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Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Social worker edited notes in case against mother-of-two, judge concludes

Written by Brian Farmer

A social worker edited notes made about a mother-of-two embroiled in family court litigation with the intention of "bolstering" a council's case, a judge has concluded.

Linda Fraser, a consultant social worker who was working on the woman's case for Bristol City Council, had been dishonest and shown a "willingness to manufacture, manipulate or distort evidence after the fact", District Judge Julie Exton suggested.

The judge had criticised Ms Fraser in a ruling made in March last year, after a family court hearing in Bristol, but publication was shelved pending the outcome of an appeal.

Ms Fraser had asked a High Court judge to overturn Judge Exton's findings.

But Mr Justice Baker, who is based in the Family Division of the High Court in London, has dismissed her appeal after deciding that Judge Exton had done nothing "wrong or unfair".

Mr Justice Baker's ruling on the appeal has now been published and details of the case revealed.

He indicated that social services bosses at Bristol City Council had begun proceedings against the mother-of-two.

She had been accused of neglecting her children and failing to care for them.

The case had concluded with "no order" being made and Mr Justice Baker said the children were now at home with their mother, who was getting support from social services staff.

Mr Justice Baker said the woman had made a series of allegations about Ms Fraser, complaining that the social worker had "obtained authorisation to access the logs relating to certain observations of the mother with the children contrary to the policies of the local authority" and "made alterations which, in a number of respects, added critical comments about the mother and subsequently, when challenged about this, lied about editing the logs".

Ms Fraser had denied that she had "edited the logs to bolster the local authority case".

"Her case is that she accepts that there is no other explanation for the editing of the case logs, save that they were carried out by her, but that she has no recollection of having done so and denies lying in her evidence about this matter," added Mr Justice Baker.

"She relies on evidence that she was under very considerable stress at the time and that she was then, and is now, suffering from significant mental health problems."

Mr Justice Baker said Judge Exton had "carefully recorded" Ms Fraser's evidence.

"The judge concluded that it 'beggared belief' that she could not remember editing the notes," he said.

"The judge therefore concluded that (there) had been editing with the intention of bolstering the local authority case."

Mr Justice Baker said Judge Exton had agreed that evidence generally illustrated Ms Fraser's "negative attitude towards the mother"; "disregard for the importance of contemporaneous records and evidential probity", "willingness to manufacture, manipulate or distort evidence after the fact" and "dishonesty".

Ms Fraser had made a number of points when mounting an appeal.

She said Judge Exton had not given proper consideration to medical evidence concerning her condition and had not "weighed any effect" her medical condition may have had on her actions.

But Mr Justice Baker concluded that she had "no real prospect" of persuading an appeal court that Judge Exton had been "wrong or unfair".

A Bristol City Council spokeswoman said: "This was an isolated case where the court found that one officer had acted in an inappropriate manner, falling short of the level of professionalism we expect of our social workers.

"Those actions do not reflect the high standards set by our social workers whose 'persistence and don't give up approach' were features of feedback received from Ofsted in 2014.

"We are proud of the high quality of social care they deliver, whilst providing vital support to some of the city's most vulnerable children and families."

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