A FORMAL STATEMENT OF COMPLAINT
REGISTERED AGAINST THE SOCIAL SERVICES DIVISION
OF STOCKPORT METROPOLITAN BOROUGH COUNCIL
- SPECIFICALLY IN RESPECT OF ALLEGATIONS OF
SERIOUS CASE MISMANAGEMENT, GROSS PROFESSIONAL MISCONDUCT AND NEGLIGENCE
AS PERPETRATED BY
RACHEL ANNE HUMPHRIES (A SOCIAL WORKER) AND BY VARIOUS OTHERS
THIS DOCUMENT WAS ORIGINALLY SUBMITTED TO STOCKPORT MBC
BY MR. G. & MRS. S. CARLISLE ON 21st JUNE 2006
(In order to protect the innocent, the names of immediate family members and friends have been changed.)
We, Geoffrey Carlisle and Sheila Carlisle, currently residing at xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Stockport, Cheshire, wish to say as follows:
1.1 We are the natural parents of Stephen Carlisle, born on the xxrd of Xxxxx 1991 and of Victoria Carlisle, born on the xxth of Xxxxx 1996.
1.2 This document constitutes a formal complaint both, in general terms in respect of aspects of the operation of Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council Social Services Division and also, more specifically in relation to the suggestibly dubious professional integrity of Rachel Anne Humphries, one-time key social worker for our children, at which time employed by that same department and being more latterly being based at their Baker Street, Heaton Norris office.
1.3 Although Miss Humphries is no longer an employee of SMBC, we earnestly submit that this, in no way, absolves that Local Authority as a corporate body from its bounden statutory public duty to thoroughly investigate and to act upon any formal complaint made against it.
1.4 Particularly as we are only too conscious of the fact that Miss Humphries has now moved on to a position with considerably more responsibility within a similar line of work (a children’s guardian / Court reporting officer with CAFCASS), there are many aspects both, of that person’s own previous career as a social worker and also, of those who came to supervise her at various times that, we contend, should be examined very, very closely. This statement will attempt to set out some of our concerns.
1.5 How Rachel Humphries got away with such alleged behaviour as that to be detailed herein would have required the co-operation and precise, calculated orchestration of others, particularly from within the organisation. In that these others often appear to have knowingly conspired and colluded with the social worker, we shall attempt to demonstrate our belief that inappropriate disciplinary procedures, false accusations, the deliberate telling of lies, delayed timetables for hearing complaints and non-compliance of policy and procedures all came to repeatedly occur.
1.6 In terms of such perpetrations of gross professional irregularities as those ascribed above, we earnestly contend that the following current or former SMBC employees should be considered equally at fault: Catriona Sreenan-Social Services Team Leader, Paul Marshall–Social Services Team Leader, Dominic Tumelty-Social Services Team Leader, Stephen Towers-Social Worker, Gillian Lee-SMBC Family Placement Team Leader, Farrah Rahman-SMBC Family Placement Team worker, Joyce Burslem-Social Services Sanderling Centre, Viki Packman-Social Services Service Manager. To a lesser degree, there were yet others also involved.
1.7 Our greatest fear today is that there may be many more families within that area controlled by Stockport M.B.C. who have since been subjected to, and had their lives unnecessarily destroyed by, similar acts of gross professional malpractice as a consequence of what, we will submit, such people’s lies, deceit and deliberate manipulation of others during the course of their work within the field of Children and Families.
1.8 We believe that every matter that will come to be related herein is based upon actual facts and is in no way intended to be deliberately defamatory towards any individual or agency.
2 THE HISTORY OF THE MATTER
2.1. The history, very briefly, is that Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council initially instituted proceedings to apply for Care Orders in 1998. By that time Stephen’s and Victoria's names were on the Child Protection Register under the category of emotional abuse. In essence the problems were domestic violence, their mother’s alcoholism and our supposed lack of co-operation and inability to work with the Local Authority. We had no issue with any acceptance that such matters, if extant, would be worrying to the Social Services department and also that these authorities were duty-bound to investigate any reported issues or allegations believed to involve minors.
2.2. As a consequence of allegations of ongoing concern by Stockport Social Services, both children became subject to Care Orders in January 1999.
2.3. Following our continuing difficulties, amongst other reasons, in being able to work co-operatively with that particular Social Services team allocated to us, Stephen and Victoria were removed from our care as from 1st July 1999, initially being placed with foster carers resident in Hazel Grove, Stockport.
2.4. This placement proved to be relatively short-lived, for, without any form of explanation being provided, Stephen and Victoria came to be moved on to another foster couple resident in Audenshaw, Manchester, on 13th April 2000.
2.5. The next set of proceedings began in November 2000 and when we came to apply to discharge the Care Orders. The Local Authority simultaneously applied for Orders freeing the children for adoption.
2.6. The applications came before the Court in October/November 2001. There was a lengthy hearing; our application to discharge the Care Orders ultimately proving to be unsuccessful. Although the Judge admitted that his was a difficult and finely-balanced decision, Orders were made freeing the children for adoption.
2.7. At the time of that hearing, prospective adopters had been identified by Rachel Humphries (key social worker) for Stephen and Victoria and the children moved to live with them in January 2002.
2.8. The placement (in Truro, Cornwall) being totally unsatisfactory (and, apparently, ill-researched) proved to be short-lived and disrupted after only about one month, at which time the children came to be very suddenly and abruptly rejected by the adoptive mother. It later transpired that the couple concerned were in actual fact far from suitable as adoptive parents and that a number of concerns had already been expressed by foster carers. This unsuitability was then to come to be substantiated by the fact that they are also believed to have separated shortly afterwards (according to a telephone conversation conducted on 18th March 2002, between our solicitor and Deborah Woodcock of Baker St. SSD). Later attempts by the children’s guardian to contact them in the aftermath, for the purposes of an interview, apparently proved fruitless as they appeared to have moved almost immediately from the address on file. The guardian said that she had no means of contacting them.
2.9. On 20th January 2002, Stephen and Victoria, by now in a state of acute distress, were placed back in the Stockport area, this time with temporary foster carers residing in Poynton.
2.10. It was only on the 27th February 2002 (some 4½ weeks later!) that we were eventually to be formally notified that this had occurred, when a disgustingly brief and insensitively composed letter was sent to us by Jane Davies, service manager of Baker Street SSD ‘Cared-For Children Service’. Those few cursory lines provided absolutely no information other than “the placement has disrupted” and the letter had, in fact, only come to be been written on the very last day of that period during which the Local Authority were legally obliged to inform us about it.
2.11. Stephen and Victoria were soon to be moved on yet again, to a further foster placement, on 27th July 2002, this time in Leigh, Lancashire. Fortuitously, as time was to prove that placement turned out to be an excellent choice and the children were to remain thereat until all of the ensuing complexities of the legal process finally came to be concluded.
2.12. The Local Authority at that time, however, had abjectly failed to properly consider the children’s needs and status and, instead, had slavishly adhered to a Best Interests decision that did not reflect Stephen’s stated wish that he not be adopted and, during which time, Rachel Humphries continued to attempt to source alternative adopters. The children suffered as a consequence.
2.13. The Local Authority was also negligent in taking until October 2003 to change its Best Interests decision and this caused the inevitable delays that ensued and the children, again, suffered. However, in ultimately failing to secure an alternative adoptive placement within the mandatory 12-month qualifying period, the Local Authority had unwittingly provided us with the small window of opportunity that we desired in order to initiate further court proceedings. We were very grateful that this had occurred and took every advantage of it. Proceedings commenced again in November 2002, at which time we applied to revoke the Freeing Orders.
2.14. Strangely, despite the transparently clear fact that our application to revoke the freeing order in respect of Stephen was inevitable from the outset of the application, the Local Authority, if it had not agreed to the immediate rehabilitation of the children, would have been bound to seek interim Care Orders. Inexplicably, it did not come to apply for such Orders until September 2003. After many more months and before the hearing of the application to revoke, the Local Authority then instituted proceedings for Care Orders in respect of Stephen and Victoria. The children continued to suffer.
2.15. We had contended that it was very much in the best interests of Stephen and Victoria for contact to be re-established. Contact was what the children were very clearly saying that they wanted and, although we could understand, to some extent, why the Local Authority may have wanted to ‘wait and see’, we believed that this approach ignored the almost inevitability of the Freeing Order being revoked, which, in the absence of the Local Authority commencing care proceedings, would have automatically resulted in parental responsibility being resumed by ourselves. An adoptive placement for Stephen and Victoria, we were now arguing, was by now so unlikely to be found as to make the Freeing Order absolutely pointless. The children were for an unnecessary period of time, therefore, in limbo and suffering thereby. That being the case, the Local Authority should not have waited to complete all of its assessments before deciding that an adoptive placement was no longer in the children’s best interests. If care proceedings were to be initiated contemporaneously with the revocation of the Freeing Order, then we also contended that contact should be re-established. Naturally, the Court had no option but to agree with this.
2.16. In April 2003, after a long gap, we resumed direct contact with our children. The children were delighted.
2.17. A further extremely lengthy series of hearings commenced in late 2003 and it was by this time that the Local Authority, aided by the newly-found cooperation and mantra of mutual respect afforded by the ‘Looked-after Children Service’ - a completely different Social Services team now allocated to manage our case - slowly began to exhibit a significantly revised approach to that which appeared to have terminally corrupted the minds of the team from the previously engaged ‘Cared-for Children Service’. Despite a slow start, for a number of reasons, some very positive work soon ensued towards assisting us in attaining our personal goal. That ‘goal’ was eventually to become one totally mutual to all.
2.18. In addition, HHJ Earnshaw himself clearly appeared somewhat mindful of the manner in which he was now becoming aware of the disgusting treatment that we had been afforded historically, taking note of the fact that we were instructing counsel far better-briefed of previous malfeances by Stockport Social Services (and others). But, more importantly, he did also actually voice the view that one positive aspect here was that this was also a team who were completely new to the case and who appeared blissfully ignorant of any of the personal views of those previously involved. He added that the real problem then was whether we could now feel able to engage and work in partnership with them. Our view was that we felt that we still could do so.
2.19. In the event, the hearing in late 2003 became the inauguration of the planning process that was to lead to the rehabilitation of the children to our care. As the Judge himself again observed, the sheer amount of this planning, working together and tireless effort that then went into the matter (on both sides) could not have been over-emphasised.
2.20. Stephen was restored to our full time care as from 27th October 2004. The proceedings in relation to Stephen ended in April 2005, when ‘no order’ was made. Stephen, of course, was about 5 years older than Victoria and his return home fully accorded with his long-standing wishes and feelings.
2.21. Victoria returned home later, on the 15th of August 2005, but by this time she had sadly been in the de-facto care of the Local Authority for well over 6 years. As the Judge further came to remark at the final hearing, despite this, Victoria's rehabilitation went as well as, if not better than, anyone could have forecast.
2.22. However, the train of events that had led to this unacceptably lengthy period for the children to be left waiting was, as now being openly admitted by all, a disgraceful state of affairs and the remainder of this document will attempt to go some way towards describing some (but certainly, by no means, all) of the events that led up to this.
2.23. The final hearing was listed at the end of 2004, but with delays attributable to a number of factors, took nearly a further year before being heard in November 2005. It was, however, by now common ground that the Court should make ‘no order’ in respect of Victoria at the hearing and, despite some arguably trivial and petty concerns even now being expressed by the Guardian, these were over-ruled and the matter finalised immediately on a ‘no order’ basis.
2.24. Stephen and Victoria today remain happily ensconced back at home and work continues by ourselves on tending to all the scars from the very deep-rooted and psychological emotional wounds to which they were submitted by several so-called ‘professionals’ and carers over the years.
2.25. Such people, we sincerely contend, were consistently inconsiderate and uncaring, throughout the majority of that lengthy journey for the children through the care system. Essentially, we are still readily applying plasters to those wounds that others have inflicted. Stephen Maguire (a consultant psychologist involved in the case) made the observation that the children were “significantly damaged, carrying a great deal of negative emotional legacy from their time with various carers”. Because of this, it was his further view that “the parents will struggle to meet the emotional needs of their children without the support of Social Services”. Mr. Maguire did, however, also emphasise that he would have been open to reconsidering his viewpoint on the matter - if the allegations of abusive care of Stephen and Victoria were correct and concluded that “the allegations appear to be compelling in their substance and internal validity”.
2.26. Our final (by now, voluntary) involvement with Stockport Social Services drew to a conclusion in April 2006.
3. THE BACKGROUND TO OUR CONCERNS & THE BASIS FOR OUR COMPLAINTS
3.1 This family’s initial face-to-face encounter with Stockport Social Services occurred in July 1996 and with eventually what turned out to be the first of a whole procession of social workers to come to be involved with us over a period that ultimately extended into all of 10 years (albeit, latterly, since the removal of any legal Order, merely on a ‘token’ basis).
3.2 Indeed, a part of the problem that evolved could well be attributed to the high number of different personnel involved, none of whom really had much opportunity to properly engage with us as, curiously, apart from Rachel Humphries herself, no single worker remained allocated to our case for more than a few months at the very most. It is, however, not for us to conjecture why there did appear to be such an unusually rapid turnover in personnel.
3.3 Within, literally, a matter of days, we also had the misfortune to admit to our home the first of more than one such social worker whose code of ethics as regards to how he conducted himself left a great deal to be desired. That initial worker, Stephen Towers, in knowing collusion with a colleague, Caroline Bickley, and in a manner abhorrently unscrupulous in nature, then went forward to offer to a Child Protection Committee conference evidence including several items that these two were well aware were very deliberate distortions of the true facts. The most surprising thing to us was that they had lied about relatively insignificant matters in the general scheme of things.
3.4 For example, during their previous two visits to our home, they had informed us that our children’s names were to be placed on the Child Protection Register and that this particular conference was about to occur. They categorically failed, however, to advise us upon our right to attend this event. (It was in fact our G.P., of all people, who eventually came to tell us that we were entitled to participate – otherwise we would never have known.) When Geoffrey Carlisle raised the matter as soon as the conference was under-way, he still recalls the secret wry smile that passed between Towers and Bickley when they both came to vehemently deny the accusation. This matter was, of course, but a minor issue within an account of far more serious concerns on the agenda and, consequently, we did feel that such actions as theirs were quite irrational. But, of course, at that time we possessed little experience of how such individuals could operate and we should have expected that, following our strongest protestations, a misunderstanding would have been admitted and an apology offered. Far from it! Not only was it soon to be discovered that some members of Stockport Social Services were most reluctant to apologise for any at all of the very many clearly documented errors in their ways of working that they were to come to make in the years to come, but also that, for certain individuals, deliberate lying (even under oath in Court) appeared to be ‘par for the course’ in order to attain selfish and often extremely vindictive ends. The grasp of reality of these people, and their ability to twist any single statement and to turn it into something that was quite different than the reality, was soon to become absolutely astonishing to us.
3.5 Those first visits involved personnel from what we believe to have been initially known as the Marple-Werneth Social Services office, based at Marple Memorial Hall. However there soon appeared to have been a transferral of staff en-bloc to the Dialstone Centre in Offerton and this was then to become their base. Following some further re-structuring, the “Cared-for Children Service” at Heaton Norris was later to become involved. In absolute fairness, it has to be observed at this juncture that the criticism in the previous paragraph is almost entirely restricted to the period up until late 2002 and before the case responsibility again came to be transferred to the “Looked-After Children” Service.
3.6 At Court in 2003, Mary Candlin, service manager of the latterly-involved “Looked-After Children” section of Social Services (coincidentally, also operating from the Dialstone Centre) very genuinely and openly admitted that there had been many mistakes made in case management during her own particular section’s engagement with our family and that several significant changes to departmental policies generally had eventually ensued as a direct consequence of our case.
3.7 Of course, Mrs. Candlin had no knowledge of any events occurring prior to her involvement and of the knowingly unscrupulous personnel that we had previously come to encounter. Mrs. Candlin’s own fair, balanced, unbiased and totally professional approach to each aspect of our case was in actual fact to come to be quite refreshing after our experiences with so many previous service managers who, in our view, had been particularly obstructive towards us … once we came to directly challenge the questionable methods in working of their staff.
3.8 With regard to our own (hitherto very naїve) expectations that a sense of professional integrity would prevail, in that people of such supposedly highly qualified professional standing would endeavour present their case in an as accurate and truthful manner as might be possible, our objection as a basic matter of principle over the aforementioned particular issue at that Child Protection Conference was over-ruled and dismissed by, what we still consider to have been an extremely bigoted chairperson. So much so, in fact, that during the course of the very same event, our standpoint on the issue of our not being provided with vital information was subsequently utilised most unfairly against us, insofar as we were then accused both, by the social workers present and also, by the chairperson, Joyce Burslem (another Social Services’ employee), of demonstrating a failure to concentrate upon the real issues of concern. This, of course, was a totally unjust assumption, but as a means to successfully silence us when they came to be placed ‘in a corner’, we began to discover that this appeared to be a common ploy with these people. Furthermore, we had little chance to dispute such unethical methods because Joyce Burslem also refused to permit our solicitor to actively participate in her meetings. She told us that it was not allowed, but we never saw anything in writing to confirm such a fact and it was noticed that the solicitor from Stockport Legal Services never came to be silenced by the chair when that person decided to speak.
3.9 It is all so clear to us today that this ‘lot’ were ‘covering each other’s backs’ and they had probably even rehearsed between themselves, before the meeting commenced, everything they were proposing to say. Certainly, we were well aware that they had all met in another room before entering the conference room. If they had had nothing to hide, that much should have been quite unnecessary. Surely, to openly debate contentious matters is what a ‘conference’ is all about? Were these people each so unsure of themselves that they needed to weed-out any ‘don’t knows’ before the event? Similar occurrences did, however, recur time and time again. The cliché, ‘we cannot believe what was happening’, underestimated the roller-coaster emotions and damage to our psyche that these experiences triggered.
3.10 In retrospect, and with our soon-to-be-quickly acquired experience of such people, it was later only too clear what the outcome of that meeting was going to be. Such adverse comments as were to be made were generally unjust and, we believe, what was said at times constituted a complete misrepresentation of the truth. Nevertheless, it very quickly became apparent to us that this modus operandi was commonplace throughout Stockport Social Services and was soon to prove to be a precursor of things far more serious to come.
3.11 In that particular respect, we can only point the finger of blame at the person ‘at the top’ who must have been permitting such actions to be perpetrated – we might even dare to suggest, ‘turning a blind eye’. In this instance, that would have been the then service manager, Viki Packman.
3.12 We had been placed in a predicament where we eventually became quite accustomed to the sort of disgusting treatment that, hitherto, we thought existed only in works of fiction. The gross irregularities that had then just previously occurred in Cleveland and the Scottish Isles, amongst other places, were matters that we had only read about and we never dreamt that similar things could soon happen here in Stockport … and to us. How wrong we were! It soon became apparent that, in the field of social work, there were pitifully few towards whom we felt (at that time) that we could re-assuredly extend our trust and, certainly, upon whom we could rely absolutely, to ensure that we were afforded a fair treatment. Particularly as we were, again, at that period in time still under the, apparently often misguided, impression that these so-called ‘professionals’ were there to assist us in finding solutions to our problems, it came as something of a shock to discover that were in fact a few individuals (not merely limited to social workers, as will later become clear) who appeared to be actively engaged in finding ways to destroy us and our own very close and loving family unit. In that specific ambition, those few eventually achieved success.
3.13 Of particular concern to us and, quite understandably, ultimately to cause the both of us an untold amount of distress, was the clear aptitude of social workers to ‘forget’ things that they had in fact said and later to strenuously deny having said at all what they clearly had said. As a consequence of such experiences becoming far too commonplace, the written word being extremely difficult to deny when challenged, thenceforth we eventually had to insist that all information that was passed to us was also confirmed in writing. The necessity to protect ourselves was acknowledged in principle by Hilary Stephen, an early Social Services team leader who, in that context, was then persuaded to accept some of our own grounds for concern and to respect our wishes.
3.14 We were also forced to take our own minutes of any meetings, as the formal accounts produced contained only such information as those writing them wished them to contain. In fact we would suggest that, for the greater majority of our face-to-face experiences with the Local Authority, the text of minutes was unfairly biased and even, at times, highly bigoted. Hilary Stephen did, for a while, permit us to tape-record meetings on the strict understanding that the tapes came to be used merely to corroborate facts and did remain strictly confidential. We had no problem with that, but unfortunately Ms. Stephen was soon to be moved to another department and those that came to succeed her felt that they were under no such similar obligations.
3.15 Given our earlier experiences, that previous verbal agreement also included recognition of the importance of maintaining an accurate, balanced record of events. Such sentiments very quickly came to be forgotten and the official files (today supported by our copies of sundry correspondence with the department) clearly indicate that, at various times and despite our reminders, Rachel Humphries, Paul Marshall and Catriona Sreenan were among those who came to blatantly disregard the previous concession. It is essential to emphasise that, because of the difficulties that we were experiencing in documenting matters (specific details that, unfortunately, we often later needed to call upon in order to protect ourselves), we repeatedly requested that every important item to be confirmed in writing. Those very real difficulties apart, we would otherwise have agreed that going to such lengths could usually have been considered as being totally unnecessary. (That certainly would be the case when we much later came to engage with the “Looked-After Children” Service, so why were these people so very different?) Nevertheless, despite our requesting that our (ex-directory) home telephone number was only to be used for communication in cases of emergency, such continued to be the regular and often sole means of contact. We did consider changing our telephone number, but we would then even have been adversely criticised for that and it was, in any case, vital that a direct means of communication remained in-situ in the unlikely event that we needed to be notified in case of any crisis regarding the children. That much said, we felt that Social Services came to seriously abuse the facility and, as will be related later, Rachel Humphries did then come to say several very offensive things to Mrs. Carlisle over the telephone, secure in the knowledge that any complaints made about her could be easily denied.
3.16 The fact of the matter was that no reliance whatsoever could be placed upon the spoken word of these people. However, it was what we felt to be their accomplished ability to distort accounts of events, often to the extent of what clearly appeared to be the telling of blatant lies in order to suit their own purposes, which so effectively enabled them to persuade and to influence the opinions of others.
3.17 We have, for example, seen, at first hand, statements being issued that, we contend, contained grossly untruthful elements and totally unsubstantiated allegations and we have then been astounded to witness the very same being repeated verbally under oath before a Court. Even more unfortunately, our case came to be presided over by a judge who, whilst at times appearing to afford appropriate justice to all parties involved, was, clearly, impressed by the apparent professionalism of these so-called ‘public servants’. Sadly, it was to be many years into the future before the true specifics of the various perpetrations of professional malfeances began to emerge. Only when Rachel Humphries was, at long last, to come to be subjected to cross-examination by counsel armed with, hitherto totally unknown or previously deliberately concealed evidence, were the far more likely facts starting to become apparent to the Court.
3.18 There were also several instances of breakdown in communication generally and particularly at times when we perceived that the futures of our children were under threat and where we were naturally especially sensitive to any inappropriate or inconsiderate motions. Such problems arose out of a growing distrust of the particular Social Services team involved of which those names identified in Section 2 were, at various times, an integral component. As mentioned previously, the then Service manager, Viki Packman, also avidly supported her staff regardless of any other factor, so much so in fact, that it was also our very distinct impression that, on each and every single occasion upon which we encountered her, this person was acutely hostile towards us. Every balanced argument that we presented being immediately rebuffed and every reasonable suggestion rejected, the concluding ‘stock’ excuse emanating from the lips of Viki Packman invariably was that we just were not prepared to co-operate at all with her department. Nevertheless, for her to suggest that we had no intention of co-operating was a total misrepresentation of the facts, but that was precisely what repeatedly came to be intimated and even the tone of written correspondence that we came to receive from Ms. Packman also appeared to support such a contention. There were certainly times when we desperately desired the assistance of others to discover solutions to our domestic problems, but in no way whatsoever were we going to allow such bigoted individuals as this lot to ‘walk all over us’ upon the mere pretence of ‘assisting’ us.
3.19 It was, indeed, a fact that Ms. Packman’s arrogant persona proved to be in no way restricted to her attitude towards us personally, for even professionals involved in the case soon came to be the butt of her unnecessarily scathing comments. We would cite, in particular, the example of therapists being drawn into areas of work well beyond their professional remit, but then being criticised for not accommodating extremely unreasonable demands later coming to be placed upon them as a consequence of Ms. Packman’s direct intervention.
3.20 Following a recommendation to Social Services by Elsie Hitchen of the N.S.P.C.C., the late Mr. Trevor Allcock, founding counsellor of the M.O.V.E. organisation had, in early 1999, been commissioned by Social Services to undertake a series of anger management therapy sessions with Mr. Carlisle. The contract for this work stipulated that Mr. Allcock would produce two written reports, one interim and one final, these to respectively confirm the progress of, and then the final completion of, the therapeutic work. Social Services received the interim report on 21st April 1999. Although what this brief document contained did prove to be very positive, despite clearly being only a very provisional report, the (appropriately) minimal depth of personal detail disclosed was obviously not to Ms. Packman’s satisfaction. One should not need to be reminded at this juncture that, as in the case of, for example, medical case notes, all information shared between a client and a practitioner is always deemed to be strictly confidential. Ms. Packman evidently was of the view that this did not apply to her. But it did! Nevertheless, Mr. Allcock had already arrived at several conclusions of his own about the case, the most significant one being that, in his earnest opinion (and without delving into the specifics of pertinent allied factors), as far as Geoffrey Carlisle and his alleged problems were concerned, there was no necessity for the children to go into care.
3.21 On the 4th of May 1999, Ms. Packman wrote back to M.O.V.E., caustically commenting that Mr. Allcock’s Report “had arrived too late for the professionals’ strategy meeting of 19.04.99” and that he had failed to answer a number of key issues. Being merely a therapist, albeit a very accomplished one, Mr. Allcock was not a psychiatrist and this had been made very clear to Social Services from the outset. It was very unfair and absolutely wrong for Ms. Packman now to be asking Mr. Allcock to make an assessment on, for example, the curious matter (to us) of “Mr. Carlisle’s perception of the role of women”. It was also equally unacceptable for her to conclude her letter by stating “Finally, although you conclude your report with a recommendation that Stephen and Victoria remain with their mother and father, as the wider information available to all the professionals working with this family is not available to yourself, it follows that you are not in a position to comment on the children’s welfare”. As the history of events thus far had been both complex and lengthy, Mr. Carlisle had, in actual fact, already loaned Mr. Allcock a file containing every single document appertaining to the case. Ms. Packman was, therefore, wrong once again in making such an assumption without first ascertaining the validity of those caustic, if not also totally unnecessary, words.
3.22 The final report from M.O.V.E. ultimately proved to be equally optimistic. Nevertheless, Mr. Allcock resisted the unreasonable further demands in respect of confidentiality being made upon him by Stockport Social Services.
3.23 Viki Packman, therefore, announced that she did not accept his report, instead seizing here upon an opportunity to discredit Mr. Allcock on the lame pretence of Mr. Allcock supposedly having not been made aware that domestic violence had occurred within the home. It had transpired that Mr. Allcock’s report had been somewhat ambiguous on the matter in the particular construction of his text, but that gentleman later confirmed that he was prepared to attend Court to clarify matters. Notwithstanding such confusions, however, that particular aspect, in fact, had so very clearly had been the major factor in involving M.O.V.E. in the first instance and had already been the very item that formed the basis of the initial session between Mr. Carlisle and Mr. Allcock! For his part, in terms of the therapy undertaken, Mr. Carlisle will confirm that he was more than satisfied with the standard of Mr. Allcock’s work.
3.24 Given her perception of matters and, more so, that she had also failed to secure the personal information that she clearly felt that Mr. Allcock should have provided, Ms. Packman then came to insist that Mr. Carlisle source an alternative therapist, this now accompanied by the very real threat that the children might be removed if he failed to do so.
3.25 With the assistance of his G.P., Mr. Carlisle shortly afterwards came to engage with Mr. Nigel Fernandez, a Senior Psychological Consultant based at Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport and, amongst other things, specialising in anger management issues. Mr. Fernandez ultimately provided two further reports of his own, the initial part of which was completed some months later on 16th March 2000 and the final part on 12th June 2000.
3.26 It was an undeniable fact that Mr. Fernandez’s equally positive prognosis concurred in most key areas with that already provided by Mr. Allcock. During a personal conversation at the conclusion of his work, Mr. Fernandez informed Mr. Carlisle that he, too, had felt intimidated by the intrusions and unreasonable demands being made by Social Services.
3.27 As will come to be discussed later, during her cross-examination in 2003, Rachel Humphries had to admit that neither she nor any of her colleagues were aware that their department had not received Mr. Fernandez’s final report. This was to remain the situation until, considerably later, Mr. Carlisle himself came to insist that the document be included in the Court ‘bundle’. The Local Authority still failing to do anything on the matter, Mr. Carlisle even had to go to the extent of instructing his solicitor to ensure that it was included. As far as the Local Authority was concerned, the key issue by now was the choice either of long-term fostering or of adoption and, obviously, in terms of the domestic violence allegations, Mr. Fernandez’s report should have been considered vital in considering all of the relevant factors. In that Viki Packman and her subordinates had clearly made no attempt whatsoever to conclusively satisfy themselves in respect of Mr. Carlisle’s alleged anger management difficulties, no work had clearly been done in that direction and these people must all have been incompetent. It was either that, or the final decision had already been made. It could have been no other.
3.28 In retrospect, it is probably very reasonable to suggest that such a decision had in actual fact already been made. To ‘outsiders’ all of the indications appeared to be in place. Certainly a formal review meeting was soon to be convened (for 29th June 1999) and at which it came to be stated that the decision was made to remove the children. No external party was invited to attend that clandestine gathering and, quite ominously, a planning meeting had already been scheduled for the following day.
3.29 The importance of attending the latter event was never made clear to us. Indeed, Mrs. Carlisle already had a prior commitment (an appointment that she was expected to keep strictly “in accordance with the expectations of the Local Authority”) and she had actually already directly informed Rachel Humphries that she would not be in a position to attend. Rachel Humphries said nothing and did nothing. This was another display of abject incompetence. It was either incompetence, or deliberate vindictiveness. Once again, it could have been no other.
3.30 It was Viki Packman who came to personally chair the meeting and, despite the event being notified to us as being a ‘planning’ meeting, it soon became apparent that there were no plans to make – the vote had already been cast and the decision made. A list of concerns was read out by Ms. Packman, each underpinned with the allegation that we had failed to co-operate with Social Services and at the conclusion of which Mr. Carlisle was refused any opportunity whatsoever to respond. The children were to be removed from us two days later.
3.31 Despite what had been said to Mr. Carlisle, which it should have been realised must have caused him extreme distress, Rachel Humphries still chose to record Mr. Carlisle’s protestations that ensued as being “verbally abusive” to the chairperson. What actually transpired was that, as soon as Mr. Carlisle started to challenge the legal validity of being denied a right to speak, Ms. Packman and her entourage merely got up and walked out of the room. It was almost as if this had been pre-planned and pre-rehearsed.
3.32 We fully accept that it had already been agreed in Court some time prior to this that the children would continue to live at home on the strict proviso that matters showed signs of improvement and that we were also to co-operate more with Social Services. We would be the first to accept that this did not immediately prove to be an easy path for us, but what we do have particular difficulty with was the fact that no attempt at all was made during the weeks to follow to explain to us that matters were felt still not to be progressing at what Social Services considered to be an adequate pace. Once more, it was almost as if this had been pre-planned.
3.33 In our view, we should have been granted some opportunity to respond. To suggest that we had no intention of co-operating would have been a total misrepresentation of the facts, but that was precisely what Viki Packman came to intimate. Even if indications had been made of continuing problems, it should have been incumbent on the department to have appointed a person to come to visit us and to discuss any concerns, especially with a view to offering positive assistance. We were more than prepared to co-operate, but only if we came to be afforded mutual respect. We were also only too willing to talk to someone who was equally prepared to listen, but, very clearly, for as long as this particular team was concerned, that just was not going to occur. The ongoing lack of any direct communication with us, arguably, had already proved that particular point.
3.34 Such an alleged problem in attitude was (for us) nowhere more clearly demonstrated than on the occasion when Geoffrey Carlisle actually came to be accused of sending death-threat missives to Ms. Packman. The children had been removed to foster carers on 1st July 1999 and contact had commenced immediately. Ms. Packman moved to another area of work relatively shortly after this date, but over a year was to transpire (7th August 2000) before she was then alleged to have received a threatening letter mailed to her office. The Police became involved in the matter and, although there was apparently no immediate indication of who had sent it, Rachel Humphries is then known to have inferred her belief that the letter had originated from Mr. Carlisle.
3.35 The very following day (8th August 2000), Miss Humphries wrote a letter to Clive Wood (our solicitor) to inform him that the meeting on 10th August 2000 was cancelled … as was the contact session on 11th August 2000 and she very clearly explained that this was “as a consequence of staffing shortages”. It was all either a very curious coincidence, or Rachel Humphries’ explanation to Mr. Wood had proved to be an outright lie. Particularly as no attempt was made at the time to contact us direct (and when we would have asked very searching questions, in response to which Miss Humphries might have found herself lying again), we later tended towards the latter assumption, as also did Mr. Wood.
3.36 It is vital to emphasise that, at this stage, we were totally unaware of the death threat allegation. Social Services clearly were keeping that matter very quiet and it is not our place now to conjecture why – although the reason may appear transparently obvious to others! Meanwhile, our view then was that outright cancellation of contact was an outrageous state of affairs, inasmuch as staffing difficulties were not our problem and Social Services were totally out of order in doing what they had done. We, therefore, immediately contacted our Member of Parliament, in order that he intervene and demand explanations upon very important issues such as: (i) the cancellation of contact at late notice (ii) could Social Services not have pre-empted staff shortages? (iii) contact in respect of Victoria’s birthday event - would it go ahead?
3.37 Indeed, it was not for another fortnight when, on 21st August 2000, Mrs. Carlisle was forced to admit to our home police officers armed with a warrant to seize computer equipment for “examination of the hard-drives”. It was only now that the alleged death threat came to be disclosed and the Police appeared intent on finding some convicting evidence. Of course, they found nothing at all! The computers were, nevertheless, not returned for many weeks and even that only occurred as a result of the direct intervention of Det. Sgt. Haig of the Police Complaints Authority. Cynically, we did wonder whether the police investigations had been thorough enough to include an audit of the Local Authority’s own computers. One train of thought at the time suggested that this might have produced more positive results!
3.38 Meanwhile, on 9th August 2000, the personal secretary for Mr. Andrew Stunnell M.P. had spoken to Catriona Sreenan. During this conversation, although she would have clearly been aware of the death threat allegation, Ms. Sreenan inexplicably failed to mention it! She instead chose to respond by offering the very lame excuse that the problems were a ‘communication issue’ and that it was unfortunate that Social Services were communicating with us only by letter … as “this is the method of communication that Mr. and Mrs. Carlisle had insisted on”. That was not so. We were only “insisting” that important matters were always confirmed in writing, and even that had arisen only because our experiences had proved to us, time and time again, that we could not rely upon the spoken word. Yet, here was occurring yet another example of the crass duplicity that was continuing to plague us.
3.39 Ms. Sreenan continued, “The department recognises the importance of Victoria’s birthday ...… for Victoria”. Very clearly to us, here was a person absolutely incapable of recognising anything whatsoever that actually really was important to the children, at that stage in their lives. Our ongoing perception of Catriona Sreenan was that she was a soulless person, totally devoid of emotion and compassion.
3.40 Meanwhile, elsewhere, Eileen Walker (FRW at the Bredbury Day Centre) had already offered her personal assistance in arranging a session to take place specifically on 23rd August 2000, as she was aware that this date coincided with Victoria’s 4th Birthday. As had by now become the more normal arrangement, Mrs. Walker was thought to have done this by speaking directly to the B&GWS (the foster carers’ agency - now known as “The Together Trust”, but hereafter referred to by its contemporaneous title) on 17th August 2000 without any further recourse to her own department. We maintained a fairly good relationship with Mrs. Walker and Eileen tended to keep the day-to-day arrangements to herself, perhaps because she cannot failed to have noticed that, every time that we did request something special, this always appeared to have been vetoed by Rachel Humphries or Catriona Sreenan.
3.41 Lo and behold, a mere two days prior to the birthday event, Catriona Sreenan wrote to us to advise that Social Services would not be facilitating contact on 23rd August 2000! It was only now explained that this was “as a consequence of Mr. Carlisle being the subject of a Police investigation in relation to the threats made against Social Services staff”. As we later discovered from Det. Sgt. Haig, nothing ever came to be proved - despite extensive forensic tests being conducted. Precisely who was responsible was never established (or, at least, revealed to us). Certainly (and very significantly), Mr. Carlisle was never, at any time, formally interviewed directly on the matter, either by the Greater Manchester Police or by the Local Authority. Why was this, one had to ask? In view of the supposed seriousness of the matter, that much was thought to have been the very least that might have occurred! Had something else occurred that we had not been told about? Those enquiries that were posited later did strongly suggest that, for reasons known only to itself, the matter appeared to have been quietly ‘put to bed’ by the Local Authority and, by 2003, no other information came to survive within our own case notes held on the Local Authority’s files.
