Archive for June, 2009

Family law solicitor William Edwards has criticised government changes which are supposed to open up family courts to the scrutiny of the Press and has vowed to fight to try and stop them.

The new rules state that, unless specifically excluded by a judge, accredited journalists can attend custody, care and divorce proceedings. Until now, these proceedings have generally been held in private.

Mr Edwards, who is based in Midsomer Norton, said: “It is essential that the public has total confidence in the courts that deal with family law.

“However, there is also the necessity to protect the identity of children, which is why, until now, proceedings concerning children have generally been held in private.

“The new rules may well allow a journalist to go into a family court. However, the rules also state that they are not allowed to report on what they actually hear in court.
“A cynic may claim that the new rules supposedly put in place to make family law courts ‘less secret’ are no more than a sop to pressure groups. In reality, they change nothing.”

Mr Edwards, who is head of family law at Thatcher & Hallam, is also a member of both the Law Society’s family law panel and the specialist family lawyers’ organisation Resolution.

He says he will not be giving up in his quest to obtain real reform of the law.


Taxpayers will have to foot a legal bill approaching a million pounds after the court case involving hitman-hiring social worker Lynda Barnes.

The complex family court case exposed Mrs Barnes’ criminal past and her lies under oath and the judge hearing it was so concerned that he ordered the council chiefs who hired her to pay half the legal aid costs.

So even though the families involved in the case were receiving legal aid for challenging the council and its social workers, Judge Paul Barclay said Bath and North East Somerset Council was so liable that it should pay half their’ legal aid bill.

That is expected to pass Pfund500,000, and B&NES will also have to pay its own legal bill conservatively put by the council yesterday at Pfund250,000. The full figures are yet to be calculated, but it is expected to be somewhere between three-quarters and a full one million pounds.

Yesterday, B&NES reassured its taxpayers that services would not be directly affected by the case council chiefs had seen the possibility of a hefty legal bill coming and budgeted for it from their ‘risk reserves’ pot.
The case, which cannot be reported in detail, was a complex child protection one involving an extended family battling with B&NES social services in the family court. As well as B&NES’ own legal team, four other sets of barristers and solicitors were involved representing interested parties.

But the case became significantly more complicated when a colleague of Mrs Barnes told her bosses the social worker had lied under oath and asked her to lie too.

Judge Barclay was so appalled he investigated Mrs Barnes himself and discovered she had been sacked by B&NES’s predecessor council, Avon, after being found guilty of attempting to hire a hitman to have her husband murdered back in 1995.

A FOUR-YEAR-OLD girl who is believed to have been suffocated at home, was taken off the child protection register two years ago.

Zoey Anne David was found dead at a house on Bideford Close in the Maesglas area of Newport, on Friday.

A 34-year-old woman, also named locally as Zoey David, was found lying nearby with serious injuries. She remains under arrest on suspicion of murder in hospital where she is being treated for injuries she sustained that day.

It has since emerged that the girl was placed on the child protection register by the Newport Safeguarding Children Board when her family moved to the area in 2007 from London.

By the end of that year the board, which comprises Newport City Council, Gwent Police and the local health board, took the decision to take Zoey Anne off the register.
A spokesman for the board said it was now considering a Serious Case Review.

“Such a review would establish whether there are any lessons to be learnt about the way in which agencies work together to safeguard children,” said the spokesman.

“There is specific guidance from the Welsh Assembly Government in relation to Serious Case Reviews that will be followed in this case.

“It is our understanding that this child had previously been on the Child Protection Register in Newport in 2007 and any relevant information relating to the work of agencies with the family will be considered during the Serious Case Review process.”

Efforts to improve the social work service for children in Aberdeen have made encouraging progress, inspectors have said.

It was earlier claimed that children living at risk of abuse or neglect were not being given adequate protection.

The HM Inspector of Education had inspectors in Aberdeen throughout April to follow up an earlier report.

It concluded that the social work service had been successful in laying effective foundations for improvement.

The report has been welcomed by the north east of Scotland child protection committee (NESCPC).

NESCPC chairman, Chief Constable Colin McKerracher, said: “I am pleased this report recognises all the good work and improvements made in Aberdeen.

“Agencies and their staff have worked closely together and this helps us all to strengthen services for children across the city.”

