Social workers criticised and named by judge cleared of wrongdoing by HCPC

The case made headlines in November 2015 after social workers were found to have altered a report to make it seem more negative

Photo: tashatuvango/Fotolia

Three social workers who were named by a judge in an “exceptional” case which involved one of them lying on oath have been cleared of wrongdoing by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

The social workers from Hampshire council – Sarah Walker-Smart, Kim Goode and Lisa Humphreys – were named by Judge Mark Horton in November 2015, after he found children had been illegally taken into care and a family’s human rights had been breached. He also found social workers had altered the report of another social worker to make it more negative and knowingly withheld evidence from the court.

The judge directed that his findings be sent to the social work regulator to consider whether further action was required.


In a statement to Community Care, the director of children’s services for Hampshire, Steve Crocker, said the HCPC had “vindicated” the council’s decision to back the social workers by exonerating them.

“Having reviewed the case transcripts and related material we were never in any doubt whatsoever that the social workers concerned have acted honestly, appropriately and professionally at all times.

“It is important that when social workers do nothing wrong that their managers stand up for them – even in the face of ill-informed press comment including, sadly, an article in Community Care.

“We are vindicated in this view by the Health and Care Professional Council’s (HCPC) findings in exonerating those social workers. The reason for publishing or not publishing their decision is a matter for the HCPC. We have no further comment to make,” Crocker said.

When asked why the council did not appeal against the findings, a Hampshire spokesperson said:

“The judge agreed our applications for Care Orders. It was a very complex case, as evidenced in the findings – involving very serious neglect to vulnerable children. The outcome of the court case at that time was consistent with the Local Authority’s application to the court – to safeguard very vulnerable children who were at risk of suffering significant harm as a result of neglect.

“Therefore, whilst there was some criticism by the Judge determining the care orders, there was no logic in appealing the outcome of the case which was made in the best interests of the children. Representations were made through other routes but we will not comment on those further.”


Rumours started circulating online earlier this year that the social workers had been found to have no case to answer by the HCPC.

This prompted an open letter to the Professional Standards Authority, which oversees the HCPC, by The Transparency Project, which requested the reason for the decision be made public. The Transparency Project is a group of lawyers who aim to bring more openness to the family courts.

It is the HCPC’s policy not to publish the outcomes of cases where registrants have been found to have no case to answer.

A HCPC spokesperson said: “We can confirm we were made aware of the Court’s comments and we investigated the concerns raised through our fitness to practise process. Our legislation requires that the earlier stages of this process are dealt with as private matters, therefore we cannot make public the detail of the information we received. However, we followed our usual approach and reviewed all the information obtained, including legal advice, to assess whether the concerns met our Standards of Acceptance. The concerns did not meet them which meant we did not proceed to the next stage of the process.”

In the Transparency Project’s letter to the Professional Standards Authority, chair Lucy Reed argued: “Ordinarily there would be limited public interest in the publication of information about charges which have not been pursued or upheld, but in circumstances where the Family Court has made serious adverse findings which would clearly amount to serious professional misconduct and where the HCPC has made a decision that is prima facie inconsistent with that there is a significant public interest in the basis for that decision.”

The PSA responded to the letter and said it had asked the social work regulator to find out what it could tell them about its actions.

“I should let you know that the authority has no powers to intervene in decisions made by the HCPC at its investigation stages. However, if we have concerns about its approach we may raise these directly with the HCPC, or consider them within our annual performance review,” the PSA’s complaints and administration officer said.


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21 Responses to Social workers criticised and named by judge cleared of wrongdoing by HCPC

  1. Nick Johnson February 22, 2017 at 1:46 pm #

    Good job Hampshire!

  2. Suesspicious Minds February 22, 2017 at 4:14 pm #

    A couple of important things from the original judgment

    Paras 21 and 22

    21.At 15:30 that day a joint police and social services visit took place. The LA accepts that the visit and removal was unlawful and breached the family’s Human Rights. The details of the breaches are set out later in this judgment.
    22.I have viewed the Body Worn Camera footage. I can well see why the LA makes the admissions it does. The removal was a flagrant breach of this family’s Human Rights. There were insufficient grounds for such action and it is clear the police felt that too as they did not try to use their administrative powers; the correct procedure was not followed; no true consent was obtained, and that which was obtained came from F under duress

    (LA accepting that the removal was unlawful and breached family’s Human Rights. Not just a judicial finding, an admission)

    para 23 I am not satisfied that the social workers were deliberately trying to manipulate the police although I am satisfied that the effect on the parents was to coerce them. The parents, mother in particular could be verbally aggressive and had been so to Ms Goode. In circumstances where it had been decided to remove the children from their parents and it could reasonably be anticipated that the parents could be hostile, it would be appropriate to involve the police to avoid there being a breach of the peace. However, the video footage shows that the situation was badly handled with 8 police officers and two social workers descending on the parents and presenting them with no choice but to relinquish their children. There were no grounds for such removal, there was no discussion, no alternatives offered and it was clearly the intention of Ms Walker Smart to remove the children from their parents’ care come what may by asking for consent to s20 accommodation if the police did not act.

