Social services in ‘cover-up’ over changing report about children

Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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SOCIAL services staff asked to make decisions about the future of five children were involved in an attempted ‘cover-up’, a family court judge has said.

Judge Mark Horton said there had been a ‘deliberate and calculated’ alteration of a social worker’s report.

The judge said the report had been altered by another social worker and a team manager.

He said the original report – an assessment of the children’s parents – had contained ‘positives and negatives’ and had been balanced.

The changes completely altered the tenor of the report and created a picture that was ‘wholly negative’, he said, and the alterations had the effect of improving the case for removing the children from their parents.

Judge Horton said the family could not be identified, but he said social services staff involved worked for Hampshire County Council and he named a number of people.

The judge has outlined concerns in the latest in a series of rulings on the case following family court hearings in Portsmouth.

He concluded that the children should stay in the care of Hampshire County Council and approved fostering plans put forward by social service staff.

But he was critical of the way the case had been handled.

The judge indicated that some staff had left Hampshire council and moved on to other jobs since the case involving the five children had started.

Social worker Sarah Walker Smart had ‘lied twice to me on oath’, said the judge.

He said he had been told that she had been promoted to a ‘team manager’ in Hampshire council.

Kim Goode had been Sarah Walker Smart’s manager and ‘was the person who initiated the wholesale alteration of the original report and who attempted to keep the truth from the parties and me’, said the judge.

He said she had gone on to become ‘district manager for the Isle of Wight’.

Lisa Humphreys had been Kim Goode’s manager, said the judge.

‘Her evidence was deeply unimpressive,’ he added.

A spokesperson for Hampshire County Council, said: ‘We are pleased for the sake of the children that the courts have agreed our applications for care orders.

‘This is a very complex case as evidenced in the findings - involving very serious neglect to vulnerable children.

‘We are very pleased that the outcome of the court case was consistent with the local authority’s original application to the court - to safeguard very vulnerable children who were at risk of suffering significant harm as a result of neglect.

‘There are some aspects of the court’s criticism that we believe are not quite correct however, and are considering our position in this regard.

‘We do accept that there were deficiencies in some of the social worker practice in this case and subsequent action was taken, including the termination of one social worker’s employment with the county council.

‘We are satisfied that at no stage did any of the named officers deliberately mislead the courts.’