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Home > Judgments > 2015 archive

London Borough of Brent v K [2015] EWHC 658 (Fam)

Judgment criticising arrangements for placement and transportation in respect of a collection order.

The court was concerned with B, born in 1998. B was placed in local authority care in 2005 and whilst a placement order was made in November 2006, at the date of hearing she remained in foster care. During 2014 following a personal tragedy B's behaviour became increasingly difficult.  She frequently absconded and associated with others who were potentially very harmful to her. On 27th November 2014 B left the foster home.

The local authority issued an urgent application for a collection order on 11th December 2014 and the court made the order at 7.30pm. The LB of Brent was told the order had been executed immediately but it was not until 2.30am that an escort collected B from the police station. No arrangements had been put in place prior to the granting of the order for the collection or placement of B. She spent over seven hours in police custody.

Newton J said that it must be clearly understood by all authorities that when they apply to the court for collection orders firm and appropriate arrangements must be in place, and must be held in place whilst the child is located.  It is simply not acceptable for an application to be granted and only then for enquiries to be made as to placement and transportation. The court found that this failure to put in place and hold in place arrangements for transport and placement was a failure by the individuals concerned and by the authority amounting to abuse upon an already vulnerable child who has a right to protection. 

Summary by Georgina Clark, barrister, Field Court Chambers
_____________________________

This judgment was delivered in private.  The Judge has given leave for this version to be published on condition that in any published version the anonymity of the child and of their family must be strictly preserved.  Failure to do so will be a contempt of court.

No. FD14P01095
Neutral Citation Number: [2015] EWHC 658 (Fam)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
FAMILY DIVISION

Royal Courts of Justice

Wednesday, 18th February 2015

Before:

MR. JUSTICE NEWTON
(In Private)

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B E T W E E N:
LONDON BOROUGH OF BRENT
 Applicant
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K  Respondent
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Transcribed by BEVERLEY F. NUNNERY & CO.
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MR. G. BAIN (instructed by Legal Services) appeared on behalf of the Applicant.
THE RESPONDENT did not attend and was not represented.
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J U D G M E N T
MR. JUSTICE NEWTON:

1. The court is concerned with B, born in 1998.  Her welfare is my paramount consideration.  On 11th December 2014 the Local Authority sought and obtained an urgent collection order.  Upon execution the child was kept in police custody for several hours.  This judgment will be placed on BAILLI because it is an example of a difficulty which is inexcusable and which all authorities need to be aware of and prevent.  I am particularly grateful to       Mr Bain who has appeared today for the first time in the case, and has put the Authority's position as well as it can be.  In these important applications it demonstrates the importance of an experienced advocate. 

2. B was placed in Local Authority care in 2005.  A placement order was made in November 2006, very sadly a final adoptive home was not identified for her as had been the plan.  B suffered an enormous personal tragedy in 2013 and, during the course of 2014, her behaviour became increasingly difficult.  She frequently absconded, sometimes for extended periods.  She associated with others who were potentially very harmful to her.  She was, and is, at risk of child sexual exploitation.  On occasions she self-harmed.  On any view B was a very vulnerable person indeed, requiring help, support, guidance and protection. 

3. The Local Authority, having parental responsibility for her, were becoming increasingly anxious about her welfare.  Not just because of her delicate, low and vulnerable state, but also because it appeared that she had fallen into a relationship with a man, well known to the police, at least, in a variety of circumstances, but particularly in relation to allegations of abusive sexual and physical relationships with young girls.  She was, as I have said, a child who was at risk of child sexual exploitation.  The authority had convened, in fact, their panel and had already decided that she was at risk of sexual exploitation. 

4. On 26th November 2014 B returned home to the foster carer, who noted that she had bruising to the upper part of her arm (the bruising had the appearance similar to "grab marks").  The following day (27th November 2014) B left the foster home, returning only briefly on 8th December 2014 for a change of clothing. 

5. The Local Authority issued an urgent application for a collection order on 11th December 2014.  I heard that urgent application on issue, it being immediately referred to a judge by the Clerk of the Rules and would not have granted the order had I not been satisfied that appropriate and protective arrangements for placement and transportation - that is to say an escort - were securely in place.  That proved not to be the case.

