Social work department defends role after father kills baby

Edinburgh social work department has defended its role in the
care of a baby boy who was killed by his father, writes
Nicola Barry.

The decision to allow 11-week-old Caleb Ness to go home was
taken at a social work case conference despite the concerns of a
nurse, who expressed serious reservations about the baby being left
alone with his father.

Alexander Ness, who already had convictions for violent assault,
and Shirley Malcolm, had two other children in care owing to drug
abuse. Two months after going home, Caleb was shaken to death by
his father while his mother was at the chemist’s collecting
methadone for her drug addiction. 

At the high court in Edinburgh, Ness admitted killing his son by
squeezing and shaking him on various occasions between October 2
and October 18, 2001. He went to trial on a murder charge, but the
crown accepted a plea to the lesser charge of culpable homicide
because of brain damage he sustained two years ago, leaving him
with substantial mental deficiencies.

Les McEwan, director of social work at Edinburgh council, said:
“A case conference was held prior to Caleb leaving hospital at
which all the professionals involved agreed that there were no
grounds to remove Caleb from his mother’s care. She was caring well
for him in hospital, and those health professionals who had been
working closely with her reported that her lifestyle had

“Sadly, despite the best efforts of all the agencies involved he
was killed by his father.” he said.

“In Edinburgh we have a practice whereby the child protection
committee looks at any circumstances where a child dies after abuse
or neglect to see what lessons might be learned, and this will
happen in this case.”

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