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Family Court judge criticises "seriously flawed" investigation into injuries suffered by boy

A county council failed to establish that a child’s injuries were inflicted and the investigation into responsiblity for those injuries was "seriously flawed", a Familiy Court judge has found.

HHJ Ross Duggan said in his judgment that the injuries were though “in part attributable to the supervision and control provided by the mother not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give”.

The allegation concerned an eight-year-old boy who lived with his younger sister in their mother's care, though with frequent visits from the mother’s then partner.

In January 2021 the mother sought medical attention for the boy and the hospital saw injuries which they suspected to have been inflicted.

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The council sought a finding that these were inflicted injuries for which either the mother or her partner were responsible, both of whom denied this and said the injuries were accidental.

“I have concluded that they are right but a major contribution has been the level of control and supervision over the children,” the judge said.

Duggan J said the burden of proof lay with the council and “allegations must be based on evidence not on mere suspicion or speculation”.

The judge said the investigation of responsibility for the injuries had been “seriously flawed".

This was because an emergency social worker, accompanied by a police officer who was wearing a body camera, attended the hospital who had no Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) training.

“There was none of the preparation or structure which an ABE interview would entail,” the judge said. A police officer who interviewed the boy took only incomplete handwritten notes.

An introductory visit followed from an allocated social worker who had no ABE training either, who told the boy “she had come because he had told the police that he had been strangled by his mother's partner.,” the judge said.

“She proceeded to investigate the allegations by questioning, making no notes until a couple of days later. She knew that an ABE interview was planned but stridently asserted that she had a duty of care to her newly allocated client to conduct her own investigation.”

An interview by a police officer was then recorded but “its unsatisfactory nature is manifest…I am driven to conclude that the deficiencies in the recorded interview are likely to be present in the [earlier] unrecorded interview”.

Judge Duggan said: “I am driven to conclude that the succession of interviews from the first intervention of the detective are so flawed as to be unreliable.

“The suggestions and leading infect everything that follows. I must consider the case on the basis of the other evidence.”

He said the mother was very young and struggled to form an attachment with her son.

She suffered debilitating back pain and depression and used cannabis as a coping mechanism.

The household was chaotic and “there were times when she was unable to supervise and control children running amok. Impacts with floor, wall, patio door, window frame and other children are all in evidence”.

The judge said: “For me the crucial element in the case is the clear evidence that the child's difficult behaviour coupled with weak supervision and control, produced an unusually dangerous home environment.”

He added: “I do not find compelling an inference that she assaulted the boy in a crisis. It is more likely that this challenging boy when poorly supervised and controlled, brought on himself an unusual number and range of accidental injuries.

“The medical evidence does not drive me to reject this proposition which would not be so compelling in a less chaotic household.”

He said the council had not established on the balance of probabilities that the injuries were inflicted though they were in part attributable to the supervision and control provided by the mother not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give.

The children must be subject of care orders and remain in foster care with contact to their mother, who would be supported to try to secure their return in due course. Her ex-partner was discharged.

Mark Smulian

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