From The TimesOctober 19, 2006


Blind justice without a name

If social workers really are manufacturing evidence in child abuse cases, their anonymity is assured

Camilla Cavendish

THIS WEEK Tim and Gina Williams, a Welsh couple, were reunited with their three children. Social workers had whisked them into care two years ago in the wholly erroneous belief that Mr Williams was a paedophile. He had made the fatal mistake of calling social services about an 11-year-old boy he had found half-naked with his daughter. But the tables quickly turned. A doctor claimed to have found evidence of sexual abuse, social workers jumped to conclusions, and the Williamses were prevented from seeing their children except for an hour and a half twice a week. They said that their children never understood what was happening. They thought their parents did not want them. Imagine it, and weep.

The Williamses were saved because an American doctor testified that there was not a shred of evidence of abuse. In a searing judgment, Judge Crispin Masterman has ruled that the children should never have been removed. He criticised social workers for failing to follow the most basic procedures. Yet the doctor and the social workers remain anonymous.


Newport City Council, named as the local authority, has promised a review. This is unusual. In many such cases, even local councillors do not know when their own staff perpetrate miscarriages of justice. In March Mr Justice McFarlane publicly castigated social workers who had removed a nine-year-old girl from her parents for 14 months on the absolutely false pretext that her mother might be suffering from Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy (MSbP). The judge found that every one of the 13 assertions made by the social services team leader was “misleading or incomplete or wrong”.


But guess what? We will never know who the team leader is. The Tory MP and ex-council leader Sir Paul Beresford, who has called for those involved to be named, has been unable even to find out which local authority was involved. I have a good idea which one it is. But I am willing to bet that even the leader of that council does not know. I am also willing to bet that none of the people involved has even been disciplined.


This is a racket. All other public servants are held accountable for their mistakes. John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP, puts it this way: “In a criminal case, where someone can be given a life sentence, police officers are quoted by name as they give evidence. There is no justification for professionals being anonymous when a parent is given an effective life sentence [by losing their child].”


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If we do not know their identities, we also cannot tell whether the same people have given misleading evidence in other cases. If the McFarlane case social workers thought they saw MSbP in a woman whose only crime was to have taken her daughter to hospital for stomach pain (I kid you not), how many other times were they visited by similarly delusional visions?


Did Gordon Oliver, the social worker recently jailed for sexually assaulting children over a period of 20 years, ever give evidence in court? What about Martin Thei, the Essex County Council worker who killed himself five years ago after being arrested by police for downloading child porn? One campaign group claims that Thei made many reports that resulted in children being taken into care and/or adopted. The council says that is unlikely but it is not absolutely sure. I have talked to one family in whose case Thei’s report was crucial. This has never been reviewed.


The number of calls I receive from parents, some who have lost their children for ever and some who have got them back after dreadful battles, makes me increasingly concerned that social workers and experts are manufacturing evidence; that they are concentrated in certain parts of the country; and that they cover up for each other, because they are convinced that they are right. We are living in a hell of good intentions. We can only root out the bad apples if we can see how they infect the picture.


Anonymity clouds every attempt at justice. Two years ago, after Angela Cannings was cleared of killing her babies, Margaret Hodge, then Children’s Minister, announced a review of certain cases where children had been taken into care. But her “review” consisted of asking the same old people in the same old local authorities to question their own original judgments. Only one case was subsequently overturned. That tells us nothing, because Hodge failed utterly to grasp the opportunity to monitor specific councils and witnesses and to see whether there were patterns to their behaviour.


Today, once again, we are in danger of missing an opportunity. For the Government’s otherwise excellent consultation on opening up the family courts barely touches on this issue. It concentrates on the anonymity of children and families, and says virtually nothing about the anonymity of professionals. Making more judgments public, as the Government proposes, would clearly be a great step forward. But if we simply get anonymised judgments, such as that of McFarlane, we are not much farther forward in holding fraudsters to account.


Judges currently decide whether to make their judgments public, and whether to name professionals. Very few do, despite guidance from the Court of Appeal (in the McFarlane case, the court even kept secret the identity of the defence counsel). I have no desire to perpetrate witch-hunts: each witness could be given an identity code, if that was felt absolutely necessary to protect their identities, but that would at least enable those of us who want to see justice done track their record.


The debate about child protection and anonymity is always couched in terms of the interests of the child. Those who work in this field have come to believe that a child’s privacy is somehow synonymous with their own. But if some people do not understand what real evidence is, should they not be accountable? The oldest law of bureaucracies is “first protect ourselves”. How many more cases do there have to be before someone finally kicks down their hiding place?




Have your say


if there is to be justice for these vulnurable little angles, family courts has to be made public so that each one { the victim, defence, prosecution and court } are to account for each of their every move. Children are suffering so much in the hands of so called professsionals as they are the ones trained to protect them as much as the parents also have a duty, but power lies with "pros". 'So if they are badly trained to protect children they will abuse them as they have done and continue doing'. I am a victim of both police and social services accusation, instutions which are vastly corupt and arrogant thinking they posses every power in this planet earth and can do anything without a care of duty. It is time these professionals are brought to books otherwise they will continue damaging this society. Judges are as guilty as them as they are the ones that protect social services and the prosecution, i have been a victim of this huge arrogance both in the family and crown court.


Obiero, ilford, essex