    (Not an admission, a finding, but important one, over and above the perjury issues)

    From the second judgment

    7.I am satisfied that her evidence that she had never seen a completed Core Assessment by Ms X was a lie. Sarah Walker Smart had seen a completed Core Assessment by Ms X. She had seen the tracked changed version e mailed to her by Kim Goode. I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that this was a deliberate lie to try to deflect attention from the existence of that document. I do not make this finding lightly or willingly but the evidence drives me to it. This lie was repeated in her evidence given to me on 25 November 2014.
    8.I am also satisfied that she lied when she said that the reference to such an assessment in her statement was a “mistake” based on an “assumption”. I am satisfied that the reason she mentioned it was because she had seen Ms X’s Core Assessment and she did not think there was anything wrong in referring to it. It was only afterwards that the import of what she had done became clear. In my judgment this is the only logical reason why she would have mentioned it. Her attempts to say it was a wrong “assumption” on the part of herself and Kim Goode was a fabrication. Again I do not reach this conclusion lightly but it is an inevitable one. Again she repeated this lie in evidence in November.
    9.Ms Walker Smart had the opportunity to disclose the existence of the Ms X assessment during the April part of this final hearing but did not take it. She chose to try to get away with the deception she had practised. I made it clear at the end of that hearing that I was worried about this issue and that I required full enquiries to be made to see if such a document existed. See 72.45 line 30 of the transcript of Ms Walker Smart’s evidence.
    10.Lisa Humphreys was also at court during the April hearing. She knew that the parents’ advocates wanted Ms X’s assessment disclosed and she knew of its existence yet she did not then or afterwards bring its existence to the attention of the court, the new social work team or the legal department. She could have accessed it easily as it was located in her ‘Outlook’ programme on her computer.
    11.The completed Ms X Comprehensive Core Assessment was eventually disclosed inadvertently as part of the disciplinary proceedings’ file in relation to Ms X in early August 2014. Kim Goode had initiated disciplinary proceedings against Ms X as a result of what she saw were serious failings in her work. As a result Ms X was dismissed from her employment. Her health is now so poor that she was unable to give evidence. I do not know whether her poor health and the disciplinary proceedings are linked but they cannot have helped her. This is not the place to comment on the appropriateness of that investigation, its fairness or its conclusions but I do ask the LA to robustly review their conclusions and decision in the light of this judgment and all that is now known about this case.
    12.Kim Goode’s involvement in this deception was examined in the November hearing.

    13. I am satisfied she knew of Ms X’s completed CCA as she had changed it. I am also satisfied she knew that the parties and court wanted it disclosed and she had decided that she would not.
    14.At one point I asked her: “So it was a deliberate decision by yourself not to let the court and the parents have” the Ms X Comprehensive Core Assessment and the guardian. Is that right?” “Yes” she answered.

    (There were Court orders seeking the disclosure of that document and the LA had told the Court and parties that it did not exist. This was a direct answer to a question and a direct quotation of the answer)

    1.Whilst she tried to persuade me that she did this out of concern for the children as she felt the assessment was not accurate, I find this suggestion breathtaking. This is a manager with 18 years experience deliberately flouting the lawful request of the parents for disclosure of information and more to the point flouting court orders for such disclosure. At one point she tried to suggest that she was unaware of the duty to disclose, which I find as Mr Ker-Reid put it “incredible” in both senses of the word.
    2.There was a particularly telling piece of cross examination by Mr Ker-Reid when he put this question to her: “You were overtly, determinedly, seeking to deceive courts of justice, put your head together with other professionals in your department, whether legal or social workers, to tell judges of the Family Court that there was not an assessment by Ms X which you knew there was? That is right is it not?” Answer: “It is but I..” Q: “It is”. Answer: … “gave the explanation”. Q: “We have your answer, done”.

