The death of an 11-week old baby at the hands of his father
could have been avoided, but all the agencies involved were flawed
“at almost every level,” according to an inquiry
report, writes Sally Gillen.
Caleb Ness was admitted to hospital in October 2001 and
pronounced dead shortly afterwards having suffered a brain
haemorrhage, thought to have been caused by shaking. An autopsy
revealed 14 rib fractures, and his father Alexander Ness was jailed
for 11 years in March after pleading guilty to culpable
But the report commissioned by the Edinburgh and Lothians child
protection committee said Caleb, who suffered from a condition
called neonatal abstinence syndrome, which made him more demanding
than a normal baby, should never have been left in his
parents’ care unsupervised.
A child protection case conference held after Caleb was born, at
which he was put on the child protection register, was chaired by a
person who had never done the job before, and had no training into
how to carry out the role. The person who took minutes had
never done the job before.
Other professionals “appeared to have had very little
knowledge of the roles expected of them, and no-one was clear about
the exact decisions that should been taken”. No detailed plan
was agreed, according to the report.
Edinburgh council social workers dealing with case are
criticised for failing to take into account Caleb’s
mother’s drug dependency, and dismissed as
“historical” the fact her two other children had been
taken into care without evidence her lifestyle had changed.
They accepted at “face value” what Ness and
Caleb’s mother Shirley Malcolm told them. They also failed to
carry out an assessment of Ness, despite the fact he had criminal
convictions, including a serious assault on an adult, and had
sustained a brain injury that nearly killed him six months before
The council now plans to undertake a review of its child
protection procedures, which will look at all 342 children on its
child protection register.
There are also
plans to review the conduct of the staff involved in the case,
following calls for director Les McEwan’s resignation. One
member of staff has been suspended and three others removed from
child protection duties.
Senior social work
officers from the council were due to visit the Scottish executive
this week to explain to ministers what actions had been taken since
the report was published.