Social workers investigated over child abuse claims win damages

Investigation following 'malicious' tip off was unlawful and badly handled, finds High Court judge

Two social workers who were investigated by Haringey council over claims they had mistreated their daughter have been awarded damages at the High Court.

The pair – who were investigated by Haringey social services following a “malicious” tip off via an anonymous letter – were awarded £2,000 compensation for the infringement of their human rights after judge Anthony Thornton found there was no evidence to justify the investigation.

He also criticised the way Haringey handled the investigation, which involved approaching the child’s GP and school without first seeking the parents’ consent.

‘Anonymous malicious tip off’

The investigation was launched after the council received an anonymous letter in April 2011 raising concerns about the child’s welfare. The parents were soon informed of the letter, and the accusations it made, by telephone, during which the child’s mother – who cannot be named for legal reasons – was said to have responded in an “angry” and “defensive” manner. The council also reported that she appeared to be “overcritical and lacking warmth”.

The mother then sent a strongly-worded email to the council, criticising the way it had handled the case so far. Following the telephone call and email, the authority decided to initiate a section 47 child protection investigation. This was closed in the same month after the parents were interviewed and a home visit had been conducted.

The letter was later discovered to have been a “malicious” tip off, the court heard. The High Court yesterday quashed Haringey’s decision to investigate the family in 2011, marking the end of the two-year ordeal for the child and her parents, both of whom are understood to be social workers. 

A Haringey Council spokesperson said: ”Our handling of this case fell below the standards that we would expect, and we apologise to the family concerned. We are committed to learning from the findings of the court as we continue to make improvements to our child protection and safeguarding systems.”

Parents doubt Haringey can ‘learn from its mistakes’

The parents’ solicitor, Allan Norman, released a statement on their behalf, in which they said they doubt Haringey can “learn from its mistakes without help”.

The statement read: “Social work and child protection are in our blood. But this case challenged practices at Haringey that should not be part of any social worker’s practice. We have challenged abuse of human rights, misuse of confidential data, and a blatant disregard for good practice that is laid down in national standards.

“Child protection does matter, and from Haringey in particular we are entitled to expect that social work will get it right. Instead, it has particularly disappointed us that Haringey has sought to defend its bad practices in court, and indeed as recently as last November to persuade the court that it should be allowed to continue them.

“It leaves us doubtful that Haringey can learn from its mistakes without help. The lessons should have been learned, learned willingly, and learned without the huge costs the citizens of Haringey have presumably had to incur fighting this case. Once again, the children of Haringey deserve better.”

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