    Judgment one is here :-

    Judgment two is here :-

    It may be that the HCPC looked at this hard and concluded that the matters found by the Judge were not correct and that they could substitute their own judgment for his, and that the admissions made by the LA of having (a) removed a child unlawfully and in breach of human rights (b) Having decided to conceal the existence of a document that had been sought in court orders were not significant, and that the admission made in cross-examination above was not significant.

    That may well be an entirely right and proper outcome, and if so, the workers are entitled to be exonerated, but the lack of transparency about how the HCPC reached conclusions that are at odds with not only the published judgment but the admissions made within the judgment leaves substantial questions.

    • Anita Singh February 23, 2017 at 4:24 pm #

      So Suesspicious Minds, exactly who do you think regulates the social work profession and their suitability to continue to practice? The judge in this particular case or the HCPC.

      If Judge Horton makes findings of such a nature the judge should be directly referring to the HCPC about any serious concerns about an individual social worker’s practise. However, the Family Courts are not there to decide upon questions of fitness to practise. Indeed, if the matter of the HCPC is strongly disputed in a legal forum, then the matter can always be brought before a High Court to decide on the matter of fitness to practise.

      In the meantime, it is totally unacceptable to mete out this kind of witch hunt of individual social workers, without the social worker’s recourse to completely independent legal advice, trade union support and any other appropriate support as necessary. From my own experience, I have seen how key evidence in cases can be prevented from being brought before the Court if a Judge decides that s/he does not wish to hear the evidence. Many times I have seen LA’s hauled over the coals and then vindicated at a later stage. There are cases where even High Court judges have got it seriously wrong, such as Ellie Butler being a case in point.

      So who holds the Judges to account in such cases for the inappropriate and unacceptable vilification of social workers? Finally the HCPC for once has come down on the side of the social worker and I welcome that, as given the history, that must have been clearly justified.

      • Anonymous March 3, 2017 at 6:27 am #

        I agree with everything you said. Shame on so called professionals who try to single out and scapegoat social workers when they themselves cannot make out a clear analysis of what is just. Let them try and be a social worker just for one day and spend the rest of their evening/life thinking about a safety plan for the next day!!

    • Sam G February 23, 2017 at 7:39 pm #

      I completely agree with you.

  3. Allan Norman February 22, 2017 at 5:47 pm #

    It is disingenuous for the Director of Children’s Services for Hampshire, Steve Crocker, to say,

    “The reason for publishing or not publishing their decision is a matter for the HCPC.”

    The Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001 requires that the HCPC SHALL publish where practitioner requests and MAY publish with the practitioner’s consent in any other case. Since publication requires either the request or the consent of the practitioner, the HCPC cannot compel it, but the practitioner can prevent it. If the HCPC were choosing not to publish, the practitioner could compel it.

    So these social workers could choose to shed light on their vindication.

    The relevant provisions are:

    Article 26(8) page 30 in respect of “no case to answer”; and
    Article 29(1) page 31 in respect of “allegation not well-founded”

  4. Jimi February 22, 2017 at 5:49 pm #

    Good job for work well done and standing by the three social workers concerned.

  5. CT February 22, 2017 at 6:23 pm #

    Hampshire’s view

    “The social workers named by Judge Mark Horton have exemplary records and have our full support. ‘We are gravely disappointed that the judge saw fit to name them in these terms. ‘The county council respects the judgement that has been handed down in this case and has complied with the instructions given. ‘However, the county council has reviewed the circumstances and documentation surrounding the case and does not agree with the statement that a social worker lied to the court. ‘The county council is considering its position with regard to how to make further representations on this matter.”

    The LA seem to have decided not to make further representations and this may be because there would be a cost to the public purse. This would leave a social worker wishing to appeal having to self fund, not something many would be in a position to do, and they may instead decide that their regulatory body deciding there is no case is sufficient.

  6. lucy February 22, 2017 at 7:45 pm #

    It’s high time that Judge’s and the HCPC stopped being so punitive and punishing of social worker’s who got into this job, because they care and give a damn about the children they work so hard to protect. Their names should not have even been published in Community Care, and they are being treated as criminals not for committing any crime, just because of their profession.

    All of us social worker’s need to UNITE against the establishment of the HCPC and toxic workplaces!!!!

    Forget about Donald Trump, we have bigger causes to fight for on home soil, which is decent and fair working conditions for social workers in the UK.

  7. Hilary Searing February 23, 2017 at 7:53 am #

    The lack of transparency here results in distrust and a suspicion that social work standards of practice are beyond criticism. Who can we report the HCPC to for failing to explain its decision?

