Hearing ends on social worker accused of failing murdered tot Liam Fee and other at-risk children

Murdered tot Liam Fee.
Murdered tot Liam Fee.

A social worker put murdered tot Liam Fee and a string of other vulnerable kids at risk of harm as a result of her failings in “the most serious cases” local authorities have to deal with, the lawyer for Scotland’s social services watchdog said today (Friday).

Lesley Bate faces 13 misconduct charges relating to 16 at-risk kids that she worked with while employed as a social worker by Fife Council, first in its Child Protection Team and then in its Children and Families Team.

Liam Fee’s case was allocated to her in January 2013 after his childminder reported he was covered in bruises.

Weeks later it was reported he had a “sore neck” – with mum Rachel Trelfa and civil partner Nyomi Fee, both later convicted of his murder, lying to social workers that he had been taken to see a GP about it.

Bate faces a charge of putting Liam, identified in Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) documents only as FF, at risk of potential harm by failing to follow up on the allegations.

The Fee murder trial heard earlier this year that Liam’s case “fell off the radar” as a result.

A hearing of the SSSC’s conduct sub-committee was today urged to find Bate (60) guilty of misconduct following four full days of evidence from colleagues and investigators.

Solicitor Gary Burton, presenting the case on behalf of the SSSC, said Bate’s failings related to “the most serious cases in Fife Council’s social work department”.

He said: “By failing to progress cases she put people at unnecessary risk.

“By not conducting risk assessments she couldn’t satisfy herself appropriately about what the risk actually was.

“By failing to do any risk assessment, she just doesn’t know.”

Turning to Liam Fee’s case specifically, Mr Burton added: “This is a very serious and concerning referral on January 13, 2013, of unexplained bruising reported and an explanation given that he may have fallen out of a travel cot and slept on the floor.

“It was decided a joint team would investigate as the child was too young to be interviewed.

“There are computer entries by Lesley Bate that she is satisfied by the account given for the injuries, but does say the health visitor and nursery are to be contacted to check they are satisfied.

“There is no record she undertook this contact.

“There is no further record of any follow up – no evidence at all that the follow up took place.

“The next entry is on February 20, 2013, relating to a further referral by the childminder that he had a very sore neck.

“There was a clear instruction to speak with the childminder and discuss if further work is required.

“Despite the very serious nature of the reports regarding a young child we see no record whatsoever that she followed up with the childminder or considered other work.

“We see no records relating to this child up till when she went off sick in April 2013.

“Given the seriousness of the allegations and their repeated nature and the failure of Lesley Bate to follow up on it the sub-committee could and certainly should find she failed to take necessary steps to minimise the actual or potential risk of harm to him.”

Summing up the case against Bate, Mr Burton said: “These were basic standards of practice and she failed to do them.

“The evidence shows her conduct fell short of the standard required of someone registered with the SSSC.”

The hearing was earlier told Liam Fee was “failed” by Bate, who didn’t “assess the full risk and any potential risks” he faced from his mother and her civil partner.

It was also told of “personality clashes” within the Child Protection Team and that workers engaged in “childish games” instead of acting professionally.

The three-person sub-committee has begun deliberations on the case.

It will return to give its findings at the SSSC’s Dundee headquarters on a date to be set later this month.