New director

Aberdeen City Council’s chief executive Sue Bruce added: “It is very encouraging to see the progress made to date.”

Aberdeen’s new director of social care and wellbeing, Fred McBride, was the head of children’s services in Dundee at the time of toddler Brandon Muir’s killing.

The case sparked a review of child protection services as it emerged that social workers had been alerted to concerns over Brandon.

Robert Cunningham was jailed for 10 years after being found guilty of 23-month-old Brandon’s culpable homicide.

BRANDON MUIRS father John was in shock when he learned that a report on Dundees child protection services had highlighted so many major deficiencies, his family said yesterday.

Johns sister Dayna Garty called for the immediate resignation of Alan Baird, the citys director of social work, and recently-appointed chairman of the committee overseeing child protection in the city.

She said they also feel for other children who have been let down by child protection services in Dundee.

Its all very well for them to say theyre sorry and it wont happen again but they always wait until its too late, she added. They are all for giving people chances but that means its the kids who get hurt.

Brandon was just 23 months old when he was killed by Robert Cunningham, his mothers boyfriend.

The case prompted the Scottish Governments children and early years minister Adam Ingram to bring forward the results of an inspection on Dundees child services.

That inspection, headed by Her Majestys Inspectorate of Education (HMIE), found nine of the 19 quality indicators that they considered were either weak or unsatisfactory and it uncovered major problems in the identification of children at risk and the provision of a speedy response to their needs.

Although Brandons family has always been highly critical of the role they feel social services played in the toddlers death, even they were shocked by the damning report, Dayna told The Courier.

I definitely didnt think it was going to come out as bad as it did, she said.

I was absolutely appalled when I read it in the paper. There were so many sectors which were unsatisfactory.

A NURSERY school worker accused of abusing children has worked at a number of creches in Blackpool, we can reveal.

Jon Lee Fraser, 21, appeared before resort magistrates yesterday charged with sexually assaulting a boy and girl, both aged seven.

The offences are alleged to have taken place on February 19 and March 3 at the nursery in Blackpool where Fraser, of Erdington Road, worked.

The Gazette has chosen not to name the creche the allegations relate to in order to protect the identities of the children involved.

However, police today confirmed they were now speaking to managers at other nurseries in the resort where Fraser is known to have worked.

A Lancashire Police spokeswoman said: “It is true Mr Fraser has worked for very short periods of time as a nursery worker at a number of other nurseries.

“We are working closely with the managers of those nurseries and the relevant local authorities.

“At this stage there is no information to suggest any further alleged offences, or that at any time he was left by the resident staff on his own with the children in a situation where any other offences could have been committed.”

The spokeswoman added: “If any parent is worried about their children then utilise the advice and guidance on the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) website www. or the advice from the NSPCC.”

CHILD PROTECTION services in Dundee have been severely criticised in a damning report published today.

The report, prepared in the wake of the Brandon Muir case, was compiled by a team of independent assessors led by Her Majestys Inspectorate of Education and has raised major concerns over the effectiveness of services to protect vulnerable children in the city and meet their needs.

Of the 18 quality indicators the team looked at, nine were either weak or unsatisfactory, six were satisfactory and only three were described as good.

The report showed there were major weaknesses in the identification of children who needed protection, staff across services did not always respond quickly enough to children who were at risk of significant harm and they did not always report concerns until the childs circumstances had reached crisis point.

The report follows the killing last year of 23-month-old Brandon Muir at the hands of Robert Cunningham, the boyfriend of the Dundee toddlers mother.

Cunningham was jailed for 10 years for culpable homicide at the High Court in March, although he is appealing against his conviction.

The month-long inspection, which is part of a rolling programme looking at all 32 Scottish local authorities, was already under way when the trial ended.

Its results had been due to be published in September, but concern over Brandons death prompted the Scottish Government to order the findings to be released in June instead, with children and early years minister Adam Ingram saying a clear picture of how childrens services were operating in the city was needed as quickly as possible.

That picture is a hugely damning one which highlights significant delays in protecting children at risk of neglect or emotional abuse, particularly those affected by parental substance misuse, which the multi-agency Dundee Children and Young Persons Protection Committee has acknowledged and says it has already begun to address.

Some children, the report said, were left for too long in circumstances which placed them at risk of significant harm.