Council disappointed after “abusive and threatening” behaviour to social workers “goes unpunished”

Father's threats against practitioner named on order deemed not to contravene it because they were not uttered in her presence

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Photo: alex.pin/Fotolia

This article has been amended. 

A London council has expressed disappointment after a court threw out a claim that would have seen a father jailed for breaching an injunction after he barricaded two social workers in a room in February.

At a hearing last month, Mr Justice MacDonald found Neil Lennard had not broken the terms of a year-long order sought by Wandsworth council in July 2018 prohibiting him from abusing or intimidating two other practitioners.

Justice MacDonald ruled that despite Lennard issuing threats about a social worker, GOA, while he prevented her colleagues GE and NO leaving a room, there was no injunction breach because GOA was not present.

The order forbade Lennard from using offensive, foul or threatening words towards GOA and a fourth practitioner, AB – both of whom worked in a looked-after children’s team – and from sending them offensive, foul or threatening communications.

The judge concluded that, given that a breach would lead to a prison sentence, it was necessary to interpret “towards” narrowly – barring Lennard from aiming abuse directly at GOA but not covering threats made about her in her absence.

ADHD medication dispute

Lennard’s animosity towards Wandsworth council stemmed from a care order made in 2016 in respect of his son and daughter.

In January 2019, the court heard, a fresh dispute arose regarding the son, ‘Y’, starting to take ADHD medication.

“A meeting was held between Mr Lennard, the local authority and a doctor in January to consider the issue of parental consent,” the judgment said. “Mr Lennard contends that that meeting ended in acrimony. He considered that he had been overloaded with information.”

On 13 February 2019, Lennard said, he received a text message saying that senior managers had authorised the medication to commence – a decision the father felt had not sufficiently involved him.

He subsequently visited Wandsworth town hall and “let his frustration get the better of him”, barricading GE and NO in a room using his body and telling them they could not leave until he saw GOA.

Lennard said he would “wait outside and snatch [GOA] because I want answers” and “would body snatch [GOA] at the car park and have a body map on the floor and going to burst her head open”. He was also said to have made threats to the two practitioners present.

The police attended the town hall after Lennard himself called them, and the two social workers were released.

‘Extreme provocation’

In the wake of the incident, Wandsworth council applied for a committal order, on the single ground that Lennard used offensive, foul, threatening words towards GOA.

The local authority’s legal representative said it was “plain on the evidence that the words used by Mr Lennard were directed at GOA in that she was the subject of those words and, accordingly, the words were used ‘towards’ her”. GOA had in any event learned of the threats from her colleagues, he added.

In a statement, Lennard admitted his behaviour in February and apologised, adding that he was acting under “extreme provocation”.

But his lawyer argued that there could not in fact have been an injunction breach because the subjects protected by the order were not there.

He based his submission on a 1989 appeal by a farmer who made death threats relating to a bailiff who was outside his property, while in conversation with a pair of customs officers. A court found the man had not aimed the threats “towards” the bailiff because he was not in the house and was out of earshot.

“Having given careful consideration to the matter, and in the context of the alleged breach being the use by Mr Lennard of verbal abuse, I conclude that I favour the narrow interpretation of the word ‘towards’ in this context,” Justice MacDonald said.

He added that the penal sentence Lennard faced, and a strict list of criteria relating to injunction breaches – including that they must be proved to a criminal standard of evidence – reinforced his decision.

The judge noted that his conclusion would have been different had Lennard published his abuse on social media and it had been read by GOA.

Disappointing judgement 

A spokesman for Wandsworth council said: “It’s really important that frontline staff who work in difficult and stressful situations are given proper protection so we are disappointed that the abusive and threatening behaviour displayed here has gone unpunished because of a technicality.”

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4 Responses to Council disappointed after “abusive and threatening” behaviour to social workers “goes unpunished”

  1. Bionic Woman July 3, 2019 at 10:32 pm #

    Would the Courts be so quick to dismiss the evidence if the father had threatened to burst a Judge’s head open? No doubt the Courts would have him removed and given a custodial sentence for Contempt. There is direct evidence of two Registered Social Workers who are witnesses. This is nothing less than a total disregard for SW safety and the Courts’ contemptuous attitude to SWs. GOA & colleagues should refuse to work with anyone who threatens violence. just as any NHS worker can. The LA should take immediate steps to ensure the safety of workers expected to engage with this person. SOCIAL WORKERS ARE NOT CANNON FODDER.

  2. anon July 4, 2019 at 9:19 am #

    Social workers put themselves forward in such complicated and potentially aggressive situations and unfortunately due to technicality the person in question was unpunished.
    Workers face such hostility and stressful situations; their unwavering dedication to their work is commendable.

    However, this is how some aggrieved workers would feel, those who have been bullied, felt undermined and harassed by the management but nothing happens because there is no evidence, it’s not proven – there is no written information that the worker was singled out, ill treated.

  3. Karen July 5, 2019 at 7:19 pm #

    Commendable that Wandsworth council took action in the first place, my local authority wouldn’t. Sad that the Judge felt he had to take the action he did, as usual it will take the death of a human being before judgements change.

  4. jim July 8, 2019 at 10:54 am #

    what about the fact that he illegally obstructed the 2 social workers from leaving the room by uisng physical force or the threat thereof? The Council shouls have also took him to court for his actions against those 2 social workers, who by the way if they had been capable and willing would have been within their rights to push him out of the doorway in order to exit the room,,, but no doubt they risked him assaulting them or claiming he was ”assaulted” if they managed to restrain him without injury!