The couple, both senior social workers, were investigated by the council after it received an anonymous claim that they had mistreated their daughter – an experience they described as a “nightmare”. The Council’s Children’s Services department launched a child protection investigation under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989. This sets out local authorities’ duty to investigate cases of actual or suspected harm.
The letter claimed the couple’s daughter looked “so unhappy” and “so sad”.
The council launched an immediate investigation, contacting the girl’s school, GP and the local police without the permission of the parents. They then rang the parents and read them to the contents of the letter.
The couple described the investigation as “ridiculous” and sent a strongly worded email to the council. As a result, the authority decided to escalate the initial enquiries into a full child protection investigation.
Judge Anthony Thornton has now overturned this decision, saying it had been made without investigating whether their daughter had really been at risk. The council had, he said, not taken proper steps to enable an “an objective and fair decision”, thereby breaching the couple’s rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This protects the right to a “private and family life”.
The unnamed couple insisted there had been no actual evidence that their daughter had been at risk, and described the investigation as “so flawed procedurally and so fundamentally lacking in the essential minimum requirements of a guidance-complaint process that it was unlawful”.
The mother said of the judge’s decision: “They thought they were completely unaccountable – but today they have been held to account by the court. This is a landmark case for parents. One wonders how many families are out there suffering.”
A spokesman for Haringey Council spokesman added: “Our handling of this case fell below the standards that we would expect, and we apologise to the family concerned. We are committed to learning from the findings of the court as we continue to make improvements to our child protection and safeguarding systems.”