Brighton sacks social workers after inquiry into four-year-old’s death

Two Brighton social workers have been sacked over the death of a
four-year-old boy.

Case worker David Pamely and adoption worker John Barrow were
dismissed last week after a disciplinary hearing into mistakes made
in the care and protection of John Smith.

When John died in December 1999 from a massive blow to the head,
he had 54 bruises and abrasions and four adult bite marks on his
body. His adoptive parents, Simon and Michelle McWilliam, of
Fishersgate near Brighton, were sentenced to eight years in prison
for cruelty in October 2001.

John and one of his sisters were placed with the McWilliams in
June 1999. Social workers made more than 20 visits to the couple
over the next six months and held a number of review and planning

An independent part 8 review report, commissioned by Brighton
and Hove and West Sussex area child protection committees after the
boy’s death, concluded that there were several occasions when
social workers should have sought medical advice but failed to do
so. It found that the professionals were too ready to accept the
McWilliams’ explanations of Smith’s injuries (News,
page 12, 1 November 2001).

After the disciplinary hearing, Brighton and Hove Council said
in a statement that it had been “determined that two social
workers should be dismissed from the council’s employment
with immediate effect”.

In October 2001, after protests by 100 social workers, former
social services director Allan Bowman agreed to investigate the
social workers’ actions before taking disciplinary

Public sector union Unison last week said the two social workers
had been made scapegoats, and indicated the possibility of future
industrial action.

Union members held a two-minute vigil last week in support of
Pamely and Barrow.

Unison has expressed concern that social workers in the area are
overloaded with work due to staff cuts and are unable to give their
full attention to individual cases.

But the report concluded that, while the reduction in fieldwork
posts and weaknesses in first-line management systems had been
contributing factors, “the critical failures in this case
were not in resourcing systems, but in the performance of basic
social work tasks”.

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