Council, social worker and police officer criticised by judge to stay anonymous

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A council, a social worker and a police officer criticised by a family court judge investigating child sex abuse allegations have won a fight to remain anonymous.

Court of Appeal judges have decided that the names of the council, social worker and police officer should not be included in the family court judge's published ruling on the case.

Three appeal judges concluded - in a written judgment published on Thursday - that the council, social worker and police officer had not been treated fairly.

Sir James Munby, Lord Justice McFarlane and Lord Justice Christopher Clarke had analysed the case at Court of Appeal hearings in London.

Hearings had been staged in public but limits had been placed on what journalists can report.

Appeal judges said in their ruling that "only the barest background" about the family court proceedings, which were overseen at private hearings, could be revealed.

They listed the case only as "re: W (A child)".

None of the parties involved were named.

Appeal judges said the family court judge who had made the criticisms could not be named.

They also gave no indication where the family court hearings had been staged.

Lord Justice McFarlane said, in the appeal court ruling, that the family court judge had considered whether a number of children should be taken into council care.

During that litigation, the family court judge had been asked to make decisions about the truth of sex abuse allegations made by a girl.

He had dismissed the sex abuse allegations and had criticised the council involved, a number of professionals and, in particular, a social worker and a police officer.

The judge had said he would name the council, the social worker and the police officer in a ruling which he would make public.

But the council, social worker and police officer complained of unfairness and asked appeal judges to rule that names should not be revealed.

Sir James, the President of the Family Division of the High Court - and the most senior family court judge in England and Wales - Lord Justice McFarlane and Lord Justice Clarke ruled in their favour.

"The complaint relates to the judge's finding that the social worker and the police officer, together with other professionals ... were involved in a joint enterprise to obtain evidence to prove the sexual abuse allegations irrespective of any underlying truth and irrespective of the relevant professional guidelines," said Lord Justice McFarlane, in the appeal court ruling.

"The judge found that the social worker was the principal instigator of this joint enterprise and that the social worker had drawn the other professionals in.

"The judge found that both the social worker and the police officer had lied to the court with respect to an important aspect of the child sexual abuse investigation.

"The judge found that the local authority and the police generally, but the social worker and the police officer in particular, had subjected (the girl) to a high level of emotional abuse over a sustained period as a result of their professional interaction with her."

Lord Justice McFarlane added: "The central point raised by each of the three appellants is that the prospect of them being the subject of such adverse findings was made known to them, for the very first time, when the judge gave an oral 'bullet point' judgment at the conclusion of the hearing.

"It is submitted that individual and collective adverse findings of the type the judge went on to make in his judgment, did not feature at all in the presentation of the case of any of the parties and were not raised by the judge during the hearing."

Council bosses, the social worker and the police officer said they had been treated unfairly because they had not been given a chance to "meet the allegations" during hearings.

Lord Justice McFarlane said their appeal had been upheld.

"I regard the process adopted by the judge in the present case to have fallen short by a very wide margin of that which basic fairness requires," he said.

"There was, most unfortunately, a wholesale failure to achieve a fair trial in relation to those matters that the judge found proved against them."

He said those "parts of the judge's judgment which record those matters" should be "set aside" and to be regarded "as if they had never been made".