Six care workers sacked for revealing a shocking catalogue of mismanagement in children's homes to the Yorkshire Post have won a £1m settlement from Wakefield Council.
The whistleblowers' victory represents a resounding vindication of their decision to speak out about a series of serious management failures in local authority homes which were damaging the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in the region.
The six staff – Karen Allcock, Keith Bayliss, Clive Womersley, Vincent Felix, Doug Lafferty and Grant Morley – were sacked in February 2006, just a month after the Yorkshire Post had revealed how children in care were being treated by Wakefield Council.
The raft of failings included children as young as 12 being allowed to engage in sexual relationships; child sex offenders being inappropriately placed in homes with highly vulnerable other children; a care worker buying and smoking drugs with children in his care; woefully inadequate training; and failures in staff criminal record checks.
Following their dismissal the residential care workers – all of whom had previously unblemished employment records – launched an employment tribunal case under the terms of the Public Interest Disclosure Act, which is intended to protect whistleblowers who reveal wrongdoing.
The case was due to be heard in three weeks' time but Wakefield Council has instead opted for an expensive out-of-court settlement.
Neither the council nor the whistleblowers would comment on the amount involved but the overall cost to the local authority is around 1m.
The bulk has gone to the sacked staff but the council has also built up a substantial legal bill over the last 18 months as it sought to defend the case.
The council did admit, however, that changes have been made at all levels of its service for child-ren in care as a result of the case.
In a statement, the local authority said: "The 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 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.
The council 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 service."
The statement concluded by wishing the six well in now "resuming their careers in social care".
At the time of the expos Wakefield Council insisted it had acted appropriately and claimed the NSPCC had investigated the whistleblowers' concerns.
That claim was shot down in August last year when it was revealed – in an independent rep-ort to the Children's Rights Director – that the council had "perversely" blocked the NSPCC from carrying out a full investigation.
The six workers' legal representative, Harry Eyre, from Raleys solicitors, issued a statement on their behalf which said they were pleased with the final outcome.
Mr Eyre said: "While we are unable to comment on the precise terms of the settlement they are satisfied with the outcome. The council has acknowledged that the concerns raised by the six were genuine and were raised in what the staff members themselves perceived to be a manner that was for the benefit of children in the council's care.
"From the outset our clients' priority has been the safety and welfare of children and young people in the care of the local authority. They recognise that the council has acknowledged that lessons have been learned by the council, with changes made to staff and procedures at all levels of its services."
The outcome of the case has already prompted a heated response from the leader of the Conservative opposition on the Labour-run authority, who said he was "disgusted" that the council's incompetence had proved so expensive to local taxpayers.
Coun Mike Walker said: "It's a vast of amount of money. You look at all the schemes we can't get done because of all the budgetary restrictions and yet we are able to find 1m for this."
He was also angered by the council's refusal to release full details of the settlement despite its apparent commitment to transparency.
The standard of care for vulnerable children in the Wakefield area will come in for fresh criticism in the autumn when an independent report on how two gay foster parents were able to abuse boys in their care is due to be published.
Brian Parrott, former boss of Surrey social services, is investigating Wakefield Council's supervision of Craig Faunch and Ian Wathey. Nineteen boys were placed in their care after they were approved as carers by the council in 2003. Four were sexually abused.
At Leeds Crown Court in June last year the pair, formerly of Carleton, Pontefract, were jailed for a total of 11 years after being convicted of a dozen offences.
Background article: Blacklist bid as authority punished the truth-tellers