminder that successfully attacking the integrity of your social workers can only get you so far. You do still have to be able to demonstrate your ability to be a basically competent and safe parent, which often requires some ability to work constructively with professionals (assuming of course that threshold has been crossed). So, as I say to all my clients – these things are important but let’s not get overexcited or lose focus on building a POSITIVE CASE.

As the 2014 guidance on publications makes clear (entirely consistently with previous case law), in these sorts of circumstances social workers should be named. One can only imagine that the findings made will have quite serious implications for them professionally. They both appear to be registered with the HCPC who are the relevant regulatory body in terms of professional conduct of social workers. As flagged up in the judgment / blog post there may be other consequences, such as internal disciplinary processes and / or police investigation. I will either blog directly or link to any post by Suesspicious Minds (he always beats me to it) as and when any further installments arrive.


12 thoughts on “Daily Mail in accurate reporting of shocking case shocker

  1. Watch for the applications from parents who have had dealings with the same social workers . . .

  2. Following on from the Dr X expert court witness GMC investigation, it begs the question what checks and balances are there to ensure that removing a child from its parents is valid ? What safeguards are there for parents who feel they have been misrepresented?

    • Anon,
      I think in the end Dr X was exonerated by the GMC (I’ve removed his name in your comment as I’ve slightly lost track of where it has got to and don’t have time to check). But the answer to your question is right there really – the court is the check and balance and in this particular case it worked quite well as a measure of last resort. Of course one would hope that there would be some functioning part of the system that would prevent this from happening or spot it before a witness gets in the box and lies, but the court is the protection of last resort. What is particularly shocking here is that from the judgment it appears that the professional duties of the lawyers did not operate so as to effectively safeguard the process. One would expect the lawyers, who the judge says knew at least some of what was going on, to comply with their duties of disclosure and as officers of the court. We don’t have the detail of what went wrong in that department but the judgment is pretty clear it was not just a social work failure.

  3. Well, H vs Dent was another case where a social worker and a lawyer were caught on tape doing stuff that other professionals have stated was malpractice at best. But they denied it. The parent in that case tried to prosecute for contempt and the High Court disallowed permission to get passed the initial procedure stage so the covert video evidence was not considered in court. [Edited]

    You’re right about the lawyers. But where is the criticism of the judge? Why did the social workers not leave his court in handcuffs? Lie about whose driving the car when caught speeding or don’t pay parking fines, child maintenance or council tax and go to prison. So why are social workers and lawyers a protected species who can lie under oath on matters involving children?

    • StuG I’ve edited some information out of your comment as I’m not sure it is in the public domain. If you can provide a link to the relevant information on one of the websites of the public bodies referred to I can perhaps publish the deleted section.
      What criticism would you make of the judge? It is self evident from the judgment that various bodies will now be looking at what consequences flow from the judgment – I suppose the matter could have been dealt with on a contempt basis (the judge has no criminal powers), but it appears the judge has left it to the professional bodies / employer. Although the LA’s public response is less than encouraging in thinking any internal disciplinary process will be effective / will happen I would imagine the HCPC will take action (although nothing is yet showing on their site they have confirmed they are aware of the case in one news report I read yesterday). One imagines the new employer of one of the social workers (Lambeth) will be interested to read the judgment also…

  4. I don’t think from the Contempt of Court Act 1981 that lying to the Court would be covered as a contempt of court (such that the Judge would have the power to send someone off to the cells there and then).

    The only bit that comes close

    12 Offences of contempt of magistrates’ courts..

    (1)A magistrates’ court has jurisdiction under this section to deal with any person who— .
    (a)wilfully insults the justice or justices, any witness before or officer of the court or any solicitor or counsel having business in the court, during his or their sitting or attendance in court or in going to or returning from the court; or .
    (b)wilfully interrupts the proceedings of the court or otherwise misbehaves in court.

    One might say that lying under oath is “misbehaving in court”, but I really think that as there is an actual criminal offence to deal with lying in Court and an Act, and the stipulation within the Act that only the AG can authorise proceedings for that offence, it would be decidedly foolhardy to try to imprison someone for lying under oath as a contempt in the face of the court rather than take the correct route.

    H v Dent isn’t a great example because absolutely no adverse findings were made about the professionals, so whilst there are allegations made by another party none of it was proven (the Judge saying that they had ‘no merit whatsoever’ – and see paras 48-51 to see why the tapes simply weren’t the smoking gun of naughtiness that was claimed ) and the person making those allegations catastrophically lost the case AND got a heavy order for costs.


    • And Dr X (he shares his surname with the Doctor in The Simpsons) was indeed exonerated by the GMC. Not that you would necessarily think that if you googled his name…

    • Yes I suppose that is probably right. I vaguely had in mind the Minnock case where the lies told in evidence were said to be a contempt but I suppose that probably flowed from the breach of the order requiring the witnesses to assist by disclosing the whereabouts of the child. I think it is arguably a contempt in the face of the court to lie under oath (although having done a bit of research as you piqued my interest I can’t see any precedent for saying so) – but in any event, as you say from a public policy point of view there may be arguments for other courses of action such as perjury – although of course there are other examples of overlapping jurisdiction e.g. the residual power to commit for breach of a FLA 1996 Pt IV order even though it is also an indictable criminal offence.
      And I agree Dent is not a great example for all the reasons you set out.

  5. We all know that things can go wrong in whatever sphere of life and that some people lie sometimes. I would hope that the HCPC will be as transparent as it usually is in terms of action taken, they will be undertaking their own independent investigation, and that the way social workers who commit perjury are dealt with is satisfactory. Mainly I hope this because I am utterly sick of being told that social workers all always lie and legal aid or LA family lawyers are losers in thrall to the LA’s purse strings. Having a case where a social workers lies dealt with should be flagged up in neon so that all those parents or grandparents who tell me their social workers was lying knows what happens to those who do.

    • Presumably the lying social worker was uncovered by a legal aid fat cat in the thrall of the LA’s purse strings. Wait. That doesn’t make sense…I just don’t understand why they would work so hard to make themselves so unpopular with the local authority by accusing their social workers of dishonesty. Surely it is in their interests to cover up or pretend not to have noticed such lies?
      …Oh, wait. Perhaps they have some ethics and act in the best interests of their clients after all? Who’da thunk it?

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