3.42 Nevertheless, although naturally once again nothing can be proved, it was strongly suspected that either Rachel Humphries or Catriona Sreenan had identified Mr. Carlisle as a suspect, merely to prevent him from attending his own daughter’s birthday party during contact. It would be sheer conjecture to offer our own suspicions as to who the real culprit might have been!
3.43 To counter that to a degree, however, one further question now presented itself. If, indeed, as might be reasonably argued, Social Services’ staff felt too frightened to attend contact in Mr. Carlisle’s presence, why did the contact not then go ahead for Mrs. Carlisle alone? Mr. Carlisle will confirm that he would have accepted such grounds posited as being quite understandable, indeed, reasonable, and that, in making the children’s happiness his first priority, he would have then agreed to any proposal put to him to circumnavigate the problem. Although the Local Authority was duty-bound to provide some form of contact, it might also be contended that special occasions were being discouraged due to the fact that some people had already decided that our children would never be returning home and that they had (illegally) already commenced the process of final separation.
3.44 We did think that it must have crossed the minds of R. Humphries and C. Sreenan that, even if Mr. Carlisle was earnestly desirous to hasten the demise of those personnel against whom he (allegedly) felt aggrieved, it would have been extremely unlikely that any such incident would have occurred during a contact session and in front of the children! This is, of course, all irrespective of the clear fact that Viki Packman never involved herself in any matters so mundane as contact and, in any event, had been long gone by this time. Were other personnel also threatened, but this fact had been kept from us?
3.45 Nevertheless, in leaving the matter so ‘open-ended’, this provided Social Services with yet a further ideal opportunity to humiliate us, as well as to alienate us in the eyes of the Court. That is not conjecture, it is fact! That these two between them made the unanimous decision to recommend that future contact be cancelled regardless, caused us to arrive at only one conclusion. As a consequence of this latest totally unwarranted and unsubstantiated accusation, certain members of Stockport Social Services appeared hell-bent on discrediting us in any manner possible merely to satisfy their own egos. They were, in actual matter of fact, heartlessly utilising the children as their pawns!
3.46 It was on the basis of such harrowing experiences as those ascribed to above that we began to wonder whether we could ever trust anyone at all ever again. But, we knew that we had to convince the Court that we could do so. The Court, for its part, for many more years to come was to remain totally oblivious as to what was actually taking place behind the scenes. Tracks, where necessary, had, we felt, been covered very effectively and all the right people primed with the appropriate selective facts. We did keep an accurate record of everything that was said or done, but we still had very little in the way of conclusive evidence to support any claims that we might wish to make.
3.47 Understandably, any distrust of ours, in turn, had arisen as an unfortunate consequence of the inappropriate manner in which we felt that we had been continually treated by a very small number of people. The fact that certain members of Stockport Social Services department chose to disbelieve and to question every single morsel of information that was offered to them (either by ourselves, or, at times, even that put forward by professionals attempting to support us), was quite naturally their privilege. Nevertheless, the narrow-minded attitudes of even such a minority could never have been conducive to establishing productive relationships; an issue that we ourselves had to learn as a consequence of the many painful repercussions presenting themselves during the course of those unhappy years. In the words of Stephen Maguire (Consultant Psychologist), the relationship was “doomed to failure”.
3.48 In their preparation of various statements and chronologies for Court in October 2001, Rachel Humphries and Catriona Sreenan appeared to concentrate their efforts upon producing an itemised list of what they perceived to be our most negative aspects. Despite some unquestionably positive feedback emanating at various stages from more than one of the various independent professionals engaged, there did not appear anywhere to be a single acknowledgement by these two of the very many positive aspects of the work that we had already undertaken and were continuing to undertake. In such terms, of particular importance to us was our hope that Social Services would eventually acknowledge that we did, in fact, accept the stated grounds for concern and that we had attempted to address all of the issues outstanding. However, despite the numerous independent reports confirming that this appeared to be the case, we continued to have allegations such as “concern regarding (our) lack of openness” and also that “there still appear to be causes for concern within the family home”, levelled at us by both of the aforementioned two at what we perceived to be every available opportunity. We felt that we were perpetually under a microscope, and that every single aspect of our family’s life was being minutely dissected and criticised. This, in turn, naturally had a ‘knock-on’ effect with our own internal family problems and contributed precious little towards providing us with any emotional encouragement. The declared role of the Social Services organisation in the community was being seriously abused.
3.49 Obviously, we had accepted all along that it was incumbent upon the Social Services department to investigate each reported incident, anonymously placed or otherwise, and no matter how insignificant any of these might appear to be. However, a great many of the issues at around this time arose as a consequence of alleged anonymous reportings and the department was, in fact, well aware that, at that stage, there was a vendetta taking place by a small number of neighbours. (The circumstances surrounding the latter are irrelevant to the specifics of this complaint, but are well-documented by us.) To illustrate a typical example, the author of one particular cowardly unsigned missive, when writing, already knew the identity of the service manager handling our case. With such a large organisation spread over such a large area, how could that have been and why would he/she go to such lengths to obtain such irrelevant information, anyway?
3.50 We also accepted that the road to improvement did not always run smooth for us. Nevertheless, situations had occurred, for example, domestic accidents and an occasion when Mrs. Carlisle was sexually assaulted in the street that were totally innocent in nature and, yet, these incidents came to be interpreted in a totally negative manner by Social Services. When we were interviewed about them, we provided plausible and precise explanations. However, although it might have been acceptable to conclude on the balance of reasonable probability that the causes of many must have, indeed, been quite innocent in nature, they always came to be challenged by Social Services, regardless of any other factor. Therefore, as our own word appeared to be repeatedly contested and disbelieved, occasionally even to the extent of our actually being verbally accused of being liars, we soon had no option but to maintain a detailed diary of events. This ultimately extended to the production of our own version of minutes of meetings, upon discovering (as we most certainly did do) that no reliance at all could be made upon the content or accuracy of officially-produced accounts. Indeed, in light of his experiences it became the professed view even of our legal representative (who attended virtually all meetings, either with us, or on our behalf) that minutes taken often turned out to be - in his words - “deliberately selective” in content, with many issues of significance to ourselves being omitted altogether from the formal account. Quite often this involved material that might have been of essential to the course of the Proceedings.
3.51 Although we were naturally entitled to our own copies of any papers appertaining to our case, it became almost impossible to obtain many of these, with a veritable plethora of excuses being offered for the delays in provision that ensued. It was often only as a consequence of very persistent reminders being sent out by our solicitor that material then came to be very slowly and reluctantly provided. When Mr. Carlisle asked Stockport Legal Services - as was his right - for permission to inspect the Local Authority’s case files, this received no response. On 31st October 2003, Clive Wood wrote to Stockport Legal Services, confirming that we sought access to all Social Services files relating to us. On 6th November 2003, a reply was sent by a Sajadha Zaman, this stating, “In relation to access to all Social Services’ files relating to your clients, such requests are governed by the Data Protection Act 1998 which allows a forty-day time period for compliance. Given that the social worker will be committed to attendance at Court for the duration of the hearing, a longer period will be required to ensure compliance with the guidance issued by the Department of Health under the 1998 Act.” As the 40-day period has now been exceeded by some 2½ years, the interpretation of that particular compliance with the guidance issued does appear to have been somewhat abused …. and it is an undeniable fact that Mr. Carlisle is still waiting to be contacted by Mrs. Zaman to arrange the appointment!
3.52 There were occasions when we could even prove that documents had only come to be written weeks, if not months, after the event. It was so apparent that there was no impetus within the department to accurately record matters, irrespective of the fact there was a legal requirement to do so. From June 1999, most official minutes of meetings eventually came to be authored by Rachel Humphries, or, in that person’s absence, by Catriona Sreenan. There were always numerous clerical staff available nearby who could easily have undertaken such a task, and, indeed, these had been so utilised at the very start. This, however, had ceased to occur once the aforementioned two had become involved in the case. It is our view that neither of them made any real attempt to ensure that information was actually always made available to us and even when a hearing was imminent, such vital documents as contact recordings often failed to materialise until a day or so after the relevant hearing had taken place. This could not always have been coincidence.
3.53 With particular regard to the essential requirement, ascribed to above, of our precisely recording every incident in minute detail, it is of some significance that throughout the whole of our involvement in legal proceedings there had been a number of professionals who continually came to criticise Geoffrey Carlisle for what they described as his “excessive attention to detail”, before then attempting to ‘turn this round’ to their own particular advantage in suggesting that such a situation might be to the detriment of the children, should Stephen and Victoria be allowed to return home. Quite how such contorted concoctions had been reasoned-out was never made that clear to us but, despite such desperately transparent attempts made to discredit him, Geoffrey Carlisle did actually respond to this specific matter within a latter-day Court statement. He observed that his was a ‘learned trait’ evolved only as a direct consequence of the lackadaisical attitudes and inabilities seen in others in adequately and/or impartially performing their duties. That Mr. Carlisle did come to be criticised for producing his own chronology, a starkly frank and precise document which could do nothing but assist other (honestly prepared) accounts, did at least confirm to us that here was a clear illustration of astute professionalism being replaced by emotion, resentment and jealousy.
3.54 In fact, HHJ Earnshaw made a specific point of observing in his judgement of 2005, “It is exceedingly rare, in my experience, for highly intelligent people such as Mr. and Mrs. Carlisle, who are what can be referred to as part of the 'middle classes' to find themselves involved in public law proceedings”. These succinct words came to be followed by positive observations upon our insistence in entirely drafting our own Court statements. Very clearly, His Honour also appeared to be of the view (as now did many others involved in the case) that some social workers also were quite incapable of coping with people who came to directly challenge their particular ways of working.
3.55 The situation soon came to reach a stage of impasse. One where, in our view, every minute detail and everything that we said, or did, no matter how insignificant or irrelevant, was also now being documented in order that it could be dissected later and thrown back in our faces. Unfortunately, Angela Carr, the, then, guardian-ad-litem, appeared to demonstrate an almost as severe problem in attitude (but little in the way of cooperation with us), slavishly plagiarising each of Social Services references word-for-word (often in several places) within her own tediously gargantuan reports.
3.56 Indeed, we have one former foster carer who confirmed that, had she been called to give evidence (as she had at one stage expected to), she was prepared to swear under oath that she was actually asked by Rachel Humphries to write down specifically negative things about us. That person flatly refused to do so but, fortunately for us all, later passed her knowledge on to her daughter who eventually came to share a number of similar concerns with us.
3.57 Notwithstanding any of the aforementioned issues and the resultant ‘ripples’ that complaining came to induce, we still believed that, wherever possible, it was important that Social Services continued to be made aware as to why, at any period in time, we had a reluctance to respond in the form of meaningful work alongside them, especially as we did not wish them to construe the perceived lack of such as an example of belligerence or being in any way uncooperative. In that respect there continued to exist (even to this very day as self-evidenced by this statement), several issues that concerned us greatly, matters that it was vital to entirely resolve, if we had any chance whatsoever of being able to work in a spirit of cooperation towards the common good.
3.58 We believe that our past concerns were genuine and, yet, they were never properly addressed by Stockport Social Services; the ‘Cared For Children’ Service (and its predecessors both at Marple-Werneth office and also at the Dialstone Centre) continuing to appear to interpret any expression of dissatisfaction as simply being another example of unreasonableness on our part, this continuing right through until the conclusion of our initial involvement with the Local Authority in 2001 and, by which time, matters were being controlled by one Jane Davies at the Baker Street, Heaton Norris office.
3.59 For absolute completeness to this account, it should also be mentioned that, although most of the individuals with whom we had been involved have now moved on (for example, Rachel Humphries to CAFCASS Manchester and Catriona Sreenan, we believe, to Vale Royal SSD) it did later become of considerable significance that some members of the latterly-involved team from the ‘Looked-After Children’ Service based at the Dialstone Centre, right from the onset, came to inherit the same prejudices as had been adopted by the previous regime. Very clearly, the ‘word’ had been passed on and this came, initially, to cause some difficulties in our working cooperatively together. Team leader, Susanne Rayson, for example, was expressing concerns about Mr. Carlisle long before she was to meet him or, for that matter, before we, as parents, were even brought back into the equation! Extremely fortuitously the eventual allocation of a mature and highly experience social worker to our case, soon to be followed by the transfer of our initial team leader to another department, provided the opportunity that we had been waiting for and positive results both soon ensued and then prospered.
3.60 Most certainly, it is our own perception that, prior to 2003, there had been a total lack of compassion and understanding or any form of genuine offer of assistance, particularly in a manner that we should have expected from public servants in positions involving such a high level of responsibility.
3.61 We also felt that the situation had arisen to a significant degree as part of a misunderstanding on the part of the Local Authority, for, whilst enduring a perpetual great and lasting sadness at our loss, we had also been extremely upset and confused by being involved in such matters as Court proceedings, expecting that our own sincere gestures would have been reciprocated and that reconsideration could still have been given towards returning our children to our care. In view of (a) our stated intentions in our previous application to Court, (b) clear indications, even then, that the children’s first wish was to return home and (c) the fact that we had demonstrated that we were now able to offer the children a home, where they would enjoy a safe and protected environment, it would have been expected that, in the interim (and whilst Rachel Humphries was still the key worker), the Local Authority would have considered what really was in the best interests of the children and least damaging in the long term, i.e. in restoring, as a first step, contact to a more acceptable level. This did not occur. Indeed, contact soon came to be reduced in duration directly as a consequence of allegations of a small number of late arrivals for contact, by ourselves. (This was before any decision was made in respect of adoption.) That this vindictive act was permitted by management to occur at that time was absolutely disgraceful.
3.62 Following the granting of the Freeing Order, it also appears that strenuous and far too hasty attempts were made to ensure that the children were adopted as soon as was humanly possible. We have a couple who were actually sat outside Court in 2004 waiting to swear under oath that Rachel Humphries had told them that she had selected a prospective adoptive couple in Cornwall, primarily (if not solely) because, as she was clearly heard to explain, “this is just about as far away from Mr. & Mrs. Carlisle as it is possible to get”. Those witnesses were absolutely astounded to hear a so-called ‘professional’ utter such maliciously inappropriate sentiments. They were in a position to reveal very many other concerns about Rachel Humphries, potentially far more serious in nature. That what they had to say represented the truth and the whole truth is beyond reproach, as, in their own words, they openly admitted that they had “no axe to grind”. More latterly, of course, with the children now being restored to our care, Stephen and Victoria are repeating to us the same shocking accounts.
3.63 Although, personally, having no material to base an opinion on, other than that provided by a group of so-called ‘professionals’, spearheaded by Rachel Humphries, the Judge in the October 2001 proceedings was clearly impressed by the fact that this particular pair of potential adopters appeared to have been patiently ‘waiting in the wings’ all along. Furthermore, this fact also had a significant bearing on the decision eventually proclaimed by the judge, and he actually said as much. It was, however, not true. He had been misled.
3.64 We could, quite reasonably, suggest that, despite a timetabling process presumably being in place, the date of the meeting of the Stockport Adoption Panel to approve the application of these people immediately before we went to Court, was deliberately contrived in order to provide the maximum weight to the case in favour of the local authority and with no consideration whatsoever for the thoughts of the children or their parents at the culmination of literally years of such hard work, fraught along the way with numerous disappointments, heartaches and anguish. Although it will never be proven that such thoughts were actually in the minds of any member of Stockport Social Services, it was, however, suggested to us by our own counsel that members of that department were well aware of such a likelihood at the time that the assessment process was being conducted.
3.65 Nevertheless, other evidence now available suggests that the prospective couple had backed down at one stage and that Rachel Humphries had deceived the Court as to the true facts. Some months previously to this, we, ourselves, had been categorically informed by another party that the prospective adopters had indeed backed down. This fact is today so clearly documented within the Local Authority’s now-disclosed papers. Nevertheless, on August 15th 2001, in response to our direct questioning, the guardian, Angela Carr, categorically informed us that the couple were still waiting and, furthermore, to her knowledge had not backed down at any time. Either Angela Carr was also now lying, or Rachel Humphries had passed on to her deliberately erroneous information. Whatever the actual specifics were, Angela Carr had not ascertained the true facts for herself during the course of her own clearly quite inadequate investigations.
3.66 Notwithstanding all of that, much later on, at such time as it was becoming clear that the qualifying period during which the children had to be placed, was fast running-out and actual concerns were being expressed (these, too, being clearly documented in the disclosed Social Services records) that we would be applying for the matter to be returned to Court, no one at all was aware that Rachel Humphries had, in her own time, at her own expense and without informing anyone else, had made a private 660-mile round trip back to Truro in order to attempt to persuade the couple to remain available. Whatever conversations had taken place between Rachel Humphries and the Buckinghams, which ultimately persuaded the latter to change their minds, remains unclear and appears to have gone undocumented anywhere at all. It would be inappropriate for us to suggest reasons for such covert motives, but there are very many who still share our difficulty.
3.67 Nevertheless, it is believed that no other couples were successfully matched in the interim period, although the minutes of several meetings clearly record that the search extended to national advertising in at least one specialist publication, ‘Adoption UK’. Indeed, Rachel Humphries and Stockport Legal Services were inexplicably still pursuing an adoptive placement even after the qualifying period had ended! The Local Authority’s motives finally did come to be questioned in Court and to be adversely commented upon by the Judge. The guardian had remained silent upon this blatantly inappropriate and underhand manner of working and we felt that this could only have been because she had already colluded with Rachel Humphries, Gillian Lee and others.
3.68 On the 30th October 2001, a meeting is believed to have been held between the B&GWS and Stockport Social Services. It is also understood that this event was convened specifically to discuss the declared intention of Rachel Humphries to permanently separate Stephen and Victoria and, in the event that Miss Humphries could not arrange for Stephen to be adopted prior to the granting of the Freeing Order, she would proceed with her personal campaign to arrange for the sole adoption of Victoria. This intention would have been in direct contravention of all recommendations made by other professionals and also of the declared policy of the Local Authority. Certain individuals within the B&GWS vehemently opposed the views of Rachel Humphries, but it was the opinion of at least one other independent party that the B&GWS appeared to be far more concerned about any form of criticism being levelled at them (and the very real possibility of them being sued for negligence, with regard to the manner in which the children had been treated by their own carers whilst in care), than they were with regards to concerns expressed about the possibility of Victoria and Stephen being split up and adopted/fostered separately.
3.69 Furthermore, if additional substantiation might be required that there is no doubt that Rachel Humphries had, all along, been driven by such vindictive intentions, it came about that an additional item of news had unintentionally surfaced that did appear to corroborate the issue. On 12th November 2002, whilst attending Court on another matter, solicitor Clive Wood met with Deborah Woodcock (then team leader) and Rachel Humphries and was informed that a couple of further potential placements had been identified. At around this very same period, Rachel Humphries was known to be commencing the initial steps in the process of attempting to match Victoria, on her own and without her beloved brother, with prospective applicants currently in the U.K. but who were about to return home to NEW ZEALAND. Miss Humphries later attempted to deny this and the salient details have been removed from Social Services’ records, but she had already made her intentions clear to the foster carers, who were not as eager to conceal the matter.
3.70 In view of the qualifying legal period for placing the children being about to expire, it is presumed that our impending application to Court would have prevented this motion from being processed any further, anyway. However, should the move have gone ahead, the resultant separation would have been devastating for Stephen and Victoria alike, causing a profound effect upon the both of them that would have haunted them for the rest of their lives.
3.71 If this new aspect, one that really would have placed at least one of the children “just about as far away from Mr. & Mrs. Carlisle as it is possible to get”, can be proven to be factual, it appears most unlikely that Rachel Humphries will be able to provide a plausible explanation as to why none of the other hundreds, if not thousands, of childless couples in Britain alone had not been approached as a first option. Particularly as it was by now common knowledge that we had been continuously attempting to have our children restored to our own care and also that this was also the children’s own indicated desire, it was the very of the view of very many at that time that such subsequent moves by Rachel Humphries to achieve even a ‘part success’ were MORALLY INDEFENSIBLE!
3.72 Notwithstanding the fact that such a potential serious breach of professional etiquette appeared to have occurred, that it may well be nigh on possible now to prove, there are many more matters that have since come to light, all indicating that the couple in Cornwall identified by Rachel Humphries should never have been allowed to register as prospective adopters in the first place! There are witnesses who can attest that several very serious worrying matters WERE brought to the attention of the B&GWS and of Stockport MBC even before the children moved, but that these concerns were quietly laid to rest, to be totally ignored and to the extent that, once again, today no documentation exists to confirm any one single aspect. Certainly, nothing was mentioned in Court at that time about any concerns.
3.73 During the course of the October 2001 Proceedings, in support of Social Services’ moves to adopt, several ‘expert’ witnesses all gave evidence upon the eminent suitability and close-matching of the adoptive couple identified. These so-called ‘professionals’ confirmed that, on one or more occasions, they had all actually met with and interviewed the couple concerned. To arrive at their respective (presumably, qualified) opinions, each and every one of them affirmed under oath that they had fully utilised the appropriate guidelines and procedures. As events were soon to prove, evidently this was very far from the case, several significant and very worrying areas in the couple’s background clearly not having been broached upon at all. Those people are named as:
(i) Rachel Humphries, then Social Worker with SMBC ‘Cared for Children’ service.
(ii) Angela Carr, Guardian-ad-Litem, CAFCASS Stockport.
(iii) Gillian Lee, SMBC Family Placement Team Leader.
(iv) Susan Withington, team manager with the Boys & Girls Welfare Society (fostering agency)
(iii) Farrah Rahman, member of SMBC Family Placement Team.
3.74 In view of all that had occurred, the following questions naturally presented themselves to us:
(i) Were Rachel Humphries’ various inappropriate acts, as it would appear to us, solely vindictive; indeed were her ulterior motives essentially personal and quite vicious in nature?
(ii) Did such a motion to have the children irretrievably adopted (or otherwise ‘disposed of’), should it ultimately have succeeded, merely occur as a consequence of, and in direct retaliation to, the numerous challenges and complaints made by us both between 1999 and 2001 and shortly afterwards even by Stephen himself?
(iii) Was Rachel Humphries, in fact, seeking to extract some form of revenge by using Stephen and Victoria (the children that she never had) as her personal ‘pawns’?
(iv) Is there any consideration for believing that Rachel Humphries is suffering from Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy? According to an acknowledged expert in this field (that we consulted with in the USA), when presented with the facts he could only conclude that all the classic symptoms appeared to be in place.
Footnote: A person suffering from Munchausen’s Syndrome By Proxy has a strong need to feel ‘special’ or heroic in order to stimulate attention from people such as family, friends, work colleagues, community and medical professionals, often using a child in that person’s charge as the victim. Rachel Humphries’ particular personal mannerisms, for example talking too loudly whilst boasting about one of her personal achievements and then looking around herself to ascertain whether anyone was listening, was a particular attention-seeking trait that we came to observe time and time again. (See 28th July 1999 reference in Section 4). There was, in fact, also one particular occasion when she was heard to refer to Stephen and Victoria as “my children” and, although it is conceded that such words were probably used in general terms in respect of the Local Authority’s role in affairs, the usage of this particular phraseology was, nevertheless, considered to be quite curious in nature.
3.75 Whatever did occur, the laid-down Selection Procedure for adoptive parents appears to have been grossly abused by Rachel Humphries (and, most likely, also by those others directly involved in Stockport’s assessment process) in that:
(a) the process was not as thorough or as searching as it should have been,
(b) an internal ‘hidden agenda’ appears to have over-ridden other considerations, an agenda in which Rachel Humphries and Catriona Sreenan appeared to have been an integral component.
3.76 Certainly, the assessment process was either far too rapidly concluded, or any potential areas of concern were totally disregarded in the ensuing indecent haste to conclude affairs. Again, there are witnesses prepared to testify that this was precisely so. Indeed, even late in 2002 and immediately prior to her departure from Stockport Social Services, so determined was Rachel Humphries to achieve even a partial success (make her ‘mark’, some might contend) that she was also heard to state that she “will separate the children, even if only to ensure that one of them was adopted”!
3.77 We fully acknowledge that the manner in which we personally attempted to defend our children, in the form of the considerable number of formal complaints that were registered (in respect of various personnel, but particularly Rachel Humphries) did ultimately come to be variously misinterpreted as hostility, antagonism, intimidation or aggression. We have always greatly regretted that we were placed in the unfortunate position where we felt that we had no real option but to complain. There was always the risk that repeatedly finding fault would eventually be construed as an inability to be able to work with Social Services. However, on balance, it was felt important that a number of very real concerns that we did express at the time, particularly with regard to the children who, naturally, were incapable of, or even prevented from (as will be related later), recording their own dissatisfactions, were addressed, not least because these would inevitably be brought up as and when the matter went to Court. It was hoped that the Local Authority, for its part, would make some attempt to appreciate the motives behind our concerns. That this did not appear to be the case inevitably caused much exasperation, frustration and heartache.
3.78 A final desperate appeal was eventually made by us directly to the Director of Social Services. Even this came to be immediately passed down to John Warwick, SMBC Social Services Customer Relations Manager. The latter then briefly wrote to us, advising that our letter had been passed on to him for attention and concluding with the words that that, following further enquiries, he would “write again as soon as possible”. John Warwick failed to write again!
3.79 After further written concerns that we initially placed with team leader Paul Marshall approximately a year later, an equally brief missive again ensued from John Warwick, but once again with no promise of any personal intervention. He was merely conveying the message, presumably on Paul Marshall’s behalf, that the issues that we had raised had been addressed in the Care Plan …which, he said, was to be discussed at a forthcoming planning meeting. There was no mention of our concerns in that particular Care Plan and the chairperson of the planning meeting made absolutely sure that we were afforded no opportunity to discuss such matters! Nevertheless, this provided John Warwick with yet a second opportunity to opt out of instigating any formal investigation and effectively to ‘pass the buck’ once more.
3.80 More recently, when the Local Authority was literally legally forced to make available its files for inspection and to answer some very searching questions in Court, the latter-day service manager did come to volunteer the information that some significant changes had been made to departmental procedures as a direct consequence of our particular case. As far as we are personally concerned today, whatever those actual changes were, it all pales into relative insignificance here in comparison to the fact that no single individual or group of individuals would ever again knowingly be permitted to practice in a manner akin to that allegedly perpetrated by Rachel Humphries and Catriona Sreenan.
3.81 Notwithstanding such apparently insurmountable odds placed in our path, we confirm that we did enter into the tasks that were expected of us, both in a spirit of co-operation and also a willingness to work with Social Services, in order to ensure the best for our children. In compliance with the then most specifically documented “Expectations of the Local Authority” in respect of the conditions of the Care Order at the time that this was granted, we fully understood that any consideration of Stephen and Victoria being returned to our care would have been strictly on the understanding that we both sought out, attended and successfully completed a series of sessions for therapy and/or counselling. This requirement was fully accomplished and to the extent that we both ultimately undertook work with a number of professionals. It is our view that the standard of this work was usually above and beyond that documented as being expected of us. In so doing, we had hoped that Social Services would meet us halfway and try and understand the reasoning behind some of our responses and reactions. Our aspirations seemed to have been misplaced as it soon became apparent, as has been previously suggested, that decisions had already been made long before behind ‘closed doors’.
3.82 Even at that particularly difficult period in time for us when the relationship with Social Services was at its lowest ebb and appearing to be irreparably damaged, it is actually on record that we had continued to offer to enter into further work with the department. A promise was made to contact us to set up a meeting to discuss the matter. (Catriona Sreenan, in evidence.) Nevertheless, we never heard any more.
3.83 Further to this, the Local Authority did not even consider the question of further assessing us until July 2001. It had been stated that the matter of a re-assessment of us was discussed. (Humphries/Sreenan, in evidence). Under cross-examination in October 2001, Rachel Humphries recalled that she had identified a number of pertinent topics, which she thought such an assessment could consider. Apparently this was taken no further as, upon the mutual decision of those two, it was decided not to proceed and there appears today to be no record whatsoever of the content of that discussion anywhere within the Social Services’ case files upon our family. Any documentation that that might have existed, no matter how brief, has in fact totally disappeared.
3.84 The issue was then left, upon the advice of the Local Authority’s own legal section, until the outcome of a professional’s meeting, which Catriona Sreenan (team leader) in the event totally failed to attend. Nevertheless, the decision not to assess was then taken by Ms. Sreenan, after speaking with Ms Humphries, although, significantly once again, neither the discussion, nor the decision made, is adequately minuted anywhere at all. In evidence, Rachel Humphries admitted to possessing what she described as only a ‘hazy recollection’. It was a category omission for the decision not to further assess us in 2001, especially when that decision was taken on the basis of the key social worker’s impression of what the consensus of the professional’s meeting was.
3.85 During the course of the previous proceedings, more than one professional had made a recommendation to involve an intermediary as an independent arbitrator, or as we also saw it, a means to ensure ‘fair play’. This suggestion came to be consistently rejected by the Local Authority.
3.86 Indeed, when approaches were made to investigate the engagement of alternative workers, it was explained that the Social Services department “could not find anyone prepared to work with Mr. & Mrs. Carlisle”. Upon this matter being queried, both directly by us at the time and more recently by Counsel in Court, no evidence to support such a claim appeared to have ever existed, although the very same ploy continued to be utilised by the “Cared-For Children” service involved with our children following their return from the disasters of Cornwall.
3.87 Certainly, the Local Authority failed to undertake any assessment of the risks allegedly posed by Mr. Carlisle to the staff of Stockport SSD and it latterly became very apparent that there was no clear documentary evidence upon which the Court could find that either of us posed any risk to anyone at all! All such rumours had in fact emanated from Rachel Humphries and her immediate colleagues. Under cross-examination in 2004, the latter-day key social worker and the manager of the “Looked-After Children” service both came to confirm that they experienced no particular difficulties in working with either of us.
3.88 Nevertheless, despite the continuation, since the initial Court proceedings, of what we considered to be, at times, unjust or misplaced criticism of us, we remained throughout staunchly of the opinion that we had, in fact, made every possible effort to address the original concerns of the Local Authority and of those previous proceedings insofar as we could possibly so do. This came about in the total absence of any form of moral encouragement or actual support being made available to us. We, therefore, did not consider it fair for the Local Authority to continue to suggest, as they did do, that either of us had been negative in attitude. We had tried hard to understand the basis of Social Services’ involvement. We eventually believed that we had an insight into their concerns and that those concerns had been addressed. The words of the then Guardian, Angela Carr, so succinctly, but inaccurately reflected her biased view the situation, in suggesting that it was all “too little and too late”. For our children it would never have been too little and too late! The attitude of the Social Services department and the totally disgusting manner, in which our two children had been treated historically during the course of their journey through the care system (particularly by Rachel Humphries), is, even today, infinitely more difficult to understand.
3.89 It is accepted that, despite our ongoing personal desire to totally dispense with any Orders whatsoever; to be allowed the opportunity to rebuild our lives and to repair the damage that had been done (particularly to the children), the concerns of Social Services as a corporate body had to remain. In placing ourselves in a position where we could understand that if even part of what we had been accused of were true, we could quite comprehend that the Local Authority would be totally failing in its duties, if it did not carefully consider the discharge of any Orders made. In returning home, should Stephen and Victoria have continued to be allowed to learn poorly, or acquire self-destructive or ineffective habits, perhaps from their parents, then their dealings with others would be less happy than they should be. For example, we are quite aware that many children learn that violent behaviour is effective, and even acceptable, through watching the violence of their own parents. But, since violence works against their relationships in the end, these habits have to be replaced by habits that improve the quality of life for everyone involved. We did recognise our responsibility to our children in that respect.
3.90 It is, therefore, very gratifying to report that, with the removal from our lives of the direct involvement of the ‘Cared-For Children’ Service, allied to the small window of hope that then opened to permit us to re-initiate proceedings (following Rachel Humphries’s desperate last-ditch attempt to secure alternative adoptive placements), our introduction to the ‘Looked-After Children’ Service, managed and manned by a mature, infinitely more experienced and absolutely impartial team, eventually began to produce the sort of positive results that we had long been seeking. The old scores soon came to be forgotten and our own gestures of co-operation were reciprocated in a likewise fair and just manner.
3.91 It is, however, a sobering thought today to consider that, had we not come to question the inappropriate things that were happening to our children whilst in care, then we might also not have received the adverse, and often provocative, reaction from the Local Authority and the children might well have been returned to us much sooner. It was, however, our undeniable right to challenge people whom we perceived to be acting unjustly or incompetently and we were forced to make some very difficult decisions and sacrifices merely as a consequence of this.
3.92 Although we did appreciate that some difficulty might have been encountered in those early years in accommodating our request, we eventually became convinced that our only salvation lay in requesting that another team take over our case.
3.93 Equally, in considering that that might not be possible, in light of the new evidence later to surface, that to affirm with absolute conviction that we could have been successful in working again with either Rachel Humphries or Catriona Sreenan would also not have been so clear-cut.
3.94 The written request that we did prepare and submit to the Local Authority came to be totally ignored, as was a letter in a similar vein sent by our solicitor.
3.95 However, it was shortly to be indicated within various item of correspondence received during June and July 2001 that a ‘restructuring’ of Stockport Social Services would itself involve a change in the personnel involved with us. Naturally, this news was accepted as being positive, it being our own perception that the involvement with the team involved up until that date had been an ongoing constant battle and against insurmountable and often most unreasonable odds and it must be added that such an unfortunate situation was very definitely not what we had wished for.
3.96 Despite this supposed re-structuring, it was a most curious fact that there was no immediate change of personnel. Even more strangely, in our own case nothing occurred for at least another year and Rachel Humphries retained control, DESPITE (as we now know) even Stephen, in front of two witnesses, going to the very desperate and extreme lengths of actually demanding a change in social worker! The matter only ever appears to have been mentioned once, and very briefly at that, during a later LAC review ….before being quietly ‘buried’ by Rachel Humphries.
3.97 When William Settle (respite foster carer) attempted to advocate on Stephen’s behalf, stringent attempts were made to silence that gentleman by denying further contact between the two of them and then to put the seal on this by discrediting and de-registering the Settles because, we all felt, they had the audacity to ‘blow the whistle’ on numerous very worrying matters. (Nevertheless, see Para 5.20.) This was, in any event, a violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Act (1998) whereby the Government, local councils, agencies with responsibility for children and young people and professional bodies should ensure that children can access independent advocates who can advise, support and represent them. It was Stephen’s own decision to ask Mr. Settle to speak for him.
3.98 The Department of Health’s own National Standards for Agencies Providing Advocacy for Children and Young People in England is even more specific; “Advocacy is about speaking up for children and young people, in particular and whenever possible by enabling them to speak up for themselves. It is about helping them to achieve understanding, to participate in and influence decisions that affect their lives, particularly about representing their views, wishes and needs to decision-makers and seeking remedies for breaches of their human rights. Advocacy services offer independent and confidential information, advice, advocacy, representation and support.” Merely for Rachel Humphries later to say that all that she did about it was to put him in touch with the Children’s Rights Officer and to suggest that he write a letter was also inconsistent with the recommendations, particularly as she admitted that she did not establish whether he did write such a letter, nor did she at the time have any idea what the Children’s Rights Officer did, not even troubling to ascertain whether in fact Stephen did contact the Officer.
3.99 The Children’s Rights Officer was not Stephen’s choice of advocate. For Rachel Humphries, the Children’s Rights Officer, or Angela Carr the children’s guardian, to have taken control of what they felt was in Stephen’s best interests would have been very wrong. Indeed, the above-ascribed National Standards clearly recommend, “Where children and young people are unable to express a view, advocates will pursue their best interests according to their rights under national and international law. Advocates should never assume that a child or young person is unable to express a view and should take all reasonable steps to discover their feelings. Where appropriate they should take into account the views of parents or carers who are close to the child or young person.” It is a moot point as to whether we (as parents) would have been still considered “appropriate” advocates, had we been made aware of events and had Stephen not been prevented from making direct contact with us (the abject failure to occur of the “Letterbox Scheme”, amongst other things) but, at the time that Stephen did place in writing his request to Mr. Settle to advocate on his behalf, Mr. and Mrs. Settle were still firmly registered as respite carers for the children.
3.100 With the aforementioned as a background, upon which a very shaky relationship continued to be ‘endured’ with Stockport Social Services, a comprehensive diary of all events was deemed essential to be maintained, even if only to corroborate facts and dates as well as to confirm what people had actually said, lest (as definitely did occur), they later came to deny what, clearly, they had said. From our Chronology, the following items have now been extracted, containing matters of concern with particular regard to the standard of the work done by the Social Worker Rachel Humphries and, occasionally, by her team leader, Catriona Sreenan and others. We believe that all that is documented below represents a fair and honest account of events and does set out to relate these precisely as they occurred.
