The Witchfinder points out some truths that liberals find inconvenient. The hysteria underlying witch hunts has a kernel of truth and they often serve a useful purpose when the institutions governing our society are not functioning to protect it. Turning to the recent scandal involving the unlawful detention of an old woman by Milton Keynes Council your humble inquisitor sets out the case for Director Lynda Bull’s career in social care to come to an end.
This site first learned of the case of Milton Keynes Council v RR & Ors  EWCOP B19 on the website of the beautiful and eternally well-informed Dr Lucy Series. It seemed an all too familiar story. An elderly woman was removed from her home and detained unlawfully. The woman’s son objected and was investigated over ‘safeguarding’ allegations. After 16 months the council abandoned the allegations. It was a horrifying abuse of an elderly woman by a local authority.
In several cases where the Witchfinder has been McKenzie Friend, local authorities have retaliated against the family members of service users by bringing long and drawn out investigations and making questionable findings. Councils do have a legitimate role in safeguarding – the hallmarks of an improper investigation are an extremely long period of investigation (itself potentially harmful to the service user) and no interest in procedural safeguards.
A must read case on poor procedure is Davis & Anor v West Sussex County Council  EWHC 2152 (QB), in which a council’s entire safeguarding investigation was quashed by the High Court.
Senior management do not need to be blamed for every failing by a social services department. Managers cannot be everywhere. What is important is that proper procedures are in place to prevent problems and are enforced by management. Safeguarding investigations need to be rapid, transparent and not suspiciously proximate in time to family complaints.
The Witchfinder decided to follow up on Dr Series’ excellent story by examining what changes had been made to prevent a repeat of the scandal. After all, Milton Keynes Council told the Court it had followed up on, “a review of their safeguarding practices” .
Your author contacted Milton Keynes. This was more of a challenge than it sounds and is worth a brief discussion in its own right. On calling into the council, there was an automated voice asking the caller to state the name of the department they wish to reach.
“Press”, intoned the Witchfinder.
“Transferring the call to … Housing Maintenance Services …”
It seems the council’s automated switchboard is no more competent than its safeguarding team.
The council’s website curiously lacks the smiling pictures of its corporate leadership proudly displayed by other authorities. Indeed it was hard to find the names of its Directors. In Milton Keynes, where Labour is the largest party, no one seems to want to take responsibility.
Eventually, your inquisitor reached a real live person and was given the name of Lynda Bull, the ‘Community Wellbeing Corporate Director’. An acknowledgement from a Senior Media Officer stated, “To be honest with you I doubt we will be able to answer all of your questions, but I’ll certainly put them forward to the relevant people at this end” . There was also an out of office acknowledgement from Lynda Bull saying she would be in the next day.
The key questions sent to Milton Keynes were these –
1. The Court found that the council acted unlawfully. The council is under a statutory duty to draw such failings to regulators such as the Health and Care Professions Council. Please confirm, yes or no, that the persons responsible for the case have been referred so that the relevant regulators can consider their fitness to practice?2. Has Milton Keynes Council paid damages, or will it?3. If not, why not?4. The council claims it has made procedural changes. Please specify precisely what changes have been made, providing (for example) copies of changed documents (e.g. a revised Adult Safeguarding procedure).
And the answers received by the deadline? –
1. Silence2. Silence3. Silence4. Silence
Clearly, Milton Keynes was proud of the far reaching and effective changes it has, er … doubtless made. So the Witchfinder investigated further. Milton Keynes Council does have an Adult Safeguarding page with policies available for download.
Tellingly, the most recent edition of the safeguarding procedures was finalised in March and came into force on 7th April 2014, weeks before the judgment. By definition, the revised procedures cannot take into account the final judgement in the case as they were agreed and signed off before it occurred. Moreover the document’s own revision history suggests that the policy is revised every 2-3 years as a matter of course.
There are two documents of interest, “Milton Keynes Safeguarding Adults Board Policy April 2014” and also “Milton Keynes Safeguarding Adults Board Practice Guide April 14”
Much of the documentation is not contentious. Dealing with the ‘Policy’ document first, it is in large part a cookie cutter implementation of No Secrets. What is striking however is that nothing in the policy deals with the possibility of false allegations or the need to protect service users from the consequences of the same – for example there is no mention of the concept of Equalities Victimisation.
In law, Victimisation is retaliation against a service user or any other person who complains of discrimination or any breach of the Equality Act 2010. A local authority who retaliates against a family member for complaining about poor treatment of a disabled person is likely to be in breach of s27 and 29 of the Act. The Equality Act 2010 is not mentioned.
The policy document does not mention time limits, nor the harm that might be caused by a dilatory investigation.
The second document is the ‘Practice Guide’. This sets out the specific mechanism for investigating safeguarding concerns. In fairness, this does set out some timescales. However, as the requirement does not appear in the ‘Policy’ documents this appears to have less authority behind it. What is astonishing to the Witchfinder is the fact that the ‘Practice Guide’ makes no mention whatsoever, in any part of the need to treat the alleged abuser with fairness or even put the allegation to them.
The ‘Practice Guide’ does deal in passing with one form of false allegations – ‘repeated unsubstantiated allegations’ – but only by service users – not by third parties or professionals. This is extremely dangerous. It means (for example) that if complaints by a care home resident of abuse are not substantiated when first raised, subsequent complaints might be ignored. This is a recipe for a Winterbourne View type situation.
The Practice Guide again does not even refer to the Article 8 rights of the alleged victim or perpetrator nor the potential harm caused by severing contact with family members. There is no mention of the concept of Victimisation. There is no thought that the ‘perpetrator’ may be a victim. There is no mention of Article 6 Rights. In short, aside from the time limits there is very little in these documents to suggest that any real lessons have been learned whatsoever nor to stop exactly the same failings happening again.
A cynical observer might be forgiven for thinking that Milton Keynes Council had done a review of its procedures that was in the works anyway and told the Court that procedures and training that would have happened in any event were a response to this case.
The person who signed the safeguarding documents was Lynda Bull. Bull was sent the questions above before this article was written. She chose silence. Bull was given the opportunity to showcase the changes that Milton Keynes Council had made and which were referred to by the council in the judgement. She chose silence. After this article was written, it was sent to Lynda Bull to give her the opportunity to point out any factual errors. After sending the draft (which called for her sacking), the Witchfinder received the following statement –
“Milton Keynes Council has a responsibility to safeguard and promote the wellbeing of our most vulnerable citizens. We take this seriously and work closely with partners in Health Services to prevent and reduce the risk of significant harm to vulnerable adults from abuse.
“When working with vulnerable people, such as those without the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves, including those who have dementia, social workers and mental health practitioners sometimes have to make difficult decisions in the person’s best interests to ensure they are safeguarded from harm. We aim to work with families to make the best possible decisions in often distressing circumstances but sometimes an application to the Court of Protection, which has a legal and independent role to decide what is in an individual’s best interest, is necessary.
“Such an application should be done in a timely way and it is regrettable that in the case of RR this application was not made in advance. It is always important to continue to reflect and improve practice and since 2012 additional training and support has been provided to the relevant partner organisations to ensure best safeguarding practice.”
The astute reader will notice that the statement refers to changes made beginning in 2012. It does not answer the specific questions, in particular does not address the issues in question 4. In short, the council does not even bother to argue that any significant changes have been made in light of the judgement in MKC v RR.
Such extraordinary arrogance is unacceptable in a public servant. Lynda Bull should be sacked and the people of Milton Keynes could do with a Community Wellbeing Corporate Director who is willing to talk to the ‘Community’.