Judge Criticises Council that Took Child into Care over Father’s Links with English Defence League

Reuters/Paul Hackett

A judge has criticised senior managers at Darlington Borough Council after a child was taken into care due to the father’s links with the English Defence League. Sir James Munby, the most senior family court judge in England and Wales, said that the council’s handling of the matter was almost a “textbook example” of how not to pursue such a case

The Telegraph reports that the 13-month-old boy’s father had wanted to care for him after the mother did not put herself forward as a carer, however social services decided he was unfit to do so as he supported the “racist” English Defence League and had once accepted a caution for having sex with a 13-year-old girl when he was 17.

A social worker said that the values of the EDL were “immoral”, as was the act of having sex with the 13-year-old girl.

However, Sir James called the concerns “quite extraordinary” and said the council “conspicuously” failed to show how the child would be at risk of harm or neglect if he had been left in his father’s care.

“The city fathers of Darlington and Darlington’s director of social services are not guardians of morality, nor is this court,” he said. “The justification for state intervention is harm to children, not parental immorality.”

Sir James then listed a series of criticisms of the council. “Various aspects of the case have caused me great concern. The present case is an object lesson in, almost a textbook example of, how not to embark upon and pursue a care case.”

“I am very critical of the local authority’s analysis, its handling of the case and its conduct of the litigation,” he added.

He said there were “significant failings in social work practice, in case analysis and in case management,” adding: “There are lessons here to be learned, not just by this local authority and its staff but also by practitioners more generally.”

He also criticised the allocated social worker for being “plainly both inexperienced and too inexperienced for a case of this complexity”. Her work was “seriously flawed,” he added. A second social worker also seemed neither to have “explored nor analysed” the council’s case.

“The local authority was too willing to believe the worst of the father, which led to it being unduly dismissive of what he was saying. The local authority failed to link the facts it relied upon with its assertions that (the toddler) was at risk.”

Sir James said that blame for the incident lies with senior council managers. “There is, in principle, every reason why public authorities and their employees should be named, not least when there have been failings as serious as those chronicled here, but in the case of local authorities there is a problem which has to be acknowledged.

“Ultimate responsibility for such failings often lies much higher up the hierarchy, with those who, if experience is anything to go by, are almost invariably completely invisible in court. The present case is a good example.”

He added that council management should “never have put someone so inexperienced in charge of such a demanding case”.