Three social workers who were named by a judge in an “exceptional” case which involved one of them lying on oath have been cleared of wrongdoing by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
The social workers from Hampshire council – Sarah Walker-Smart, Kim Goode and Lisa Humphreys – were named by Judge Mark Horton in November 2015, after he found children had been illegally taken into care and a family’s human rights had been breached. He also found social workers had altered the report of another social worker to make it more negative and knowingly withheld evidence from the court.
The judge directed that his findings be sent to the social work regulator to consider whether further action was required.
In a statement to Community Care, the director of children’s services for Hampshire, Steve Crocker, said the HCPC had “vindicated” the council’s decision to back the social workers by exonerating them.
“Having reviewed the case transcripts and related material we were never in any doubt whatsoever that the social workers concerned have acted honestly, appropriately and professionally at all times.
“It is important that when social workers do nothing wrong that their managers stand up for them – even in the face of ill-informed press comment including, sadly, an article in Community Care.
“We are vindicated in this view by the Health and Care Professional Council’s (HCPC) findings in exonerating those social workers. The reason for publishing or not publishing their decision is a matter for the HCPC. We have no further comment to make,” Crocker said.
When asked why the council did not appeal against the findings, a Hampshire spokesperson said:
“The judge agreed our applications for Care Orders. It was a very complex case, as evidenced in the findings – involving very serious neglect to vulnerable children. The outcome of the court case at that time was consistent with the Local Authority’s application to the court – to safeguard very vulnerable children who were at risk of suffering significant harm as a result of neglect.
“Therefore, whilst there was some criticism by the Judge determining the care orders, there was no logic in appealing the outcome of the case which was made in the best interests of the children. Representations were made through other routes but we will not comment on those further.”
Rumours started circulating online earlier this year that the social workers had been found to have no case to answer by the HCPC.
This prompted an open letter to the Professional Standards Authority, which oversees the HCPC, by The Transparency Project, which requested the reason for the decision be made public. The Transparency Project is a group of lawyers who aim to bring more openness to the family courts.
It is the HCPC’s policy not to publish the outcomes of cases where registrants have been found to have no case to answer.
A HCPC spokesperson said: “We can confirm we were made aware of the Court’s comments and we investigated the concerns raised through our fitness to practise process. Our legislation requires that the earlier stages of this process are dealt with as private matters, therefore we cannot make public the detail of the information we received. However, we followed our usual approach and reviewed all the information obtained, including legal advice, to assess whether the concerns met our Standards of Acceptance. The concerns did not meet them which meant we did not proceed to the next stage of the process.”
In the Transparency Project’s letter to the Professional Standards Authority, chair Lucy Reed argued: “Ordinarily there would be limited public interest in the publication of information about charges which have not been pursued or upheld, but in circumstances where the Family Court has made serious adverse findings which would clearly amount to serious professional misconduct and where the HCPC has made a decision that is prima facie inconsistent with that there is a significant public interest in the basis for that decision.”
The PSA responded to the letter and said it had asked the social work regulator to find out what it could tell them about its actions.
“I should let you know that the authority has no powers to intervene in decisions made by the HCPC at its investigation stages. However, if we have concerns about its approach we may raise these directly with the HCPC, or consider them within our annual performance review,” the PSA’s complaints and administration officer said.