Judge criticises father who used daughter to secretly record social workers

The child had small recording devices sewn into her clothes by her father and his partner without her knowledge

Photo: Prod. Numerik/Fotolia

A judge has criticised the “wrong” decision a family made to record social workers by putting recording devices on a child without her knowledge so they could hear her conversations with professionals and other family members.

Judge Jackson said the father had “not considered the consequences” of his actions during a dispute about whether the girl, referred to as Tara, should live with her father or move to live with her mother.

The long dispute between the parents had become serious enough to involve local authority social workers, family support workers and a children’s guardian.

Devices in clothes

Late in proceedings, it was revealed the father and step-mother had been recording these meetings by sewing small devices into Tara’s clothes and by using their phones. The father wanted to submit more than 100 pages of transcribed conversations dating back over a year.

The justification for recording was to find out what Tara was saying in meetings with professionals, the father felt she may tell social workers things she wouldn’t tell him, and “he wanted to be able to show that Tara was saying things to professionals that they were not reporting or acting on”.

In his judgment, Judge Jackson said: “It is almost always likely to be wrong for a recording device to be placed on a child for the purpose of gathering evidence in family proceedings, whether or not the child is aware of its presence.” He said a comment like his should be added to the Cafcass Operating Framework section on this topic.

Jackson did however admit the evidence, and said: “The manner in which they were made is directly relevant to an assessment of the parenting offered by the father and his partner…From the time the recording programme was revealed, everyone involved in these proceedings, except the father and his partner, immediately realised that it was wrong.”

Envy of spies

The technology available to parents today “would be the envy of yesterday’s spies”, Jackson said.

He said the fact the father and partner recorded his child and her conversations without her knowledge was a “prominent” indicator that they could not meet her emotional needs.

“The mother was entitled to say that she objected to her daughter being brought up by someone who sewed recording devices into her clothing, something she described as “really disturbing””, Jackson said.

The recordings “did not produce a single piece of useful information”, but it further damaged the relationship between Tara and the adults in her life. The use of bugs also showed the father’s inability to trust professionals and created a secret that may affect the relationship between her and her father in the future when she understands what has happened, Jackson concluded.

He said the case was not relevant to covertly recording adults for family proceedings, or recording children in other ways. He references the Cafcass Operating Framework, which says “officers should have nothing to fear from covert recording, but should bring it to the court’s attention if they become aware of it”.

Last year, The Transparency Project found councils were “wrongly” citing data protection and human rights legislation to prevent parents from recording meetings with social workers.

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8 Responses to Judge criticises father who used daughter to secretly record social workers

  1. Mike Cox June 8, 2016 at 1:06 pm #

    Interesting view of the judge that:

    “It is almost always likely to be wrong for a recording device to be placed on a child for the purpose of gathering evidence in family proceedings, whether or not the child is aware of its presence.”

    Just a wild guess here but probably the exception he has in mind would if it was the “professionals” collecting evidence against the parents?

  2. Planet Autism June 8, 2016 at 3:06 pm #

    “He said the fact the father and partner recorded his child and her conversations without her knowledge was a “prominent” indicator that they could not meet her emotional needs.”

    Rubbish. The very fact that a parent feels it necessary to use secret recordings in the first place is an indication of the faults in the system – the same reason the father was deemed to not trust professionals. Instead of looking at WHY some parents don’t trust professionals and finding fault with the behaviours and actions of the professionals, they find it a fault in the parent and will likely put it down to some sort of arbitrary and trumped up mental illness to use against them.

    Nothing is mentioned about the father’s parenting, he might have been an excellent parent. Couples divorce and couples divorce acrimoniously, that doesn’t mean by default that either or both of them are bad parents. Someone’s role in a couple relationship is a separate thing to their role as a parent.

    Hiding recording devices on the child did not harm her and I can’t understand why the judge would deem it so shocking and inappropriate. Of course the mother would say that it was ‘disturbing’ because she would have been not only looking for negatives to cite against the father under the circumstances the family were in, but also backtracking mentally racking her brains to think what she might have said that was in any way incriminating (such as parental alienation).

