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Bristol Council spent £21,000 trying to cover up social work failings

Last month The Sun reported on a scandal involving treatment of a four-year-old girl by Bristol City Council. She was left in foster care with a man accused of downloading child abuse pictures - the foster carer later committed suicide. The council delayed removing the girl despiite being alerted to the dangers.

What compounds the scandal is how the council sought to suppress it being reported:

The Sun was banned from reporting how the four-year-old remained with the man for a FORTNIGHT after social workers learned of the suspicions.

But after a two-month legal battle a High Court judge has overturned the gagging order.

In a victory for freedom of speech, Mr Justice Baker ruled a council was “unjustified” in trying to stop us revealing a court’s criticisms of its social workers’ role in the case.

It added:

Magistrates who heard the case last October said Bristol City Council had failed to follow child protection procedures. They said social workers didn’t take the girl’s claims seriously — and slammed them for not acting immediately.

And handing down his judgment in the case, Mr Justice Baker blasted the council for seeking an injunction against us on October 10.

Defending freedom of expression, he said: “There is a danger that those who practise in the family justice system fail to give proper consideration to the Article 10 rights of the media. This must now cease.”

I put in a Freedom of Information request to ask the Council what legal bill the Council Taxpayers would face regarding the attempts to prevent publication. The total external legal spend was £21,278.  But the real cost was higher:

We can advise that 165 hours of legal time were spent on this case during the period that the press reporting was a live issue; however, please note that this is a global figure and also includes time spent on an appeal within the care proceedings, which was running concurrently. 

No doubt the council would argue that it has a shortage of foster carers which put it under pressure. Wouldn't that money be better spent on paying them more and recruiting new ones than on a crusade against press freedom?

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