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Nursery worker sacked after false allegations

Wednesday, July 1st, 2020 7:51am

By Local democracy reporter Ed Oldfield

Torbay Council pays compensation

Torbay Council has offered a nursery worker thousands of pounds in compensation after he lost his job due to a faulty child protection investigation including false allegations made against the man.

One official changed a child protection plan without consulting colleagues and barred the nursery worker from being alone with children, which led to him being sacked.

Details of the case dating back more than three years have emerged in a report by the local government watchdog into a complaint against Torbay Council. The Local Government Ombudsman found a series of faults in the handling of the case. The man, known as Mr B asked the watchdog to investigate his complaint about a decision to put two children he lived with on child protection plans for sexual harm. Mr B said there was no evidence and the allegations were false. 

The ombudsman report said an earlier investigation had found evidence given to a child protection meeting was “untrue, fabricated by a third party or withdrawn”. The case was closed with no further action a year after children’s services intervened, but meanwhile Mr B had been suspended then lost his job as a result. The report said professionals who felt the children were not at risk at home had felt “pressurised” at a meeting into putting them on child protection plans. It said an official had not followed the correct procedure to tighten the supervision requirement on Mr B. That meant he was not allowed to be alone with any children and led to him losing his job.

The ombudsman investigation found Mr B had been caused injustice because of the failings.

The council apologised and offered a total of £1,900 compensation for his distress, time and trouble, and delay in handling the complaint, plus £5,000 for the loss of his job. Torbay Council said it accepted the ombudsman findings and had already learned from the case and carried out a review of its policies and practice. 

The ombudsman report said that an initial Position of Trust meeting held because of Mr B’s job as a nursery worker wrongly decided the allegation was “substantiated” before an investigation had taken place. The council failed to monitor and record the progress of the case and recorded an outcome of “criminal investigation” when none appeared to have taken place.

The report said it was wrong for the chair to make decisions about increasing the restrictions on Mr B outside of a meeting, without consultation with other professionals and that he had been caused injustice, adding: “He was denied the fair and independent process he was entitled to. He has been left with uncertainty about both the decision making and outcome of his case. This has caused him distress over a prolonged period of time.”

The report said the council initial compensation offer of £1,900 was “reasonable” and in line with guidance, but it was up to Mr B whether he accepted the further offer of £5,000 for the loss of his job, or took legal action. 

The ombudsman report said the local authority intervened after a referral from the school attended by Mr B’s child in March 2017. An Allegations Management Meeting/Position of Trust Meeting was held in June because of Mr B’s job and he was suspended. An Initial Child Protection Conference was held at the beginning of July and the two children were put on child protection plans under the category of sexual harm. The meeting chair instructed Mr B should not be alone with either child, and should be supervised by his partner.

Mr B complained to the council in August 2017 about the handling of his case and a second “core group” meeting decided to relax the supervision requirement on him. In March 2018  the “core group” meeting decided there was no further role for children’s services and the case was closed. The council started the statutory complaints procedure in April 2018 and in August an investigation upheld 13 of Mr B’s 18 complaints. It found the ICPC meeting referred to records which did not exist of an allegation from another country, and a lot of information shared was “untrue or fabricated”.

The investigation also found Mr B and his partner were not given the chance to express their views, and professionals who did not think the children were in danger at home felt “pressurised” into putting them on a child protection plan.

The investigating officer said the council should apologise for the faults and consider compensating Mr B for the loss of his job due to the ICPC chair changing the child protection plan “without informing or seeking approval of the other individuals who approved the original plan.”

The council rejected the recommendation to offer compensation to Mr B for losing his job, but offered an apology for its failings; £1,500 for the distress caused due to processes not being carried out correctly; £250 for the time and trouble of pursuing his complaint; and £150 for the delay in the complaint process. Mr B was dissatisfied with the response and complained to the Local Government Ombudsman in June 2019.

Three months later the council offered Mr B an extra £5,000. A letter from the council said: “I am of the view that on this occasion a decision was made which we are unable to justify and this more than likely had an impact on the decision made by your employer”.

A spokesperson for Torbay Council said accepted the ombudsman’s findings in the case. They said: “Children’s Services had already undertaken internal learning as a result of the case and had reviewed its practice and policies regarding this specialist area relating to Position of Trust meetings prior to the Ombudsman findings."

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