Murder-plot social worker's cases reviewed

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The Independent Online

A council is reviewing cases handled by a children's social worker it employed despite her having a conviction for conspiring to murder her ex-husband.

Lynda Barnes, from Nailsea, North Somerset, was employed by Bath and North East Somerset Council in 2005 despite the fact that she had been sacked by its predecessor, Avon County Council, 10 years earlier following her conviction.



Mrs Barnes worked as a social work team manager for more than three years on child protection cases despite having a conviction for conspiracy to murder her ex-husband after asking someone to hire a hitman for £10,000.



She was given a two-year suspended jail sentence at Bristol Crown Court on March 24 1995 after pleading guilty on the second day of her trial.



Her co-conspirator received 38 months' imprisonment.



At the time of her conviction she was working as a social worker with Avon Social Services in their Child Care Department.



She was sacked by the then Avon County Council, which was replaced by Bath and North East Somerset Council.



She re-joined Bath and North East Somerset Council in September 2005 as an assistant team manager and became a team manager a year later.



The matter came to light during a child protection case being heard in a family court where she is alleged to have lied on oath and asked another social worker to lie to the court.



The judge in the case, Judge Barclay, was appalled and carried out his own inquiries into Mrs Barnes' past.



Yesterday he published his ruling in the case after Mrs Barnes failed in a Court of Appeal application to prevent her being identified.



Mrs Barnes had disclosed her conviction to the council when she was first employed and despite this had successfully registered with the General Social Care Council in January 2006.



The council and the GSCC simply believed Mrs Barnes' version of events of the crime, which Judge Paul Barclay said was a "highly sanitised version of events in which her role is minimised compared to what is revealed in the Crown Court papers".



Mrs Barnes resigned in March this year but had been involved in 17 cases in which 31 children were removed from the care of their parents.



The council has conducted an internal review into all the cases, the results of which are now awaiting verification from a separate NSPCC inquiry.



They have also contacted all the families involved and have checked the criminal records and employment backgrounds of all its 125 social care staff.



A spokesman for the council said: "The Council has apologised to the families involved for the conduct of Lynda Barnes and it has also offered an apology to the court.



"Lynda Barnes lied to the court under oath. She also asked one of our other social workers to do the same.



"This other social worker immediately reported her and the Council immediately brought this to the court's attention.



"The council acknowledged in court that errors were made in the management of the case."



The council admitted it was a mistake to employ Mrs Barnes.



"Council managers acted to remove Lynda Barnes from duty and address any possible areas of concern as soon as possible," the statement said.



"In response to the Judge's ruling, a further investigation will take place where disciplinary proceedings will be considered.



"We have looked again at our systems and found that they are correct but need more rigorous enforcement.



"We have carried out an investigation into other cases where Lynda Barnes had a significant involvement to assure ourselves that no children have been unfairly removed from their families.



"The Council takes its responsibilities extremely seriously and is determined to prevent mistakes like this happening again."



Councillor Chris Watt, Cabinet Member for Children's Services, said: "It was a mistake to employ Lynda Barnes and one that we regret.



"I asked for a review of cases where Lynda Barnes had a significant involvement and am satisfied that no children have been unfairly removed from their families."



The GSCC, which is now reviewing Mrs Barnes' registration, said it knew about her conviction and referred her application to a committee in 2006 which agreed she could be registered.



They say the committee "considered the length of time since the offence, the sanction given by the court, the context behind the offence, that she had been working in child protection for six years prior to registration, had positive references and that her employer at the time endorsed the application and were aware of her conviction and she had been working for them before registration came into force."



A spokesman for the GSCC said in a statement: "We are extremely concerned by the allegations made against Mrs Barnes in relation to this case and an investigation into her actions is under way.



"We are applying to suspend Mrs Barnes on a temporary basis whilst we investigate.



"Any allegations of serious misconduct that call into question a social worker's suitability to remain registered will be investigated by us and action taken, which can include removing someone from the workforce completely.



"A criminal conviction is not in itself a bar to registering with the GSCC.



"We treat all cases individually and will consider various factors such as the length of time since the offence, evidence of rehabilitation and references from other social work professionals."

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