3.101 It will be observed that there are numerous references within this document to instances of where no record appears to survive on the Local Authority’s files concerning events that did occur. In 2003, upon the direct instruction of His Honour Judge Earnshaw, Stockport MBC was ordered to disclose all documentation in their case files relating to the case. This took some considerable time to effect as Stockport Legal Services had initially objected to the request posited by Counsel for the parents. (It was a similar case with regard to the papers held by the Boys & Girls Welfare Society.) We were told that further delays would ensue as a consequence of having to ‘anonymise’ the identities of various individuals identified within the various reports and minutiae. Nevertheless, within the bundle that was eventually submitted, it was only too apparent that a considerable number of papers were, indeed, still missing. It was in actual fact the case that huge chunks of information did appear to be absent. When this was pointed out to counsel for the Local Authority, that person remained silent on the matter.
3.102 Wherever references are made within this statement to papers that appear to have gone missing, or to matters that appear to have gone unrecorded, that assumption is essentially based upon what papers did come to be disclosed. Should there have been other documents that were deliberately withheld, then Stockport Legal Services would have been acting in contempt of Court and quite illegally.
4. A CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS
2nd June 1999 A Social Services Core Group meeting was held at the Bredbury Day Centre. Two new social workers were introduced to us, namely Rachael Humphries and Sonia Stephenson; these, apparently then recent, new recruits to staff positions within the Stockport Social Services department, were to assume the duties of previous workers. It was advised that Rachel Humphries would undertake work with us and that Sonia Stephenson would be involved in planned direct sessions with Stephen. As was soon to prove to be the case, Rachel Humphries never did enter into any productive work with us whatsoever and, within a matter of weeks, Sonia Stephenson (who, in our view, always did appear fairly anxious to support us) without any form of prior notice was moved away to other work!
The allocation of two workers had been desirable because of the nature of the case [Sreenan and Guardian, oral, in proceedings, 2001]. This ended not due to our malfeasance, but because of management rationalisation within the Local Authority and may, in itself, have affected the whole course of the case; the resultant increased pressure on the sole worker could not have assisted in the furtherance of the relationship between the Social Services Department and ourselves.
June 1999 Stephen had been excluded from school as a consequence of allegations of disruptive behaviour – much of which was not denied. However, there did appear to be an inappropriate attitude problem being exhibited by the head teacher and we had already made the decision to move our son to an alternative school; one where we felt he would stand a better chance of not being discriminated against. (Our substantive reasons leading up to such a major decision are well-documented elsewhere.)
The major problem now arose inasmuch as the establishment that we did come to select, St. Mark’s Primary School, Bredbury, had already exceeded its quota of pupils and was unable take Stephen, except under very extenuating circumstances. At that period in time, there were none that appeared relevant. Of the remaining schools in the district, the one that appeared to be higher in the published school ‘performance league table’ was Springwood Primary in Romiley. Our decision to move Stephen to Springwood was intended to be only an interim arrangement until a place became available in a school nearer to home and, in any case, we had already been offered and had accepted a place for Victoria at St. Mark’s Nursery School, which was but a few minutes walk away from home.
The predicament that Mrs. Carlisle would now find herself in was that she was already at the mercy of totally unreliable and infrequent local public transport and which, consequently, was also already occupying a considerable proportion of her day. It would indeed have proved quite impossible to deliver both children to schools several miles apart! The Local Authority made no effort to attempt to secure places for both children at St. Marks. When Mrs. Carlisle appealed to Rachel Humphries for some help with the transport arrangements, the reply offered was, “What do you think we are, a bloody taxi service?”
1st July 1999 Stephen and Victoria were accommodated by the Local Authority (through the Boys & Girls Welfare Society) into the care of foster carers Janine and Idalo Recchia. We delivered the children at 2-00pm. to the Bredbury Day Centre and whereat Rachel Humphries was waiting to collect them.
Before we departed, Rachel Humphries was then to insist that we complete various items of statutory paperwork. It soon became apparent to the both of us that this particular social worker had very little idea whatsoever as to how the forms should be completed and, despite the day already having proved to be a particularly sad and depressing occasion for both of us, this additional process was to take an inordinately lengthy period of time, Miss Humphries repeatedly having to refer back to various manuals that she had brought with her. Particularly as she also insisted upon sitting upon the floor at the time, clearly expecting us to do the same, we found her whole lackadaisical manner to be offensive, tactless and quite disrespectful towards us. It was, indeed, our view that she should have better prepared herself for such an important event (to us) and to have undertaken this well in advance.
It must have been all too apparent both to Miss Humphries and also to all the other staff present that much preparation by the both of us had been put into what could otherwise have turned out to be a very traumatic occasion for the whole family. Notwithstanding this, the sole person ever to come to formally acknowledge our efforts would come to be Sonia Stephenson and we did accept any words that Mrs. Stephenson offered, during that short period that she remained involved, with some optimism and encouragement. Nevertheless, soon afterwards, without explanation Sonia was permanently transferred away, leaving Rachel Humphries as the sole allocated worker for what ultimately transpired to be the duration of the case.
Indeed, despite this other worker’s such positive feedback, a report that Rachel Humphries herself produced shortly after Mrs. Stephenson’s departure contained remarks including a view that the children “showed no visible signs of distress on leaving their parents”. In the absence of the additional feedback that might have been readily contributed here by Sonia, those few words when taken in isolation contrived to convey a very different impression about us both.
Without appearing to be at all defamatory, we should both wish to make it very clear that our view was that such a particular ploy, (that of deliberately omitting certain vital items of information from reports, on the pretence of seeking brevity) in order to distort other quite accurate references with very ambiguous connotations, came to be the particular ‘modus operandi’ of Rachel Humphries. In actual fact, if so requested, from even the Local Authority’s own files, we could today easily provide numerous further illustrations of where she similarly acted!
Nevertheless, whether the signs were visible (to her) or not, what Rachel Humphries did categorically fail to mention, but was very well aware of, was that much of the ease in which the children’s move had taken place was entirely as a direct result of prior well thought-out preparation and verbal assurance by us. For example, for the assistance of the foster carers, Mrs. Carlisle had written a short résumé about the children and, after passing the social worker’s personal scrutiny, this was duly passed on by Rachel Humphries to Janine Recchia. It had provided a comprehensive list of Stephen’s and Victoria’s food likes and dislikes, their individual mannerisms, bedtime rituals, favourite toys and even the nicknames that the children used for each other, i.e. “Gabba” (by Victoria) and “Dolly” (by Stephen). At the conclusion of a contact session some days later at the Bredbury Centre, when collecting Stephen and Victoria, Janine Recchia actually now informed Mrs. Carlisle that the children had settled in well, in no small part she felt, due to the preparation of the résumé, of which she indicated that she was under the distinct impression that Rachel Humphries was solely responsible for producing. When Mrs. Carlisle queried this, Mrs. Recchia categorically affirmed that Rachel Humphries had, indeed, claimed the entire credit for it.
Remaining on the issue of whether or not Stephen and Victoria had succeeded in relatively painlessly negotiating this abrupt change in their lives (as Rachel Humphries was intimating), the written reports from the very same period (within the official case files that were later very reluctantly disclosed), do paint a very different picture. There were in fact clear indications within these documents that the children did experience a significant element of distress. Indeed, some weeks into the placement Stephen advised that Victoria was in fact crying at night. As her cries were apparently often ignored, Stephen himself went into her room to console her. He was told to go back to his own bed. Stephen has also disclosed to us that he could not sleep, as he was so worried about Victoria. This was hardly a case of “showing no visible signs of distress on leaving their parents”!
Furthermore, we were never told any of this. We had to rely upon what the children themselves could tell us before they were prevented from doing so with threats of retribution.
Yet further reports from the pen of Rachel Humphries soon came to allege that Stephen, after contact, had been physically aggressive towards both the carers and their own children. In that respect, we do have evidence that the Recchia children were often very intimidatory and aggressive towards Stephen and Victoria, so it was, at the very least, a somewhat two-way process and, understandably so, as children typically do resent situations where they perceive that they have been removed the centre of attention. In attempts to lay the whole blame at our own feet, that aspect never seems to have been considered by anyone at all. A child psychologist, however, may well have thought somewhat differently.
In respect of Stephen’s alleged aggression, this strongly suggested (to us at least) that his very real confusion over his feelings about his situation, the unacceptable manner in which he was now being emotionally abused by the carers (there are very many very clear illustrations in this regard at various places within the official records and in subsequent witness statements) and his strong desire to return home as soon as possible.
Such observations, most clearly, were at total variance with Rachel Humphries’ own words, but appear to be more reliably documented by other parties, being of course supported by the unbiased raw facts emanating from the children’s own mouths and duly documented within our own written Chronology.
Our several protestations to Social Services having come to be repeatedly rebuffed, a formal detailed complaint was eventually sent directly to Andrew Haines, the chief executive of the B&GWS, but even this came to be effectively rejected by that person apparently in the absence of any further investigation. All that did in fact occur was that we received an extremely patronising ‘whitewash’ letter, indicating the situation would be monitored. We do actually believe that Mr. Haines did nothing at all!
It did appear that there had been an element of collusion between Stockport Social Services and the fostering agency, an issue which later came to have been of some concern to at least three other pairs of B&GWS-employed foster carers. There was also the consideration that Stockport M.B.C. was paying the B&GWS handsomely by sub-contracting a great deal of work to that agency. Nevertheless, despite Mr. Haines’ clearly defensive tactics to save grace, we do know from the official reports that the Recchias left the employ of the B&GWS shortly afterwards, curiously to immediately continue in fostering work through another agency.
6th July 1999 A speech therapy session for Victoria, arranged some time previously by Mrs. Carlisle, came to be cancelled by Rachel Humphries. Miss Humphries’ own explanation of the cancellation was that this was merely as a direct result of Mrs. Carlisle’s insistence upon attending!
As contact was regularly occurring, it was felt that an explanation was necessary as to why Miss Humphries felt that it was inappropriate for Mrs. Carlisle to attend the session as Mrs. Carlisle’s only motive was concern for her daughter. Nevertheless, Miss Humphries then became deliberately obstructive when we attempted to query the matter and it was only later that it came to be revealed that she had already sourced alternative sessions, through the foster carer’s own GP! Quite why Rachel Humphries chose not to share this fact with us remained unclear, however it was very evident that even after only a single month of her involvement with us, there was a very worrying ‘hidden agenda’ here concerning this particular social worker that was slowly beginning to emerge.
26th July 1999 The inaugural ‘Placement Review Meeting’ was conducted. Mr. Carlisle reported that, after contact, Stephen had become increasingly reluctant to be separated from his parents in order to return to the foster carers home, furthermore that he was often in tears on such occasions. (These particular facts are self-evident merely by reference to the official ‘contact recordings’.)
Such a situation would be very understandable in view of the circumstances and, at that period in time, there probably was no immediate ‘magical’ resolution to the matter for Stephen. Mr. Carlisle felt that he was merely contributing a concern about the children and was quite unprepared for the very tactless solution that Miss Humphries now seemed to have spontaneously arrived at. She announced that her decision was that we were to leave the Centre, prior to the children being collected!
It was quite unclear how she felt that this would resolve the situation, for Stephen! Indeed, it certainly would not have helped at all, but that was what Miss Humphries and the chairperson Joyce Burslem, between them now had agreed and that was what we had to do thenceforth!
It might, perhaps quite reasonably, today be suggested that this set the ‘tone’ for the rest of the meeting and events to follow appeared to confirm such conjecture. When Janine Recchia, the female carer, most inexplicably came to express a personal opinion that the children might be seeing their parents too often, neither Rachel Humphries, nor any other person present felt any desire whatsoever to comment upon such a tactless and inappropriate remark. The room, indeed, remained silent!
Quite understandably, Mr. Carlisle was to take very great offence at this, particularly as at that time, he was well aware this woman had only been involved in active foster-caring for 3½ weeks and very clearly both ill-qualified and inexperienced enough to be making such judgements, particularly in such an unprompted and uninvited manner! Nevertheless, although nothing can ever be proved, there did appear to have been an element of prior collusion between Miss Humphries and Joyce Burslem - both of whom were, indeed, Social Services’ personnel.
Mr. Carlisle felt that this was an appropriate juncture to bring to the attention of the meeting some concerns of our own about the standard of care being provided at the placement. He commenced by explaining the specifics of the telephone conversation of the morning of 3rd July 1999, when Stephen had been permitted to make a short call home. Having been asked how he had slept, Stephen informed his mother that both he and his sister had been placed in the Recchia children’s own bedroom, the latter two sleeping in a guest room. We had no problem with our children sharing a room at their, then, age, but Stephen continued by adding that they had actually been LOCKED in that room all night!
Janine Recchia had obviously been secretively listening in to this conversation all of the time on another extension in the house, for she abruptly came on the line at this point, interrupting the conversation in a very defensive and arrogant manner, to inform us that she had done this only to keep the children apart. She then terminated the call.
This being a very extreme measure, even in exceptional circumstances (which did not apply here), the situation was also fraught with hazard. There being no necessity whatsoever to go to the extent of locking doors, the implications in an emergency, for example in the event of a house fire, would have been unimaginable! Astonishingly, neither Rachel Humphries nor Joyce Burslem came to make any comment whatsoever upon what should have been such a very worrying issue. Furthermore, no details at all are believed to have then been passed on by either of these two to the fostering agency and the issue later appeared to have been quietly ‘buried’.
Moving on to voice yet further concerns about Janine Recchia’s all too evident inexperience, Mr. Carlisle then brought up the matter of an injury to Victoria whilst in the Recchias’ care that had occurred as a consequence of apparent gross neglect. The specifics of this are both lengthy and complex, but, once again, are fully documented elsewhere and available for inspection. However, the outcome of the incident did result in Victoria receiving a laceration to her face, sustained during a lengthy period of time during which both she, and Stephen, had been left totally unsupervised by Janine Recchia. Victoria still bears the scar to this very day and may well wish to have corrective surgery when she becomes older.
This was just one of many issues over abject incompetence that we raised with Social Services. Rachel Humphries, having previously been appraised of the above incidents, had already refused to undertake any formal investigations whatsoever and now came to blandly inform the chairperson that “the Local Authority was satisfied with the standard of care provided” (sic!). When Mr. Carlisle attempted to suggest that the foster carer had in fact been negligent, Janine Recchia’s absolutely incredulous response was “Well, I can’t be expected to keep an eye on four children, can I?” Not one member of Social Services was observed to even bat an eyelid!! Despite his vehement objections to the chair, Mr. Carlisle was repeatedly over-ruled. Again, not a single person in that room was prepared to support Mr. Carlisle. It was almost as if they were frightened of what Rachel Humphries might do in retribution if they spoke out against her!
Those very same words of Janine Recchia’s, however, came to be repeated during a subsequent telephone conversation with Mrs. Carlisle and when even this was brought to Rachel Humphries attention it came to be totally ignored.
Mr. Carlisle was anxious to emphasise that his complaints were placed, not as an indication of an inability to work alongside these people, but as an expression of real concern for his children who, from what they were telling us both, were most unhappy with their situation within the Recchia household! For her own part, the attitude of Joyce Burslem was now indicating seriously worrying inabilities of her own.
Clearly Stockport Social Services (or Rachel Humphries at the very least), was not interested in involving themselves in any matters that could potentially be utilised to their detriment. This was, indeed, a situation that might have been described, and with some justification, as a ‘cover up’. However, as it soon also became apparent to us that Rachel Humphries and Joyce Burslem were to appear to come to support each other on several future occasions in discrediting us at every opportunity, regardless of how justified our expressed concerns really were, there was precious little that anyone was able to do about the situation, no matter whom we asked to intervene. Here to us was a clear example of the perpetration of systematic and deliberate organisational abuse.
Rachel Humphries confirmed that, despite the very real problems that distance had previously presented to Mrs. Carlisle in delivering Stephen to Cherry Tree School, Romiley, she would personally object to any proposal that we made to move Stephen to a school nearer to home. Curiously, the grounds stated for this were not in terms of we no longer controlling Stephen’s educational needs, not even in terms of a suggestion that a return home for the children at that stage was at all clear cut, but more so that (to paraphrase Miss Humphries) “this would cause too much disruption to Stephen”. Mr. Carlisle countered her words by advising that we had now been offered and had accepted a nursery place for Victoria at the nearby St. Mark’s School in Bredbury. (See also reference to 9th August 1999.) He also confirmed that, irrespective of the views of the Local Authority, we desired to obtain the best education for both our children and at a more geographically convenient location, concluding all this with the view that we now knew that Cherry Tree School was not able to ideally satisfy either of those requirements. (Once again, see also reference to 9th August 1999.)
We would fully accept that our own proposal was merely appropriate forward planning on our part, for it was to remain our determination to have the children restored to our care as soon as was humanly possible. Furthermore, Rachel Humphries herself was also talking (to us) at that time about the distinct possibilities of this occurring in the near future. Naturally, this latest ‘revelation’ by her was to place yet further considerable doubts into our minds in respect of her sincerity and the decisions that she had already made within her own mind.
Notwithstanding her words that day, with several changes in foster carers soon to occur, Rachel Humphries soon had to significantly revise such professed opinions as she came to make, and the several ensuing moves in placement essentially enforced several further changes in educational establishments for both children. Until Stephen and Victoria were to go for adoption, such geographic moves in school were on an essentially local basis and, as we saw it, merely to make life easier for the carers involved, if not the social worker. This was permitted to occur despite the fact that the Local Authority was paying such people handsomely to undertake such tasks and, certainly, in at least one case that we knew of, a brand-new car had been supplied specifically for the purpose of transporting our children.
In permitting the occurrence of such a total lack of consideration as to how such changes would disrupt the children’s education in the long-term, merely to suit the immediate needs of what, the social worker was well aware, were essentially short-term placements, this was a particularly short-sighted and selfish solution. The “disruption” could now only be extensive.
It was all, we believe in actual fact, quite illegal. Any such decisions absolutely should not have been made by Social Services until such time as the matter of the children’s future had been finally ratified by the Court. Furthermore, it must be emphasised here that, at no time whatsoever, were we to be advised of, let alone be consulted with, regarding any subsequent proposals to change schools.
28th July 1999 Mrs. Carlisle having been admitted to Stepping Hill Hospital, in order that acute chest pains be investigated (Mrs. Carlisle has a history of heart condition and pulmonary embolism), Mr. Carlisle arrived unexpectedly to visit his wife and children, through the fire exit of Ward A12. (Stephen and Victoria had been brought to the hospital shortly before this by Rachel Humphries and Eileen Walker, a family resource worker.)
From his relatively concealed point of entry, as he walked through the doorway, Mr. Carlisle was astonished to witness Rachel Humphries, attempting to read Sheila’s confidential case notes, these being located in a rack at the Sister’s station at the opposite end of the ward to the main entrance.
A member of the ward staff also came to witness this shameless act, but before the nurse could challenge Rachel Humphries, the latter had already noticed Mr. Carlisle stood watching her and she moved quickly away. Well over a year later, corroboration now being sought from this member of staff to support evidence being prepared for Court, appropriate approaches to contact the nurse concerned were made through the Hospital’s Litigation Dept. It is known that, following our letter of enquiry that was also written to the hospital, without prior recourse to us, a telephone discussion on the matter subsequently took place directly between the Litigation Department and Rachel Humphries. We do still possess a letter from the Hospital confirming that fact.
The reason for this amazing conversation was unclear. Neither of these people should have been talking directly to each other. However, by attempting to gain access to such privileged information as strictly private hospital documents, Rachel Humphries was guilty of acting in a grossly unprofessional manner.
Another matter of concern that occurred that day also involved an issue over confidentiality. When arriving with the children, Miss Humphries loudly proclaimed to members of hospital staff who she was and her particular involvement with the family. This attention-seeking display was overheard by most, if not all, of that Ward and, quite naturally, causing acute and unnecessary embarrassment to Mrs. Carlisle!
Furthermore, Miss Humphries’ arrival was some 40 minutes later than had been agreed. No explanation, or even an apology, was ever offered and she later also made no attempt to allow additional time in compensation and, as a consequence of which, the contact session at the hospital bedside lasted for little more than 20 minutes.
This was totally unacceptable and in complete violation of the agreed arrangements. When the matter was raised with the team leader, the complaint was immediately rejected with nothing then being placed on record to document the matter. This whole series of events indicated a total lack of respect and consideration and constituted yet further examples of the very real difficulties experienced by us at that time in being able to fully cooperate with the Local Authority!
30th July 1999 A contact session. The official recording prepared by the resource worker, clearly documents that, when it was time to depart from contact, Stephen was very reluctant to leave. He had observed that Rachel Humphries, instead of the anticipated foster carer, had arrived in person to collect him and his sister.
9th August 1999 Rachel Humphries wrote to us, advising that “It has been necessary to make a decision regarding a nursery place for Victoria …. as I have not received an opinion contrary to ….my discussion with Sheila on 19th July 1999 .… and I have informed the Education Dept. that Victoria will attend Springwood Nursery in September 1999”.
Notwithstanding what she was inferring, we were under the very distinct impression that our own views concerning both children had previously been adequately expressed at the Placement Review meeting of 6th July 1999 (See above.). It will be recalled that these did not concord with those of Miss Humphries. However, it must also be remembered that on 6th July, Rachel Humphries had also said, “The local authority would contest any plans to move Stephen’s school on the grounds that this would cause a disruption to Stephen”. It would appear that, on a legal footing, our input and any reasoned arguments that we may have come to suggest should have been considered. The tone and somewhat circuitous terminology of Rachel Humphries’ letter implied to us that these had not been considered and that decisions had been made for us, regardless of any of our own concerns. Once more, we had been totally ignored!
13th August 1999 Rachel Humphries wrote to us again, “I am writing to inform you that Victoria was seen by a General Practitioner at the practice where she is registered as a temporary patient. It was confirmed that the marks on her back were consistent with the explanation given of a skin irritation.”
By way of explanation, it should be made clear that Mr. Carlisle had noticed some marks on Victoria’s body during an earlier contact session and that these were very consistent with bruising. He was to become even more concerned when Stephen informed him that one of the foster carer’s own children had been physically assaulting Victoria on a quite regular basis. Some time after this (in 2002), Stephen did describe to Mr. William Settle (a respite carer appointed by the B&GWS) an occasion, also in 1999, where one of the Recchia children had held Victoria down, whilst the other jumped up and down upon her body, Stephen subsequently being unjustly admonished by the carer for attempting to protect his sister.
It was, in fact, the direct expression of Mr. Carlisle’s concerns to Social Services that resulted in the opinion of Dr Lightowler being sought in the first place. As Dr Lightowler was the Recchia’s own GP and, thus, arguably not entirely unbiased, it remained our opinion that the injuries caused to Victoria could very well still be attributable to one of the incidents involving this other child.
Once more, a subsequent formal complaint submitted to Rachel Humphries did not result in any investigation whatsoever being instigated. Miss Humphries appeared not even to have consulted with her superiors and nothing appeared in the official records. That being the case, it became relatively easy for Social Services to dismiss the matter when we attempted to raise concerns at subsequent planning meetings. Our objections were always over-ruled and very little, if anything at all, ever came to be formally minuted.
In 2003, Victoria undertook a series of examinations, including a bone scan, to investigate numerous complaints that our daughter had been making over a lengthy period, about recurring back pains. At the time of preparing this statement, tests remain inconclusive, but Victoria does now have to undertake an annual visit to a specialist in order to monitor her condition.
20th August 1999 Rachel Humphries wrote to advise that, in view of the fact that it had been noticed that we had been late in arriving for a number of contact sessions, the decision had been made to reduce the length of these from 1½ hrs to 1 hr. She had added that “Should there be an improvement in your commitment to contact, an increase will be discussed”.
We felt that we were being admonished like small children by a school headmistress.
Despite this extremely childish act, the children had never even noticed that either of us had occasionally been a few minutes late in arriving. Indeed, they always happily engrossed in play at the start of every contact. If we were to be equally childish, we could have pointed out that there were a number of occasions where the children themselves had been late in being delivered and, indeed, one occasion when they did not turn up at all. Nevertheless, it was apparent that we were not expected to challenge matters it was not we that were at fault!
Despite our personal commitment, from that point forward, of ensuring that one or other of us was always present at the scheduled contact start time, and despite several requests being made for a review of the situation, the major bone of contention remained that the contact duration never reverted back to that originally agreed. This was a totally unacceptable state of affairs and could only indicate that Rachel Humphries and her team leader clearly had some form of ulterior motive here which they never disclosed.
20th August 1999 Late in the evening and whilst returning home from a friend’s home some distance from home in the Harrytown area of Bredbury, Mrs. Carlisle was sexually assaulted. Rachel Humphries was contacted by the detective investigating the assault, as there was some alleged concern in respect of Mr. Carlisle’s attitude towards the incident. Apparently, it had crossed some (suggestibly) extremely warped mind here that there was a remote possibility that Mr. Carlisle himself might have been involved in the assault, although there was a taxi driver who was later to come forward to provide evidence to the contrary. It was, in fact Mr. Carlisle who, in attempting to be absolutely open and honest, had voluntarily informed the Police of Social Services involvement with the family, this clearly then resulting in the Police making contact with Social Services. It was thought that the Police had merely utilised such a ploy (by later telephoning the SSD) in order to justify what, we would both contend, was a quite despicable ‘fishing’ on their part for information - information, we might add, that they just did not find!
Rachel Humphries later came to document her discussion with the detective with words including, “Mr. Carlisle did not appear to be concerned for his wife’s situation”..... although she had no basis for saying this. It just was not a truthful statement and, we might submit, the social worker evidently had chosen to hear from the detective only what she wanted to hear.
23rd August 1999 Three days after the assault, on the pretext of making a request for Stephen to participate in an outing being organised to visit the Millennium Dome, Rachel Humphries telephoned Mrs. Carlisle.
This, in itself, was curious as Rachel Humphries had never previously requested our permission for anything at all in matters concerning the children! However, having got that business quickly out of the way (we had no objection to the trip), Miss Humphries revealed that she was aware of Mrs. Carlisle’s assault. She then immediately launched into a fusillade of hostile questions directed towards Mrs. Carlisle. In most insensitively suggesting that Sheila had fabricated the allegations surrounding the incident, her actual words were, “Oh, and I believe you were supposedly assaulted on Friday evening, Well, neither the Police nor I believe you!”
What Rachel Humphries was unaware of was that Mr. Carlisle was also at home on this particular Monday morning - having taken the day off work to be with Mrs. Carlisle as she was still inconsolable about the assault - and, furthermore, that he had overheard almost every word. Upon observing his wife’s apparent distress and having been beckoned to pick up another extension, Mr. Carlisle quietly listened in on the conversation. It was Mr. Carlisle’s perception that Miss Humphries appeared to have no sympathy at all for what had happened, particularly as it also appeared that she had been so evidently aware of the assault, before deciding to telephone (as she later came to describe it in one particular Court statement as) “on another matter”. This whole episode made Sheila feel really ill and, in a later Court statement, Sheila did say that she resented the lack of compassion and only too obvious undertones contained within Miss Humphries’ remarks and did actually find these to be quite sickening.
Mr. Carlisle had been extremely upset by his wife’s experience three days previously and was not going to allow the social worker to continue in such an arrogant, insensitive, intimidating and totally inappropriate manner and, once he realised that the woman was totally overstepping the professional boundaries, he interrupted the conversation. A lengthy silence ensued, whilst Miss Humphries must have been reeling from the shock of hearing Mr. Carlisle’s voice. However, when she did recover Miss Humphries retaliated in now attempting to suggest that Mr. Carlisle himself had been involved in some way.
Mr. Carlisle could not believe the unbelievable and extremely offensive suggestions being made and there might, arguably, be some justification for his reactions at that time coming to include a reference to Humphries being a “fat tub of lard” before immediately disconnecting the call. Rachel Humphries later documented this as Mr. Carlisle being abusive towards her (a fact which has never been denied by Mr. Carlisle). Mr. Carlisle also acknowledged Miss Humphries’ claim that, during this call, “Mr. Carlisle refused to allow her to call him by his first name, and informed her that she could call him ‘Mr. Carlisle’. It has to be explained here that, in view of the already deteriorating relationship with Miss Humphries - even prior to this latest episode, Mr. Carlisle felt that the usage of first-name terms had become somewhat artificial and he was most uncomfortable with the continued usage of such familiarities utilised in so false and patronising a manner. It had, indeed, been his personal desire all along that every aspect of the ongoing relationship be conducted on a totally professional level.
Irrespective of Ms Humphries’ perceived hostile attitude, it is to Mr. Carlisle’s credit that he immediately realised that he had been unduly abusive and telephoned her back within the next 30 minutes. He retracted his comments and, in doing so, admitting that, whatever disagreements there were between them, Rachel Humphries’ personal unfortunate predicament (the “tub of lard”) was certainly not of her own choosing. (He did not use the words parenthesised, in the later conversation!)
It was Mr. Carlisle’s understanding that his apology had been accepted and that both parties had come to realise that they had each been speaking quite ‘out of line’, so he was some time later most surprised that Rachel Humphries chose to formally document this particular episode and absolutely astonished in that she then came to distort the facts to suit her own devious purposes.
It was Rachel Humphries’ own professed view that Mr. Carlisle had been very uncooperative and obstructive towards the Police, although the social worker had not been present at that time and was merely basing her assumptions on the consensus of opinion expressed by a police officer who had in fact only spoken with Mr. Carlisle personally for about 5 or so minutes.
Miss Humphries equally inaccurately later came to state, “the police needed to remove Mr. Carlisle whilst they discussed matters with Mrs. Carlisle”. This was yet another example of her misreporting facts to suit her own motives, the truth of the matter being that it was normal police practice for each of the parties involved an incident of any type to be separated whilst being interviewed and that much was precisely what had occurred immediately that Stockport CID arrived at our home the following morning. In actual fact, Mrs. Carlisle was quite annoyed with Stockport CID for pursuing such an approach, but quite disgusted with them in that they then came to contact Social Services over the matter. The reasons of the police for doing so were quite wrongful and ill-advised but, in any event, play no part in this narrative. We submit that Rachel Humphries, however, came to tie up all of her little snippets of hearsay in order to attempt to persuade all and sundry that Mrs. Carlisle had fabricated her version of events.
Very clearly, this particular incident, and the manner in which Rachel Humphries was herself deliberately abusive, was a major illustration of the circumstances surrounding our insistence that all such communications were either in writing or conducted in front of witnesses from outside of the Social Services department. More importantly, as will come to be revealed in pages to come, there were to be many instances of where it appeared to be the case that Rachel Humphries was absolutely obsessed by matters involving any sexual issues.
Momentarily remaining on that particular theme, we temporarily move forward slightly in time, coming to the Child Protection Committee conference of 12th November 1999.
Rachel Humphries appeared to have had made certain that the matter of the attempted rape was given poll position on the agenda. It soon became clear to us why this was. She came to express her view that, on more than one occasion, Mrs. Carlisle had been seen bearing evidence of having sustained injuries and she was now attempting to suggest that there might be a connection between that incident and these others. Clearly, Miss Humphries had every right to suggest such a tenuous connection, but no-one in that room had any right whatsoever to place any direct accusations in the absence of conclusive proof. Nevertheless, that was precisely what was being inferred. However, when questioned further, Miss Humphries was forced to admit that perfectly plausible reasons had been offered in each instance and that there was no evidence of Mr. Carlisle’s involvement in any of these. We would submit that Miss Humphries knew only too well that she had been totally out-of-line in her abusive manner during her phone call of 23rd August and was now trying to rally support to justify such actions in the event that a complaint came to be upheld against her.
However, it was Mrs. Carlisle who now came to interpose at this juncture. She had had quite enough! Mrs. Carlisle made perfectly clear to the meeting the resentment that she felt at the only too obvious undertones contained within such ongoing allegations. Furthermore, she desired all present to fully appreciate why she had later retracted her decision to prosecute (another issue with which Miss Humphries appeared to have a particular problem). Despite some only too evident distress at this stage, Mrs. Carlisle eventually felt able to expand on her feelings and in support of her words, Mr. Carlisle then confirmed that it was public knowledge that refusing to agree to prosecution of the offenders, (should they later have come to have been apprehended in this instance) was typical of over 90% of similar cases. The Chair was sympathetic to this fact. Rachel Humphries and her team leader, Catriona Sreenan, most evidently, were NOT, later coming, to utilise the very same (suggestibly) sly insinuations at every possible opportunity, including within Court statements!
23rd August 1999 At the close of that second telephone conversation referred to above, Mr. Carlisle asked Rachel Humphries to explain why the promised copies of the contact recordings still had not been sent out to us as promised. The latter replied that they “needed to be typed and checked for spelling”. Mr. Carlisle politely reminded her that she had promised the provision of these in her letter dated 6th August 2000 and that, three or four days after that date, Eileen Walker (family resource worker, Bredbury Day Centre) had confirmed to him that the recordings had in fact already been typed and had been waiting at the Dialstone Lane office ever since. What Rachel Humphries had said was, therefore, untruthful. This was either a deliberate display of non co-operation or of sheer incompetence.
Nevertheless, five days previously, we had already advised Miss Humphries by fax on the morning of 18th August 2000 that we felt it essential that we examined these prior to the Core Group Meeting occurring later that same day, as the content thereof might form a core part of the discussions. The recordings did not come to be provided.
At the meeting, the same question was again posited, Rachel Humphries stating that they still had not been posted out but that, in her view, “there was no need” for us to have the recordings, before the meeting, as the meeting was merely to identify “the changes required of us”. As was to transpire - and as the official minutes do fairly adequately illustrate - we should, indeed, have found those documents to have been of particular assistance … to us. This was yet another illustration of the ongoing lack of co-operation, or (justifiably, so it would seem) to put it another way… “the changes required of” the local authority.
23rd August 1999 At the contact session, Stephen was in tears and extremely distressed, whilst informing us that his beloved hamster Sooty had mysteriously died and, also, that his bike had been stolen from outside the foster carer’s house, both incidents occurring whilst he was away at Cub Camp. We had no prior notice of these occurrences as Rachel Humphries had not bothered to inform us and the resulting trauma could have easily been avoided … should we have been granted the opportunity to personally (and sensitively) inform our son of what had occurred before he discovered the facts for himself. Even if it is conceded by us that Stephen was in care and the practicalities of the situation might have presented some problems in arranging that, the matter was treated in a very insensitive and selfish manner by Rachel Humphries. Here, once more, the issue of incompetence had arisen.
The hamster was only a few months old and, as it was hurriedly buried before Stephen returned (allegedly - and curiously - at Lyme Park, some miles from the placement), although nothing could be proved, on the balance of reasonable probability, it was evident that the pet had been killed by one of the Recchia children. Victoria did later say that she had seen those two poking at it with sticks. Rachel Humphries, once more, did nothing ....except to observe “Hamsters do die, don’t they?”
As Stephen was away and he was very particular in that no-one else was permitted to use his treasured bicycle (that his dad had then only recently purchased for him), there was no reason for it to come to be left at the front of the house. Unsurprisingly, our own logical interpretation (which should not need any further elaboration upon!) was to come to be rejected by Rachel Humphries. Nevertheless, that person did find the incident useful to her in making yet another negative comment in a Court statement insofar as she came to observe that “Mrs. Recchia suggested that Mr. Carlisle was responsible for stealing Stephen’s bicycle”.
It was from another one-time B&GWS carer that the suggestion was later to come that here was a woman so apparently overcome by paranoia that, for as long as our children remained under her roof, she no longer felt safe in her own home. It is from our own children that we hear numerous indications that Janine Recchia was, in actual fact, a cold, unemotional and very calculating person. Far from it being for us to suggest any connection, but there were several who did notice that Janine Recchia and Rachel Humphries did appear to work extremely well together.
24th August 1999 The case records have since revealed that a telephone conversation took place between Rachel Humphries and the foster carer, during which Janine Recchia stated that Victoria was inconsolable after contact the previous Monday and was crying until midnight, when she fell asleep. For the assistance of any party who later came to read those reports, it would have been thought fairly essential that some form of (honest) explanation might have been offered; that is, other than a rather tenuous and seemingly very unlikely connection to an event that had occurred over 24 hours previously!
Victoria was also allegedly verbalising that her parents had hit her. However, it is also on the formal record that Stephen was angry with Victoria at that time over her comments. Unless something is missing here, the only logical interpretation could be that what Victoria was verbalising was not based on any element of fact, indeed that words may well have been ‘put into her mouth’. Given that, at this time, our daughter was only just beginning to speak her first words, she would have little idea of what she was saying anyway. The question that presents itself here is, how come both a mother (who had children of the very same age) and a social worker (who had not, but had presumably undergone some form of basis training concerning children) could both think along such illogical lines?
Proceeding just a little further on this matter, the records show that Sherri Vincent (key social worker for a short period in and around February 2003), was later asked about her own discussions with Victoria and, in particular, with regard to Victoria talking about her mother’s drinking habits. Mrs. Vincent confirmed that this had taken place in a car on an occasion when she had gone along with the foster carer to collect Victoria from school. Mrs. Vincent also stated that, upon Stephen’s return from school, she had then asked Stephen about what Victoria had said and if he ever remembered what Victoria had described. Stephen replied, “Naa, she always copies what she hears other people saying.”
