A young girl was left in a foster home for a fortnight with a man accused of downloading child pornography in a case which the authorities have tried to cover up.
Social workers also ignored complaints from the four-year-old that she had been attacked by another child in the home and returned her on a number of occasions – despite desperate pleas from her real father.
The council managed to get a two month injunction against The Sun newspaper after they learned of the claims in October last year.
But High Court Judge Mr Justice Baker has now lifted the order, ruling the council was “unjustified” in gagging the press from reporting the criticism of social workers.
The girl had been living with the foster carer for three months when Bristol police informed the city’s council he was suspected of accessing child pornography.
On the same day, in May last year, the girl told a social worker and her real father that another child in the home had “grabbed her round the neck” and red marks were visible, according to court documents.
But in breach of child protection guildelines she was returned to the foster home without even being interviewed.
Her father, who had not been informed of the indecent images allegation, rang police and they told an emergency social work team.
The following day she was seen by her social worker, Sherilyn Pritchard, who realised proper procedures had not been followed.
The foster parents confessed they were “struggling” but as another placement was not available until June the girl was returned to the home again.
Ms Pritchard knew that the father of the foster family was being investigated for accessing child pornography in what she then believed to be the second set of allegations.
But it took six days before a meeting was even held to decide the fate of the girl.
Ms Pritchard justified her action to magistrates in October claiming there was “not enough information to justify immediate removal”.
Despite the strategy meeting, at which it was decided the home computers would be seized, it was a week before the girl – know as child A – and another foster child were removed on May 28. At the same time as police seized the man’s electronic equiptment.
The foster father committed suicide the next day. Police found the computers had been used to access indecent images in 2010.
There had been concerns about the sexualised behaviour of youngsters at the home two years earlier, but it was later realised this was the only time that allegations had been made surrounding child pornography.
Ms Pritchard admitted to magistrates that “in hindsight” A was at risk of sexual, physical and emotional harm while left in the home.
They criticised the treatment of the girl, ruling Bristol City Council had failed to follow child protection procedures.
Overturning the injunction Mr Justice Baker said that the social workers involved in the case, Ms Pritchard and her team manager Trevor Barnes, could be named.
He warned in his judgement: “There is a danger that those who practice in the family justice system fail to give proper consideration to the Article 10 rights of the media. This must now cease.”
The girl is now in a new foster home.
In a statement the council said: “This has been a very sad case for all involved. We take our safeguarding responsibilities very seriously. As soon as it was confirmed the foster father was the prime suspect around the download of indecent images, we took immediate action, with the removal of children from the foster carers’ home.”
They confirmed there will be a review of the case and claimed they had only ever sought reporting restrictions to protect the child.