    It says the child was unaware, there is no reason she would necessarily have ever found out either. But even if she did, if her dad was a good dad and he was doing what was right for her she would most likely have deemed it the sign of a parent who loved their child and was forced into finding any way they could to ensure justice was done. Why would it damage the relationship between the child and other adults? As the child had not known the devices were present, no blame could be apportioned and any adult that would blame a child needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror anyway.

    The judge claims there was no useful information, without anyone knowing what was in it we only have his word for that. Why would the father try to submit 100 plus pages of transcripts if there were not?

    • Anita Singh June 9, 2016 at 2:49 pm #

      The article clearly states and I quote, “Jackson did however admit the evidence…” and later goes on to say that the recordings “did not produce a single piece of useful information.” However, we only have the father’s word that he submitted everything that he recorded. If his daughter had said anything negative about him would he really want to disclose that to the Court as well?

      The father’s actions seem paranoid, controlling and domineering, that he deems that he must find out by whatever means what his child is saying to professionals. If his daughter was to say anything negative about him, he has ensured his control over any further statements being made by the child.

      If a professional records any meeting, such as ABE interviews, then the professionals concerned are legally bound to disclose this from the outset and certainly during family proceedings private or public, would be expected to seek the leave of the Court to do so. Otherwise they would more than likely find themselves hauled before the HCPC for professional misconduct.

    • welsh lady June 9, 2016 at 8:35 pm #

      Quite agree with your statement there’s always another perspective, the Judges view was unbalanced & rather predjudiced I think, the system needs a complete overhaul Cafcass, the Family Courts

  3. Old School June 9, 2016 at 1:52 pm #

    In the ‘new world’ that is perfectly acceptable in light of ‘Vicky’ the Social Worker in B’ham recording colleagues. Why is it right for ‘Vicky’ the Social Worker to record colleagues (without permission) in the office and not for Service Users to record practitioners?.

    I am suggesting – (HCPC)

    Standard of Proficiency 16:

    16.1 Understand the ethics and values in using video or audio recorded information by obtaining written and signed permission from practitioners or service users in advance of any such recording.

  4. K. Danby June 10, 2016 at 7:22 am #

    I agree wholeheartedly with both these comments. The father would not be taking these extreme actions if he was not aware things were being kept from him, and by the same token, if the “professionals” had nothing to hide, they would not be objecting to recordings being taken – covert or otherwise.

    Is this judge interested in the welfare of the child, or in protecting these professionals from the consequences of their actions? I have much evidence, some of it gathered in what professionals would consider to be “covert” methods. Why did I use these methods to obtain this evidence? Because I have experienced many instances of professionals twisting things said by my grandchild, to make them mean something completely different. What this judge is in effect saying is that it is okay for social workers to submit untrue reports, and give untrue “witness” statements, but it is not okay for a concerned and anxious parent to attempt to discover the truth by what he considers to be “unorthodox” means.

    It also occurs to me to question whether the child is aware of what is being said in their name – I know my grandchild was completely unaware of what was being said in her name until I informed her, after reading erroneous reports. She has difficulty reading and understanding these reports, and the people writing them have relied upon this fact to conceal the truth from her. When she discovers the truth – that she has been lied to (and about) for many years – is this not likely to cause a great deal of “emotional harm”?

  5. Anita Singh June 10, 2016 at 2:11 pm #

    The father’s justification for recording was not because professionals twist things, but because and I quote, “…the father felt she may tell social workers things she wouldn’t tell him…..

    If the father is so right about his daughter’s feelings and needs, then when Tara finds out the truth of her father’s actions, he may well have done a good job of silencing his daughter, especially if he is right and she does want to tell social workers things that she wouldn’t tell him.

    This father has invaded his daughter’s rights to privacy, confidentiality and to talk freely in an environment that is not influenced by either of her parents. Clearly her mother has respected her right to talk freely with professionals and not gone to the same extreme and obsessive lengths to police her daughter in the same obsessional manner as her father. A complete lack of parental concern for this child’s emotional well-being.

    Once again as stated clearly in the article, THE JUDGE ALLOWED THE RECORDINGS TO BE SUBMITTED AS EVIDENCE so how has Jackson been interested in protecting the professionals?

  6. Shederv June 15, 2016 at 10:44 am #

    As a social worker I have no personal problem with the recording of my interviews. I do however have a problem with anyone recording what my service users say to me in confidence, children or adults, and concur with Anita Singh above