Furthermore, it would not take much stretching of the imagination to realise that, in mid 1999 Victoria would not be in a position to remember very much at all about home life, particularly as she was only then beginning to speak her first few words at the time that she was removed from our care. Furthermore, the fact that Stephen very clearly did become annoyed with Victoria for making those utterances could only be construed as invalidating any remarks that Victoria may have made a year or more later, and at a time when now subjected to questioning placed in a very direct and leading manner by her social worker!
Information now surfacing directly to us from a number of sources has confirmed that a number of conversations about us of a very personal nature took place between Janine Recchia and Rachel Humphries and usually also within earshot of Victoria. The official records do reveal (in not one, but several, places) that this inappropriate conduct appears to have been a quite regular occurrence as far as Rachel Humphries was concerned, similar situations actually coming to be critically commented upon by no fewer than three pairs of subsequent foster carers!
We would strenuously deny that, at any time, have we ever struck our daughter and cannot understand why Victoria would want to say such things, except as a result of prompting by Janine Recchia or, more likely, as a consequence of gross misreporting by Rachel Humphries. Naturally, there is no evidence to confirm our suspicions that Miss Humphries had deliberately fabricated details; equally however, there is no evidence to confirm that she had not! Who is to be believed? Well, we do have one potential witness … who is now living in our very own home!!!
13th September 1999 Another contact session. As usual, this turned out to be a happy, relaxed atmosphere until, totally out-of-the-blue, Stephen said that Rachel Humphries had recently told him, during a direct session with Stephen, that “she would decide in November whether Stephen and Victoria would be returned to their own home!” Stephen also now added to this that “Janine has told me that I shall still be living there at Christmas”. He concluded by saying that Janine Recchia also had recently asked him what he would like for his Birthday (then some 6 months or so hence - in March 2000)! Stephen took this to be an as positive an indication as he was likely to get that he and his sister would still be living with the Recchias the following year and, naturally, had become extremely upset by the realisation.
There was also to be considered the clear fact here that Rachel Humphries had been imparting confidential case information to the foster carers of which they were not entitled to be aware. Notwithstanding this flagrant breach of regulations, it was by no means an isolated incident and many other instances of similar grossly unprofessional disclosures of confidential information at the hand of Rachel Humphries were soon to surface.
As far as Stephen was concerned, relatively insignificant issues had always been merely the catalyst for the unloading of far more serious concerns. On several occasions at around this period in time, our son had suddenly burst into tears for no apparent reason, this intimating that he had great problems with aspects of the placement. In his conversations Stephen appeared to be happy at school, but all too evidently not happy at the foster home any more, this strongly suggesting that the aforementioned was not the only occasion when Janine Recchia and Rachel Humphries had made similar equally tactless remarks as the afore ascribed.
Mr. Carlisle did send a letter outlining his concerns to Rachel Humphries. Rachel Humphries totally failed to respond to the issues raised. There survives today, no record of the complaint whatsoever on the Local Authority’s own files.
28th September 1999 A Social Services ‘Core Group’ Meeting took place. We did not attend as we found ourselves quite unable to do so. Previously, on 20th September 1999, Rachel Humphries had written to us to advise us of the event and to invite us to attend. With the vagaries of the postal system, this took the usual two days to arrive but had, in any case, been sent out at extremely short notice. We normally knew about meetings at least a fortnight before they took place. Nevertheless, in this instance, there had been no simultaneous contact made with us by telephone in order to confirm the matter. The significant factor here was that Miss Humphries’ letter had concluded with a request that we contact her should the notified date be inconvenient. Quite naturally, we took those words to mean that, should we now find a difficulty with the date proposed, we might all be able to convene on a more mutually convenient occasion.
Upon receipt of that letter, Mr. Carlisle immediately responded by fax, (dated 22nd September 1999) advising that, in view of his work commitments and in light of the unacceptably short notice with which we had been provided, it would be most unlikely that either of us would be in a position to attend. He, therefore, requested a postponement. Assuming that this request would be ignored, Mr. Carlisle actually added that, should there have been any issues for which Social Services had felt the input of both of us appeared vital, he would have appreciated it if Rachel Humphries did telephone us in advance of the meeting.
No such telephone call was received from Social Services. Six days later, we still had no idea of what had been decided. In view of the ensuing silence from that direction, we were later extremely surprised to learn that the meeting had gone ahead in our absence.
Because of that lack of telephone communication, we had thought that this was an indication that we would soon be offered an alternative date. As we had responded in the correct manner, the onus now clearly was on Social Services to telephone us … not the other way round. Nevertheless, we did telephone the department the day before the meeting, only to be told that no-one involved in our case was available to speak to us! A message for our call to be returned was ignored. There was little more that we could do!
Within the minutes taken at the meeting, particular criticism came to be played upon the fact that neither of us had ‘bothered’ to attend. No reference was made to our letter. Indeed, we do not even believe that Rachel Humphries even ‘bothered’ to inform anyone present that she knew that we were not coming! If this was true, then she was seeking to deliberately conceal information. Those minutes were written by Rachel Humphries.
The major factor here, however, was the fact that Mrs. Carlisle had been available to attend on the 28th September, but this particular event had curiously been convened to occur at the remote location of the Dialstone Centre, situated on the other side of Stockport. In light of the fact that Mrs. Carlisle did not drive and due to the awkward location of that place, this presented serious transport problems. Previously no such problem had arisen when Mr. Carlisle had not been in a position to attend, as the regular venue hitherto had always been the Social Services Bredbury Day Centre. Rachel Humphries was already very well aware that Hilary Stephen (previous team leader) a year and more earlier had been instrumental in ensuring that a more mutually convenient venue was always made available to us. Despite this fact being repeatedly pointed out to Miss Humphries and her team leaders, the change in venue did, in fact, become a permanent arrangement.
Had Rachel Humphries initially bothered to telephone us, instead of merely writing, the matter could have been discussed and some compromise might have been arrived at. Significantly, at a much more recent period in time during the latter-day proceedings, planning meetings still occurred at the Dialstone Centre (for, by now, the Bredbury premises had been subject to a change in usage), but by now also, Mrs. Pam Cxxxxx had become the key worker. We are extremely grateful to Mrs. Cxxxxx insofar it was our view that she repeatedly went out of her way to ensure that Mrs. Carlisle always got a lift to and from every event. Pam would today probably counter that in responding that it was merely “good social work practice”, however, why could not Rachel Humphries also have considered such a possibility? Why, indeed, was she so consistently un-cooperative? In adopting such selfish ways of working, this could only indicate that Stockport Social Services had clearly made no attempt to accommodate our difficulties and were in fact now unfairly using these difficulties against us.
30th September 1999 A ‘Professionals’ Meeting, “to review the assessments undertaken so far”. Curiously as this event was convened to occur at the more accessible (to us) Marple Council Office, we were not invited to participate, neither was our legal representative.
According to the minutes, the NSPCC gave feedback on their assessment of risk. Whilst the assessment had been completed, there were several issues still unresolved. For example, due to the fact that Rachel Humphries had not yet facilitated the Local Authority’s own assessment, (despite it being made a firm requirement of the Court as far back as 21st January 1999 – over nine months previously), Mr. Carlisle had not yet been given an opportunity to discuss his alleged violent behaviour towards Mrs. Carlisle, or the reasons surrounding that supposedly towards a previous partner 26 years previously in 1974. Even now, and even although the meeting had commented on any lack of action, Rachel Humphries was only finally to come to arrange appointments for sessions with both of us for December 1999. This would now only come to occur some ELEVEN MONTHS after the Court had insisted upon such work! In taking so long to process matters, Miss Humphries was clearly abjectly incompetent. She had no other viable excuse.
Discussion also took place about what form of intervention would be most appropriate for Mrs. Carlisle, given her alleged alcohol use, her history of depression and her stated desire to talk to a qualified specialist about the experience of being sexually abused as a child by a friend of her parents. It was agreed that Rachel Humphries would seek advice from Steve Maguire (Consultant Psychologist in the case) about this matter. It had already been emphasised by us both that Mrs. Carlisle was experiencing great difficulties in recruiting appropriate beneficial counselling and to have sourced such work at this particular stage, clearly, would have been of extreme benefit.
Nevertheless, there does not appear to be a record anywhere of any discussions or correspondence taking place between Rachel Humphries and Steve Maguire. Nothing survives within Social Services’ case files. It is also an undeniable fact that, in not one of his otherwise very thorough reports, did Mr. Maguire comment that he had been contacted directly by Rachel Humphries and, so, it would, arguably, follow that he had not been contacted by Miss Humphries. In failing to undertake this important duty invested upon her by the meeting, Rachel Humphries, again, proved to be incompetent.
1st October 1999 Miss Jane Williamson (our solicitor at that time) wrote to Stockport Legal Services requesting clarification of the status of forthcoming meetings and a timetable for any decision-making with regard to the children returning home. Miss Williamson never received a reply.
Unfortunately, this was in line with an ongoing total lack of information received in response to similar requests that we repeatedly came to make. In that respect, our records show we were to come to write on a number of occasions (albeit, obviously, on quite separate matters) either to Rachel Humphries or Viki Packman (Service Manager) on 18th August, 10th, 13th, 15th, 22nd, 25th September, 7th and 15th October 1999.
The receipt to none of these letters was acknowledged within a reasonable amount of time and many of them ultimately came never to be responded to at all. Indeed, under cross-examination in December 2003, the Court heard clear indications that Miss Humphries could not really recall what she did in response to such correspondence, other than that, in her own words, she “would have collected a number of letters, before replying to all of them together”.
Furthermore, on the several occasions that Mrs. Carlisle subsequently spoke to Rachel Humphries by telephone, her experience was that Miss Humphries was consistently elusive and uncooperative when the matter of timetabling was broached upon. Mr. Carlisle confirms that this was completely in line with his own experiences and, whilst in no way excusing such, was an instrumental factor in his ultimate loss of control and patience with certain members of Stockport Social Services. It was, indeed, almost as if these people were pre-judging and pre-empting an ultimate outcome, by unjustly and unprofessionally basing this on the consensus of other case scenarios (or, as some might suggest, how these people had previously treated other families) and that they were now just sitting down to wait for the same to occur here (or, to put not too fine a point upon it, like vultures awaiting the final kill!) Drastic words perhaps, but that was certainly how we were feeling at that time … and not one person made any attempt to help dissuade us in our beliefs.
Although it is conceded that Rachel Humphries did subsequently manage to write back to us on several occasions, she appeared consistently elusive in responding to any questions raised that were sensitive (to her). For example:
a) At the time the children were initially removed from home (1st July 1999), Rachel Humphries informed us that she would be contacting us “shortly” to advise us of the date of a meeting convened to “discuss the ways in which they would work with Social Services in order to allow the children to return home”. We heard nothing whatsoever from her in this context, until she advised of a meeting organised for some seven weeks later! (18th August 1999). The definition of “shortly” does appear to have been somewhat abused!
b) Not until, and only when, broached about the issue of “working with us” did Rachel Humphries state that she was already doing this, as we “were attending the contact meetings with the children”. We, quite naively, took the words “working with us” to mean that someone would frequently be meeting with us to help us talk through all of our problems and concerns. (“Good social work practice”, in fact.) That much never occurred.
c) Furthermore, from the outset, Catriona Sreenan advised us by letter, that Sonia Stevenson would be working with the children and that Rachel Humphries would be working with us. That, too, never occurred!
d) We did consider b) to be a pretty implausible explanation, especially as Rachel Humphries had been totally absent from the scene since 16th August 1999, except at the end of a telephone. The only face-to-face contact that we were afforded with Stockport Social Services was merely that with Family Resource Workers during contact.
In one of her letters, Rachel Humphries advised that a meeting would be arranged “at the end of September”, to discuss the issue of the children returning home. In a subsequent letter (20th August 2000), she advised, “a further meeting will be organised in approximately six weeks to review the progress that has been made and where a decision will be made in respect of the children’s long-term future”. This would have brought us, in six weeks, to 1st October 2000. Finally, Stephen was quite emphatic in his reporting to his parents that Rachel Humphries “would be deciding about when (the children) would be returning home, in November”. These all too clear discrepancies in information aside, we did not think it appropriate for Rachel Humphries to be discussing such issues at all with Stephen. Nevertheless, there had been an inordinately lengthy delay in the proceedings anyway, which we did feel may have been a somewhat deliberate act.
Revisiting briefly the issue of ‘appropriate’ conversations with Stephen, he came to inform us in October 1999 that Rachel Humphries said to him “If you do tell your mother and father where you are living, you will be moved further away from home and where you won’t be able to see them so often and you will also be separated from Victoria!” Even then, we entertained no doubts at all that Stephen was telling the truth, he had no reason not to! We now know that he was.
Indeed, in his statement of 13th October 2003, William Settle later came to so succinctly observe, “Stephen, for the rest of his life, would feel that he had let his sister down. Perhaps the callous words that came from Rachel Humphries, in her coaching of Stephen before the last case, will yet come to haunt Stephen. He was told that if he said he wanted to go back home, he would be split from his sister, that he “would be personally responsible for this occurring and to do so would be very selfish”. Furthermore, Victoria “was too young and vulnerable to be able to go home and they could finish up being separated”. These are dark words to load upon a child. I truly hope they do not come to haunt us all.”
4th October 1999 It was stated in the Local Authority’s Statement to Court for the October 2001 proceedings that “Victoria informed the foster carer that Dad touched her fairy and made it bleed”. (That document was signed jointly by Rachel Humphries and Catriona Sreenan, although it had clearly been written almost entirely by Rachel Humphries.) Until this time, we were totally unaware that such a remark had allegedly been made and it appeared to have been kept from us for all of two years! Why? (Mrs. Carlisle wishes it to be recorded here that she witnessed Mr. Carlisle’s reaction at being informed what a “fairy” was when he enquired.)
Janine Recchia is allegedly the only person known to have heard Victoria come out with these words and Victoria never repeated them to anyone else at any time. As “fairy” was not a word in the vocabulary that had been used whilst the children were at home, it appeared that such information was obtained rather as a response to a direct question to Victoria, than resulting from a voluntary chance remark. Coming from a child of Victoria’s immature years, the validity of such would also questionable. (See previous comments made by Stephen on 24th August 1999)
Both of us just cannot believe that anyone would stoop so low as to suggest that Mr. Carlisle was capable of doing anything like that to the little girl he adores so much! The reason is quite simple. It had not occurred. We now know for certain that it had not. Why was this reference made in Social Services statement, and merely a one-line entry at that, when there does not appear to have been any further investigations made? Furthermore, why was no reference made elsewhere or at any other time to possible sexual abuse? Indeed, whilst being cross-examined in Court, Rachel Humphries admitted that no investigation was instigated because the incident was unlikely to have occurred; that there had been no medical examination of Victoria that and no Police involvement or proper recording of the statements had been made.
Nevertheless, it was now clear to us both that Janine Recchia and Rachel Humphries harboured such an attitude problem towards Mr. Carlisle for daring to challenge their own numerous inappropriate acts, that they would have used any vindictive means whatsoever to discredit him. The abovementioned single reference in a court document was as potentially injurious as a banner headline!
For the record, some time later, and merely to satisfy the personal whims of various totally insensitive and uncaring parties, we now know that Victoria was quite unnecessarily subjected to the entire trauma associated with a full internal examination by a medical professional. It was Rachel Humphries herself who, upon her return from the adoptive placement, took Victoria to a GP to have her checked. It is of no consolation whatsoever to either of us that this proved conclusively that no sexual interference whatsoever had ever occurred. Only time will tell as to whether that very disturbing experience will have repercussions upon Victoria when she grows older.
As a result of these allegations against him and, in not being in a position to talk to his daughter himself in order to positively discover whether it is possible that another person may have assaulted her, Mr. Carlisle needed to undertake further counselling. Mr. Allcock of ‘M.O.V.E.’ provided this at short notice and Mr. Carlisle privately funded the work. Nevertheless, despite this information ultimately emerging, in October 1999, Rachel Humphries and Catriona Sreenan had fully succeeded in yet another attempt to alienate the Court against Mr. Carlisle. These were the sort of people that everyone expected us to work with!!
11th October 1999 At 9-30am on this date, Mrs. Carlisle opened a letter from Rachel Humphries just delivered, but dated 7th October 1999. This invited the both of us to attend a meeting at the Dialstone Centre and coincidentally due to start at that very same moment! The event was planned to be “a discussion in respect of some issues in respect of the children”.
In failing to give a reasonable period of notice, we were totally disgusted at the total lack of consideration that had been, yet again, displayed in Rachel Humphries. It was almost as if she had done this deliberately in order to add another negative comment to her Court statements.
As it was, Mr. Carlisle was already en-route to his office at the time that the letter arrived and quite unable to do anything at all. The envelope survives and this clearly shows a postmark of “09.10.99”. It had been kept at the Social Services’ office for two days even before being posted.
The only conclusion that we were able to arrive at was that, in giving such short notice, Rachel Humphries knew only too well that it was most unlikely that either of us would be in a position to attend. At mentioned previously, she was also quite aware that the relative inaccessibility of the Dialstone Centre, from Bredbury, meant that Mrs. Carlisle would not be able to attend on her own except by using taxicabs. This was yet a further illustration of those concerns previously referred to above at 28th September 1999.
Furthermore, as a result of our non-appearance at meetings such as this one, we were most concerned that Social Services would continue to accuse us of displaying non-cooperation. At this stage, a formal complaint was registered with John Warwick, Stockport Social Services’ Customer Relations Manager. The outcome of this was that John Warwick ultimately decided to take the matter no further, instead offering numerous counter-claims to justify his inactions. (This has been described elsewhere as a ‘closing of the ranks’, which one senior legal professional did confirm to us as being quite a common trait in Social Services departments!)
Also included with the letter were two other communications. One was a notification of a school ‘Parent’s Evening’ scheduled to take place the following day. A form had to be completed and returned to the school. It was obviously too late to do this! The other was a request for information on Stephen, sent out by the Educational Health Screening Dept at Stepping Hill Hospital. This had to be returned by 27th September 1999 (it was now 11th October!). In consideration of the all too evident delays in forwarding on correspondence, it was our perception that Rachel Humphries was continuing, regardless, in her uncooperative and obstructive manner, and totally unbefitting of her supposed professional status!
In the, by now, quite predictable manner, the meeting went ahead in our absence.
The minutes so obligingly supplied to us much later did confirm that, during the course of the meeting, both Rachel Humphries and Catriona Sreenan commented that they continued to have “concern regarding (our) lack of openness” and that “there still appear to be causes for concern within the family home”. We were further accused of failing to “provide evidence of a willingness to demonstrate how (we) proposed to tackle these problems. Quite unaware of what was being said about us, we had no opportunity to respond.
13th October 1999 Rachel Humphries wrote to us to explain that Stephen and Victoria would be away on holiday in a week’s time. In view of the fact that we should be unable to see our children for ten days we made a request to Rachel Humphries that the missing days, to which both we and our children were entitled, be slotted-in on other dates. This request was abruptly denied.
21st October 1999 A meeting between Social Services and ourselves took place at the Dialstone Centre. We had been given sufficient notice this time and did arrive at the Social Services’ Reception promptly at 8-30am. Following a reminder to the receptionist that we were still waiting, Rachel Humphries and Paul Marshall (of Stockport Social Services No. 3 Division - Rachel Humphries’ team leader at this stage), eventually came out together to meet us at 8-46am.
A ‘post-mortem’ then ensued on the two alternative dates that we had (supposedly) been offered for this meeting. Mrs. Carlisle had in fact made several attempts to speak to Rachel Humphries by telephone the previous day in order to confirm our preferred date, which was to be 21st October. Eventually, a FRW at the Bredbury Centre had assured Mrs. Carlisle that a message would be got to Miss Humphries, this to confirm that we would be attending the following morning. Amazingly, both Ms Humphries and Mr. Marshall each then now confirmed that neither of them had bothered to inspect the ‘message book’ in use at the Social Services’ office for the purpose of recording important messages. At risk of our becoming extremely repetitive, here was yet a further example of the obstacles and incompetence that we were continually up against when attempting to work with this particular team.
Fortuitously, a meeting was almost immediately able to take place, although it has to be observed that we were now made to wait for some time before the aforesaid two made themselves available.
A document containing an itemised list of concerns, many relating particularly to Rachel Humphries, was personally handed to Paul Marshall, accompanied by a verbal request that he give this his immediate attention. Paul Marshall flatly refused to read and/or respond to the list of concerns during the meeting, promising to do so, in his own words, “before the end of the week”. In the event, he totally failed to honour his pledge, eventually writing to advise that he had passed the list to John Warwick, Social Services Customer Relations Manager, for attention. This was a ‘cop out’ if ever there was one!
[For the record, John Warwick wrote back to us three weeks later on 15th November 1999. His letter provided answers to absolutely none of our concerns, merely utilising, what we considered to be, the most transparent excuse that he “did not propose to respond to issues that”, he now claimed, “had already been answered by other departments”. Of course none of the concerns had ever been satisfactorily answered by anyone, but the man had very effectively ‘passed the buck’! For reasons known only to himself, he did not invite us to meet with him face-to-face, as might have reasonably been expected, given our concerns.
In diverting attention from our list of matters that we wanted to discuss, Paul Marshall suggested that the agenda should in fact be based on the reportings of the last Core Group Meeting, i.e. that which we were only now to come to discover had actually taken place on 28th August 1999. His words bemused us, as, apart from having previously told us that today’s meeting had been convened primarily to address our own concerns (that we had gone to the trouble of writing down for him), this was the first we had heard that the other event had in fact gone ahead on the date stated (see our fuller observations on that matter, above at 28th August 1999).
We expressed surprise and disappointment that Rachel Humphries had, once again, not bothered to advise us on this matter, let alone forward to us a copy of the minutes. (As mentioned previously, this was not the first occasion on which Social Services had failed to supply minutes and when it had already been agreed that they would in fact do so.) Rachel Humphries then rummaged in the file on her lap for a moment, expressing ‘surprise’ that the minutes had not been sent. She said that she would look into the matter and left the room in order to obtain photocopies.
Upon her return, Mrs. Carlisle chose this moment to remind the room (and Miss Humphries in particular), that, Mr. Carlisle “did not speak for her”. Mrs. Carlisle had been particularly incensed and quite upset when she learnt that Miss Humphries had publicly stated at the meeting we did not attend, “Mrs. Carlisle appears to be very much under Mr. Carlisle’s thumb!” The point was taken by all present.
Moving on, Mr. Carlisle repeated his earlier stated concerns over the total lack of any action whatsoever from Social Services in response to our letters and telephone calls. He added that the prolonged absence from the scene, of the social worker supposedly “allocated to work with Mr. & Mrs. Carlisle” (i.e. Rachel Humphries) had caused both his wife and himself some not inconsiderable concern. We needed someone to work with us, someone who could show respect, sympathy, understanding and support “in accordance with good social work practice”.
The matter had been exacerbated by Rachel Humphries’ persistent refusal to respond to any letters addressed to her, in particular with regard to advising on a date for a review of the children’s placement. Apart from attendances at formal meetings, the last date upon which Rachel Humphries had made an appearance prior to this was when she accompanied Stephen & Victoria to Stepping Hill Hospital to visit Mrs. Carlisle on 28th July 1999.
Rachel Humphries left the meeting supposedly to attend to another matter, Paul Marshall remaining. Mr. Carlisle wondered if, on the 28th July, Miss Humphries had been embarrassed by the fact that she had been discovered by Mr. Carlisle, attempting to read Mrs. Carlisle’s (confidential) case notes at the hospital nursing station. He further wondered whether this might explain Miss Humphries’ reluctance to involve herself in any contact with us. Mr. Carlisle explained that we had already broached Miss Humphries by telephone on the hospital matter, only to receive the anticipated abject denial (despite what had clearly been observed!).
Hitherto, Mr. Carlisle had not included this item in any formal complaint, as he was prepared to allow Miss Humphries the benefit of his doubt. Paul Marshall advised that he himself was “not prepared to do this”, although it was unclear what precisely that person was proposing to do. Mr. Carlisle concluded by confirming that the only reason that he had mentioned the issue was in an attempt to explain our reasons for feeling that we were continually being treated in a very shabby manner. Nevertheless, in respect of what Paul Marshall had been told, he ultimately did nothing about the matter. Nothing survives in the case files to confirm the content of our discussion with Paul Marshall.
16th November 1999 A copy of a ‘Consultation Form’ completed by Stephen had been presented to the Child Protection Statutory Review on 12th November 1999. We came to be very disturbed to read what our son appeared have said and, at contact on 16th November 1999, we came to request permission from Rachel Humphries (by telephone, via Eileen Walker, the FRW) that we be permitted to discuss the contents of Stephen’s Consultation Paper and some of his alleged issues personally with him. Both of us were very conscious of the fact that our son clearly had many conflicts in his mind and our only thoughts, at that time, surrounded how we were going to both reassure him and apologise to him for our contribution to the situation. Rachel Humphries flatly refused this request.
The original of the aforesaid document later came to be produced in Court in October 2001. In evidence, Mr. Carlisle had suggested that Stephen had received outside assistance in completing the form and the manner in which the answers were provided did appear to support such a contention. (A copy of the document survives for examination).
The professional opinion expressed later, in Court in 2003, was that such work with Stephen as that which we were proposing to Rachel Humphries in November 1999 should have been conducted at that time. But, as this had not occurred, it was now to become a vital component in the rehabilitation process. In failing to consider all of the implications, particularly at such a vital stage, Rachel Humphries was incompetent as the children’s social worker.
Our personal view remains that this person’s refusal was tantamount to an admission that what she claimed that Stephen had said was not based on any element of actual fact and that Stephen had completed the questionnaire merely under duress by the foster carer, Janine Recchia. To those who later came to read it, there were several areas of this document that strongly indicated that Stephen had, indeed, been prompted by others to state that which he did. However, as we were prevented from discussing the matter with Stephen, this was unable to be proven and, of course, Rachel Humphries would have been well aware of this.
To reject every motion that we were to make concerning the children’s well-being as being “inappropriate” was singularly short-sighted and, in no small part, contributed to the confused feelings and emotions that Stephen clearly possessed when completing that form.
December 1999 It would have been thought that the sole basis, for any consideration for the children returning home, would have to be on the basis that some form of fairly urgent parental assessment had to be undertaken specifically broaching upon the level of success of the completed “work” expected of the both of us.
However, for reasons for which we were entirely blameless, the assessment took a very long time to get underway and the first session only came to occur as late as December 1999 and at a time when we were naturally feeling under pressure and anxious and where there was no longer any direct involvement of the key worker with us.
This delay was not in the children’s interests, nor was it conducive to improving the relationship between ourselves and the Local Authority. Despite these factors, it was Rachel Humphries herself who eventually elected to conduct the assessments, assisted by Eileen Walker (FRW). We accepted this without question, although we were very apprehensive about the arrangement.
29th December 1999 Contact session. When Mr. Carlisle remarked to Stephen that he looked sad, Stephen replied that he had been woken up early to prepare for contact and was very tired because of this. Mr. Carlisle had already previously raised the issue with Rachel Humphries, who came to flatly refuse to adjust the consistently early start times that she continued to arrange. The problem of the children rising especially early in the morning was a matter that had also been adversely commented upon by the foster carers but, again, even their own views came to be totally ignored.
10th February 2000 There had been an agreement made with us by Paul Marshall (team leader) that we could be present when the children were to be informed of the fact that they would never be returning home. This arrangement was not honoured.
Despite her earlier pledge given (in writing) to allow us to be present when the children were to be told about the Local Authority’s long-term plans for them, Rachel Humphries clearly had no intention of allowing this to occur. She totally disregarded the direct instructions of her own team manager and, without warning, visited Stephen and Victoria on her own to talk to them. In this context, to avoid any confusion, argument or denial, we will confirm that neither of us have any specific recollection of receiving the information required by Regulation 7(1)(a) of the Adoption Agencies Regulations 1983 and Ms Humphries, under cross-examination at Court in October 2001, could not confirm that that such had been made available to us.
Today, we only have Miss Humphries’ own word for how the children reacted to the news. Certainly, she did come to formally document, “whilst Victoria appeared to have a limited understanding of the situation, Stephen was relieved at the decision”, but, as always, there were no witnesses to verify what was actually said to the children, how this was put to them and what their reaction to it really was. Today, Stephen presents a significantly different account to that of Rachel Humphries, but, back in 2001 those few (allegedly) dishonest words documented, arguably, put the seal on the final decision of the Court..
14th February 2000 During the course of a contact session some four days after this, Mrs. Carlisle broke down in tears, absolutely distraught at the manner in which Stephen had been both treating and speaking to us both. From the outset, it was only too evident that Stephen had something on his mind that was troubling him greatly. By the manner in which he was both rude and arrogant to us both in turn, his mind was in turmoil and, clearly, we were at the brunt of his emotions. Stephen also being very close to tears was unable to share his feelings with us, persistently refusing to discuss anything at all with either of us and eventually moving away to sit on his own in the furthest corner of the contact room.
Despite Rachel Humphries’ earlier promise to allow us to be present when the children were to be told of what was now to happen to them, at this time no-one had had the decency to inform us that this had occurred some four days prior to the contact session! We had been previously warned by Miss Humphries, under actual threat of suspension of contact that we were not to discuss with the children matters concerning their future. Certainly someone had said something to Stephen that had both upset and deeply hurt the child and, whilst we suspected the truth, we were powerless to talk to him or to question him about it!
The fullermost extent of what Humphries had said and how she had said it has gone unrecorded, but a blatant case of ‘brainwashing’ appears to have taken place, a high level of resentment being noticeable in Stephen for several weeks afterwards. Even today, Stephen talks about these words of Rachel Humphries with a high degree of anger.
18th February 2000 Rachel Humphries came to directly supervise contact for the first time ever. There was a most unpleasant atmosphere present throughout the whole of the occasion. That this was created entirely by Rachel Humphries herself is clearly apparent as one only has to examine the tone in which she came document each of the three sessions she supervised and then to compare these three pieces of work with ALL of the remainder prepared by others. The question soon came to be asked, how come it was only that Rachel Humphries who came to repeatedly produce such consistently negative accounts of us as parents?
The recording for this date commenced with the caustic suggestion that, upon arrival, Stephen appeared to be unhappy to meet with his parents and that “Victoria was more forthcoming, Stephen appeared to be more held back”. The truth of the matter, in fact, was that whilst Victoria walked straight into the room after taking off her coat, Stephen had paused to look in his bag for some items that he had made at school and that he wished to show to us, before, he too, entered. Miss Humphries had chosen to sit on an easy chair at the very far end of the room and then, when the remainder of our little group did not automatically join her, evidently took offence.
We actually went to sit around our normal handicrafts table, but this move came to be variously documented as, “Mr. and Mrs. Carlisle sat with their backs to the worker supervising the contact” …then “Mr. Carlisle remained seated almost through the contact ….and “He did not engage readily initially....” Apart from these absolutely incredulous comments, there were very many other aspects of the recording which might today reasonably be construed as being acutely hostile in nature. However, we wish to emphasise that our real concern at that time lay in the manner that Rachel Humphries made numerous grossly erroneous assumptions, particularly in the manner in which the children appeared to be reacting to each other. Where younger children are concerned, there are great dangers in doing this and children can also be very unpredictable and irrational. To assume something with absolute certainty needs constant observation over a period of time, in order to obtain that essential broader perspective with absolute confidence.
Those situations that did occur during this contact, Mrs. Carlisle managed to resolve tactfully and with her usual coping strategies; they were, in fact, quite normal actions and interactions. However, unlike Mrs. Carlisle, it would appear that Miss Humphries had never taken the opportunity to study the research on child and child interactive play theories according to age. We submit that she was incompetent in her lack of knowledge and, thus, should not have been professing opinions upon which she possessed little or no personal experience. Also to be considered here was the fact that Rachel Humphries had neither attended any previous contact sessions nor appeared to have read any of the recordings made of these. Again, she should not have been expressing views upon matters in which she had no qualification to do so.
A very curious comment that also came to be inserted in the recording text was, “Stephen maintained a high level of eye contact with Rachel Humphries throughout the contact”. We had to ask ourselves, why was it felt so necessary to mention this? Even if it was a fact, as Miss Humphries clearly felt it to be (although we never noticed Stephen looking in her direction at all), it bore no relevance to any pertinent psychological factor. Might there have been a personality dysfunction here? Was this an indicator of Miss Humphries’ insecurity in that she always craved to seek attention and admiration? We shall leave it to others more qualified to make their own judgements upon that.
However, Miss Humphries must already have been aware that Stephen was, in actual fact, far from happy with her as his allotted worker and, arguably, she might have being making desperate attempts to justify herself here. To put things totally into perspective, it should be realised that for a child of Stephen’s young age to eventually come to directly confront an adult and to say that he wanted her replacing has to be considered as highly significant.
Some time later during the session, Mr. Carlisle left the room to escort Victoria to the toilet. Eileen Walker also accompanied the two of them, leaving just Mrs. Carlisle and Rachel Humphries in the room. Presented with what she must now have considered the ideal opportunity, Rachel Humphries sat down close to Mrs. Carlisle and made several unpleasant remarks of an extremely sarcastic and antagonistic nature towards her. In particular, she commented on Mrs. Carlisle’s parenting abilities by stating, “You’re not fit to be a mother, you’re disgusting!” What Miss Humphries was not aware of was that Stephen was at the ‘elephant cupboard’ at the other end of the room, searching for painting materials. He had evidently overheard these nasty remarks, for (in a trembling voice, as Mrs. Carlisle clearly recalls) he then shouted, “Stop it! Don’t speak to my Mummy like that!” before running over to Mrs. Carlisle in order to hug her.
Miss Humphries gave no reply to Stephen, turning to profusely write further notes on her clipboard. Mrs. Carlisle also recalls that, whilst Miss Humphries was writing, Stephen looked up at his mother. She felt that he looked sad and quite frightened, also that he clung to her for far longer than was usual. Mr. Carlisle did not come to be aware of what had occurred until we were actually walking home and only after Mrs. Carlisle had burst into tears in the street. Despite being very upset and shaken, Mrs. Carlisle had felt that it was inappropriate to discuss the matter with her husband at a time when the children might have been exposed to possibly heated words and to have become distressed. This was particularly important as Rachel Humphries had already demonstrated historically that she was incapable of controlling such situations when she came to be directly challenged on any matter with which others disagreed. We felt that she always had to ‘have the last word’, whether she was in the wrong or not, and at such times she became totally oblivious of whether the children could overhear or not. It was, in any case, the view of us both and also of our legal representative that Rachel Humphries, for reasons known only to herself, appeared to be attempting to deliberately provoke us into retaliating against her.
We did discuss this incident with our solicitor but, he felt that there would be little point in further complaining as this Social Services’ team were proving to be a law unto themselves. Nevertheless, we did not need his advice that we should not to permit Rachel Humphries to succeed in her (alleged) vendetta - we were already adamant over that particular issue! Nevertheless, we will confirm that, to ‘tarnish our image’, there were very many subsequent occasions when we did feel that both Rachel Humphries, and her team leader, Catriona Sreenan, deliberately set out to see just how far they could ‘push’ us!
The observation concerning the children becoming distressed when seeing their parents departing at the conclusion of this contact was recorded accurately enough, as was the statement, “Victoria shouted after Mr. Carlisle as he left, although he didn’t respond”. The problem that we did have with this ‘one-liner’ was the manner in which undue emphasis came to be placed on Mr. Carlisle’s alleged failure to respond to Victoria, particularly in that Miss Humphries then (deliberately?) omitted to suggest any form of explanation for such actions.
What she should have added was the fact that each of the other staff more normally involved in the Contact sessions was already quite aware that, at departure time, we attempted to leave in a manner which would cause the least upset. This was, it should be recalled, indeed in strict accordance with those recommendations made by Rachel Humphries and Joyce Burslem themselves on 28th September 1999, and consequently we now never lingered once we had moved out of the contact room. In this instance, as was now our routine, Mr. Carlisle recalls that he merely waved in the corridor as he headed for the outside door. We contend that Miss Humphries only ‘saw what she chose to see’ …. or, at least, she chose to document.
Before we did leave the building, Miss Humphries appeared to have already decided that she would utilise the occasion to complete the statutory ‘Form E’s’ for Stephen and Victoria. We informed her that we would not wish to place our signatures on any document that had not been seen previously by our solicitor and we headed for the door. Clearly having taken affront to her plans being rejected, Rachel Humphries responded by calling out after us with the undeniably tactless and sarcastic words, “Are you saying that you have no preferences as to where the children might go?” Nevertheless, she had refused to give us those copies of the forms that she already had on her clipboard and it did appear that these had been completed other than for our signatures. We concluded that conversation by insisting that blank forms be posted to us.
The date then was 18th February 2000, but the forms only came to be posted to us on 13th March 2000!
