Judge: Cobb J
Citation:  EWHC 3312 (Fam)
This case concerned a claim for damages and declarations under the Human Rights Act 1998. The claimants were two children and their mother. Following a 7 day hearing in Bradford, the judge held that the case had “exposed serious and systemic flaws in the decision-making and information-sharing of a joint investigation involving West Yorkshire Police and Wakefield Metropolitan District Council”.
The case involved the removal of two children under police protection measures in February 2015 following the arrest of their parents on suspicion of involvement in the downloading and distribution of indecent images of children. In August 2015 their father pleaded guilty to 6 specimen counts relating to the offences and was later sentenced to a term of imprisonment. At the time of the arrest the mother was under suspicion of being involved in the offences but evidence soon emerged which made clear that she was not involved. In short summary, this important evidence was not passed from the police to the LA. There were other failures explored in detail in the judgement. The case is useful by analogy for COP practitioners where allegations are being made in the COP, particularly where multiple agencies are involved.
The judge summarised his criticism of professionals involved as a combination of the following factors, many of which were systemic within each of the investigating authorities:
“i) There was no strategic leadership in this joint investigation; each arm of the inquiry lacked direction, and there was no one individual taking responsibility for the co-ordination of the inquiries. Insofar as this role was fulfilled by the Officer in the Case, he allowed his own beliefs about the likely involvement of the mother in abuse to cloud his judgment. The Local Authority was beholden to the police in relation to the information sought, and thereby at times found itself partially disabled from conducting any effective case management;
ii) There were poorly defined lines of communication within each of the authorities (social services/police and their respective legal departments) and between the authorities; within each authority different individuals took responsibility for similar functions, none of whom had a comprehensive grasp of the totality of the case;
iii) There was a lack of care and accuracy in record keeping, and in the management of information;
iv) Many key individuals (including the lawyers) had a partial knowledge of the case, which led to incoherent decision-making.
v) Insofar as this was ever a joint investigation (which is debatable) it lacked structure and cohesion. The police took an overly defensive stance in relation to information, and the Local Authority an over-ambitious position encouraged by an experienced police officer (DS Hudson) who lacked discipline in the information sharing.
vi) A lack of discipline and rigour in the evaluation of the evidence; and
vii) A casual regard, and in some respects total disregard, of ordinary principles of good professional practice”.
In contrast, the judge gives a lengthy exposition of good practice in such cases at paragraph 131 of the judgment.
The judge noted that the local and authority and the police had made significant concessions as to their unprofessional conduct and had agreed to compensate the mother and children in damages (£10,000 for the mother and £5,000 for each child).
COP practitioners will also be interested in paragraphs 132 – 142 of the judgment where the judge explores the impact of the statutory charge on the damages award. Although the judge does not give a conclusive view on the issue, he suggests that unless the local authority and police agreed to pay the costs of the proceedings which gave rise to the human rights case, the award of damages would be extinguished by the statutory charge.