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Spotlight fell on Norfolk social workers during Marie Black trial

PUBLISHED: 12:30 28 July 2015 | UPDATED: 15:36 28 July 2015

The spotlight fell on social worker Gail Barnard, pictured in 2004, during the case. Photo: EDP Library.

The spotlight fell on social worker Gail Barnard, pictured in 2004, during the case. Photo: EDP Library.

Archant © 2004

Even before the trial started, there were questions about some of the evidence due to be used – which placed the actions of Norfolk social workers in the spotlight.

It emerged at a pre-trial hearing that, following concerns from the prosecution, a police investigation was being carried out over alterations made to the files involving the children.

The trial was delayed while that probe was carried out.

And, during the trial, the jury was told the investigation had found foster agency supervisor Malcolm Blissett had made changes to the files, adding punctuation and correcting grammar and spelling.

He had also removed questions which had been put to children to prompt their responses.

Giving evidence, disclosure officer, Leia Dowsing, a civilian worker for the police, told how she had gone though the hundreds of records for the children and found that some files had no changes made to them but others had been altered.

She said some of the files had punctuation and spelling altered by Mr Blissett but also questions which were put to the children had been removed and quote marks added.

Ms Dowsing said Mr Blissett had removed some of the questions put to the children and only the answers were given. She said: “It would then read as if the child was speaking continuously.”

She said that when she checked with the management at the fostering agency she was told that no changes should have been made to any of the children’s statements.

None of the altered documents had been used in the trial – and Mr Blissett was not called to give evidence – but prosecutor Angela Rafferty conceded mistakes had been made by social services.

But she said it was social workers who had raised concerns after noticing various infections and sexualised behaviour among the children.

During the trial, the spotlight also fell on Norfolk County Council senior social worker Gail Barnard.

She was criticised for unwisely “getting too close to the case” and faced questions that she had asked Mr Blissett to “tidy up” the documents.

A Norfolk police spokesman said a detailed investigation into the issues relating to the documents was led by a senior detective at the major investigation team.

It did not find any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Ms Barnard, who was never arrested or interviewed under caution.

Following an investigation in respect of Mr Blissett, a file was submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service, which determined no further action was necessary.

The spokesman added: “The case is now closed, pending any further information or evidence coming to light.”

The court heard that, after the 
original police investigation was dropped in 2010, when the allegations could not be corroborated, Ms Barnard was alleged to have carried out her own investigation, including discussing the case with a chiropractor who had contact with one of the children, contrary to the guidelines.

Sarah Elliott QC, representing Marie Black, said: “You were aware there was no ongoing police investigation. Did you decide to carry out your own investigation?”

Ms Barnard said: “I wouldn’t call it investigating but I did make inquiries.”

It was also put to Miss Barnard during the trial that the county council’s children’s services department had a climate of accepting children’s accusations without question.

Matthew McNiff, defending Jason Adams, said: “The accusations are at times wild and nonsense.”

But Ms Barnard replied: “The majority of the accusations are not wild and nonsense. I am one piece in the jigsaw. I wouldn’t change what I did.”

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