After we had departed, Rachel Humphries stayed behind with Stephen & Victoria, in order to obtain their reactions to the contact session. Stephen was still very annoyed with Miss Humphries and it was then perhaps understandable that he is alleged to have told her that he did not want to attend contact. The real reasons surrounding this statement were not made so clear in that account, however it is our view that, in terms of Stephen saying that he did not wish to attend contact, he was emotionally responding to a predicament whereby he felt most anxious about contact. We now know that what Stephen was actually saying to her was that he did not wish to attend … if Rachel Humphries was there. If further clarification is necessary it can be added that it is actually formally documented at some point (and not only by us) that the presence of Rachel Humphries always produced a most unsettling effect on both we and our children alike and to the ultimate detriment of the contact sessions.
We were also fairly certain that Stephen already knew that Rachel Humphries was looking for negative things to say about us and that she was merely ‘using’ him to suit her own advantage. In fact, Stephen had already told us that both Rachel Humphries and Angela Carr worded their questions in such a way that Stephen could only provide the answer that they wanted. His actual words were “they turn my words round”! Indeed, in the Local Authority’s own statement, it did seem that Rachel Humphries had actually attempted to seek self-gratification by stating that Stephen “liked and trusted Rachel Humphries”. We would earnestly and honestly submit that this had always been very far from the truth. Indeed William Settle actually came to say in his own statement that Stephen had appealed to him (this, on several occasions), to “get Rachel Humphries off the case”. Stephen’s description of her to Mr. and Mrs. Settle had been quite specific - “an ignorant fat cow who comes around to drink tea and won’t answer my questions”.
Although the template for the Contact Recording included a section on “Child’s Comments”, most curiously despite Rachel Humphries clearly having spent some time on this date alone with the children, nothing whatsoever had come to be entered in that particular section. Any notes that Miss Humphries must have taken, she kept to herself and, furthermore, nothing is now even to be found anywhere else in the department’s case files upon our family. As conversations so obviously had taken place, but went un-recorded, it could be reasonably suggested that information considered vital to both we and to the Court alike had been deliberately withheld. Particularly, as anything, no matter how irrelevant, that we said to any member of staff, even before or after contact, was always documented, the same rule should have applied here. Nevertheless, all that it appears did come to be written was “The children ... spent some time talking to Rachel Humphries “.
Another template blank made available to us to complete upon receipt of Recordings was the “Parents Comments” form. This had been produced to provide us with the opportunity to comment upon any aspect of the session or upon the Recording itself. In respect of that particular contact session, we certainly did have some comments to make - a number of dissatisfactions being documented, in the totally correct manner and through the appropriate medium. This achieved nothing! Indeed, we came to believe that such documents never even came to be read by the social worker and, consequently, were forced to repeatedly express our view that we did not wish Rachel Humphries to be involved in any further contact sessions. This, too, achieved nothing!
Later, it became our perception that Rachel Humphries deliberately involved herself in a couple of future sessions, when there actually had been no real necessity to do so. When broached upon the matter, she informed us that it was a departmental ruling that she had to involve herself in contact. We believe that that was not a truthful statement. In fact, we felt that her only motive was merely in some form of retribution, a vicious reaction to the many complaints that had been already been registered against her and a means to ‘get her own back’ on us. Despite her very noticeable lack of involvement thus far, Rachel Humphries now came to arrange to supervise a further two sessions within a very short period, but by now proffering the equally lame excuse that this was “as a consequence of staff shortages”. Notwithstanding such words, it was proved that, on at least one of those particular occasions, all the regular workers actually were available and also actually seen to be present on the premises at the time.
This account of the events of 18th February 2000 would not be complete without mentioning that the provision of the parents’ copy of the contact recording was significantly delayed by Rachel Humphries, only coming to be typed on 21st March 2000 and to be received by us several more days after that. Nevertheless, it did not escape our notice that Miss Humphries had managed to put aside a considerable amount of time in order to prepare her other reports, i.e. for the Placement Review meeting of 8th March 2000 and also for the Social Services Planning meeting of 16th March 2000, and to include within these a very detailed account of the abovementioned contact session. This (alleged) delaying tactic effectively precluded us from preparing in advance to respond to any adverse criticism that might come to be levelled at us.
Finally, it should also be added that copies of recordings produced by other than the FRW, Eileen Walker, had been most difficult to obtain and this strongly suggested that such documents were not placed in one common file by the children’s social worker, indeed, probably, they were merely ‘gathering dust’ in an in-tray. In this respect, it did appear most apparent, as mentioned previously, that both these and our responses thereto were not being read at all by anyone, let alone acted upon wherever should have been necessary! The whole situation at this period in time was disgraceful but, still, no improvement came to occur.
25th February 2000 Rachel Humphries wrote to us, the contents of her letter suggesting that she had chosen to disregard her previous brief discussion with us on 18th February 2000 (upon which date it was requested that she mail to us any documentation concerning the children that required a signature, rather than expecting us to sign it ‘there and then’). She was now suggesting a further appointment for 2-15pm on 10th March 2000 and at which time she obviously proposed completing for herself various adoption questionnaires, etc. In obtaining our signatures by this process, it was our perception that she knew all too well that she would effectively by-pass our solicitor’s prior scrutiny of the documents. We were most suspicious of her motives and insisted that she did mail the documents to us (see below).
A Contact Session in early 2000. Mrs. Carlisle was astonished to hear Victoria come out with the words, “You are a dirty cow, Mummy. Rachel says that she is going to get me a new mummy”. When asked who had said to Victoria that Mummy was a dirty cow, Victoria replied, “Neen and Rachel” (Janine Recchia and Rachel Humphries).
Another Contact Session in early 2000. Stephen whispered to Mrs. Carlisle, whilst they were sat together at the Bredbury Centre, out of earshot of the resource worker, “Rachel says that she hates you. She told Janine that you were a dirty cow.”
3rd March 2000 Contact session. Stephen related to us some details about a trip he had participated in.
Rachel Humphries had telephoned us during early February to obtain our approval for Stephen to be included in a coach trip organised by the B&GWS to visit the Millennium Dome. She could not, or would not, reveal the actual date that this was to occur. Mr. Carlisle replied, by stating that, in view of the apparent determination of Social Services to offer the children for adoption as soon as possible, he was surprised that Miss Humphries had even bothered to inform the children’s parents, let alone seek our approval. However he concluded by confirming we certainly had no grounds to object and that we were pleased that Stephen had been offered this opportunity of an outing, especially as the child had precious little else to look forward to. In recounting details about the trip, Stephen confirmed that Victoria had also accompanied him on the excursion. This was the first that we had heard of this. Rachel Humphries specifically referred only to Stephen at the time that she came to seek our ‘approval’. Should it be the case that she was legally bound to obtain parental consent, at this period in time, then she certainly failed to obtain approval for Victoria to participate (or even notify us) and, thus, must have acted illegally.
Mr. Carlisle had again to remind Eileen Walker (who was supervising the session) that he had received no copies of contact recordings from Rachel Humphries since 7th February 2000. Eileen regularly passed to us any available documents but, significantly, the most recent copies were always nearly a month old before they did come to arrive in our hands. By now, the repeated excuse that they had to take their place in the typing queue and then had to be checked, was becoming quite tedious. Several documents continued to fail to be supplied, in particular that regarding the session Rachel Humphries conducted on 18th February 2000 and that some weeks previously, by her social worker colleague, Sonia Stephenson. Despite requests being made on a quite regular basis, we never did receive these two items.
8th March 2000 A Social Services meeting took place, to which we were not invited and the content of which we were not to become aware until well over a year later. Discussions are believed to have taken place in respect of the children’s placement, which was said to be ending.
Despite the earlier quite different explanations being offered to us by Social Services in March 2000, in October 2001 the Statement to the Court of Rachel Humphries/Catriona Sreenan advised this as having arisen “as a consequence of perceived risk from Mr. and Mrs. Carlisle to Mr. & Mrs. Recchia and their family”. We would submit that the only threat to the Recchias was the risk of them being de-registered as foster carers if our complaint concerning negligence made to the B&GWS had been upheld. Our grievance, although serious, came to be rejected. We feel that any admission would have laid that organisation wide open to litigation proceedings. From the Local Authority files disclosed later, we do know that the Recchia’s involvement with the B&GWS ended shortly after this date and that they became involved with a rival agency. Was this the real explanation for the children’s move?
The reference to “perceived risk” having only come to surface 19 months later was to be the very first occasion upon which we had become aware of it. We certainly had not been approached by Social Services in March 2000 in order to discuss the matter and we should have thought such to have been an essential move on the part of Social Services, if only to underline the Local Authority’s position and obtain assurances from us that there would, indeed, be no “risks”. Furthermore, any supposed “risk” would not diminish with a change in placement. In addition, as neither of us was aware of the exact location of our children’s temporary home (and, indeed, had neither met with nor even had any telephone contact with the Recchia’s for a considerable period prior to March 2000), the issue of “risk” can only be perceived as a case of extreme paranoia on the part of Janine Recchia, this doubtlessly aided by Rachel Humphries. Indeed, some six weeks after this, we were informed, in a letter from Rachel Humphries dated 19th April 2000, “As you are aware, the children’s placement with Janine and Ed Recchia is coming to a close and the children are beginning a planned introduction to Barry and Lyn Dent, to whom they will move on May 6th 2000”. As minutes of meetings and correspondence received during that period clearly confirm, we certainly were not aware of any such thing, but the significant factor here was that if there really had been any real threat or risk, why did Miss Humphries so readily and immediately disclose to us the identities of the new carers?
Drawing this particular perspective to a close, we should wish to make on final observation. Apart from the prospective adopters, we have personally met all of the other couples who cared for our children during later years. We have a great deal of respect for many of the things that these good people did for our children and feel certain that none of them ever perceived any risk from us whatsoever.
9th March 2000 The chronology within the Local Authority’s statement of October 2001, ascribed to above, indicated that attempts were supposedly made the following day to locate another foster placement for the children. Two foster families were alleged to have rejected Stephen and Victoria, as a consequence of the “perceived risk” to them from Mr. Carlisle.
It has to be asked, why, indeed, would a “perceived risk” be reported to potential carers? Indeed, we found it curious that risks should come to be mentioned at all, particularly as there was never any evidence whatsoever produced to support such a claim. Further to that, we do have foster carers who will swear on oath that Social Services told them absolutely nothing about any children offered to them other than what they wanted them to know! What was said in Rachel Humphries’/Catriona Sreenan’s statement therefore does appear to have been an outright lie with the intention of misleading the Court.
10th March 2000 A contact session. Rachel Humphries had previously written to us requesting that we meet with her prior to contact, in order that she might impart some information to us. Her letter was dated 25th February 2000, but was only delivered on 2nd March 2000. We wrote back stating that the both of us had prior appointments and, by the time that her letter had materialised, we were unable to alter our arrangements to arrive any earlier.
Nevertheless, Rachel Humphries chose to totally disregard our letter and arrived at the Centre at the earlier time.
The “Parents Responses” form for this session confirms that, “On 10 March, we arrived at 3-30pm for our regular contact session. The issue of our apparent failure to attend her meeting was raised by no other than Rachel Humphries herself, both after the 3-30pm contact start time and also within the contact room in front of the children. She made no attempt to discuss the matter in private. Furthermore, it was Mrs. Carlisle who had to remind her that, apart from the fact that we had no desire whatsoever to discuss the details directly with her at that time, Humphries had nevertheless, chosen a most inappropriate time and place in which to do so.”
10th March 2000 A contact session. A formal complaint had already been passed to the social worker in respect of the apparent lowering of standards at the foster caring placement. Nevertheless, when Stephen arrived today straight from school, the both of us were absolutely appalled at the state of his attire and, further, that he had been sent out to school in this state.
The pair of trousers that Stephen was wearing had a hole in one knee and this had been there for several weeks. He was now seen to still be wearing the same pair today (this, we noted, now being the fifth week in succession). However now, not only was the hole significantly enlarged, but there had also appeared a hole in the other knee. They were filthy and there was also not a trace of an ironing crease to be seen in them. His shoes had also still not seen any boot polish, since the last time that we had seen them, so much so, that there was now almost as much scuffing visible on the toes, as there was leather!
Mr. Carlisle attempted to point these facts out to Rachel Humphries, but he was most deliberately interrupted by Miss Humphries choosing this moment to bring up the matter of our apparently failure to meet with her at 2-15pm. After Mr. Carlisle had briefly explaining the reasons that he had already clearly outlined in his earlier letter, Miss Humphries then interrupted him yet again by saying that she felt it was inappropriate to discuss such matters during the children's’ contact time. Mr. Carlisle, although accepting this, reminded her that it was she that had raised the issue in the first case! We were astounded at her arrogance!
In observing Stephen’s scruffy appearance, as she sat by him playing games Mrs. Carlisle was visibly distressed. Stephen could not have failed to notice that Mum was crying and, without prompting, went to get a tissue for her tears. Both Rachel Humphries and Patricia Dyer (FRW) were at this time involved in a deep and loud conversation with each other at the other end of the room and totally failed to observe anything.
The both of us were extremely concerned at how the various aspects of this particular contact were being conducted. Although two members of staff were supposed to be present at all times (it had been decided), we did observe that Patricia Dyer was out of the room for long periods attending to personal matters during the first 20 or so minutes. During this interlude Rachel Humphries was observed to be taking profuse notes. Curiously, she ceased to do so once Patricia Dyer had returned.
When Stephen asked Dad if he would like to go outside play football with him, Rachel Humphries said, “Do you want me to come outside with you, Stephen?” Stephen looked at us, before replying to her in a low voice “You can if you want”.
We were, of course, fully aware that the Local Authority had decided that the children must be adequately supervised at all times, whilst in our company. Nevertheless, we considered that in placing this question particularly in the way that she did, Rachel Humphries displayed a most disrespectful and inconsiderate manner towards us. In addition, to place into Stephen’s mind any suggestion that he might need a ‘chaperone’ was extremely tactless in nature!
We all went outside onto the lawn at the rear of the Centre. Rachel Humphries then came to stand clipboard in hand at the doorway and, as we observed, staring intensely at Stephen. Stephen appeared very uncomfortable with this and, in turn, moved as far away as possible from her.
Mrs. Carlisle eventually took over from Mr. Carlisle in the football game and Stephen kicked the ball around the corner of the building out of sight. It had clearly been his intention to talk privately to Mum and, once the coast was clear, he came to inform her that he was “worried about Victoria”. Mrs. Carlisle replied, “What about, sweetheart?” Stephen answered, “I cannot tell you, I just am!” As Miss Humphries had by now clearly realised that conversations must be taking place to which she was not privy, she called out reminding Stephen of his “mother’s age” and that Mrs. Carlisle “must be getting tired, so it might be better if they all came inside again”. Like his parents, Stephen was reluctant to return inside, but said nothing to Rachel Humphries, merely passing ‘knowing looks’ to the both of us. It appeared that there was already very much of concern about her in his mind and that he knew that he could not trust her.
Upon returning indoors, and for the remaining 30 minutes or so of the session, as mentioned above, Humphries and Dyer were once again involved in very loud discussions with each other (about cake-baking, as we could not help but overhear, and numerous other day-to-day trivia) quite to the total and absolute exclusion of all others present. No further notes were taken by either of these persons in respect of the parent/children activity or interaction, their voices in fact becoming so loud that Mrs. Carlisle, at times, could not even hear what Victoria was trying to say to her. Whilst so engrossed, apart from effectively taking over the precious one-hour of time that we considered to be our own, the two appointed supervisors certainly were failing in their official duties. They had, we submit, lost all interest in us by this time!
The whole episode was, in fact, yet another example of the ongoing blatant selfish disrespect regularly displayed by certain individuals within Stockport Social Services.
13th March 2000 Rachel Humphries wrote to us to request our views for the ‘Form E’ assessment. In view of her earlier apparent inability to complete statutory documents (1st July 1999), in that she repeatedly had to refer to manuals in order to produce what still turned out to be a most amateurish piece of work, we were not at all satisfied in her ability to adequately performing such a duty. Therefore we, yet once again, requested that the blank Form Es be forwarded to us by post, in order that we were able to go through the contents with our solicitor and then to complete the particulars ourselves.
17th March 2000 A contact session. It was also Stephen’s 9th Birthday today. Both children were happy and excited as they ran in, taking off their coats. Stephen was greeted by three of his grandparents and a party spread.
As part of his birthday gift, Stephen had received a new pair of trousers from his grandparents. This fact is mentioned here merely because it is essential to emphasise that Mr. & Mrs. Garsdale had purchased the trousers for Stephen not specifically as a birthday gift but, in actual fact, because of the concerns that they were aware we possessed over the manner in which Stephen was being teased by his peers at school, as a consequence of the ragged state in which the Recchias presented him. For the record. Social Services had been informed - through Rachel Humphries - of these concerns and on several occasions, but that person had repeatedly ignored all of our representations to her. Nothing more was done about the matter and the Recchias were, effectively, permitted to continue in what, we contend, was their ongoing campaign of emotional abuse towards Stephen.
When asked to try the trousers on, Stephen left the room in order to change in the toilets. Several minutes later he returned, unexpectedly still wearing the same pair as before. He was once more requested to go and change, but appeared most reluctant to go back out. Upon being asked why this was, Stephen said to his mother, “I don’t want to go out there, she’s here!” Eventually, it transpired that Rachel Humphries had arrived at the Centre and Stephen was most keen not to meet her. No fewer than five members of the family witnessed his horrified reaction after encountering the woman!
Although she was not on the rota for contact supervision and there was no other reason for her being at the Centre at this time, Rachel Humphries had clearly felt a strong urge to deliberately intrude upon our family gathering. Without knocking, she entered the room, interrupting us all and announcing her presence with the words, “I was just passing and called in to wish Stephen a Happy Birthday”. As the children were obviously sat with us, and bearing in mind the social worker’s very noticeable lack of tact and diplomacy, it was not possible to ask her if she minded leaving us alone.
Despite this, Miss Humphries clearly was already intent upon remaining and was soon rudely starting to take over the conversations. She obviously had seen an opportunity here to bring to the notice of all present, her oft-repeated view that the children “are happy to discuss their feelings” with her. However, the very noticeable frequency at which we had noticed she was repeating these same words over and over again to other parties, might, arguably, have suggested that her words were probably far from the truth. Equally, although it was not our place to conjecture, we did feel that they probably also demonstrated an element of personal insecurity.
Whether or not Stephen and Victoria did ever actually wish to voluntarily talk to Rachel Humphries, it has to emphasised that both she and Catriona Sreenan always came to vigorously discourage any attempts that we were to make in order to ascertain the children’s candid views and feelings. Indeed, we became aware that this had gone to the unbelievable extent of Miss Humphries actually instructing contact supervisors not to permit any whispering between us and that they had to terminate contact if this occurred! Evidently, in sharing this facts with us, even the resource workers must have entertained some doubts as to Rachel Humphries’ sanity. Whispering intimate secrets with Mum and Dad had always been a special game, from the time that Stephen was merely a toddler, but presumably in order to justify herself, Rachel Humphries came to formally document that whispering “made Stephen feel apprehensive”. Very clearly to us, in going to such dramatically extreme lengths, all that Rachel Humphries appeared to be concerned about was what information the children were actually passing on to us and whether any of this might put aspects of the standard of her work or of the placement in a bad light.
Having made her various points of view known, in reference now to the timing of Stephen’s celebrations, she came out with the very odd observation, “Mind you, Stephen, it isn’t actually ‘till 18-00 hours, is it?” Stephen and Mrs. Carlisle responded simultaneously, “Actually, it’s 18-34 hours!” Miss Humphries smiled, somewhat embarrassedly refused the offer of a slice of birthday cake that we felt obliged to make, walked out of the room and left the Centre without further ado. Nevertheless, for the children (and, indeed, for everyone else) this cameo appearance had been successful in casting a shadow over yet another otherwise happy event.
26th April 2000 Stockport’s Family Placement Team Meeting. Rachel Humphries presented Stephen and Victoria’s ‘Form E’s’ (documents that we had been asked to fill in, but which ultimately came to be entirely completed and signed directly by Rachel Humphries). Despite her being advised that our own Form E’s had been passed to our family solicitor for his comments accompanied by our insistence that Rachel Humphries did not attempt to complete these documents on our behalf, she ultimately ignored this request. Furthermore, she had both failed to remind us that she required these by a specific date and also to advise us that her own versions had been submitted instead, we only coming to learn of what had occurred months afterwards. This was abject incompetence.
26th April 2000 Clive Wood, our solicitor, received directly from Rachel Humphries a copy of a letter that she had (purportedly) also sent directly to us on 19th April 2000. Mr. Wood’s copy only arrived on the 26th, (a whole week later) and ours never arrived at all. We suspected that it had never been posted in the first place.
Mr. Wood, therefore, had no option but to forward a photocopy of his own on to us and he did subsequently write to Rachel Humphries to advise her that his clients had not received her letter. No apology was ever received. Nevertheless, this was not the first time that this had occurred, and where correspondence supposedly sent out by Rachel Humphries had failed to materialise. The most pertinent fact of the matter was that only letters from Rachel Humphries appeared to have gone astray and such occurrences could now no longer be considered as coincidences. It was occurring far too frequently.
In addition, a further issue here was that there were numerous previous occasions on record of when Rachel Humphries in particular had posted letters up to a week after they were written. A typical example, at around this time, had been a request made to us by Miss Humphries “for permission for Stephen to visit a school friend” at that child’s home in Romiley. The letter had mentioned that a prior police check would have to be made upon the friend’s family. However, it only having materialised at our address one day prior to the date of the proposed visit, clearly it could not have been responded to, or acted upon, in time. A deliberate ploy this time, or not, it was, nevertheless, a further typical illustration of what we considered to be, at the very least, an ongoing lack of commitment and incompetence by this particular social worker.
3rd May 2000 Contact session. We arrived at the Bredbury Centre at 3-25pm to witness the arrival of Rachel Humphries a minute or so later. Mr. Carlisle immediately enquired of Carole Bailey (one of the other Family Resource Workers present) how many FRWs were on the premises. She replied “Three”. Mr. Carlisle asked if that included Rachel Humphries and she replied “No”. Mr. Carlisle then visited the office and enquired directly of Rachel Humphries if she intended supervising the session herself. Miss Humphries replied in the affirmative.
In view of yet another anticipated unpleasant period during which we would be expected to share our single hour per week with our children in the company of that person, Mr. Carlisle advised Rachel Humphries that it was the preference of both of us that she did not attend. Mr. Carlisle pointedly observed that there were, at that time, two other members of staff in the room, these being Patricia Dyer and Nicky (surname unknown), both of whom had previously supervised contact and he indicated that we were both desirous that one of those persons be substituted. With the evidence in front of her of at least three other FRWs being present in the building and all sat in the office, Rachel Humphries nevertheless inexplicably came out with the incredulous comment that she was “not able to do that as there is no-one else available”. Mr. Carlisle explained that he was insisting that Rachel Humphries allocated someone else to the task, to which Miss Humphries retorted that she would have to “consult with her manager”.
Mr. Carlisle went outside to inform his wife of what had been said to him, returning about 2-3 minutes later to ask Rachel Humphries if she did intend telephoning her manager. The reply that he received was that that she already had done so but, still, that there was “no-one else available”. As there, clearly, had been insufficient time in which she was able to both, locate her manager and also, to discuss the matter with him, it was our opinion that Rachel Humphries had NOT telephoned anyone at all. We were pretty sure that she had deliberately LIED to us in order to achieve her own ends!
Once again, Mr. Carlisle reminded her that we did not wish her to be present as, he explained, Mrs. Carlisle could not cope with another ‘bad’ contact session and was in fact at that moment refusing to enter the same room as Rachel Humphries. This should have been thought to have been a quite extreme gesture and a situation which a true professional would have made immediate attempts to resolve. However, Rachel Humphries made no attempt to do so and indubitably being clearly well aware of the reasons surrounding this anyway, she smiled and merely replied, “That is your decision”.
The children had, by this time, arrived and gone into the contact room, soon to be followed by Rachel Humphries and Carole Bailey. Mrs. Carlisle reluctantly also entered and greeted the children.
Mr. Carlisle informed Miss Humphries that, in view of the fact that she intended remaining in the contact session, we had no wish to personally become embroiled with her in any discussions about our case. It will be recalled that Miss Humphries had attempted to do just this on previous occasions. Being most mindful of the fact that Rachel Humphries had previously lied in her recollections of the content of those other conversations, Mr. Carlisle passed to her a card bearing the telephone number of our solicitor, accompanying this with the request that, where it might be considered that the solicitor’s attendance be desirable in face-to-face discussions, she telephone his office first to confirm his availability. Rachel Humphries appeared to have difficulty with even this very wise suggestion, later coming to record the presentation of the solicitors card as it “being thrust at her”. This reaction, as far as we were concerned, adequately summarised her whole attitude.
Rachel Humphries sat down at the far end of the room and immediately commenced to furiously scribble upon her pad. As Carole Bailey had also now been brought in to sit in on the session (and Carole had also supervised on previous occasions, but in our view, unlike Rachel Humphries, did produce totally impartial recordings), Mr. Carlisle made the reasonable suggestion that Carole make the recordings. Rachel Humphries replied, “I am not going to do that. I am the children’s social worker and I intend supervising the session”.
She was then reminded of the counter-productive attitude that we felt that she had introduced into both of her previous reports, this receiving the abrupt retort that, unless we dropped the matter immediately, she would “terminate the session”. Nevertheless, Mr. Carlisle concluded by stating that he was pretty sure that she did not have any legal right to do anything of the sort and that she would be well advised to take further advice before making any such rash decisions. Rachel Humphries had no reply to this.
Both Stephen and Victoria, on separate occasions, indicated to us that they wished to do some painting and Stephen reminded his Dad that the cupboard containing the paints appeared to be locked today. Mr. Carlisle replied to each of them in turn that they would have to wait until Eileen Walker returned next week, such words being said loud enough for Rachel Humphries not to fail to hear them. However, not once did the social worker even rise out of her easy chair to ensure that the children had sufficient playthings with which to occupy themselves, most of these ultimately remaining locked away in the cupboards.
At one point Victoria informed her Mum that she wished to visit the toilet. She then left the room accompanied by her Mum. Neither Rachel Humphries nor Carol Bailey made any attempt to follow them. Mrs Carlisle also reports, whilst walking along the corridor with Victoria, she observed the front door to the Centre to be wide open!! Had Mrs. Carlisle been so inclined, it would have been quite possible to remove Victoria from the building absolutely undetected. Irrespective of any element of trust being extended here, these two individuals’ superiors could only have viewed this incident as abject incompetence! (In fairness to other staff, it must be added that we had experienced no similar displays of such negligence when Eileen Walker had been supervising.)
Throughout the session, as so succinctly observed by Miss Humphries herself, Mr. Carlisle was seated with his back to her and was unable to observe her actions, except when he did come to move about the room. However, he was very conscious of the quite intrusive conversations that were taking place behind him between Rachel Humphries and Carole Bailey. It appeared that Rachel Humphries was about to receive guests for dinner and felt an evident desire to discuss the culinary arrangements, this in a particularly vociferous manner. Such a banter continued for quite a lengthy period and during which time, very clearly, Miss Humphries was paying scant regard to her official duties, for example in documenting significant aspects of the contact.
At the end of the session, but only when the children were out of earshot, Mr. Carlisle now informed Rachel Humphries, that he was extremely dissatisfied with the manner in which she had conducted herself. We both felt it vital that all persons vested with such a responsibility should perform their duties efficiently and appropriately; indeed, the futures of our children might have depended on it.
Mrs. Carlisle later came to inform her husband that she had felt most threatened by the most inappropriate manner in which the social worker had been speaking to us at times and we did both observe that the children repeatedly glanced in the direction of Rachel Humphries throughout the session; they too, being evidently uncomfortable at her presence. Because of this, it had turned out to be another most un-enjoyable experience for us all.
We left the Centre that day to await the expected ‘acidic’ contact recording that only Rachel Humphries appeared to feel the urge to produce. We were not disappointed! It was to transpire that Rachel Humphries was actually to attend only three contact sessions in total, but in every instance without exception she came to produce extremely negative and critical accounts about us, these providing a marked contrast with those penned by other personnel!
5th May 2000 to 26th July 2000 Rachel Humphries was curiously unavailable, it was explained, as a consequence of “sickness and annual leave”. The team leader, Paul Marshall, came to hold case responsibility in her absence. From a source within Social Services Dialstone Centre office (a relative of a friend of Mrs. Carlisle’s), we received information that Rachel Humphries was absent from work as a result of her having been under suspension, but no further clarification on this could be obtained.
Notwithstanding that, whilst giving her evidence during the proceedings of October 2001, Rachel Humphries explained that she had gone on sick-leave directly as a consequence of intimidation by Mr. Carlisle during the contact session of 3rd May 2000. We knew that this was highly unlikely to have been the truth and, when further questioned on whether she had received any counselling or support from her superiors before she went off sick, she replied, “Paul Marshall told me to be professional and not to be so silly!”
Clearly this was an attention-seeking move in front of the judge, as Miss Humphries was then seen to feign tears which could only have been in an attempt to obtain sympathy. There did appear to have taken place prior to this, an element of prior rehearsal between Miss Humphries and the Local Authority’s barrister, Deborah Lambert, as the latter then proceeded to console Miss Humphries whilst the Court waited. Within her own statement, also in October 2001, Angela Carr (guardian) adequately summed up the situation, “Social workers are trained to work with people who are experiencing heightened emotions especially anger”. Any further comment we deem to be superfluous!
9th May 2000 Paul Marshall wrote to us regarding that contact of 3rd May 2000. He informed us that, in light of our (alleged) behaviour towards Rachel Humphries during contact, our contact with the children would be suspended for seven days with effect from 11th May 2000. We submit that this alienation was precisely what Rachel Humphries had most deliberately set out to achieve. Paul Marshall suggested that he meet with us at 3.30pm on 12th May 2000, at the offices of Clive Wood (Solicitors), to discuss how contact with the children could be best managed, in his words, “to ensure both the “safety” of the children and that of Social Services’ staff”.
12th May 2000 Paul Marshall met as agreed to discuss the aforementioned issues. The concerns regarding our alleged behaviour were discussed, as were the implications for staff safety. Stephen and Victoria were described by Mr. Marshall as “being caught in the crossfire of Mr. and Mrs. Carlisle’s disagreements with Social Services staff, which was felt to be inappropriate”. We agreed that this much was true, but held Rachel Humphries equally to blame for her part in failing to control the situation in an appropriate manner. We also pointed out that Miss Humphries acted equally inappropriately in permitting herself to incite altercations directly in front of the children, indeed, that she provided the catalyst for these.
Indeed, just about every aspect of Miss Humphries’ supervision of that particular contact session had indicated that she was totally incompetent. Nevertheless, we were ‘over a barrel’ here and, although there were two very conflicting sides to this particular story, we were effectively forced to assure Paul Marshall that we would attempt to behave in a manner that Social Services did not perceive as threatening, intimidating or disruptive to the children’s contact. No such assurances were forthcoming from Mr. Marshall in respect of Rachel Humphries. We did point out that, generally, we experienced no similar problems whatsoever with other workers. As a result of our assurances, contact was reinstated with effect from 19th May 2000.
21st July 2000 A contact session. Stephen proudly presented his Dad with a copy of his 1999/2000 School Report and said that Dad could keep it. Contained within this were two very clear indications that Social Services proposed to move Stephen away from his current school, although his new foster placement was known to be relatively close by and only supposed to be temporary. We had not been consulted at all on the matter. Indeed, we knew nothing about it.
It was Rachel Humphries herself who is on record, in July 1999, as stating that she would block any attempts that we made to move Stephen to a school of our own choice much nearer to home. It was her opinion at that time that this would be far too disruptive to Stephen! (sic!) A clear case of “one law for us, another for them” might reasonably be posited here.
8th August 2000 A letter from Rachel Humphries was sent directly to Clive Wood to inform him that the meeting on 10th August 2000 was cancelled, as was the contact session on 11th August 2000, as a consequence of “staffing shortages”. This was the day following that upon which the ‘death threat’ letter had supposedly been received. (Please refer to the previous Section 3 and Para’s 3.34 through 3.46 for fuller details.)
10th August 2000 Rachel Humphries visited the children at the foster placement. The children were informed that contact was not going to happen the following day. Rachel Humphries expressed her own opinion in her account of the visit that the children “did not show any verbal or non-verbal signs of distress at the prospect of there not being any contact”. She also stated that Stephen had informed her that he “did not want to see Mum and Dad as often and suggested he saw them once every four weeks”. It is felt that Rachel Humphries had constructed these statements, by stringing together a series of Stephen’s positive/negative responses to her own direct questioning. We are in a position to elaborate upon this if so desired, but it is all today borne out by what Stephen himself says on the matter.
14th August 2000 A letter was sent to us by Rachel Humphries in response to the department’s contact with Judith Taylor (personal secretary to our M.P. - to whom we had just recently complained). Although it was almost certainly not the truth, Miss Humphries was at this stage clearly continuing on her theme of blaming “staffing shortages” as the prime cause of contact cancellation. She wrote, “I am sorry that it was necessary to cancel the contact session on 11th August 2000 at short notice, unfortunately the department was unable to pre-empt the situation that arose. We are currently trying to resolve this situation”. Miss Humphries continued with the observation “I understand from Judith Taylor that it is your intention for family members to accompany you to the contact arranged for 23rd August 2000. As I was unaware of this, it is necessary for you to let me know who you wish to invite, so I am able to consult with Stephen and Victoria, which will then enable a decision to be made as to whether this can be facilitated. Please let me know at the above address as soon as possible. Should I not hear from you, contact will be arranged for only yourselves and the children. I will confirm the details for this session as soon as I am able”. No further comment is felt to be necessary upon this sheer display of abject militancy.
21st August 2000 Mrs. Carlisle was forced to admit to our home police officers armed with a warrant to seize computer equipment for “examination of the hard-drives”. It was only now that the alleged death threat came to be disclosed and the Police appeared intent on finding some convicting evidence. Of course, they found nothing at all!
The very same day Catriona Sreenan wrote to us to advise that Social Services would not be facilitating contact on 23rd August 2000. It was only now explained that this was “as a consequence of Mr. Carlisle being the subject of a Police investigation in relation to the threats made against Social Services staff”. If, indeed, as might be reasonably argued, Social Services’ staff felt too frightened to attend contact in Mr. Carlisle’s presence, why did Ms. Sreenan not consider that the contact might have gone ahead for Mrs. Carlisle alone?
23rd August 2000 After the refusal to facilitate contact on Victoria’s Birthday, Rachel Humphries visited Stephen and Victoria at the placement on the 23rd of August (Victoria’s birthday!). As, clearly, here was sat Rachel Humphries ‘in the flesh’ – despite the “staffing shortages” allegedly extant that day, it is now quite reasonable to suggest that she could instead have devoted that time more productively in supervising the contact session. (We accept that, obviously, this would have been contrary to our earlier requests that she did not do so, but, in any event, which also was an issue to which Miss Humphries appeared to be singularly oblivious).
Rachel Humphries marked her visit by recording a personal opinion that Victoria’s birthday appeared to be “a much happier occasion for her than the previous one”. The “previous one” would have been that arranged a year earlier by Janine Recchia, the initial foster carer and, therefore, in view of all that occurred during that particularly miserable episode in the children’s lives, this was one statement that we would have tended to concur with.
Miss Humphries reminded the children that she was looking for an adoptive family and Stephen was shown his and Victoria’s picture in “Adoption U.K.” – this, effectively, a ‘catalogue’ of available children. As we learnt later, this unthinking and tactless act caused the children some distress and potentially could have also created longer term implications that may have yet to surface.
1st September 2000 It is formally documented at this stage in official records, by Rachel Humphries, that, “as a consequence of (our) alleged behaviour, and in respect of (our) wishes, Rachel Humphries ceased working with Mr. and Mrs. Carlisle from this date, although continued to be the children’s social worker”.
One of the major ‘bones of contention’ had always remained that Rachel Humphries had never actively worked with us - rather that we felt that she had continually worked against us. Indeed the last recorded date upon which she had actually visited our home (or even met with us anywhere else for that matter) in her capacity as our social worker had been over one year previously!! It was, therefore, felt curious as to why she had chosen this particular moment in time to formally document the matter, although, as we never did come received any written confirmation of this supposed ‘milepost’, it was almost certainly merely an item conveniently inserted into the chronology in another attempt to influence the Court.
18th September 2000. The children’s statutory placement review was held at the carer’s address. Rachel Humphries stated that “Mr. and Mrs. Carlisle were not invited to this meeting, as a consequence of Mr. Carlisle’s behaviour at previous meetings and the threats that had been issued to Rachel Humphries and Social Services staff and the fact that the matter of the criminal investigations was still ongoing”.
It is an undeniable fact that, in accordance with Social Services’ policy, addresses of all foster carers had always been withheld from us. Irrespective of the death threat allegations ascribed to above, it, therefore, would have been most unlikely that we would have been invited to attend. The question now must surely be asked, precisely why did Rachel Humphries choose to document the matter in such a manner when, what she was intimating, she knew all too well, was not an honest representation of the facts?
16th October 2000 Social Services Planning meeting held. The minutes recorded, “A change of social worker had been requested by Mr. and Mrs. Carlisle. The meeting discussed this, and agreed that it would not be in the children’s best interests for a change in social worker at this time”. Why was this? We now know that even Stephen himself, in front of two witnesses, had actually gone to the very desperate lengths of actually requesting just this. Therefore, it would logically follow that it was not his best interests being recognised here, but merely those of Rachel Humphries.
