Social services chief quits over baby boy's death

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The head of social services in Edinburgh resigned yesterday after conceding that he was "ultimately responsible" for the death of a baby boy.

Les McEwan's resignation follows the case of Caleb Ness, who was 11 weeks old when he was shaken to death by his father, Alexander Ness. Caleb had been returned to the care of his parents despite warnings from medical staff. Ness, 53, admitted culpable homicide, pleading diminished responsibility due to a brain injury, and was jailed for 11 years.

A report by Edinburgh and Lothian's child protection committee, published last week, criticised the city council's social work department and agencies of Lothian health board. It found fault at "almost every level" and concluded that Caleb's death had been avoidable.

After initially defending the decision not to take the baby into care, Mr McEwan, director of Edinburgh city council's social work department, resigned. He wrote: "As director I have ultimate responsibility for everything that happens in the department and I do not shirk that responsibility."

The High Court in Edinburgh was told that a nurse had warned social workers it was unsafe to send Caleb home after he had spent three weeks in hospital withdrawing from the methadone his drug addict mother Shirley Malcolm, 39, had taken during pregnancy. But the infant was placed on the child protection register and returned to his parents.

On 18 October 2001, Caleb was left alone with his father - who had served time for violence and drug dealing - while his mother went to collect her methadone prescription. Ness grabbed the baby around the chest and shook him so violently that he caused bleeding around the brain. Caleb died within two minutes. Ness placed him under a play frame and refused to telephone for an ambulance when the boy's mother came home. A pathologist revealed that Ness had rebroken ribs, fractured in a previous assault on the child.

Donald Anderson, council leader, said the report had sent a "wave of shock and horror" through the authority. Two social workers were suspended and three staff removed from child protection duties following a review of procedures.