  8. Tom J February 23, 2017 at 12:48 pm #

    The whole episode does appear to be bizarre:- Judge Mark Horton states it was terrible practice whilst the HCPC says ‘nothing to see here’.

  9. Ann Edwards February 23, 2017 at 4:00 pm #

    This is confusing and simply does not make sense. if I was accused of lying in court and I knew I had not done so and it was made public, I would do everything in my power to clear my name and would expect my employer to do likewise as this reflects so badly on the local authority. Why the lack of openness? Did people connive to conceal a truly terrible piece of work that should never have been entitled ‘core assessment’ in order to protect a failing worker? Or is there another explanation for the above excerpts from the 2 Judgements. In what respect did the Judge get it wrong? As it stands this is such bad publicity for the profession.

    • Pearlene Webb February 23, 2017 at 6:21 pm #

      Totally agree with you , I smell a rat and so will the public

  10. Ann Edwards February 23, 2017 at 7:02 pm #

    I felt compiled to read the 2 judgements in full to try and understand what might have happened – and I completely agree with Suesspicious Minds above.
    This is clearly a really difficult case but not unusual in my experience! There were many failings by the la – the worst to my mind being not the breach of human rights but drift which resulted in the children suffering extended neglect – (why was the child protection reviewing process not criticised for colluding with the drift and failing to provide effective challenge) – most of these failings, including removing the children without following proper procedure or adhering to the law, were conceded by the local authority.
    The judgements spell out the issue of the lying in court. Yet the la deny this happened and the HCPC are unconcerned. A muddle! There are definitely questions to answer and it would surely help everyone to know more.

  11. Sam G February 23, 2017 at 7:43 pm #

    Definitely smell a rat, very concerning!

  12. Ray Jones February 24, 2017 at 5:57 pm #

    Oh dear. Social workers vindicated so there must be a rat to be smelt. That’s one of the problems. Those who consistently attack social workers, including parts of the media and some campaigning groups, see a plague of rats leaving a bad smell.

    While they are hunting rats – and turning on the lights to create greater ‘transparency’ and spot the rats – social workers, such as the social workers in Hampshire, are out there working to help families and to protect children. They know that the rat catchers are on their tail and that in the uncertain world in which social workers operate not every judgement and decision will be found to be right and will, necessarily and appropriately,be scrutinised and open to challenge in the courts.

    Children and adults who have been abused do not want the family courts opened up to a media looking for sordid and sensational stories from which they can profit and which will inevitably lead them to be identified and their distress and awful experiences to become the tittle tattle of local gossip.

    • Ben Glass February 24, 2017 at 9:27 pm #

      Friday evenings may be great for a rant Ray, but it’s transparency with regard to the HCPC’s dealings with professionals that is being called for here, not the ‘opening up of family courts to the sordid media’.

  13. Lucy Reed, The Transparency Project February 24, 2017 at 10:26 pm #

    There are some really polarised comments above, including some suggesting there is a witch hunt. It would really help if we had better information so we could understand the HCPC decision so that we could understand how to square it with the really clear judgment of HHJ Horton. We have no particular axe to grind, but think it’s equally important that the public knows if a judge has got it wrong OR that the public know if a regulator has got it wrong. At the moment all we can see is one side of the story (the judgment) alongside assertions that it was somehow wrong. And we think that if the judgment gives a misleading impression it would be in the public interest as well as the interest of the individual social workers to publish further information that is potentially exculpatory.
    We’ve published an updating blog post about this, including the response we received from the HCPC and PSA to our open letter and our invitation to them to reconsider making the decision making more transparent.
    You can read that here :

  14. Apple Crumble February 25, 2017 at 8:00 am #

    I question the ligitimacy of HCPC, seeing as this case didn’t reach investigation I know having been involved in the process myself that they were reliant on the information shared by the local authority to decide if it was a case to answer. I know from experience that if a local authority sides with the social worker the HCPC are more inclined to reach a decision of no case to answer. One of these social workers worked in Lambeth early last year at senior management level and was very sure then that nothing would happen as she sent an email across the service. I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy but as a regulatory body, how much did they push for information, who did they speak too and who did they visit? To reach their very early conclusion. Why not publish it in such a unique case of its kind.

    • Anonymous March 3, 2017 at 6:36 am #

      Apple Crumble are you a social worker? It doesn’t sound like you are. If you are one shame on you for wanting to punish the social worker mentioned as you think you’re better!!


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