6th to 7th November 2000 Despite being aware that the issue of adoption was to be contested in Court, Rachel Humphries and Farrah Rahman are known to have visited prospective adoptive parents. We considered this act to have been a pre-judgement of any Court decision and that these two were acting both inconsiderately towards potential adopters and inappropriately towards us (in terms of the ultimate outcome of the case).
1st December 2000 Despite still being aware that the issue of adoption was to be hotly contested in Court, Rachel Humphries and Farrah Rahman visited yet a further prospective adoptive family. (This was the one in Cornwall.)
That no concerns were observed (or, at least, documented) during those visits, might suggest that the assessment process was not quite so thorough and searching as it essentially should have been. For example, this particular couple’s religion - the Mormon faith - would be highly inconsistent with Stephen’s and Victoria’s own upbringing. We do know that there was also an insufficient exploration of that particular issue of the adopters’ religion in relation to sexual matters.
Under cross-examination in 2003, it became apparent that Rachel Humphries’ case research had not covered it and Gillian Lee, the Family Placement Team Manager had already said that she did not know how much the female prospective adopter’s religion affected her view of sexualised behaviour. Whilst the ‘originals’ were not made available during the proceedings (having mysteriously disappeared), it was reasonable to conclude on the balance of reasonable probabilities that the Form E’s available to the prospective adopters made no reference to sexualised behaviour. In the later Form E’s that were disclosed (the updated versions of May and August 2002), the pro-forma sections provided only a mention of ‘L’ for limited and ‘N/K’ for sexual abuse. Reference was made to behaviours limited to those at the time of adoptive placement breakdown. Absent those details, there would be no mention of any sexualised behaviour prior to 2002. There was no mention at all of sexualised behaviour in the written profile portion of the Form Es. The documents were therefore seriously deficient and this may have contributed to the sequence of events leading to the eventual failure of the placement. Gillian Lee, therefore, is the one deemed to have been most incompetent in that instance.
12th December 2000 During a Social Services meeting (an event that neither of us was in a position to attend), Rachel Humphries confirmed that she had received Christmas Cards and presents for the children from the maternal side of the “extended family”. These items had been forwarded via Social Services in compliance with one of several requests contained within a letter sent by Miss Humphries directly to Sheila’s parents.
Rachel Humphries also is known to have stated at the meeting that she had “minimal information in respect of the family”, but that the aforementioned items had “assisted workers in filling in the gaps in the family tree”. Miss Humphries or her compatriots had all too obviously intercepted and opened private mail. If this was true, then she had broken the law!
Despite our acceptance that all external correspondence might be routinely examined, such a ruling was never made clear, as it essentially should have been, either to us or to our extended families. Furthermore, any information contained in private mail was essentially confidential and should absolutely not have been copied and used in the manner that it clearly had been, particularly without obtaining the specific prior permission of the senders to do so.
During the same meeting, Miss Humphries had documented an “issue that needs to be resolved”, in that that “workers are placed at risk of complaints being made from Mr. & Mrs. Carlisle” and that contact supervisors had, apparently, been informed, by their manager, that they were not to supervise any further contact sessions until, presumably, such time as the “issue” was resolved. By way of explanation it should be made clear that, shortly before this time, a complaint had been placed by us with the B&GWS in respect of (a) the inappropriate actions of a previous worker involved in contact and (b) the two totally unsuitable contact venues that had variously been offered to us by the B&GWS.
As a direct consequence of that complaint, a completely fresh B&GWS team had already become involved, along with a new and far more appropriately equipped building. It was felt curious that final offering (the Social Services’ own Queens Road Day Centre in Hazel Grove) had not previously been selected, for it soon proved to be ideal for our purposes and the staff thereat also came to be extremely helpful and accommodating. Furthermore, we had already expressed our complete satisfaction of the capabilities of the new team, so it was equally strange to learn that there were still problems … even if only in the minds of Rachel Humphries and Catriona Sreenan. It was, indeed, Catriona Sreenan who herself initially made stringent efforts to have contact sessions video-taped but we, very rightly, objected to any such proposal.
Nevertheless, in respect of the “risk of complaints”, one should not need to be reminded that it was also our right to make any justifiable observations upon any aspect whatsoever of the contact session, the recording of this, or any inappropriate conduct by supervising personnel. As a consequence of finding discrepancies in the manner in which the recording was carried out, we should most certainly not have expected to have contact suspended, especially if this had arisen through no fault of our own. In that suspension did come to occur specifically for the reasons ascribed above, we contend that Stockport Social Services had acted most unreasonably if not unlawfully.
It is our further contention that, despite the allegedly devious deliberations of Rachel Humphries and Catriona Sreenan, these two had once again managed to escape being taken to task over the matter, as no single person at that meeting chose to challenge their words. We still wonder why that was so.
23rd December 2000 Rachel Humphries visited Stephen and Victoria again at their placement, in order to pass on their Christmas presents and Victoria’s birthday gifts from Mrs. Carlisle’s extended family. In view of the fact that Miss Humphries was already aware of the surnames of all the family members who had sent the presents, it can only be assumed that she had most evidently opened these at the Dialstone Centre in order to extract this information.
Mr. Selside Garsdale (the children’s grandfather) was soon to send a letter to Rachel Humphries outlining his thoughts on how she perceived his motives in passing Christmas presents to the children via Social Services, rather than via ourselves and he did in fact adversely comment upon the fact that parcels had apparently been opened prior to delivery in order to ascertain the identities of the senders …. if not to search for ‘hidden messages’.
8th January 2001 Rachel Humphries and Catriona Sreenan are reported to have met with Julie Tring and Barbara Streeter (B&GWS contact supervisors), as it is formally documented, “to discuss the Boys & Girls Welfare staff to continuing to supervise contact, providing that the workers are not subject to verbal or physical intimidation or violence from Mr. & Mrs. Carlisle”.
No information appears to have been made public concerning the outcome of this meeting and nothing survives in the official files. Thus, it is assumed that the B&GWS had assured Social Services that any concerns (on the part of the latter) had been, thusfar, totally unfounded. From what was later volunteered directly by those B&GWS workers, none of them ever had any cause to feel in any way at all threatened by us. Conversely, it was the view of both parties that we had established an excellent working relationship together.
Clearly, (to us) Rachel Humphries had been quite unsuccessful in her attempts to ‘browbeat’ the B&GWS personnel in the same manner that she appeared to have done with Stockport Social Services’ resource workers at the Bredbury Centre and it might now be reasonably suggested that the real reason for such a meeting taking place on this date, was to educate the B&GWS team into reporting back any detrimental information whatsoever directly to Rachel Humphries. To further support such a contention, it has already been mentioned previously that one of the foster carers had already actually been asked by Rachel Humphries to write down specifically negative things about us.
It is also believed that, following what was intended to be the last-ever session following the granting of the Freeing for Adoption Order and the cessation of what for them had turned out to be an excellent relationship with the Carlisle family, at least one B&GWS worker did then become so distressed about what had occurred in Court that she had to receive professional counselling. This all occurred despite Rachel Humphries’ premonitions of doom in respect of “verbal or physical intimidation or violence”
January 2001, Val Lennon, Independent social worker acting for the B&GWS, was assessing a Mr. and Mrs. Settle as potential respite carers for Stephen and Victoria. During an individual session, Margaret Settle became very upset when talking to Mrs. Lennon about what she perceived to be inappropriate behaviour perpetrated by her own parents (who were the then current carers) towards Stephen and Victoria. William Settle will confirm that the B&GWS were informed repeatedly of various concerns including what he described as a constant deriding of the children.
Mr. and Mrs. Settle believe that their allegations were not taken seriously. Their application was presented to B&GWS in either February or March 2001 and, as is the custom with that Agency, they appeared at the Panel in person. Immediately before they went into the Panel meeting, they were asked by B&GWS manager Susan Withington specifically not to mention the information they had provided in relation to Mr. and Mrs. Dent. Mr. & Mrs. Settle say they did not read the information that was presented to the Panel and that they never saw the record of their complaints recorded by Val Lennon.
When Mr. Settle later raised with Susan Withington the issue over the lack of any action, the latter asked him why he had not raised the issue at the Panel meeting. It is believed that Mr. Settle tape-recorded this discussion and, on the tape, Susan Withington is heard to admit that she eventually recalled having asked Mr. Settle not to raise his concerns.
Rachel Humphries was totally aware of all that had been occurring at this placement for, at the time that Mr. Settle asked her if she had reported such concerns to Social Services, Susan Withington replied that she “briefly mentioned it to Rachel Humphries” and that, between them, they had “decided it did not need to go any further as it was a training issue”.
7th February 2001 Social Services “Update Meeting” held (we were not invited to attend). The following issues were minuted: “Stephen is anxious about the prospective move to a family. Victoria’s behaviour has deteriorated at home and at school. She is having problems with eating. She is having temper tantrums during which she has said that she wants her Mum and Dad. Stephen has not wanted to record why he came into care. There is concern in respect of the considerable delay in the Court Proceedings, as it is unlikely matters will be listed for a Final Hearing by July 2001. This has implications for the future adoptive family who were matched to the children on 26 January 2001. Placement with Lyn and Barry is available for Stephen & Victoria until their future plans can be progressed by placement with their adoptive parents.”
Although the minutes were written by Rachel Humphries, (who we have already adequately demonstrated did appear to possess a unique ability to record only the details that she personally desired to record - and in a manner most suited to her own purposes), these failed to conceal what were considered to be the real factors here:
(i) The children missed their parents and possessed a strong desire to return home. We now know that Stephen was attempting to tell people how he felt, but that his personal views continued to remain unrecognised.
(ii) In pursuance of their ultimate intentions, the Local Authority appeared to be highly ‘inconvenienced’ by the delays that the Court proceedings had placed upon them. Indeed, Gillian Lee was actually unjustly stating that this ‘opposition’ of ours would sabotage the placement, the inference, we felt, being that we had no right to object to the Local Authority’s plans.
(iii) Both Stockport Social Services and Stockport Legal Services had, nevertheless, effectively pre-judged the whole issue, pre-empted any Court decision as likely to be favourable to themselves and, in doing so, came to express a desire to move the children to their adoptive parents as soon as possible.
(iv) Furthermore, it was most evidently the inwardly-felt opinion of the Local Authority that, by reporting to the Judge that the children were already placed with their adoptive parents, this might well sway the decision of the Judge in their favour. To operate in such a manner would be most despicable and, in any event, both highly unprofessional and very unethical.
(v) However, in pursuance of their selfish ends, these people had given no consideration whatsoever to the feelings of prospective adoptive parents, particularly as there was every likelihood that the latter ultimately might have to surrender Stephen and Victoria again at the conclusion of proceedings (with the consequent disappointment thus causing distress and trauma).
23rd February 2001 We arrived at the Queens Road Family Centre at 9-45am in good time for the 10.00am contact, to be greeted by Barbara Streeter and Helen Pierce of the B&GWS. At 10-25am Helen was advised that Mr. & Mrs. Dent had not been informed of the contact session and that the children would not be arriving. At 10-33am Mr. Carlisle telephoned Catriona Sreenan at her office. She was not available, neither was Rachel Humphries nor even Bernadette Oxley. Indeed, there was nobody available at all who was prepared to personally speak to us.
Barbara then confirmed that she had spoken to Ms. Sreenan the previous day by telephone and that the latter was indeed quite aware that contact was planned for today. Barbara even showed us the entry in her diary, this clearly indicating the contact session and, furthermore, she confirmed that she had had the date in her diary “since before Christmas”. She also confirmed that she was advised of the date directly by Rachel Humphries in early January.
Whilst we were still waiting at the Queens Road Centre for some news, Catriona Sreenan is now known to have made two telephone calls to our home in response to our own message left at her office. The reasons surrounding why she did not contact us at the Centre remain unclear, but two messages had been left on our answering machine. These confirmed that it was Rachel Humphries who had made the mistake and that the latter had “forgotten” to tell the Dent about the contact date. Given the lengthy timescale involved, particularly in view of what Barbara had told us, this was felt unlikely to have been the case. Nevertheless, no apology whatsoever was ever received personally from Rachel Humphries.
The both of us were extremely upset by this incident, especially bearing in mind the fact that we had not seen our children since 27th December 2000 – over two months previously. In addition, we had also already written to C. Sreenan on 20th January 2001, to inform her that the 23rd February appointment would in fact be highly inconvenient, as Mrs. Carlisle would come to would miss a vital hospital appointment. Despite this, the date did not come to be changed and Mrs. Carlisle was forced to cancel her appointment. Ms. Sreenan’s response, when it arrived, came to include a whole host of excuses, all of which appertained to the potential inconvenience to Social Services and none of which acknowledged our own very real difficulties with that particular date.
15th June 2001 Despite Stephen, himself, indicating to the Guardian-ad-Litem that he desired to have contact restored with his grandparents and Social Services responding by indicating their agreement to this (within the content of letters to us dated 18th and 29th June 2001), the facilities subsequently offered, on health and convenience grounds were totally unacceptable to the maternal grandparents. The proposed arrangements would have meant a 90-mile round road journey commencing at an unacceptably early hour and arriving at the height of the morning rush hour. Having attempted to explain the situation, it was then expected that Social Services would have attempted to acknowledge these difficulties and to be sympathetic to them. Nevertheless, a plethora of excuses came back in response …. but no changes. We did feel at the time that any issues could have been surmounted with relative ease, should the ‘will’ have been there.
In the event, the only alternative opportunity offered was an appointment from 6-30 to 7-30pm some three months later on 5th October 2001, again quite unacceptable, as this would again involve the same 90-mile round road journey but now at night and by two pensioners both with failing eyesight. No consideration had been given to the disappointment that must surely have been experienced by the children and the grandparents had, effectively, been denied reasonable access.
19th July 2001 On this date a letter was received from Rachel Humphries confirming arrangements for contact (the following day and, again, very early!) and stating, without any form of explanation, that “due to the early time of the session it will not be attended by the children’s grandparents”.
At this stage we were not really aware of our rights and, in any case, any objections that we did make (as those clearly documented above, for example) invariably came to be immediately over-ruled. It did appear that stringent efforts were being made to effect a wholesale reduction in contact.
Early August 2001. Rachel Humphries visited Stephen and Victoria to discuss what had been occurring with regard to the protracted adoption process. It is the clear recollection of Lynn Dent (the then carer), that, at the end of this meeting, Rachel Humphries said to her that she would proceed in her determination and devout intention to proceed with adoption, irrespective of the wishes of the children.
Mrs. Dent shared this information with her daughter and son-in-law (the respite carers). In fact, William Settle was so shocked by what Miss Humphries had said that he reported the specifics to Gary Williams, his appointed B&GWS social worker. Mr. Settle then sought for a meeting with the highest authority of the B&GWS with a view to representing Stephen and Victoria’s best interests.
Early August 2001. Rachel Humphries is known then to have arranged an assessment to ascertain if the children had at all suffered as a result of these delays and disappointments. Several pertinent factors should have been considered here but, in the event, they were not:
(i) According to the foster carers, the view of the assessor was that both Stephen and Victoria vehemently opposed adoption.
(ii) At that time, it is now known that the children were actually also actively requesting resumption of contact with their parents.
(iii) Rachel Humphries, as the key worker, meanwhile, in fact, failed to act upon or take any proper steps in respect of Stephen’ expressed wishes.
(iv) Social Services records have since revealed that the children were moved from the foster carers Jackie and Bernard Birkett, in part, because these particular carers were deemed unable and unwilling to support Stockport Social Services’ plan of adoption for the children. Mr. & Mrs. Birkett have since directly confirmed to us that this was, indeed, a major contributory factor.
We were to remain oblivious to all of the aforementioned, as none of it was ever brought to our attention until such time as the matter returned to Court and, by which time, we had, in any case, reassumed joint parental responsibility.
8th August 2001 At a Social Services planning meeting, Rachel Humphries felt a need to comment upon the previous contact session, by observing that she felt that it was “inappropriate” for Stephen to have drenched his mother with his ‘Supersoaker’ (a child’s water gun) during the session. Rachel Humphries had not been present.
As Stephen had both sought and obtained approval to do this from Mum, whilst Dad ‘videoed’ it, the whole episode did appear to be yet another case of blatant ‘nit-picking’ on the part of the social worker. Indeed, the guardian-ad-litem did come to remark that, surely, any other parent would allow their child to do the same? Solicitor, Clive Wood, also present, echoed this sentiment. (The videotape, which clearly demonstrated the innocent nature of Stephen’s actions, actually later came to be shown in Court in October 2001).
Early October 2001 Sister Lorraine Appleby, Senior Sister-In-Charge of the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit at Ribblehead General Hospital, telephoned Mrs. Carlisle at home to inform her that her Unit had just received a very strange telephone call.
Apparently, an anonymous female had asked to speak to Nurse Carlisle, stating when asked, that she was ‘a friend’. If, indeed, the caller had been a friend, that person would also have been clearly aware that, at the time that Mrs. Carlisle had left the unit all of some two years previously, Mrs. Carlisle had actually already herself held the position of Senior Sister-In-Charge for many years prior to this. Indeed, it was an inescapable fact that Sister Carlisle had been so-qualified for the previous seventeen years.
When Sister Appleby enquired of the caller’s name, the reply was, “Rachel”. As soon as it had been confirmed that Sister Carlisle was no longer at the Hospital, the caller then asked, “When did she leave, why did she leave and where is she working now?”
It now appeared that “Rachel” already knew that Mrs. Carlisle no longer worked there, this suspicion immediately being confirmed by the caller’s refusal to divulge any further particulars about herself. Furthermore, “Rachel” was asking questions of a personal nature, rather than those that one might more reasonably have anticipated would have been asked, such as a home address and telephone number, or merely that a message be passed on for Mrs. Carlisle to contact her. Naturally, this immediately alerted the suspicions of the hospital staff to the fact that this caller was not all that she appeared to be. Consequently, no information came to be provided.
As a postscript to that particular episode, in January 2002, during an informal conversation with Mrs. Carlisle, Mr. Ais Gill, the head of the Department of Holistic Therapies at Mallerstang College (where Mrs. Carlisle was now studying to further her career), mentioned that an anonymous person had telephoned to enquire whether the department had a Sheila Carlisle studying there before attempting to secure personal information. Once again the caller turned out to have been a female and, when asked, had refused to disclose her identity.
These two incidents must have been related and, in light of the fact that there was not one other single person who would need to attempt to contact Mrs. Carlisle by either of the means so ascribed, on the balance of reasonable probability, it was also decided that no other person than Rachel Humphries could have been responsible. If, indeed, the “Rachel” was Rachel Humphries (and Mrs. Carlisle was not in fact personally acquainted with, or knew of, any other “Rachels”), why was a so-called ‘professional’ utilising such underhand tactics and blatant deceit in order to secure information that, we submit, was readily available from other sources? Were there other more covert motives here?
Even if the Local Authority might contend that it had an obligation to make any reasonable investigations about our personal histories in order to make a more thorough assessment of us, an assessment was, at that late stage, the very last thing in the minds of Rachel Humphries’ and Catriona Sreenan. We submit that this was, in fact, a deliberate attempt to obtain yet further ‘dirt’ from our backgrounds that could be used against us.
September 2001 Mrs. Margaret Settle reported, that her mother, Lynn Dent, had listened-in to a conversation between Rachel Humphries and Stephen that took place at the foster placement. Mrs. Dent was in a position to overhear everything that was said and, although one might contend that such is merely hearsay evidence, a ‘word for word’ account does appear to have been written down.
The guardian, Angela Carr, had announced that she proposed to visit Stephen and Victoria once the forthcoming proceedings had got underway. Rachel Humphries is now known to have visited the children herself immediately prior to this. In an allegedly deliberate attempt to ‘coach’ Stephen over what he was to say to Ms. Carr when she arrived, Stephen was told that if he said he wanted to go back home, he would be split from his sister and that he “would be personally responsible for this occurring and, to do so, would be very selfish”. Furthermore, Victoria “was too young and vulnerable to be able to go home and they could finish up being separated”.
There was later some disagreement between the Settles’ and the Dent’s versions of events as these came to be related to Angela Carr and the latter then tended to err on the side of caution in her comments upon matters. Nevertheless, clearly here was a situation in which there must have been considerable internal family conflict. We do know that there was at one time a very heated dispute between these four particularly over the manner in which the Dents were actually treating our children and, whatever the precise facts actually were, this particular issue did cause a deep and long-lasting rift within that family.
Irrespective of any moral obligations, the immediate concern must have been that Stockport Social Services, ultimately, were the Edward’s major source of income and that it might be considered extremely unwise to cause any ‘ripples’! It would, therefore, follow on the grounds of reasonable probability that Lynn Dent would later come to dispute anything that her son-in-law officially reported, even the extent of denying having overheard such worrying conversations as she obviously had done. Grounds of reasonable probability might also suggest that the initial words of Lynn Dent to her daughter more correctly approximated to the truth, for, it might also be argued, why else otherwise would she have already have repeated them to her own daughter?
It remains the Settles’ view that the Local Authority, through Rachel Humphries, were attempting to coerce Stephen into making a statement that was to be read as if he would like to go home, only if the circumstances were right. They believed that Stephen was actually saying that he would want to go home, only if his sister was permitted to accompany him. This, indeed, was a précis of the content of Para’s 2.29 thro’ 2.33 of their own Statement to Court dated 13th October 2003.
The October 2001 Proceedings Despite the aforesaid, it is known that Lynn & Barry Dent did actually convey to Rachel Humphries their desire to give evidence in Court, later confirming that they were told and in no uncertain terms, that it would be “inappropriate” for them to do so.
When Angela Carr went to speak to Stephen & Victoria, she also told the foster carers that they would “not be required to attend Court”.
Naturally, at this time we had no opportunity to converse directly with any of the carers and it is now suspected that counsel for the Local Authority, Deborah Lambert, must therefore have deliberately concealed from the Court the fact that there were other potential witnesses who felt that their contribution might be of some importance. Our opinion today is that this certainly would have been so and, particularly as HHJ Earnshaw did later observe that his final judgement had already been very finely balanced, the ensuing investigations probably would have dramatically changed the whole direction of the case.
Nevertheless, William & Margaret Settle and Lyn & Barry Dent all had felt that they possessed evidence that was of significance and they all very soon became extremely curious as to why Rachel Humphries was so very reluctant to facilitate an opportunity to present that evidence! Did the explanation lie in the clear fact that the majority of these two couple’s concerns at that stage directly related to Miss Humphries herself? There was, indeed, no getting round the fact that she had actually already boasted to Mr. Settle that she had selected a prospective adoptive couple in Cornwall, primarily for the reason she explained as being, “this is just about as far away from Mr. & Mrs. Carlisle as it is possible to get”!
If this astonishing view had come to be shared with the others involved in the adoptive process, it clearly appears in this instance that the Selection Procedure for adoptive parents was seriously abused by Rachel Humphries and those (anonymous) others insofar as (a) the process was not as thorough or as searching as it should have been and (b) a ‘hidden agenda’ appears to have over-ridden other considerations and that the major goal had by now become an all-out campaign to get the children off the Local Authority’s hands and before anyone else started asking some very embarrassing questions.
Notwithstanding that much, there were many more matters that were only to surface later as a consequence of documents disclosed to Court, but which indicated that the couple identified by Rachel Humphries should never have been allowed to register as potential adopters in the first place! There were, indeed, several seriously worrying issues that no-one at all had bothered to fully explore.
Presented at the Court Proceedings of October 2001 were the reports of Rachel Humphries, Angela Carr and several other individuals - all of whom described themselves as ‘professionals’. It is of some significance that most of the more significant opinions expressed by these people (but, in particular, by Angela Carr and, to a lesser degree, by Gillian Lee, SMBC Family Placement Team Leader), had actually been based almost entirely upon information supplied to them through Rachel Humphries, rather than by thorough personal investigations of their own volition. Indeed, arising from her own report and the evidence she gave, very great emphasis did come to be played upon what Angela Carr imparted to the Court with regard to her own perception of the voiced feelings of the children. In addition, there were several aspects of the evidence presented in this person’s statement that we considered to have been quite inaccurate and which should really have been challenged at that time. Some of this information had originated directly from Rachel Humphries.
Another ‘professional’ presenting evidence was to be Gillian Lee. Her own statement to the Court, dated 27th March 2001, did provide certain personal views about us as the parents and opinions upon our contesting of the case, but significantly omitted to mention that she had neither interviewed us nor had she even set eyes upon us before she came to Court. This was a matter that Ms. Lee should have made perfectly clear, particularly as all of her recommendations specific to this case essentially came to be based on so-called “research” consisting for a great part of the ‘hearsay’ evidence and/or criticism of us by other members of the Social Services department. Arguably, Ms. Lee had no real right to even be directly involved in the Proceedings and her statement did turn out to be merely an abbreviated ‘carbon-copy’ of that submitted in parallel by the Local Authority, or, more correctly, by Rachel Humphries and Catriona Sreenan. It was to say nothing new that could be of any further assistance to the Court. As far as the affairs leading up to the October/November 2001 Proceedings were concerned, Gillian Lee was merely a tool in the Local Authority’s process, a small cog in a mechanism provided with the specific brief of merely (a) assisting in sourcing a home for two children figuratively placed in her lap and (b) then to assist in assessing the suitability of any identified potential placements arising.
Notwithstanding these expectations, she had been instructed by the Local Authority to provide the Court with information on the following points:
(i) What progress, if any, had been made in identifying an appropriate permanent placement for the children?
(ii) The timescale within which the Local Authority would have anticipated being able to place the children within an adoptive placement?
(iii) The timescale within which the Local Authority would have anticipated being able to place the children within a long term fostering placement?
(iv) The reasons why the Local Authority sought an adoptive placement for Stephen and Victoria, rather than a long term fostering placement?
Her responses to (i) and (ii) although detailed, did not come to provide any actual facts of substance and, in any event, are of little relevance here. However (iii) and (iv) were items with which we were to experience a particular difficulty.
In respect of (iii), Gillian Lee had no legal or moral justification to be expressing opinions upon whether consideration should or should not be given to long-term fostering (should there be a possibility that the home situation might improve), let-alone to be weighing this against the possibilities of outright adoption. The Local Authority was very wrong in asking this question of her. That was a matter to be considered only by the Judge and not for him to be deliberately persuaded by others.
Furthermore, in terms of (iv), Ms. Lee had no grounds whatsoever for basing a recommendation of adoption - and more particularly with no direct contact whatsoever - on the consensus of what she claimed had sometimes occurred elsewhere, or, indeed, upon research that she, again, claimed was well-documented. Her words were, in fact, totally irrelevant. Once again, the Local Authority was very wrong in asking this question of her as that, too, was not her professional remit.
In attempting, in her report, to respond to the self-posited question, “Why adoption and not long term fostering for Stephen and Victoria?”, Ms. Lee became elusive in that she categorically failed to provide a direct answer. The opinion that she proffered (and obviously had peeled from some other formal standard document), namely, “An adoptive placement would offer Stephen and Victoria a total sense of permanency, with stability and security, knowing that their placement in their new family cannot be destroyed or interfered with, either by their birth parents or any other outside forces” in terms of the question that she had asked herself, again was quite irrelevant and a totally inadequate response generally. She had no real ‘answer’, in actual matter of fact.
Despite the afore ascribed four supposedly key points being, presumably - the main reason for her eventually being placed in the witness box - Ms. Lee could provide little more of assistance, swiftly moving on to address the matter, also to be deliberated upon by the Court, of whether some form of contact could be retained. She wrote, “The research is well documented that direct contact can only work if the birth parents accept the plan for adoption. If they do not, then their opposition can sabotage and undermine the placement”. These drastic sentiments came to be followed by, “There are also threats to the placement by the birth parents making applications for revocation, etc. throughout the children’s childhood. This causes anxiety to both children and carers” and finally, “For all the reasons shown above the Local Authority seeks an adoptive placement, with no direct contact, so that Stephen and Victoria can have a secure and stable life with a new family, without interference or intimidation by their birth parents”.
Contrary to what Ms. Lee had indicated were “all the reasons shown” why the Local Authority was seeking an adoptive placement with no direct contact, these were not in fact “reasons” as such. All of her words had been merely conjecture and suggestion and, at that stage, any “reasons” were based entirely on very different factors, supposedly arising from previous events that had, in any case, occurred long before she became involved in the process. Mrs. Lee was, therefore, quite wrong in intimating that the Local Authority was seeking adoption on the grounds that she was specifically indicating and her statement was fatally flawed in its contentions.
Furthermore, to say that, because we were likely to contest the Local Authority’s decision to pursue the line of adoption (as, indeed, was what the Proceedings for which she had prepared her statement were actually all about) would be a work of sabotage, was a particularly narrow-minded and insensitive, if not callous, point of view. We were in fact extremely offended and hurt by such an insinuation.
It may well be the fact that Ms. Lee may have experienced instances of where, as she had indicated, there had been ‘anxiety’ displayed by children concerned in some cases - this perhaps allied to the ‘interference or intimidation’ also ascribed - but that would never have been our own avowed intent. The Local Authority was asking the Court to dispense with the requirement to obtain our agreement to permit adoption, this on the grounds, as they were claiming, that we were withholding it unreasonably. However, our reason for challenging the matter arose merely because we felt that adoption was not in the best interests of our children. We found to be equally offensive Ms. Lee’s choice of terminology in referring to our likelihood of making applications for revocation of Orders as being a “threat” and it is perhaps pertinent to observe at this juncture that the only “threat” to the placement actually turned out to be as a consequence of Gillian Lee’s own sheer incompetence in the appalling standard of her own assessment of the prospective adopters.
In addition, and contrary to what was intimated concerning such threats, we had actually gone to the extent of actually saying in our own statements that, should the deliberations of the Court ultimately come to find against us, we would have then supported the children in their move, have encouraged them to grow to love the adoptive parents in the same way that they had loved us and to remain with them until they were both grown up. This would have been a very painful thing for us very soon to have to come to say but, even then, we were already preparing ourselves for that final ‘goodbye’.
As submitted above, we felt that Gillian Lee should not even have been permitted to give evidence. There was no necessity for her to do so. She had not undertaken an assessment of us to ascertain whether there was a possibility of eventual rehabilitation. She had never even interviewed us. Indeed, when she saw us sat in Court, that was the first time that she had ever come face-to-face with us and, of all of the witnesses that did come to be called, Gillian Lee was the only one who was unable to look us in the eye as she left the witness box. Was this perhaps an indication of an element of guilt? Did she feel uncomfortable at being asked such questions? Was there, in fact, an element of collusion between parties when she came to write her statement that she was not entirely happy about?
Her evidence, like her statement, was quite irrelevant to the specifics of the case. She was, we submit, indeed there merely for effect … a further source of ‘ammunition’, perhaps?
With regard to Stephen and Victoria’s situation in the care system, despite the combined earnest attempts of G. Lee, R. Humphries, C. Sreenan, A. Carr, et al to persuade the Court that the children were happier living away from home, the opinion of Lyn Dent expressed to her daughter was emphatically that Stephen and Victoria had endured being fostered, rather than enjoyed it. Mrs. Dent’ choice of wording here appeared to have been quite deliberate.
Moving back to issues concerning Rachel Humphries and her team leader Catriona Sreenan, during the course of presenting their evidence, these two categorically failed to offer at all satisfactory explanations as to why they totally failed to engage in any work with us, at any time. For example:
(i) When this failure was pointed out to Social Services, Mr. Carlisle was forced to write letter after letter before he even got an acknowledgement, let alone a satisfactory reply. In Rachel Humphries’ evidence in Court in 2001, we heard clear indications that she could not really recall what she then did in response, other than that, in her own words, she “would have collected a number of letters, before replying to all of them together”. This was the response given to the specific enquiry concerning letters sent on a number of identified dates within a relatively short period and after she had ceased visiting the family home. In providing her answer, Rachel Humphries was clearly unaware that these letters included many that were in fact sent not to her, but to her team leader or to the service manager and which she may not have immediately seen. Nevertheless, all the letters referred to, came either not to be acknowledged within an acceptable period of time or ultimately to be totally ignored.
(ii) Under cross-examination Miss Humphries made responses to numerous questions each with the same excuse that she “would have consulted with (her) team manager” when she could not recall any decisions or conclusions made. When further laboured upon that point, she finally responded that she “would have” adopted some particular line of action, but was consistently unclear as to what she actually did do. This, in particular, appeared all the more strange in that, the both of us having kept very meticulous records of all correspondence and discussions because we needed to be absolutely clear upon certain matters, we were aware that Social Services were doing precisely the same. (Witness their Court Chronologies!) That we had bothered to go to such extents, specifically in order to assist us in our campaign to have our children restored to us, were not the actions, it is contended, of parents who were totally uncaring, or, as according to Angela Carr, who “sat back and did nothing but complaining”. Nevertheless, we were very clear in our recollections, for example, in that no action whatsoever had been taken upon the issue of further work and precious little to investigate our repeatedly expressed concerns surrounding the first foster placement. We do feel that Rachel Humphries remained equally clear about her own past actions.
(iii) It would have been thought that the sole basis, for any consideration for the children returning home, would have to be on the basis that some form of parental assessment had to be undertaken specifically broaching upon the level of success of the completed “work” by us. The question therefore remained as to why, despite what Social Services claimed to be continuing reports of denial or minimisation by us, was a re-assessment never arranged to substantiate these views and the decision came to be made internally on 25th January 2000 that the children’s needs would be best met by remaining in the care of the Local Authority, either by long-term foster care or adoption?
(iv) A further question was regarding why, just over a fortnight later on 9th February 2000, did Paul Marshall then write to us to advise, “it is the Local Authority’s view that Stephen and Victoria’s long-term needs will be best met through adoption”? Clearly, yet another meeting had taken place behind closed doors and it appeared most curious that no minutes of this occasion survived and also that the content of no discussion, no matter how brief, ever came to be shared with any other party.
(v) The problem for us then remained as to why a re-assessment apparently actually had been much more recently discussed, particularly as this was supposed to have taken place in mid-2001 and long after the decision had been made to place the children for adoption?
(vi) This issue came only to be an internal discussion between Catriona Sreenan and Rachel Humphries. To have seriously entered into such a discussion ideally should have desired the input of other parties, not least of whom would have been ourselves. Why did that not occur?
(vii) In addition, the decision not to proceed any further was, again, made in private and it appears that no other party was informed of this decision. Why was that?
(viii) The issue of our allegedly failing to apologise to the children and to answer any problems that Stephen may have had, was also raised. This was never facilitated; indeed it had been actively discouraged all along, as all attempts to discuss such matters with the children during contact were prevented by threats of suspension of contact.
Expanding a little further on the specifics of item (viii), during the course of a counselling session for Mrs. Carlisle with Penny Moorcock (Community Alcohol Team) on 18th November 1999, Mrs. Carlisle is known to have expressed such worries accompanied by her disappointment that no opportunity was being granted to allow this.
A copy of Ms Moorcock’s subsequent letter of 19th November 1999 to Rachel Humphries (and clearly containing intimations of Mrs. Carlisle’s eagerness to do just that) was sent by Ms Moorcock to Mrs. Carlisle and this was produced in Court. Rachel Humphries was seen to be surprised to learn of its existence. This, once again, clearly indicated that either the letter had never reached its destination or, more likely, had been completely ignored in precisely the same manner that many, many other letters similarly appeared to have been. Certainly, Mrs. Carlisle was never contacted by Miss Humphries to discuss the matter. Significantly, an opportunity merely to write to Stephen only came to be granted to Mrs. Carlisle at the very late date of August 2001 and, even then, only following the direct intervention of the Guardian.
During the course of the first few days of the Proceedings, the Guardian had announced in Court that she intended visiting Stephen and Victoria, to talk to them about what was happening. For reasons known only to herself, Rachel Humphries then also immediately made an impromptu decision to visit the children.
Humphries is believed to have revealed her intentions to no-one. This visit, she ultimately undertook one day prior to that of Angela Carr. During the course of that visit, Miss Humphries is believed to have told Stephen that, in the event that he was actually allowed to return home to live with his parents, Victoria would not be accompanying him. The explanation offered was that it was Rachel Humphries’ opinion that “Victoria was too small and her parents would not be capable of looking after her”. Miss Humphries had witnessed the admirably close bond that had developed between Stephen and his sister, primarily as a result of encouragement from their parents and she also was only too well aware that any such news would distress Stephen greatly. From the manner in which, following the social worker’s visit, Stephen explained his thoughts to William Settle, Mr. Settle developed the distinct impression that Stephen had been told what he had been told merely as a vicious attempt by Humphries to discourage him in his desire to return home.
