The General Social Care Council and Bath and North East Somerset Council failed to check the criminal file of a social worker who had been convicted of conspiring to murder her husband, a judge has concluded.
The GSCC and the council relied on Lynda Barnes’ “highly sanitised” account of her conviction, as well as her “excellent references” in, respectively, placing her on the social care register and employing her as a manager in children’s services.
The evidence emerged during a care proceedings hearing last year where the judge slammed “serious failings” by the authority and Barnes in the handling of a child protection case involving three children. Barnes lied under oath and also “fabricated” evidence, the court found.
The family court judgement naming Barnes, published yesterday, revealed that she had been a social worker at Avon Council in the child care department when she was convicted for conspiring to murder her husband.
She was given a two-year suspended sentence on 24 March 1995 at Bristol Crown Court. Barnes had pleaded guilty on the second day of the trial, and her co-conspirator was jailed for 38 months.
Disclosure of conviction
She disclosed the conviction when she joined Bath and North East Somerset Council on 30 September 2005 as an assistant team manager, and became team manager on 2 November 2006. Barnes was also registered with the General Social Care Council in January 2006.
The court was told that Barnes’ pre-sentence report had concluded that her “sense of reality is blurred with her fantasies” and that she did not accept her actions were “in any way real”.
But while Judge Barclay said it was “clear” that Barnes had given Bath and North East Somerset Council authority to see her criminal file, it had failed to do so. He also concluded that it was “probably unlikely” that the GSCC had seen it, given the evidence received by the court.
“In giving full authority for her file to be retrieved [Barnes] could not have known that both of those bodies would separately fail to secure sight of it. To my mind it is highly regrettable that they did not do so, but it was not her fault,” the judge said.
In a statement to the court, a social worker, known as B, said that people were “frightened” of Barnes, describing her as a “force to be reckoned with”.
If staff did not agree with Barnes, they were told “life could be made very difficult,” she said. B also gave a number of instances where Barnes had lied to others.
Barnes denied the allegations, but the judge concluded that B was an “entirely honest and sincere witness”.
Another social worker involved in the case, known as C, said she was asked by Barnes to lie to the court during the hearing.
During the case, the judge agreed with a request from the counsel for the father of one of the children to produce Barnes’s Criminal Records Bureau certificate, which the council had previously refused. Then her history was fully dislosed.
‘Overwhelming’ case for publicity
All details of the case were made public yesterday in a revised version of the 22 December transcript, alongside a ruling from 28 April this year where Judge Barclay said the case for publicity was “overwhelming”.
The judge said he wanted to make it clear that Lynda Barnes should not be confused with another employee of the same authority – Linda Barnes – who had played no part in the case.
Bath and North East Somerset Council said today that it had apologised to the families involved in the case and admitted it had “made a mistake” in employing Barnes.
The council has commissioned an independent review of 17 cases were Barnes was significantly involved and said this would be made public.
The council confirmed that Barnes had resigned on 31 March this year and that it had referred her case to the GSCC. Barnes is still on the social care register.
The GSCC confirmed that it was investigating Barnes’ actions and applying to suspend her on a temporary basis, while pointing out that a criminal conviction was not a bar to registration. A spokeswoman could not confirm whether Barnes had asked to be taken off the register as this was considered a “private matter.”
She also said that the GSCC could not allow someone to leave the register when a complaint was outstanding, adding: “When serious allegations are made against a registrant we have a duty, to the complainant and in the interests of ensuring the integrity of social work, to investigate and follow through to a conclusion. We believe it is right that a public hearing is held, in the interests of transparency and public accountability.”
The spokeswomen said that the GSCC had taken into account the length of time since Barnes’ offence, the context behind it, the sanction given by the court, and her six year’s work in child protection before her application when registering her in 2006.
“[Barnes] had positive references and that her employer at the time [Bath and North East Somerset] endorsed the application and were aware of her conviction and she had been working for them before registration came into force,” she said.
The spokeswoman added:“In cases such as this we gather together as much information from third parties as possible, such as the employer and/or the courts where relevant, to enable us to assess the person’s suitability. We are of course reliant on others for the quality and accuracy of that information.”