6. The difficulties that subsequently arose are far from unique.  A similar example occurred last week before Hogg J when another child was held in police custody for several hours.  The strong message must go to all authorities that what occurred in this case is totally unacceptable, it has failed everyone, but principally B.  It must not happen again.   

7. On 11th December 2014 I heard and granted the application in the afternoon.  B was located at 7:30pm.  It was not until 2:30am that someone attended the police station, and B did not leave the police station for onward transportation to the placement until 3.02am.  What happened in those intervening hours is nothing short of disgraceful.  The Local Borough of Brent was told at 19:58 that the order had been executed.  The Duty Team responded half an hour later.  When they did respond it was to say that no adequate arrangements were in place, either for placement or transport. 

8. The police, who self evidently ought to be dealing with other matters, had two response officers to sit with B, this vulnerable young person for several hours whilst the business of a busy police station continued around them.  It hardly needs stating how inappropriate such an environment must have been for B.  As a result of that, six extra officers were needlessly kept on overtime to cover their duties, at considerable expense.  The police in this, as in other examples, in my experience discharged their responsibilities with enormous skill and care, not sadly reflected by the Local Authority.

9. The police endeavoured to contact the emergency duty team in fact run by a different Authority, Harrow Social Services.  The only information that was available to them were the details of the emergency duty team social worker, which, of course, the police already had, and who appeared to be quite unable to assist.  The response was slow, she had received no arrangement details (because none existed), and seemed unable to put any in place.   They refused to give details of anybody else in authority.  The police were able eventually to speak to the emergency duty team social worker, but only after they had called her repeatedly.  She refused to give the number of anybody in authority and able to take any decision, and in fact it was only, as I understand it, late in the evening (at 23:50) that the police were eventually given the number and name of the operations director for social care (who had been involved since 21.50), there continued to appear to be a lack of urgency.  As a result, in desperation, the police contacted the council call line which is in Liverpool; it is a national call line dealing with all manner of emergencies.  They had no contact numbers for Brent.  The individuals there were unfortunately unhelpful, and refused even to identify themselves.  As a result, B continued to be held in police custody for over seven hours.  She was extremely distressed.  Whilst I could not fault the dedication and professionalism of the police, it is difficult to imagine a more unsuitable environment. 

10. Eventually an escort arrived at 2.30am.  Inexplicably, the Tipstaff were not notified when B had been collected from custody, nor were they notified subsequently of the details of the placement. 

11. It must be clearly understood by all authorities that when they apply to the court for these important and urgent collection orders that firm and appropriate arrangements MUST be in place, and MUST be held in place whilst the child is located.  It is simply not acceptable for an application to be granted, as it most usually is, by a Judge and only then for enquiries to be made as to (a) placement and (b) transportation.   Failure to do so is a failure by the individuals concerned and by the Authority amounting to abuse upon an already vulnerable child who has a right to protection. 

12. What I say should not be thought to be an impediment on authorities making applications for such orders.  They have parental responsibility and clearly such orders must be urgently sought in order to protect vulnerable young people, but it is totally unacceptable for them to have to remain in police custody while some sort of plan is cobbled together and then put in place. 

13. I have on this occasion deliberately not named the social workers involved in this case.  It is now apparent that details were available to the Emergency Duty Team, because no arrangements had been put in place.  It is unacceptable, to say the least, that the information given to the court was either inaccurate or misleading, or that placements or transport arrangements were allowed to fall, leaving it to the emergency duty team to try to devise a plan for placement for B, which they were not apparently well placed to do.  I have the gravest reservations that the emergency systems in this authority are not remotely suitable or fit for purpose. 

14. The purpose of this judgment is to make sure that the practical arrangements on which the order is based must be in place and durable.  Authorities must ensure that they are properly represented by advocates who understand what is required, and are able to give the information that is required by the court, accurate information, that the placements and consequent transport arrangements are ones which are available now and will be retained until the child has been safely recovered. 

15. If this situation ever arises again each individual can expect to be publicly named and shamed.  It is incumbent on Authorities to ensure that robust processes are in place.  That leaves aside any issue that the child or children concerned may have in their own right in applications or actions against the authority for a lack of care.  I make it clear that what has happened in this case demonstrates a lack of proper practice and responsibility and must be rectified.