Also, during the presentation of her evidence, Rachel Humphries came to profess her personal opinion that she was “liked and trusted” by the children. Indeed, the Guardian then came to state that, from the information that she had directly received from Miss Humphries “Stephen has a good relationship with his key social worker and is appreciative of Social Services’ efforts on his behalf”. It is with some irony that today we can observe that HHJ Earnshaw made particular reference to this statement at page 137 of his summation, but there he does appear to have been somewhat misled. Mr. Settle has since informed us that Stephen had actually appealed separately both to Mrs. Settle and to himself to “get Rachel Humphries off the case”. Indeed, when asked to elaborate, Stephen’s description of Rachel Humphries to them both had been quite specific, “an ignorant cow who comes around to drink tea and refuses to answer my questions”.
It was also said to be Stephen’s view that he “hated Rachel Humphries with a vengeance”, an opinion of some considerable significance when, it would have been thought, if he was to hate anyone at all for the situation that he and his sister were in, it would have been his parents. We can today confirm those particular views of Stephen do not appear to have varied that much. Mr. Settle did also add that, throughout their friendship, Stephen had maintained all along that Rachel Humphries had never listened to him, nor even cared at all about what happened to him and Victoria.
Eventually, in front of two witnesses from the B&GWS, we further understand from Mr. Settle that Stephen directly challenged Rachel Humphries on the very issue of her replacement. Clearly, Stephen himself held his own serious concerns about this particular worker. Miss Humphries, in turn, once again, appears still not to have done anything upon the matter and, although there are notes on the LAC Review minutes confirming Stephen’s request, again nothing was done.
In that Stephen’s direct requests for action had been deliberately ignored, believed by this time to have been for well over six months, ultimately Stephen would have been left to concede that no-one at all was prepared to listen to him. He had told Mr. and Mrs. Settle that what distressed him most of all was that he could not understand why this was happening, but, in the same conversation is believed to have gone on to describe his perception of Rachel Humphries making it extremely difficult for him to telephone home himself, particularly from his foster placement.
Produced in Court in 2001 by Rachel Humphries was a letter that Stephen had allegedly written entirely of his own volition to the Recchias. It is believed that this took place shortly he and his sister were moved on into the care of Lynn & Barry Dent. Rachel Humphries had made this document available in order to substantiate her claim that the children were entirely unconcerned about being separated from their parents. Evidence had now arisen to suggest that that what Stephen had actually written did not represent the facts and that he might well have been coerced into writing the particular words that he did. There were several factors to support such a belief.
(a) According to Rachel Humphries, Stephen had written the letter to thank ‘Jan and Ed’ for looking after Victoria and himself. It would appear most curious that a letter such as this got into the hands of Rachel Humphries …. unless, of course that person was present when it was written.
(b) Stephen stated that Janine and Ed had been the best thing that he could ever remember that had occurred in his life.
(c) Stephen continued that he felt safe and happy with the Recchias and that he could not understand why he had to leave them.
(d) Stephen apologised if his parents had hurt the Recchias in any way.
(e) Stephen said that he would never forgive his parents if any harm came either to the Recchias or to their children.
(f) The letter was written, not on children’s stationery, but on unlined, office-type, A4 photocopier paper.
(g) It was also written in felt-tip pen. (Stephen had his own fountain pen that, when writing his own letters, he used at every opportunity.)
(h) The writing slanted across the page ….in a manner typical of someone copying a pre-prepared text or when being prompted by a third party to write certain items or phrases. Stephen had been encouraged, both at school and by his parents, to write neatly and in level lines. (Other surviving items written by Stephen at around that time will, at the very least, corroborate that much.)
(i) The content of much of what Stephen supposedly wrote was most untypical of what a child of Stephen’s age would be expected to express, especially if such a letter as this was totally unprompted in its origins.
(j) Today Stephen has no clear recollection of writing that letter, but feels that, in light of the manner in which the Recchias treated him, it was unlikely that he would have voluntarily possessed any overwhelming desire whatsoever to have so acted.
With regard to (a), Stephen would not be at all aware that he was not being cared-for in an inappropriate manner, and especially by a supposedly fully-trained (but certainly well-paid), carer. Nevertheless, during the course of his stay with the Recchias, it was Stephen himself who came to raise most of the various concerns and which, during contact, he had immediately passed on to his parents. These matters are clearly documented in the recordings/parents responses of various contact sessions and subsequent correspondence arising – all of which can be produced. There was also the inescapable fact that many of these same issues later came to be related also to Mr. Settle.
In respect of (b), we would be the first to admit that life was less stressful for the children than, at times, it had been at home. Nevertheless, it is suspected that Rachel Humphries and/or Janine Recchia would have been guilty of a not inconsiderable amount of brainwashing in order to encourage the children to think in such terms. We do not believe that Stephen ever did think like this. His words were, in fact, those of another!
With regard to (c) (d) (e), we were informed, in a letter from Rachel Humphries dated 19th April 2000, “As you are aware, the children’s placement with Janine and Ed Recchia is coming to a close and the children are beginning a planned introduction to Barry and Lyn Dent, to whom they will move on May 6th 2000”. As minutes of meetings and correspondence received during that period might clearly confirm, we certainly were not aware of any such thing!
It was only after Rachel Humphries produced her Court Statement that the apparent state of affairs became clearer and, with it, the accompanying intimation that “Mr. & Mrs. Carlisle knew where the Recchias lived, which caused them to feel threatened, both for themselves and for their children”. We did not and, in any case, such knowledge would have been of no concern to us.
It is very, very curious as to why we were never told about this alleged situation, or why Rachel Humphries made no attempt to discuss the details of that matter directly with us, unless, of course, such suspicions were totally unfounded. (And, remember, such a ridiculous utterance had originated in the first instance from a woman who had previously accused Mr. Carlisle of stealing a bicycle from Stephen and also of removing refuse sacks from outside her house!)
It did appear that the authoresses of that Court report were intent on producing an itemised list of just about everything negative that they could think of about us, hoping that some of this might ‘stick’ and totally regardless of whether any of it was based on fact or was merely figments of their wildest imaginations. If substantiation is still necessary, one has only to refer to the very next line of the same statement [at SSD1:72] where another totally unfounded allegation had crept in. This was a report that Catriona Sreenan had had her windows broken, this being accompanied by an allegation that Mr. Carlisle was responsible for this. In the 2003 proceedings, the Local Authority was actually forced to admit that nothing of the sort had even happened at all. So, why did it get into the statement? Catriona Sreenan herself was one of the co-authoresses, was she not? Curious!
Returning to the issue of the real reason why the children had to change placements, the very next paragraph of the above-mentioned letter from Rachel Humphries displayed positive enthusiasm in encouraging us to meet Barry and Lynn Dent! This might suggest to some that the facts actually were not quite as they later came to be reported!
With regard to (i), there was also the matter of Stephen’s “Consultation Document” (produced some time previously), much of which, it could be argued, again clearly displayed the input of Janine Recchia, or, at least that of an adult person assisting!
Mrs. Carlisle feels that she recalls HHJ Earnshaw holding a copy of the letter from Stephen in his hand during the course of the presentation of his judgement in 2001 and it certainly had been passed around all the lawyers present. We saw it very briefly, but had little opportunity to take in all that it said, as it came to be almost immediately snatched back by Rachel Humphries. If HHJ Earnshaw had kept hold of the letter until that stage, then, clearly, the contents must have been of considerable significance to him. Consequently, should any or all of these contents prove to have been supplied directly by Rachel Humphries, this could only have been perpetrated with the deliberate intent to significantly influence the outcome of the hearing.
During the months leading up to the 2003 Proceedings, in order that Stephen might comment upon its contents and how he came to write it, several approaches by Clive G. Wood & Co. to the Local Authority to produce even a photocopy of this letter, totally failed. It was thought that there was a verbal comment by the Local Authority that the letter could no longer be found. Why was this? Could it have ‘disappeared’ merely because someone knew that it might be embarrassing later, in the unlikely event that more thorough enquiries later ensued? Why did so many other documents also appear to be missing when the Judge had ordered them all to be disclosed?
Notwithstanding all of that, back in 2001 and during the course of his summation HHJ Earnshaw came to congratulate Rachel Humphries upon being, in his view, a “credible, honest and reliable witness”, one who conducted her job in a fully professional manner. We still very clearly recollect the smirk on her face at that time when the remainder of her team looked round to smile at her. Completely on her own, back in Court two years later, there were no smiles on anyone’s faces!
Nevertheless, despite the confidence that some people had in her in 2001, there are several people who have since come forward who are now prepared to offer irrefutable evidence that will prove that Rachel Humphries deliberately lied under oath. In other words, the former social worker appears to have committed perjury; an offence for which, technically, she is liable to imprisonment. Her propensity for a notably variable nature in her recollections generally at Court in 2003 proved to be her undoing. She now presented as being an unimpressive witness whose credibility was brought into question time and time again, particularly when being cross-examined over matters that she almost certainly should have clearly remembered. No congratulations were forthcoming from the Judge on this latter occasion.
December 2001. During the course of one of the final contact sessions between the children and us, Mr. Carlisle discussed with Stephen the possibilities of our maintaining contact by e-mail. Mr. Carlisle gave to Stephen a business card containing the family telephone numbers and home e-mail address and asked him to take good care of it.
Whilst still living at home Stephen and his father had previously spent many hours together on the computer and Stephen was keen to maintain this interest and, in particular, to use the Internet. Consequently, Mr. Carlisle had previously asked the B&GWS representative present to pass this request on to Barry Dent, in order to obtain Barry’s views. Naturally, Mr. Dent first sought to discuss the matter with Social Services, but it then transpired that Rachel Humphries immediately vetoed such a suggestion. Stephen later said that, once Rachel Humphries had also discovered that he possessed that business card, she had taken it from him and kept it. This, along with the refusal to allow Stephen to obtain an e-mail address of his own, effectively precluded Stephen and Victoria from making any direct contact with us in future years and, in the process of doing so, also prevented any information of concern being passed on except through Rachel Humphries.
There were, doubtless, very many pertinent reasons why this form of indirect contact might not have been encouraged at that stage, but, incredulously, the official response actually offered was that this was “inappropriate, given Stephen’s age”. Quite how “age” entered the equation, we were never quite clear about! Rachel Humphries’ words were in fact, we submit, a ‘smokescreen’ created to conceal more serious matters. Perhaps to justify herself, on more than one occasion Miss Humphries is on record as having uttered the thinly-veiled excuse that by means of the Internet it would be possible for Mr. Carlisle to obtain the home address of the Dent.
Paraphrasing her earlier words of 8th March 2000 “as a consequence of perceived risk from Mr. and Mrs. Carlisle”, here were shades on her part of the previous sheer paranoia rearing itself again. In terms of “discovering addresses”, this was an inadequate answer, as anyone possessing merely a smattering of computer knowledge would be well aware that free and completely anonymous, untraceable e-mail addresses were readily obtainable. And, of course, if we had possessed any real desire to discover that address, we could merely have asked Stephen himself!!
Another incident taking place at around this period in time, and one that caused many people to have considerable doubts about Rachel Humphries mental rationale, occurred on that occasion when she was believed to have removed a “Barbie” doll from Victoria because, in Miss Humphries’ own words, she felt that the dress that the doll was wearing was “too low-cut”. This opinion was proffered in the presence of foster carers, Lynn & Barry Dent who were absolutely amazed at what they were hearing! Rachel Humphries was previously aware that we had just previously given Victoria at least one Barbie doll as a gift, as well as several outfits for it to be dressed in.
January 2002. After contact had ended, of the little news about us that the children were then actually to receive was the following item. During a boarding-out visit to their home, Rachel Humphries is believed to have told Lynn Dent that “Mr. & Mrs. Carlisle have separated”. This, of course, was, and still remains, quite untrue. Rachel Humphries had lied again.
Notwithstanding this, inevitably, the quite misleading news had got back to the children and Stephen in particular is now known, quite naturally, to have been very upset. Following Miss Humphries’ visit, from the manner in which, Stephen explained his thoughts to William Settle, Mr. Settle developed the distinct impression that Stephen had been told what he had been told, merely as a vicious and misleading attempt by Humphries to discourage the children in their desire to return home. As Mr. and Mrs. Settle were only more recently in a position to discover, this remark proved to be totally without foundation and it is to their credit that they eventually decided to pursue in their mission to assist Stephen, regardless of such malicious gossip.
Apart from all the issues mentioned previously, we are also since informed that Mr. and Mrs. Settle were very conscious of the fact that Stephen was being very adamant in his desire not to be adopted. In fact, despite him being aware that Rachel Humphries was now making her last desperate attempts to get the children adopted, together or separately and at any cost, Mr. Settle knew only too well that Stephen had been telling all those who troubled to ask him, that he merely desired the opportunity to return home, along with his sister, in order to live once again with his parents.
One of the other major issues that Stephen did bring up was the very great fear that his sister would be adopted without him, that they would be split up and if he made trouble with the Local Authority that they would bring this to a head and split the two of them up. This was one of the prime constraints upon him (later on) in wanting to telephone home.
Since the granting of the Adoption Freeing Order, Stephen would have been only too painfully aware that all contact had been permanently severed. Following the deliberations of the Court in 2001, in his own “best interests”, direct contact had been terminated and he had heard nothing further from us since late November 2001. Basically, Stephen was now explaining to the Settles that he “wanted to know if his parents were both all right” and the child had expressed disappointment that even the promised occasional ‘letterbox’ contact had not occurred. He was not to know that that was through no fault of our own.
13th March 2002. In order to obtain clarification about the breakdown in the adoptive process that had occurred on 20th January 2002, our solicitor, Clive Wood, wrote to Stockport Social Services.
In addition, as a consequence of the recent traumatic events, Mrs. Carlisle had requested that, within that letter, Clive Wood did inquire as to Stephen's & Victoria's state of well-being, and, if possible, through Rachel Humphries, to pass on our love to the children. When we later came to be in a position to discuss the matter directly with Mr. Settle, he confirmed that at no stage did the children, or anyone else, mention to him that any such message had reached them. The children now tell us that they were told absolutely nothing. The Local Authority, for its part, did not inform us that the message had not been passed on, nor did it make any attempt to explain a reason why. This was totally unacceptable and displayed a complete lack of respect.
March / April 2002. Mr. Settle recalled a further occasion shortly after the breakdown of the children’s adoptive placement. The children had been placed with emergency foster carers, Jackie and Bernard Birkett and Mr. and Mrs. Settle had called at the foster home for a meeting. Victoria was curled up, half crying on Mr. Settle’s knee cuddling him when Rachel Humphries arrived. She had never met Mr. Settle prior to this date and enquired of Mrs. Birkett, “Whose that man with Victoria?” In what was described to us as a most aggressive manner, Rachel Humphries then asked Mr. Settle to explain, “Why is Victoria on your knee?” She is reported to then have come out with the absolutely incredulous statement that it ”was not safe practice” to sit Victoria on his knee and, in her view, this “could be construed as sexualised”.
Later Mrs. Birkett and Mrs. Settle took Victoria upstairs. She was very upset, tired and feeling unwell. As Margaret was changing Victoria ready for bed, she noticed that Victoria was suffering from a vaginal infection, as this part of her body was red, itchy and highly inflamed. This was drawn to Jackie’s attention. Rachel Humphries came into room at this juncture and exclaimed, “What are you doing? Have you no idea what you are doing?”
Victoria was immediately taken to the doctor’s the next day; Mrs. Birkett being given a prescription for an ointment. Rachel Humphries was back at the foster home waiting when Mrs. Birkett returned from the doctor’s. When informed what the doctor has prescribed, Miss Humphries then announced that no-one was going to put the ointment on Victoria, as there “had been sexual abuse”. In desperation, it was suggested that Victoria could herself apply the ointment, but again Rachel Humphries said “No”, as this could be “construed as masturbation”.
Rachel Humphries would not permit the use of the ointment until after a paediatrician had seen Victoria. That night the Birkett reported that Victoria was screaming in pain. In the event, the paediatrician was unable to see Victoria for several more days and, consequently, she came to suffer considerable pain and discomfort throughout this period. We sincerely hope that Rachel Humphries has never found herself in a similar predicament.
When the appointment with the paediatrician eventually came about, it was now confirmed that there was, in actual fact, no evidence of sexual abuse; that it was just an infection and that the ointment prescribed was correct.
Mr. and Mrs. Settle believe that this delay for Victoria was cruel and unnecessary and, when they complained, they were told that it was “normal procedure” for matters to occur as they had done. Mr. Settle’s father is a GP of 40 years’ standing and, when made aware of the specifics, said that Social Services should not have interfered with a doctor’s diagnosis and prescription for treatment. The ointment was to soothe an inflamed vulva. To deny its administration was a breach of Victoria’s human rights.
It was very clear that Rachel Humphries was more concerned with getting proof of sexual abuse than being concerned as to the medical condition of the child. She certainly was upset that Mrs. Birkett and Mrs. Settle had looked at Victoria’s ‘privates’. In view of what they had now witnessed, this was the final act that convinced Mr. & Mrs. Settle that Rachel Humphries was totally obsessed with sexualised affairs. Indeed, some time previously (on April 12th 2001) after having been happily seated upon her Dad’s lap for much of a contact session, Victoria whispered in Mum’s ear, “Dad isn’t allowed to touch my legs”! This instruction had been passed on to the foster carers by Rachel Humphries, but it was infinitely more curious as to why the contact supervisors themselves knew nothing about it. Nevertheless, it is not our place to conjecture upon that!
What was of far more concern was that the whole issue might very well have germinated as a direct result of a totally unsupported (but suggestibly very viciously placed) claim originally raised as far back as 4th October 1999 by previous foster carer, Janine Recchia. Rachel Humphries had evidently decided to place details of that particular ‘inference’ into the Social Services case records. It was, however, a category omission for her not to take the matter any further at that time. Indeed it was to be well into 2001 before we did come to be made aware of the specifics and even that only occurred because of that single-line ‘poisoned arrow’ in the Local Authority’s statement to Court.
Once the details of the allegation had become available to us, on May 3rd 2001, Mr. Carlisle wrote immediately to Rachel Humphries requesting an explanation as to why, as soon as the possibility, no matter how remote, that Victoria might have been the subject of sexual abuse had become known to her department, did she neither, contact us to share her information, nor arrange to discuss the matter with us. As there clearly had been discussions on the matter going on behind the scenes for some time and to the extent that Victoria had received the aforesaid instructions, Mr. Carlisle asked for details and findings of all investigations that Rachel Humphries was professionally, legally and, indeed, morally obliged to undertake.
Miss Humphries never responded to that letter, nor even acknowledged its receipt. Several subsequent letters, sent by Mr. Carlisle to Catriona Sreenan (Humphries’ then team leader) and by Clive Wood to Stockport Legal Services, all failed to shed any light on the matter - or even to elicit any response of any form whatsoever.
Notwithstanding any of Rachel Humphries’ dubious motives here, under cross-examination in late 2001, she had to admit that there was absolutely no evidence to substantiate her claim. She had failed in her duty to instigate any form of investigation and when asked both, why she felt any necessity to include such dubious references and also, why she had never mentioned the matter to us, she had no real answer. Both she, and Catriona Sreenan, her co-author of that statement, both came to admit that the incident was very unlikely to have occurred. These two were both, therefore, either professionally incompetent or possessing very serious and worrying problems in attitude.
Yet a further illustration in support of such beliefs was later to emerge and, once again, did not come to be formally documented anywhere. In response to our requests that the maternal and paternal grandparents be permitted to say their own “goodbyes” to Stephen and Victoria, Rachel Humphries took the unusual step of directly writing to them on the matter … but not informing us that she had done so, or even to consult with us for our suggestions upon how we felt that this very sensitive matter might best be approached. Selside Garsdale (maternal grandfather) was particularly mindful of the effect that such an experience might have upon the children and very selflessly wrote back to say that he and his wife would prefer not to subject Stephen and Victoria to such an ordeal and that they would, instead, write a letter to them to say goodbye (which they did).
Although Rachel Humphries was careful not to make any observations on such a matter in writing, nor did she make any comment at all at any formal meeting, we were told that she had discussed the intimate details of our final contact session with Lyn Dent (foster carer). Mrs. Dent, in turn, had then passed these on to her daughter (Mrs. Settle). It transpired that this betrayal of confidences had extended even to the disclosing of the details surrounding the grandparents’ declining the offer of a final contact. Miss Humphries exact words were believed to be something on the lines of, “Huh! No wonder Mrs. Carlisle’s father didn’t come to say goodbye to his grandchildren, he sexually abused his own daughter!” This was totally untrue and it is the view of Mrs. Carlisle that, in light of her Dad’s then already serious heart condition, if he had come to discover what was being said about him, this would probably have killed him!
The major issue of concern here, of course, was that Rachel Humphries should not have been discussing our private details with anyone at all! It is extremely unfortunate that the details only emerged long after the Freeing Order had been granted, for this, arguably, would have provided the impetus for the Court then reconsidering the validity of much else that the Local Authority was saying.
Early 2002. In 2001, there was reported to have been only one prospective adoptive couple expressing interest and who adequately satisfied all the requirements. Suddenly in 2002, when the placement had failed, “more than one” (to quote Jane Davies) further sets of adopters had ‘miraculously’ appeared.
This fact did cast some considerable doubt in our minds and that of our solicitor concerning the dubious nature of the previous assessment process, particularly as conducted by Rachel Humphries.
During the course of the October 2001 Proceedings, in support of Social Services, several so-described ‘expert’ witnesses (the commas are not misplaced) all gave evidence upon the eminent suitability of that couple finally identified. These so-called ‘professionals’ confirmed that, on one or more occasions, they had all met with the couple concerned. To arrive at their respective (presumably, qualified) opinions, they all affirmed under oath that they had utilised the appropriate guidelines and procedures. As previously related, those people are again identified as: Rachel Humphries, then Social Worker with SMBC, Angela Carr, Guardian-ad-Litem, CAFCASS Stockport, Gillian Lee, SMBC Family Placement Team Leader, Susan Withington, Boys & Girls Welfare Society and Farrah Rahman, SMBC Family Placement Team.
The question that now begs asking is, how was it possible that all of these people could later be proved to be so very wrong? They all would have described themselves as ‘professionals’ and so, there can be no suggestion of collusion….or can there? It is known that these very same individuals simultaneously attended several closed meetings, events to which, neither we, nor our legal representative, came to be invited. In addition, the records show that Rachel Humphries was always the author of any minutes subsequently published, arising out of those gatherings.
Gillian Lee, in particular, had never actually met us, but, in Court, recommended that we should have no direct contact with our children, as, she felt that we would “attempt to sabotage the placement”! A similar opinion was also expressed by educational psychologist, Lynda Dodd. Both of these persons had based such ill-informed views entirely upon that evidence, we believe, provided almost exclusively by Rachel Humphries.
It is imperative at this juncture to underline a number of categorical failures in procedure then extant in respect of the Local Authority.
(i) To explain the circumstances of the children, Stockport SSD failed to follow good practice and to visit us after the breakdown of the adoptive placement.
(ii) The issue over who’s responsibility it was to carry out the arrangements for a meeting with us should have been subordinate to ensuring that this did occur and “in accordance with good social work practice” [the very words used by Helen Matuk, counsel for the Local Authority, Nov. 2003].
(iii) Whether it should have been left up to Rachel Humphries, or to Jane Davies, or even to Deborah Woodcock, the fact remains that such a (suggestibly) mutually desirable event just did not occur.
(iv) Further to that, the contents of the disgracefully brief letter ultimately sent out by Jane Davies on 27th February 2002 constituted a totally unprofessional and highly insensitive piece of work.
(v) The Local Authority failed to engage with us after the breakdown of the adoptive placement, save as required in accordance with its statutory duties.
(vi) In particular, it failed to involve us in the planning and decision making process after the breakdown of the adoptive placement.
(vii) The Local Authority failed to inform us, from time to time, of the children’s circumstances, their well-being and their wishes and feelings after the breakdown of the adoptive placement.
(viii) These failures could, quite reasonably, be attributed to the problem in attitude apparently adopted by Rachel Humphries and, as a consequence of which, erroneous and totally misleading information was being passed on to others. Such a probability, however, in no way abrogated the Local Authority in its duties and responsibilities.
(ix) Certainly, the Local Authority failed to undertake any assessment of the risks allegedly posed by Mr. Carlisle to the staff of Stockport SSD and it latterly became very apparent that there was no clear documentary evidence upon which the Court could find that either of us posed any risk to anyone at all! All such rumours had in fact emanated from Rachel Humphries and her immediate colleagues.
Throughout early / mid 2002. Despite it being clearly stated within several items of correspondence emanating from Stockport Social Services and also confirmed orally during the October 2001 Proceedings that Rachel Humphries was about to cease to be the children’s social worker, most curiously, that person remained actively involved and continued to do so even after the children were returned from Cornwall. Indeed, the situation appeared to remain static up until at least the time when Social Services would have become aware that very serious questions were being asked, both about Rachel Humphries and also about what had been happening to the Carlisle children.
Stephen is known to have been repeatedly and vehemently requesting a change in social worker throughout 2002. Rachel Humphries is also known to have totally ignored the many requests made. Later, and in front of two witnesses from the B&GWS, Stephen again directly challenged Rachel Humphries on that very issue. Clearly, even a little boy of then only 11 years of age held his own serious concerns about Rachel Humphries and was well aware that she was definitely not representing the best interests of him and his sister. Rachel Humphries, in turn, once again, did nothing further and there matters rested for a further period of more than six months.
However, considerably later, when others began asking their own questions, Social Services eventually came to announce (within their Court chronology) that, directly as a consequence of Stephen’s own repeated requests for a change in social worker, Rachel Humphries was believed to be moving from her current role “sometime in December 2002”. Had it not been for the fact that Rachel Humphries was actually leaving the employ of Stockport MBC “sometime in December 2002”, we might have believed that as being an accurate representation of the facts. Furthermore, it did appear that, long after she did come to depart, Stockport Social Services and Stockport Legal Services were continuing to provide the Court with what we maintain was deliberately misleading information. We did wonder whether this was now because Rachel Humphries had got them too deeply involved in her personal misdemeanours and that it would be too dangerous to reconsider any of its previous decisions.
15th May 2002 Deborah Nickson of Stockport Legal Services replied to Clive Wood, advising that she did not accept Mr. Wood’s suggestion that identification of a further adoptive family was “unlikely within 12 months of the freeing order”. Nevertheless, that is precisely what transpired.
Ms. Nickson further disclosed that, at the time of writing, “more than one potential set of adopters was being explored by Social Services”. She concluded by stating that in view of the fact that the Local Authority’s plan remaining one for adoption it would be “inappropriate to consider Mr. & Mrs. Carlisle as carers or carry out further assessments”.
Nevertheless, in early 2001, the issue of a re-assessment had, indeed, been previously raised as one potential solution to the problem. During the October 2001 proceedings, Rachel Humphries did admit that she met with her ‘line manager’ Catriona Sreenan to discuss the possibility of initiating this. Nevertheless those two had not come to consider the question of further assessing us until as late as July 2001. We know that Rachel Humphries is believed to have identified a number of pertinent topics, which she thought such an assessment could consider, but the issue was left, upon the advice of the legal department (which would have been Deborah Nickson in person), until the outcome of a professional’s meeting, which Ms Sreenan (team leader) did not herself attend. The decision not to assess was taken by C. Sreenan, after speaking with Rachel Humphries, although, significantly, neither the content of the discussion nor the decision arrived at is adequately minuted anywhere.
It was a category omission for the decision not to further assess us both in 2001, especially when that decision was taken on the basis of the key social worker’s impression of what the consensus of the professional’s meeting was.
The suspicious circumstances surrounding the lack of any formal account of those alleged discussions and the inability of both R. Humphries and C. Sreenan to clearly recall even the briefest of details did ultimately come to be adversely commented upon by the Court. It was suggested that, even if such a discussion had occurred, this could only have been of a cursory nature.
We were never told by Rachel Humphries that a further re-assessment was even possible and it was, in fact, our belief that, by this time, it certainly was not possible. Had we, in actual fact, been so aware, we would certainly have requested that consideration to be given to revisiting the matter.
In October 2001, it was submitted that without such an assessment the Local Authority’s argument against us was fatally flawed. They were presented with evidence, which was not contradicted, that the mother was abstinent and had been for some time, and that there was no violence within the home. Prima facie, it was submitted that this should have inclined any authority correctly interpreting its duties under the 1989 Act and European Law to rehabilitation, or, at the very least, to revisiting the issue.
The Local Authority countered by pointing to an absence of information as to the state of our relationship, our background histories, and the like [Humphries, oral]. This absence of information available to them was, very clearly, not of our own volition. The duty to keep families together should have compelled the Local Authority to assess these unknowns, rather than utilise them as a reason to permanently separate a family. It was unjust for the Local Authority to be permitted to say, "We will not return the children to you because there are gaps in our knowledge", when those gaps have been created by that very authority’s wilful omission.
In fact, no effort at all was made to engage with us since the decision not to rehabilitate in January 2000. On the evidence available to them, the Local Authority was simply not able to say that cutting off the relationship between children and their family was justified by the overriding necessity of the children’s interests. This construction of the Local Authority’s duties, it is submitted, required the Local Authority to be more pro-active than it had been, and than the Guardian expected it to be. It was simply not consistent with Olsson or Johansen to suggest that all the moves should have come from us, as the Guardian herself came to suggest. The Local Authority was the public body; it was the Local Authority that had duties under the Convention, not ourselves.
The Local Authority had not properly considered mediation in the case as a way forward, either. It is a suggestion in section 1.47 of the 'lilac book'. It was posited to the Local Authority in 2000 by Clive Wood, our solicitor. Stephen Maguire, consultant psychologist, mentioned it both in his report and at a professionals’ meeting. Nevertheless, absolutely nothing was done.
August 2002. Following the move of Stephen & Victoria to the final carers, Stephen telephoned William Settle, requesting that William make contact with his Mum & Dad. Stephen, most clearly, had very strong reasons for wishing to do this and, it is believed that he was almost certainly being actively discouraged from doing so by any other means.
As William and his wife were no longer actively involved with Stephen and Victoria, Mr. Settle felt that he was now able to accede to Stephen’s request, effectively acting as an (unofficial) advocate and, thus, able to speak on the children’s behalf. This selfless act was ultimately the ‘excuse’ utilised to de-register the Settles as foster carers and, thus, then to be in a position to deny contact with the children. In any case, in view of the narrow-minded attitudes of those responsible, the Settles had no further wish to be involved with such unscrupulous people.
Stephen did actually express a desire for an opportunity to present his own evidence in Court, but even this came to be deemed ‘inappropriate’ by both the guardian and also by the Local Authority, apparently without even consulting with Stephen. In light of the sheer volume of instances of case mismanagement later coming to surface, that refusal was, arguably, the singularly most ‘inappropriate’ aspect of the whole affair. No matter who was claiming responsibility for taking control of his life, preventing Stephen from expressing his views and aspirations was a clear violation of his Human Rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Act (1998).
As Stephen came to so poignantly relate to Mr. and Mrs. Settle, he wanted to tell the Judge that his greatest fear was that by not doing and saying what Rachel Humphries asked of him, would have resulted in him being separated from his sister. Furthermore, it is now also known that Stephen would have testified, had he been permitted to do so, that he was actually verbally threatened with such a probability by Rachel Humphries.
Autumn 2002. By this time, several other parties previously involved with Stephen and Victoria are now known to have developed concerns of their own regarding various aspects of the case and, more recently, have also had opportunity to compare notes. In light of several serious matters that these discussions came to reveal, William Settle cited a number of vital witnesses, including other foster carers, who all shared a common belief, in that Rachel Humphries was mentally unstable and was totally unfit to be working in the capacity that she was.
Although, other than acknowledged research on such matters (as broached upon elsewhere in this document) there is no concrete proof that this was the case, but the sheer number of (arguably) totally irrational acts that Rachel Humphries perpetrated, leaves us with no option but to concur with such beliefs.
4th September 2002. Jane Davies, service manager at Social Services (in a letter signed by Deborah Woodcock, Rachel Humphries’ team leader), eventually condescended to write to us some four months late, with regard to the “annual exchange of information” through Stockport’s ‘Letterbox Scheme’ (that should have taken place in May 2002). If the letter had not been written personally by Rachel Humphries, the contents, clearly, had been gleaned from that person by the actual author and it appeared to us to be no less than a blatant attempt to ‘whitewash’ a whole succession of mistakes and failings.
For example, the letter apologised for the “late sending of information in respect of Stephen and Victoria” and then dismissed this with the totally confusing excuse, “I am sure you will appreciate the Local Authority have need to prioritise the children’s living situation and schooling.” Those parties, with whom we came to share the contents of the letter, all expressed the same opinion; that this really meant that, if the children really had been allowed an opportunity to pass information on to their parents at that time (particularly with regard to the manner in which they had been treated by Rachel Humphries), this could be very damaging to the stance of Social Services and equally so to those others who had ‘turned a blind eye’ for so long.
The Local Authority evidently had hoped to successfully place the children at an early date so that, when Stephen and Victoria did eventually come to be provided with the opportunity to write to their parents through the Stockport ‘Letterbox’ system, the message would be likely to be more favourable. Nevertheless, Jane Davies then advised, “Stephen has decided not to write to you directly”. It is felt that the aforementioned statement did not adequately or precisely represent the facts. It was, indeed, an outright lie for, as far as Stephen is concerned today, he states with absolute conviction that he never said any such thing.
Notwithstanding any of this, of prime essence was the fact that, despite numerous requests, Jane Davies and/or her subordinates had still failed to include any details whatsoever of the ‘Letterbox’ system (information that had been promised would be definitely provided by May 2002, within the content several letters from both Stockport Social Services AND Stockport Legal services). Both Rachel Humphries and Jane Davies were very well aware both, that we were not in possession of any substantive details regarding the operation of this facility and also, that it was incumbent upon those two to ensure that this information was provided. In categorically failing to do so, it cannot be denied that they eventually came to be severely criticised by HHJ Earnshaw when the case went back to Court.
Jane Davies did concede that the children had been upset by the “disruption in the adoptive placement”, although she was still refusing to offer any further details. However, information provided with specific regard to Victoria, although advising that she enjoyed playing with other children at school, also appeared to suggest that Victoria spent much of her time with adults and not with her peers. It was stated that she had eating problems, tired easily, could become run down thus experiencing skin disorders, had confused feelings about what was happening in her life and came to rely upon Stephen to “look out for her”.
At this juncture, it would be pertinent to refer back to the statements of the various ‘expert’ witnesses, one of whom, in October 2001 had urged that, “Victoria needs a sense of permanency NOW”. Clearly here was a young lady placed very much in limbo in her age appropriate ‘attachment’ process and likely to be destined for considerable emotional problems later in life unless she was soon permitted to resume her life with her natural parents and the stability that (we contended) this could now offer her.
It does appear that, despite it being her specific remit as the appointed social worker, Rachel Humphries made little or no attempt to investigate any of the symptoms ascribed above. Indeed, it did appear that the inadequate degree of basis social work training that Rachel Humphries undertook in order to apply for her position with Stockport, in the specific field of children and families, had come to provide her with precious little knowledge of attachment and bonding processes. Despite any fear of appearing repetitive, we would nevertheless once again submit that she was, in fact, totally incompetent.
27th October 2002. Stephen sent a letter to William Settle, with whom he had still managed to maintain a regular contact, now confirming in writing that he desired that Mr. Settle represent the interests of him and his sister, particularly in respect both, to the manner in which they had both been treated whilst in care and also, to assist in voicing their strong desire to be allowed to return to their parents’ care.
Stephen explained that he had been unable to get Rachel Humphries to acknowledge what he was trying to tell her. In addition, Miss Humphries is believed to have failed to appropriately document any such representations made to her and, hence, Stephen’s earnest request for another social worker who, he felt, might give him a better ‘deal’.
30th October 2002. A meeting is understood to have been held between the B&GWS and the Director of Stockport Social Services. It was also believed that this was convened to discuss concerns over the declared intention of Rachel Humphries to separate Stephen and Victoria and, in the event that Humphries could not arrange for Stephen to be adopted prior to the granting of the Freeing Order, she had stated that she would proceed with her personal attempts to arrange for the sole adoption of Victoria and for Stephen to go into a children’s home!
Very clearly, such a proposal would have been in direct contravention of all of the recommendations previously made by other professionals as well as the (publicly) declared policy of the Local Authority.
Certain individuals within the B&GWS are known to have vehemently opposed the views of Rachel Humphries, but it was the opinion of at least one other party that the B&GWS appeared to be more concerned about any form of criticism being levelled at them and the very real possibility of them being sued for negligence with regard to the manner in which the children had been treated whilst in care, than they were with regards to the more serious concerns expressed about the possibility of Victoria and Stephen being split up and adopted/fostered separately. The reaction to our own correspondence directly with Andrew Haines, the chief executive, would appear to confirm such suspicions.
31st October 2002, The day after that supposed meeting, Susan Withington and Lucy Gater of the B&GWS visited Mr. Settle to discuss their concerns about Stephen and Victoria.
Incredulously, during the course of those discussions, Ms. Withington came to fully support Rachel Humphries’s removal of a ‘Barbie’ doll (readily available in every toy shop) from Victoria and agreed with Miss Humphries’ contention that it was sexually inappropriate. (!!) She also supported the decision made by Miss Humphries back in March not to apply medication to Victoria’s vaginal infection, agreeing it was “inappropriate and could get in the way of any investigation”.
