Sacked Council Whistle-Blowers Receive Pay-Out

Six whistle-blowers sacked by a council for revealing a series of alleged management failures in children’s homes have received an out-of-court settlement, the council has confirmed.

The residential care workers were sacked by Wakefield Metropolitan District Council (WMDC) in February 2006 after they made allegations to the press about the welfare of children in the local authority’s care. They launched an employment tribunal but the council has now paid an out-of-court settlement reported to be around GBP1 million, although a confidentiality agreement prevents the amount from being disclosed to the public.

Karen Allcock, Keith Bayliss, Vincent Felix, Doug Lafferty, Grant Morley and Clive Womersley all had unblemished employment and disciplinary records before they made the allegations against the council’s Looked After Children Service at the beginning of 2006.

Their concerns, which were revealed by the Yorkshire Post in January last year, included allegations of children as young as 12 being allowed to engage in sexual relationships; child sex offenders being placed in homes with vulnerable children; a care worker buying and smoking drugs with children in his care; inadequate staff training; and failures in staff criminal record checks.

Other alleged incidents involved a 16-year-old girl at risk of prostitution, whose parents had both committed suicide, being thrown out of care with nowhere to go; a boy with learning difficulties, who was unsuited to placement at a troubled children’s home, being sexually assaulted by two other boys at the home; and a series of violent incidents against staff after their concerns about the inappropriate placing of disturbed children were ignored by managers.

WMDC initially responded to the claims by closing the home the six staff members worked in before sacking them. It was reported the council then claimed the allegations had been fully investigated by the NSPCC – a claim which was refuted in August 2006 in a report to Children’s Rights director Roger Morgan which revealed the council had blocked the NSPCC from carrying out a full inquiry.

After their dismissal, the six care workers launched an employment tribunal under the Public Interest Disclosure Act. But WMDC has now settled out of court and acknowledged the concerns raised by the staff members were “genuinely held”. It said: “lessons have been learned” from this incident and changes had been made to staff and procedures within the service.

In a statement, the council said: “Wakefield Metropolitan District Council has reached an out-of-court settlement with six former employees who were dismissed following publication in the press of various allegations regarding the council’s Looked After Children Service. The council acknowledges that the concerns raised by the six members of staff were genuinely held and raised, in what the staff members perceived to be, a manner that was for the benefit of children in the council’s care.

“WMDC recognises that the management of the response to the concerns raised did not sufficiently reflect the expectations of the staff members and wishes to place on record its view that lessons have been learned from these regrettable events, with changes made to staff and procedures at all levels of its service.” The council added it “wishes the six former employees well in resuming their careers in social care”.

Harry Eyre, an employment law specialist with Raleys Solicitors who represented the workers, said all six were very pleased with the result. “I can tell you that they are satisfied with the outcome,” Mr Eyre said. “From the outset, our clients’ priority has been the safety and welfare of those children and young people in the care of the local authority.”

He added: “Although the process has been a long and sometimes difficult one, the six are pleased that these matters have finally been resolved.”