A High Court judge has criticised a central London borough for failing to properly assess the evidence for allegations of abuse in a care case.
In London Borough of Lambeth v O & Ors, two children, a boy and his younger sister, had been taken into care in November last year. The boy was six and the girl five. The mother was born in Nigeria while the father had a Nigerian background. At 51 he was more than 20 years older than his wife.
The removal of the children from the couple’s home required the intervention of the police, and the same day the father was arrested on suspicion of assaulting his daughter, although the investigation was subsequently widened.
The children have remained in foster care since then, following an agreement by the mother signed under section 20 of the Children Act, which deals with the provision of accommodation for children.
The local authority began care proceedings in January. Sitting in the Family Division, Judge Wilding held a fact-finding hearing into a number of allegations sought by the authority of violence and abusive behaviour made by both parents during the proceedings . He said:
“The law in these matters is really quite clear. The burden of proving each and every allegation lies squarely upon the Local Authority and the standard of proof in these proceedings is the simple balance of probabilities.”
The allegations included claims that the father had beaten his daughter with a cane, that he had shouted at her while at school and pulled her by the ear, causing her to fall over; and that the mother had failed to protect the children from the father’s abuse. The parents strongly denied all ten allegations.
The judge concluded that evidence was lacking for all but two elements of the ten allegations. He highlighted many inconsistencies in the evidence presented.
“…it is a great pity, a tragedy in many ways, that it has taken over four months for a hearing to determine the outcome of these allegations. As I have said before, and I will repeat, a thorough investigation by a skilled and careful investigator would have elicited many of the inconsistencies and difficulties in the way in which the Local Authority presented its case.”
The judge added:
“It is not really until the very last minute that there seems to be any such assessment. That simply cannot do, can it? These children have been removed from their parents’ care now for four months. Greater efforts have to be made when it comes to dealing with these allegations, the recording of them and in the investigating of them and of the presentation of evidence.”
In December last year, the London Borough of Lambeth withdrew plans to hold a hearing into whether a local mother had injured one of her children and the family were reunited.
Read the full judgement here.
Photo by roland via Flickr