Social worker blamed for mishandling of abuse case claims he is a scapegoat

A social worker claims he was made a scapegoat for
social services failings after three men were jailed for abusing
a woman with learning difficulties, writes Nicola

Clive Purniss, a social worker with Borders council, was
suspended then re-instated following the harrowing case of the
abuse of Miss X by three men from Newtown St Boswells.

Hawick solicitor Colin McNab said Purniss is angry about the
continuing absence of any disciplinary action at a senior level
within the department, and feels he has been made a scapegoat.

An independent inquiry by consultant David Stallard, into the
role of Borders council social work department, blamed flaws in
management procedure and heavy workloads.

The report went on to reveal a department apparently
over-stretched, with the highest case load ratio in Scotland.
Stallard recommended a 13-point action plan to tighten up
procedures and guidelines for social workers and managers working
in the lifelong care department.

McNab told Community Care that a lack of disciplinary
action effectively means that any inquiry report will be little
more than “a whitewash”. He said the failings identified by the
inquiry were “higher up the chain of command” than Purniss.

McNab said: “David Stallard’s report is unequivocal. It
highlighted the fact that there were serious inadequacies in the
way the Miss X case was handled, with serious errors of judgment at
middle management level within Borders council.

“I would therefore like to see disciplinary action taken. There
is no doubt in my mind that by suspending my client, the council
were simply shooting the messenger, lashing out at the first person
they could find,” said McNab.

“Also, throughout this whole ordeal, Mr Purniss has received no
support whatsoever from management,” he said.

“Miss X should have had a guardian in the community and the
decision to appoint such a person lay with the departmental
manager. In fact, Mr Purniss raised concerns about the woman’s
vulnerability a whole year ago.”

James Mercer, Ross Douglas, and Alexander Maben, all from
Newtown St Boswells, were jailed for a total of 24 years at the
high court in Edinburgh for cruelty to Miss X.

The abuse began last January when Mercer took all the woman’s
benefit money, deprived her of food and liquid and made her sit in
the dark for long periods of time until she became terrified and

Mercer and his friend Maben forced her to strip, shaved her
head, sexually assaulted her and repeatedly stamped on her face and
body, the court was told. The judge said it was the worst case of
abuse he had seen.

Borders council refused to comment because disciplinary action
may still be taken.

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