Social worker wrongly blamed for the death of a man in his care vindicated

Graham Hennis was unfairly dismissed by Oldham council following investigation that was predisposed to find him guilty, says tribunal

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A social worker who was wrongly blamed for the death of a man in his care has won more than £30,000 compensation after a tribunal ruled he had been unfairly dismissed.

Oldham council failed to acknowledge its own organisational failings which may have contributed to the death of a man referred to as GS, a tribunal in Manchester was told.

Graham Hennis was working in the council’s mental health team when GS was found dead, having fallen from a bridge. Hennis was dismissed from his post shortly afterwards.

Concerns

He told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme he had raised concerns about the man’s discharge from hospital, which were “dismissed”.

A coroner recorded an open verdict at an inquest into GS’s death, saying there was no evidence of suicidal intent which the social worker could have picked up on.

Council failings

Hennis said the process had been devastating. He told the BBC he felt his dismissal was an attempt by the council to defend its own failings:

“Over the past few years, mental health services in Oldham have taken a severe beating. A specialist team had been disbanded, staff were leaving and not being replaced, the workload was increasing and there were three separate recording systems to use for documentation,” he told Derbyshire.

The tribunal judgment stated the council’s investigation into the death began “with a mind-set that was predisposed to find the claimant guilty”.

“The investigators sought out evidence intent on proving [Hennis’s] guilt,” the ruling stated.

High caseload

Hennis was holding 26 cases and covering another two for a colleague who was absent due to sickness, significantly above the council’s recommended upper limit of 22.

He asked for diaries, minutes of meetings and other forms of documentation to support his case, but these were refused on several occasions.

Sarah Evans, an employment lawyer working for Slater and Gordon, who defended Hennis said: “[He] had an unblemished record as a social worker yet he was wrongly accused of neglecting his client and then made a scapegoat for his death.

“It was difficult enough for Mr Hennis to deal with the death of a man in his care, but then he was suspended and cut off from his colleagues when he needed their support. The stress and anxiety he experienced as a result was extremely debilitating.

A council spokesperson said: “We remain convinced we acted appropriately in this case and applied a level of scrutiny, oversight and accountability that was appropriate to the seniority and experience of the social worker in question.”

4 Responses to Social worker wrongly blamed for the death of a man in his care vindicated

  1. Sharon Shoesmith August 7, 2015 at 11:47 am #

    Well done to Graham Hennis. It was so important to pursue a fair hearing. I’m glad that Graham is speaking up about some of the realities of social work and challenging the blame culture. I hope that the new social work organisation whatever form it takes can find a strong voice to bring an end to such processes of blame. My best wishes to Graham and I hope that you are returning to your profession with your head held high. Sharon

  2. Ruth Cartwright August 7, 2015 at 2:49 pm #

    I, too, wish Graham Hennis all the best. It is interesting that Oldham Council completely ignores the results of the Tribunal and insists that it was right. So no heads are going to roll there re their attempt to scapegoat a hard-pressed social worker who was doing a good job. And presumably they’ll just carry on overloading their staff with impunity.

  3. Terry McClatchey August 27, 2015 at 11:45 pm #

    Not a great advert for anyone who might be thinking of working for Oldham. Do they have anything to say in mitigation?

  4. Roosevelt Damis September 3, 2015 at 7:39 am #

    The ruling stated the council was ‘predisposed to believe the worst’ in Mr Hennis, which was ‘all the more surprising against a backdrop of pressures facing social workers in a climate of financial cutbacks and union concerns’.