A children’s social worker who failed to report that his colleague was having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old service user has been suspended from the register for one year.
Daniel Bester, formerly employed by Surrey Council, knew about his colleague, friend and former flatmate Thomas Ritzler’s unlawful relationship with the girl, known as Child K.
But he did not inform his employer or any other authority and Ritzler was only arrested after Child K confided in a friend, whose mother found out and contacted the police in July 2008.
Bester finally admitted he knew about the relationship when his line manager questioned him the day after Ritzler was arrested, a General Social Care Council conduct committee heard today.
In a written statement, Bester’s line manager said: “I asked [Bester] whether he had known anything about Ritzler and the girl, and he said yes, he had for a week or thereabouts.
“I told him this was a serious matter and asked why he had not told us about it. He replied he had not known if it was true.”
Surrey Council suspended Bester in July 2008, and dismissed him for gross misconduct at a disciplinary hearing in August 2008.
Francesca Ingram, presenting the GSCC’s case against Bester said: “Had [Bester] disclosed the relationship immediately, Child K might have been spared the abuse she suffered in July.” She said Bester had known about the relationship for 13 days before the authorities found out.
Lily Robertson, advice and representation officer for the British Association of Social Workers who represented Bester at the hearing, told the committee he was vulnerable and had been influenced by Ritzler, whom she described as a “manipulative person”.
Robertson pointed out that Bester, a South African national, had been isolated from his family, and that Ritzler was his only friend in the UK.
She also said Bester had been in counselling following a traumatic road traffic accident 10 months earlier, which may have affected his judgement.
The conduct committee took into account his previous good record, the fact that this was a one-off incident and that he had no responsibility for or involvement in the abuse of the child.
However, it concluded Bester’s failure to immediately inform the appropriate authorities of the abuse showed a “gross lapse of judgement”, and that it was proper to suspend him from the social care register for one year.
A Surrey Council spokesperson said: “Daniel Bester was dismissed by the council 14 months ago after this came to light. His actions were not those of a responsible professional in a position of trust and fell well short of the high standards we expect at all times.”
Ritzler was removed from the social care register in March last year by a GSCC conduct committee, which concluded that sexual intercourse with a child was “fundamentally incompatible with the role of a social worker”. He is currently serving a jail sentence of two years and four months after admitting the offences at Guildford Crown Court in November 2008.