Social workers have been forced to re-assess a case after the appeal court found they were at fault for not challenging police officers enough.
While conducting a child protection core assessment, the social workers relied on a police risk assessment of a child sexual offender, recently released from prison. The man had been the boyfriend of a mother of three girls who had been taken into care by Essex social services and were now living with their grandmother in Islington.
Lawyers for the girls took Islington council to court initially for their failure to conduct an assessment. During the case the police submitted a statement that the man had a history of attacking the children of girlfriends and former friends, on one occasion quite out of the blue.
The grandmother was worried because the man also had considerable family contacts in Islington, where she lived, and she felt the children were not safe when they went to school or out on their own.
The initial police statement said the man (MB) posed a significant risk to the children and his “unpredictability illustrates that no child which MB has had contact with can be judged to be safe”.
However, a month later the police officer told social workers “there is nothing in MB’s history to suggest that these children are at more risk than any other child in the Islington area”.
When asked by the social worker why his opinion had changed, the police officer said he had felt under considerable pressure from the children’s solicitor at the time to support them in their pursuit of alternative accommodation.
However, appeal court judges said the police officer’s change of opinion required more “rigorous probing and critical evaluation by the local authority”.
“Pressure from the children’s representatives (which I should say is denied) might I suppose explain him expressing a view of risk which was more pessimistic than he really felt to be the case. However, it could not have affected the historical facts that he provided.
“I do not therefore think that it was open to the local authority simply to accept DS Watson’s explanation for what they recognised was a significant change in view. This was particularly so when, for reasons they explained, they were relying so heavily upon the risk assessments of others in formulating their own assessment,” said Lady Justice Black
Courts should not protect social workers from legitimate press scrutiny, rules judge