Mr. Settle raised the issue of Rachel Humphries appearing to be obsessed by sexual abuse. Susan Withington told him that Victoria “had almost certainly been sexually abused by her father, as had almost 90% of children in care”. She suggested that Mr. Settle had no right to question ‘professionals’. In response, Mr. Settle voiced the opinion that he did not think that Rachel Humphries had a rational view of sexual abuse.
Mr. Settle asked Susan Withington if she had passed on his original complaint of January 2001 to Stockport SSD. Sue Withington said she had “briefly mentioned it to Rachel Humphries” and, between them, they “had decided it did not need to go any further as it was “a training issue”.
It is believed that neither Stephen nor Victoria had ever been asked by Rachel Humphries about what had happened to them since they went for adoption. Susan Withington said that she had never interviewed the children about their experiences in foster care and, in a desperate attempt to now justify her words, amazingly declared that “B&GWS social workers are there for the foster carers and not for the children”. Nevertheless, this in no way should have abrogated her from her own professional and moral obligations to report any and all issues of concern. Susan Withington was, therefore, also extremely incompetent.
We do now know that that some form of approach was made, at some later stage, to interview Stephen and Victoria, but that the B&GWS were informed that, before this could occur, permission needed to be sought from Stockport Social Services. Whether this permission was applied for, or not, the children never came to be interviewed by anyone at all. This was a disgraceful state of affairs, but went some considerable way towards explaining (to us) why the mandatory adoption placement ‘disruption’ meeting had also not occurred.
Mr. Settle felt that Lucy Gater was very uncomfortable with what was going on. It was clear that she wanted everything to be ‘out in the open’. It was also clear to Mr. Settle that Susan Withington was not pleased with Lucy Gater for voicing such a suggestion.
Mr. Settle says that subsequent minutes of this meeting failed to record any criticisms he had made of the B&GWS and of Rachel Humphries. Both Mr. and Mrs. Settle attest that no-one from the Local Authority ever contacted them to discuss the allegations that they had made. It was what he described as the “constant lies, deceit and misportrayal of the truth” that finally led Mr. Settle to a position where he felt quite unable to work with the Local Authority. Their grasp of reality and their ability to twist any single statement and turn it into something that was quite different than the reality was, as he now says, astonishing to him. This caused him to develop understandable concerns with regard to the whole ethos of the operation of Stockport Local Authority.
November 2002. Once it became clear that William and Margaret Settle had taken the unique step of supporting Stephen in his efforts to let the world hear the truth about the appalling manner in which he and Victoria had been treated whilst in care, it is believed that individuals within Stockport Social Services made even further attempts to ‘whitewash’ the numerous concerns then emerging; so much so, in fact, that they then made the incredulous suggestion that the Settles attend an Emotional Detachment Course. The explanation posited (and, remember, this was despite the fact that the Settles already had two children of their own) was that Social Services felt that they “had become too attached to Stephen and Victoria”.
It is our belief that the Settles were not, in fact, “too attached”, but were merely doing their job and very efficiently so. We shall always be in the debt of that couple for responding to the pleas of a little boy who had no-one else to turn to in his hour of need! Had it not been for them, many aspects of the ethos of the operation of Stockport Social Services may otherwise never have come to be challenged and updated!
12th November 2002. Whilst attending Court on another matter, Clive Wood met with Deborah Woodcock (team leader) and Rachel Humphries and was informed that a couple of further potential placements had been identified. Despite Stephen continually speaking out that he wanted to go home, Rachel Humphries was concurrently commencing the initial steps in the process of attempting to match Victoria, on her own and without her beloved brother, with a prospective couple who were New Zealanders intent on returning to their home country. Gary Williams, the B&GWS social worker, became very concerned by this and ultimately was responsible for sharing his knowledge with Mr. Settle. (It is believed that Mr. Williams was later to be ostracised by his employers for revealing such matters to the Settles, but, of course, that much plays no part in this account.)
In view of the qualifying period for placing the children being about to expire, it is presumed that our current application to Court would have prevented such a move from being processed any further. That was probably the only reason why it did come to fail. Nevertheless, such a wrench, had it occurred, would have been devastating for Stephen and Victoria alike, causing a profound effect upon the both of them for the rest of their lives. If this new perspective that had just surfaced was an actual fact, it really would have placed at least one of the children (paraphrasing Rachel Humphries’ cruel words) “just about as far away from Mr. & Mrs. Carlisle as it is possible to get”.
We shall resist the temptation to go down the road of considering why none of the other hundreds, if not thousands, of childless couples in Britain alone had not been approached in the first instance, rather than people from the other side of the world. However, as it was common knowledge both, that we had been continuously attempting to have Stephen and Victoria restored to our own care and also, that this was also the children’s own indicated desire, such moves by Rachel Humphries to ‘achieve a part success’ were morally indefensible!
It is, however, interesting to note that the official stance of the Local Authority (by early to mid 2003) had become that they had no intention of separating Stephen from Victoria. That was what they came to state in Court, at least.
Were Rachel Humphries’ intentions solely vindictive; indeed were they quite vicious in nature? Was this act, should it have succeeded, merely in direct retaliation to the numerous formal complaints made about her work by us between 1999 and 2001 (and more recently by Stephen himself)? Was she seeking to extract revenge, by using Stephen (the child that she never had) as her pawn? Was Rachel Humphries mentally unstable? Is she still so? Given that all of the typical indications appeared to be in place, is she, in fact, suffering from ‘Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy’? [Note: A person suffering from Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy has a need to feel ‘special’ or heroic to stimulate attention from people such as family, friends, community and medical professions, often using a child in their charge as the victim.]
It appears, in this instance, that Rachel Humphries (and possibly others) seriously abused the Selection Procedure for adoptive parents in that (a) the process was not as thorough or as searching as it should have been and (b) a ‘hidden agenda’ appears to have over-ridden other considerations.
There are many matters that have since come to light that indicate that Mr. & Mrs. Buckingham, the Cornish couple eventually identified by Rachel Humphries, should never have been allowed to register as potential adopters in the first place and that she should have very carefully considered such concerns. She did not.
One of the concerns arose out of the fact that the couple were members of the Mormon Church. A particular teaching of this ‘faith’ is that “The Lord specifically forbids certain behaviours, including all sexual relations before marriage, petting, sex perversion and masturbation”. (The Mormon Church, A Parents Guide, pp 36-39). The fact that Victoria was allegedly showing some signs of masturbating was known to all those who had interviewed the Buckinghams. This information should have been passed on and the views upon how the adopters were prepared to cope with it secured and assessed. Angela Carr did later claim that details were passed on, but, unless that person had personally discussed it with the Buckinghams, it is unclear how she knew that to be the case, other than by asking Rachel Humphries … ‘after the event’.
Clearly, however, in view of what ultimately transpired, the issue could only have been discussed with the couple in a very cursory manner. Equally clearly, all involved had done little or nothing else to satisfy themselves in even such a significant respect. In what was later seen to be an attempt to protect herself, Rachel Humphries subsequently said at a meeting (that was not open to us) that she had done some research on the adopter’s religion and ‘discovered’ that masturbation was considered to be the worst sin anyone can commit. By that time, of course, it was all too late. As a consequence of the abject incompetence of all of these people, the damage had been done.
December 2002 Rachel Humphries left her post with Social Services to take up a position as a guardian-ad-litem / court reporting officer with CAFCASS, based in Manchester. Other than in respect of her being called to give evidence during the December 2003 hearing, matters related hereafter obviously refer to the aftermath of her involvement.
24th February 2003 The Local Authority had failed to hold a Disruption Meeting during a reasonable and proper period after the breakdown of the adoptive placement. Such a meeting was an essential part of the future planning process for the children. A meeting was, in fact, not held until 24th February 2003 and even this was thought to have been instigated only after we started to place our own searching questions through our Counsel.
Despite it being our entitlement to attend (particularly in our position of once again sharing parental responsibility), we were not invited to participate in the event and, indeed, were not even aware that such had taken place until the Local Authority came to be questioned on the matter in Court. It was an undeniable fact that no-one at all had bothered to inform us.
The prospective adopters did not attend the meeting and it is believed that, in fact, they came to provide no input whatsoever. (They had, in fact, effectively disappeared.) As the children’s guardian also did not attend the meeting, we felt that to allow the event to proceed in the absence of the vital information that these two parties could have provided was disgraceful.
Chronologically speaking, the matters now to be discussed are very much out of context, but as they did appear to form the backbone of the disruption meeting and also that, not being invited and having no opportunity to challenge their validity, it is perhaps appropriate that they are addressed at this juncture.
The minutes of the meeting, (as later made available to the Court), record Rachel Humphries as stating in her earlier-written chronology, “Birth mum absconded with the children prior to the foster placement, however the children were returned and removed.” This was a complete (and, arguably, deliberate) misrepresentation of the facts and the official records do in fact clearly indicate that, on 1st July 1999, Stephen and Victoria were in fact delivered into the care of Rachel Humphries at exactly the appointed hour of 2-00pm.
There were, of course other staff present who could corroborate this, but it was patently obvious that Rachel Humphries had in fact taken opportunity to utilise and combine the events of a previous occasion to fabricate a totally misleading and untruthful account.
The further truth of the matter actually was that, some days shortly before the children were actually handed over, we had been instructed to attend (with the children) an afternoon meeting with Humphries at the Bredbury Centre. Mr. Carlisle was working in Warrington during the morning. Upon arriving home shortly before the scheduled starting time of the meeting, he discovered that Mrs. Carlisle and the children were not there and unbeknown to him, it transpired that Mrs. Carlisle had taken the children for a treat at the McDonalds restaurant in Stockport, but had missed the bus home afterwards. Guessing that something of the sort had occurred, Mr. Carlisle assumed Mrs. Carlisle would go straight to the Centre so, shortly before the appointed hour, he set off himself. The ensuing delays were exacerbated in that Mrs. Carlisle thought that Mr. Carlisle would be waiting at home ready to transport us all by car to the Centre.
Nevertheless, as the children were late, in her alleged paranoia Rachel Humphries took this to assume that Mrs. Carlisle had absconded with them. Mr. Carlisle went into the meeting alone, but Miss Humphries became adamant in that she wanted to see the children for herself. Mrs. Carlisle did, in fact, arrive with Stephen and Victoria shortly afterwards, but by this time the social worker was even talking in terms of calling the police! Mrs. Carlisle did attempt to explain to Rachel Humphries the circumstances surrounding her tardy arrival but these, clearly, had not been accepted. However, equally clearly, it was self-evident here that no attempt to abscond had been made despite what Rachel Humphries was now so distortedly relating some 3.1/2 years later.
A further worrying item from those same minutes revealed, “Rachel said that neither child was in the least bit bothered about being removed from their parents.” This matter has been addressed, in part, elsewhere; however, as Miss Humphries came repeatedly to utilise this phrase to underpin her many other ongoing outrageous claims, she appeared eventually to have convinced herself that this was fact. Nevertheless, she did also always fail to add that it was also variously documented, for example, that Victoria put her coat on at the conclusion of contact in order to return home with her parents and, furthermore, as crying at the foot of the stairs at the Recchias’ home (after a contact session) with Stephen being told to leave her alone there when he attempted to console her.
Yet a further illustration of our difficulties with how this clandestine gathering in 2003 was conducted, came when we were then to read, “Rachel said the placement with Jan and Ed came to an end due to perceived intimidation from the birth parents who knew where they lived.” As was soon to surface in Court, there was not one shred of evidence to prove that we did, at that stage, know where Stephen and Victoria were living. We would add that, even if we had come to be in possession of such information, this would have served no useful purpose as the children would ultimately have been the only ones to suffer.
Mr. Carlisle suspects that the source of the whole matter could only be attributed to a case of sheer paranoia on the part of the female foster carer. Witness the totally ridiculous allegations of the Recchia’s emptied (or “examined”, as it came to be formally documented) dustbin and Stephen’s stolen bike (which Dad had purchased, anyway!) Rachel Humphries, for her part, was not so rational in her thinking, both blithely and blindly continuing in her personal crusade. She was apparently quite oblivious of what the very next line in those minutes came to provide as the more likely explanation, “The birth parents were quite critical of the care the children received from Jan and Ed.”
Mrs. Carlisle is of the view that, our children being that couple’s first placement, Janine Recchia very soon, and very rudely, came to realise that being a foster parent was not as easy or glamorous as she thought it might have been. It is contended that, rather than lose face with the BGWS, arising as a consequence of the numerous justifiable complaints registered against her, Janine Recchia then sought to use us as the scapegoats to conceal her own inadequacies.
Naturally, Rachel Humphries could also not lose face and, we further submit, the latter saw a golden opportunity here to impress her own superiors. We feel that this was nowhere better illustrated in Rachel Humphries’ (alleged) obsession with sexual matters that still continued to surface at every opportunity … even during the disruption meeting, e.g., “Rachel said there was some sexualised behaviour at Jan and Ed’s. On one occasion, Stephen took his genitals out in the back of the car and asked Recchia children to look at them - Victoria spoke of her dad touching her genitals and making it bleed. “Fairy” was Victoria’s word for her genitals. Rachel said that Jan dealt with this - Victoria was very young and was pre-verbal at the time. Rachel felt that the children found it hard to move from one family to another and Stephen told her he felt very mixed up. Deborah Woodcock referred back to Victoria’s allegation and asked whether any action was taken, Rachel said the Team Manager at the time called a Strategy Meeting but it was felt that Victoria was too young and said the Social Worker dealt with this at the time in a matter-of-fact way with the foster carer, on the level of “that’s not what we do”.
It is unfortunate that no further investigation was instigated at that time as events later proved that there was no basis for, or any truth whatsoever in, such allegations. However, infinitely more worrying to us were those last few words ascribed to above, “that’s not what we do”. As there was no one independent party present and further to this Stockport Legal Services had totally ‘anonymised’ the document anyway, before releasing it to the Court, we shall now probably never come to learn precisely what it was that Rachel Humphries and her colleagues “did not do”.
There were many more aspects of this meeting, and precisely what did come to be said, that we should, very rightly, have been permitted an opportunity to challenge by, at the very least, being personally present. However, in acting in such an illegal manner, Stockport Social Services had effectively (knowingly, we would argue) blocked any adverse criticism of, for example, the inadequate assessments conducted of the prospective adopters. A totally separate document does actually exist in which we did attempt to comprehensively respond in detail to at least what came to be recorded in those minutes, but this was only prepared for the benefit of our counsel and, of course, by then, the matter had become ‘history’ in most people’s minds. The Disruption Meeting had occurred, it could never be re-convened.
In addition, in terms of our current complaint, also by then Rachel Humphries had moved on to pastures anew.
Nevertheless, in referring back to that time when she was still involved, the minutes themselves did speak volumes. With regard to the issue of at least one of the couple being a devout Mormon and this being a new and not entirely welcome situation for the children, “Gillian Lee said that when they were bringing the children back after the placement had disrupted the children were “reciting things” that they had learned in Sunday school and her opinion was that there had been quite a significant amount of religion and that they had been quite heavily involved. XXXXX feels that Stephen and Victoria have very “retentive memories” and are able to remember songs. XXXXX felt the Church was “voluntary” and XXXXX opinion was that Stephen would be interested in something that was new. XXXXX said that Stephen was a Mormon when he came back to them, however, it was felt that this was about Stephen being “desperate to belong”. (Anonymisations are those of Stockport Legal Services’, not our own!)
Despite these (very carefully chosen?) words, in view of Stephen’s maturing years, it should have been realised that he was very likely to have resisted any attempt to ‘indoctrinate’ him into the ways and teachings of that particular ‘faith’. Indeed, that much did actually come about. We have evidence that the children were not allowed to watch TV on Sundays and, even although it is believed that the female prospective adopter had previously stated that the children would be permitted to come to their own decisions regarding attending church, it appeared that the Buckinghams had almost immediately forced the children to attend services. We have the physical evidence in the form of the Bible that the adopters presented to Stephen, this endorsed in pencil throughout with innumerable passages and observations for Stephen to take particular note of. The sheer volume of these hand-written appendages, in themselves, were clear enough evidence of the absolute obsession with religion that Lyn Buckingham possessed. The fact that Stephen asked us for permission to burn this book very shortly after he returned home, is a clear enough indicator of Stephen’s personal reaction to such fanatical attempts to indoctrinate.
As far as Rachel Humphries is concerned, we now know that it had actually been brought to that person’s attention that Stephen had been held down by the Buckinghams to brush his teeth with soapy water when he, presumably, had come out with something with which they did not agree. When the matter was queried, it had been explained by one of the couple to Barry Dent (the relinquishing foster carer) that this was “To brush the Devil out of him.” Here was an instance of actual physical assault upon our son for which the perpetrator was liable to prosecution, but, even this serious matter never came to be fully investigated! As mentioned previously, according to Angela Carr, the couple had disappeared.
5 RACHEL HUMPHRIES’ EVIDENCE TO THE HEARING OF DECEMBER 2003
5.1 Despite her writing directly to the Judge, requesting leave to be excused from giving evidence, “as she did not think that there was anything further that she could add to that which was already contained within the files and that she had, in any event, already got other CAFCASS commitments on the days suggested”, this ploy was denied and Rachel Humphries was instructed to attend Court.
5.2 In order to ‘refresh her memory’ about aspects of her case, Miss Humphries also then had to directly approach the Court in order to obtain permission for copies of her case files to be made available to her by her former employers.
5.3 This move, in what appeared to be a ‘distancing’ of the Local Authority from its erstwhile worker, provided what we were led to believe was the almost unprecedented situation in Court affairs, insofar as no party at all was prepared to ‘chief’ Miss Humphries. The Local Authority team and their representing counsel then present both figuratively and literally appeared to be ‘looking the other way’! It is not our duty to speculate upon the reasons surrounding this and, although HHJ Earnshaw did later state that he did not find that Rachel Humphries deliberately sought to conceal information, this would only have been because, various vital documents having ‘disappeared’ from Social Services’ case files (or failing to be disclosed as ordered), there was a lack of conclusive evidence to support many of the more serious allegations then being brought against her.
5.4 It was only upon the Judge’s intervention, that our counsel Mr. Michael Keehan, Q.C. was then persuaded to ‘chief’ … this strictly on Mr. Keehan’s proviso that he, or his junior Mr. Rowley, be permitted later to ‘cross-examine’ should they deem it necessary. No other party offered to chief or came to raise any other objections.
5.5 Miss Humphries proved to be an unimpressive witness whose credibility was brought into question time and time again by the notably variable nature of her recollection. When facing ‘friendly’ questions from the local authority and the guardian, her recall was good and, at times, very specific. When facing less friendly examination, “I cannot recall”, or “I cannot assist the Court further” became her constant refrain.
5.6 It was put to her that, as the social worker supposedly allocated to work with us, almost from the moment that the children were removed in July 1999 she made little or no personal attempt to keep track of the progress of that work that we were undertaking. Whilst such efforts were primarily for our own benefit, these were also in strict accordance with Stockport Social Services’ own stated “expectations” and, consequently, should have been closely monitored by that Department. They were not! Indeed, it was now pointed out to Rachel Humphries that she had only visited the family home once after Stephen and Victoria were removed, the further suggestion therefore being put to her that Social Services were, in fact, taking very little notice of what was happening in terms of our own commitments. She had no answer to that.
5.7 For example, both Miss Humphries and her team, clearly, were quite unaware that the department had not received Mr. Nigel Fernandez’s final report (psychological therapist working with Mr. Carlisle) until, via his solicitor, Mr. Carlisle himself came to insist that it be included in the Court ‘bundle’. Other documents that did not automatically end up in the bundle, but which had nevertheless been passing through the desk of the key worker, included a number of ‘Contact Recordings’. In terms of the excellent state of our then current relationship with the children, the undeniably positive aspect of these should have ensured that they became a core aspect of the updated bundle. Once again, it was left up to us to arrange for their provision. The onus should not have been upon us to facilitate such clerical affairs as the documents were the property of the Local Authority.
5.8 To summarise briefly, therefore, the clearest factor here was that, with no attempt being made by any member of her team to maintain direct contact, Miss Humphries and her colleagues were totally incapable of visually observing for themselves the continuing positive progress that we were making.
5.9 In fact, apart from that little work that she commenced at the very end of 1999, it was contended that Rachel Humphries came to base all of her reports, as she so clearly had done, solely on the (occasionally imprecise) observations of others. This was a trait that came to be also adopted by the guardian, Angela Carr, and the terminology that these two each utilised within their respective reports and statements was observed to be remarkably similar. So, here we had a situation where not one but two sources of vital Court documents respectively contained much essentially hearsay information.
5.10 During the course of giving evidence in 2001, both Rachel Humphries and her team leader Catriona Sreenan failed to offer at all satisfactory explanations as to why they totally failed to engage in any work with us, at any time.
5.11 As this was such an important issue that so clearly became instrumental in the Local Authority’s later decision making, the same question was again put to Miss Humphries in 2003 and, once again, she had no answer. For example:
(i) When the failure to engage in work with us became a real issue, after waiting for many months Mr. Carlisle was forced to write letter after letter to Social Services before he was even afforded the decency of an acknowledgement, let alone a satisfactory reply. In Rachel Humphries’ evidence, we heard clear indications that she could not “really recall” what she then did in response, other than that, in her own words, she “would have collected a number of letters, before replying to all of them together”. This amazing revelation was provided to the specifically placed observation by Counsel about a series of letters sent out within a relatively short period, but, receipt of each of which was either not acknowledged within an acceptable period of time or ultimately came to be totally ignored. In providing such an answer, Rachel Humphries was clearly unaware that these letters did include many that were in fact then sent directly to her team leader and the service manager. It did appear that whoever we wrote to, the correspondence seemed to have ended up on Rachel Humphries’ desk and where then it stagnated!
(ii) Miss Humphries made numerous responses to awkward questions placed in that she “would have consulted with (her) team manager” but she could not recall any decisions or conclusions made whatsoever. When further laboured upon that point, she finally responded that she “would have” adopted a particular line of action, but, in every single instance, was consistently unclear as to what she actually did do. Despite Miss Humphries’ inability to recall much at all, we, ourselves, are very clear in our recollection that no action whatsoever was taken on the specific issue of further work and very, very little in respect of the expressed serious concerns surrounding the first foster placement.
(iii) It was put to Miss Humphries that it would have been thought that the sole basis for any consideration for the children returning home would have to be that some form of parental assessment had to be undertaken specifically broaching upon the level of success of the completed ‘work’ by us both. The question, therefore, remained why, despite what Social Services then claimed to be continuing reports of denial or minimisation by us both, a re-assessment was never arranged to substantiate these views and the decision was made behind closed doors on 25th January 2000 that the children’s needs would be best met by their remaining in the care of the Local Authority, either by long-term foster care or being placed for adoption. Again, Miss Humphries could offer no answer at all to this.
5.12 Counsel put it to Miss Humphries that she was incompetent as the children’s social worker and totally failed the children. Once again, she could offer no real reply to this. It was true.
5.13 It was then put to her that she was either incompetent or sought to deliberately conceal information from the Court concerning the true nature and extent of Stephen’ wishes and feelings on the subject of adoption during the previous proceedings – she acknowledged that the note at SSD2:212 was accurate (that Stephen was saying that he did not want to be adopted) … which contrasted with her statement at  D512 which talked about his worries concerning adoption. She could not account for why she did not put in her statement that he did not want to be adopted. In concealing such information, this was a direct contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Act (1998), whereby the Government, local councils, agencies with responsibility for children and young people and professional bodies should ensure that children always have the opportunity to have their views considered when decisions about them are being made.
5.14 Miss Humphries failed the children in failing to set up a meeting between us both and a representative of the Local Authority to explain the circumstances of the adoptive placement breakdown and the future of the children. She had not even considered that as a possibility, until it came to be put to her at Court on the 2nd December 2003.
5.15 On behalf of the Local Authority, Miss Humphries also failed to undertake any assessment of the children’s suitability for further placement for adoption. Naturally, we would not have expected her to have taken the entire blame for that, as the finger of blame in this particular instance has also to be levelled at her immediate superiors.
5.16 She was, nevertheless, incompetent in her handling of the aftermath of the adoptive placement breakdown. Despite the fact that she had had no other placements like the failed Cornish placement, and despite the fact that the case had unique features in her experience, she said that she could not recall whether she had discussed what role the adoptive mother’s religious beliefs (Mormon) had played in the placement breakdown.
5.17 Ms Humphries accepted, when it was put to her, that it was emotionally damaging that, in the second half of 2002, Stephen did not want to be adopted, but he knew that the plan for him was adoption, and he knew that nowhere had been found. To allow such a state of affairs to obtain, Miss Humphries must have been incompetent.
5.18 Stephen’ repeated expression of a desire to see his parents (since at least April 2002) was effectively ignored by Rachel Humphries. No meeting was held to consider the discreet issue of his contact.
5.19 All that his key social worker did about it was to put him in touch with the Children’s Rights Officer and to suggest that he wrote a letter. She admitted that she did not establish whether he did write such a letter, nor did she at the time have any idea what the Children’s Rights Officer did, not even troubling to ascertain whether in fact Stephen did make contact.
5.20 Set against the aforementioned background, as openly conceded by the B&GWS in evidence, foster carer William Settle was to be commended for advocating on behalf of Stephen. There had been, in actual fact, no-one else who was prepared to listen to Stephen.
5.21 Miss Humphries accepted, when it was put to her, that, in failing to express her view to anyone that time was running out for adoption, she failed the children.
5.22 It was put to her that, in considering a placement in New Zealand, the Local Authority were prioritising the Department’s desire to get the children as far away from their birth parents as possible over their actual welfare needs. Indeed, in evidence, the B&GWS had actually confirmed that they were concerned about the extent to which the Local Authority were listening to the children and about a possible split of the children.
5.23 The Local Authority failed to honour its commitment to instituting ‘letterbox contact’ between us and the children during 2002 and the children suffered thereby.
5.24 The Local Authority failed to properly consider the children’s needs and status during 2002 and instead slavishly adhered to a Best Interests decision that did not reflect Stephen’ wish that he not be adopted. Rachel Humphries meanwhile had continued to attempt to source alternative adopters.
5.25 The Local Authority was negligent in taking until October 2003 to change the Best Interests decision for the children. This caused the inevitable delays that ensued and the children, again, suffered.
5.26 The success of our application to revoke the freeing order in respect of Stephen was equally inevitable and, in matter of fact, was apparent as such at the outset of the application. Therefore the Local Authority, if it did not agree to the immediate rehabilitation of the children, would have been bound to seek interim care orders. Inexplicably, it did not apply for such orders until September 2003. This was a further display of incompetence, but the major consequence of the delay in its issuing of the application was that we had to continue to fund the proceedings from out of our own pockets, this eventually necessitating the utilisation also of the children’s own and their maternal grandmother’s entire life savings.
5.27 Rachel Humphries had left the employ of SMBC a year previous to being called and there was probably some justification in her not being able to clearly recall the specific details of some events. The problem that we have with this was that, to utilise this as an excuse (as, arguably, might equally well have been the case), would effectively, nevertheless, have ensured that conclusive evidence could be concealed ad infinitum.
5.28 However, in light of the consistently very dubious and unconvincing nature of Miss Humphries’ account under cross-examination, such accompanied by numerous very convenient ‘gaps’ in her recollections generally, we are today extremely surprised to learn that she has managed to retain that role that she now possesses within the CAFCASS organisation, particularly when it is realised that she is still involved with children and families and, more so, that her duties now entail a far higher degree of trust, responsibility and professional integrity.
6 ACTION THAT WE NOW DESIRE TO BE TAKEN
6.1 In our considering whether an insistence that disciplinary action should be taken against all of those identified in this document, we must stress that our grievance is not in respect of whether Stockport Social Services was right or not right in becoming involved with our family. The real issue today is in respect of the shabby way in which we came to be treated by a small number of individuals within that department and the manner in which they blatantly abused their positions of responsibility within the community. We fully accept that there were, indeed, initially justifiable grounds for concern and that the Local Authority had a duty-bound obligation to investigate any matters brought to its attention and then to satisfy itself that any children involved were not being exposed to any harm of any type. It was the particular manner in which we came to be treated and the soul-destroying behaviour perpetrated by a small number of personnel that remains today our one outstanding issue of concern. Where was the human element in all of this? There was, in actual fact, precious little.
6.2 Even ‘though we have implicated so many different people, in taking such a path in now insisting that investigations are instigated, we are well aware that all of what we have said will inevitably come to be challenged and be responded to with abject denial and counter-allegations. That much, unfortunately, is a sad fact of life.
6.3 It is for such a reason specifically and more generally in terms of the fact that when many of our current complaints were originally registered, these historically came to be ‘buried’ by those charged with attending to such specific affairs, in order to ensure appropriate justice to all, it would appear essential that matters be investigated by a totally autonomous agency.
6.4 In speaking here in our particular capacity as the parents of Stephen and Victoria, we are of the view that we shall obtain little personal satisfaction in pursuing grievances through legal processes. We feel nothing but sadness for those few concerned, in that their own disproportionate abject bitterness and hate against others less fortunate than themselves will surely come to destroy them in the end. The value that this family can now place on having our ‘life back’ is worth far more than any monetary gain made in the Courts. We know that we are far better beings than these people will ever be. We also know that Stephen and Victoria have forgiven us for our part in the whole miserable and sorry affair, but, again, we have apologised. We must be forgiven for feeling that apologies are likely to be less forthcoming from those now anxious merely to protect their own sordid little careers. Nevertheless, what conclusions the children come to when they too are able to fully understand what went wrong and whatever action they then wish to take is for the children to decide and for no other person to attempt to persuade them upon.
6.5 Our experiences may well have reinforced our passion for justice, which we now know is arbitrary in terms of what may be continuing to occur elsewhere and our bounden responsibility to assist in ensuring that this is stopped. The threat of further retribution by any of those aforesaid having been finally lifted in April 2006, it is only now that we feel free and able to speak out without any threat that we might still be punished or that there may have been repercussions in respect of the legal processes which have only just relatively recently concluded.
6.6 We would earnestly submit that the Local Authority should now try to learn from what we have said and then to move forward. Stockport Social Services should not be allowed to justify keeping such abusers in their workplace, perhaps even deliberately moving these people on to other areas of work, simply because the department fears litigation! The challenge for us all now is to listen and better understand what the consequences of systematic and deliberate organisational abuse are; how to challenge that abuse effectively and to better understand why organisational abuse is a modern day phenomena with a massive cost to individuals and the public purse.
6.7 Very clearly, however, it is now absolutely incumbent upon the Local Authority to make very searching investigations, particularly as to how Rachel Humphries and her immediate colleagues were allowed to continue to practice absolutely undetected for so lengthy a period of time and in such a grossly unprofessional, clever and manipulating manner.
6.8 Further to this, we would respectfully contend that, in knowingly permitting this disgraceful state of affairs to be perpetrated for so long, the roles played by at various stages by at least five Stockport Social Services team leaders, Catriona Sreenan, Dominic Tumelty, Paul Marshall, Deborah Woodcock and Susanne Rayson, four service managers, Jane Davies, Bernadette Oxley, Brian Evans and Viki Packman and placement review and child protection conference chairperson, Joyce Burslem, should all also be investigated and accounted for.
6.9 We would also strongly urge that, in view of Rachel Humphries’ now elevated position of responsibility (as an officer of CAFCASS), urgent steps should be taken to ensure that her previous apparent predilection for deliberate lies, deceit, duplicity, manipulation and intolerance is not permitted to continue to unnecessarily ruin the lives of other families unfortunate enough yet to become involved with her, wherever she comes to be employed and in whatever capacity.
6.10 Indeed, in 2004 we privately thought that it should have been equally incumbent upon Angela Carr (as an appointed CAFCASS court reporting officer herself) to have brought such serious concerns, as the former was now well aware of, directly to the attention of Miss Humphries’ own line manager. For reasons that remain unclear to us, that much just never did occur. We shall leave any interpretations of that for others to deliberate upon! However, for completeness of the picture, on 26th October 2005 and on the actual anniversary of the date when Angela Carr had previously faithfully promised us that she would meet with us to discuss our concerns (but had categorically failed to do so), a letter was sent by us to the CAFCASS Stockport office. Contained within this were a large number of what we felt were equally justifiable concerns about Angela Carr’s own involvement in the case and the way in which she appeared, at times, to have been actively colluding with Social Services’ personnel. CAFCASS management ultimately came to reject the grievance on a mere technicality, i.e. in that our complaint was now outside the mandatory period for such grievances, established by CAFCASS itself. Although we were assured that what we had said would be noted, we believe that nothing whatsoever was done at all. Particularly insofar as we did explain that we had, effectively, been prevented from complaining (indeed, being legally advised not to do so) until our lengthy proceedings had concluded, that this was ultimately submitted by CAFCASS not have any bearing on the matter did clearly illustrate to us that here was yet another instance of an absolute ‘cover up’ that does appear to be rife within parts of that organisation.
6.11 We would further submit that, although we are aware that certain significant changes have already been made to Stockport Social Services’ procedures as a direct result of their handling from 2003 onwards of our particular case, there are still aspects of the whole ethos of Social Services’ involvement in children and families generally that clearly desire intervention at government level with the Minister for Children. In our illustrating typical issues and problems encountered by the community, it may well be that this document would assist in such work.
6.12 It is no small wonder that today our son Stephen, now over 15 years of age, gives all the indications of being a very angry and embittered young man when the names particularly of Rachel Humphries, Angela Carr and Janine Recchia come to be mentioned. Victoria, too, despite the fact that she is even now only 9¾, from time to time has also made some quite acrimonious observations. Although both of the children have, very rightly, already asked some very pointed questions of us and how we allowed things to go so very wrong, we still consider that they are both still too young to be permitted access to any of the vast amount of paperwork amassed during the course of the last ten years. That includes the contents of this statement. Nevertheless, Stephen has been assured that all of the papers appertaining to the case will be kept in a safe place until such time as the both of them are old enough and mature enough to read them and at which time they might both be in a better position to come to their own reasoned conclusions and decisions.
6.13 It has once again to be emphasised at this stage that, at such time as either of the children does come to spontaneously volunteer little ‘snippets’ of unhappy recollections from that unhappy period of their lives in the care system, we do listen to them and that they are reassured that we will take a note of what they tell us. It is at such moments as these that we make concerted efforts to respond appropriately and, by doing so, make every attempt to repair all the scars to the very deep-rooted and psychological emotional wounds that others have inflicted.
6.14 With the undoubted assistance that SSD workers Pam Cxxxxx (now retired) and Agnes Pxxxxx came to provide in the form of the ‘perception work’ conducted between Stephen and ourselves in July 2004, Stephen was at long last provided with the opportunity to hear his parents’ side of the story and to learn of the mistakes that we had made. To permit him also to come to possess a more balanced view of the past and exactly why he went into care, this ‘bridging work’ was considered by the Court to be a vital link in the success of any rehabilitation process. What was said during those sessions was, we had decided, as far as we intended to take our formal explanations and apologies. It was now up to the children to ask their own questions of us as and when they felt a need to do so, this strictly on their own terms and at their own pace. It being equally important to us that we did not directly press either of them for information, we have, nevertheless, since become very surprised at the vast amount of very worrying information that the both of them continue to volunteer to us on a quite regular basis.
6.15 Nevertheless, lest this statement now be misconstrued as a defamatory work deliberately fraught with bitterness and retribution arising as a consequence of our own personal experiences and those of our children, our closing comment essentially must be that we consider it vital for us to endorse our belief that such people as many of those ascribed to above were almost certainly in the minority. After all, we had continued to maintain the greatest respect for at least some of the workers from Stockport Social Services and other outside agencies engaging with us. It is human nature to be trusting until otherwise proven; it is also human nature to make errors in judgement. However the inappropriate and unprofessional attitudes of a small minority, and the manner in which they came to succeed in persuading others to accord with their own biased personal thoughts and emotions, were ultimately to come to almost ruin the lives of four people and their extended families, all of whom loved and cared for each other so very deeply.
To the best of our knowledge, we believe all of the aforementioned to be an honest and truthful account of the facts.
Mr. G. Carlisle
Mrs. S. Carlisle
Dated: 21st June 2006
FOOTNOTE Dated 19th February 2007:
Despite the numerous instances of clear indications of gross professional negligence contained within this document, after many months of deliberation, Stockport MBC finally chose NOT to take on board ANY AT ALL of the issues raised with them, a veritable plethora of excuses being provided by the Town Hall’s professional ‘buck-passer’, one Paul Bellis (also a Conservative councillor for Bramhall South Ward!).
A further up-date to this site will be provided, in due course, itemising the correspondence ensuing that so transparently indicated attempts at a massive cover-up by Stockport Social Services.
Far more importantly, although some of those implicated have since moved on to other agencies or local authorities, ALL of them still continue to practice in the field of Children and Families!
Please DO share our story with others. We cannot put back the clock for our own family, but our personal protest just might assist in preventing further undeserving children and parents becoming the victims of such cruel and callous beings!