Sunday, August 10, 2014

'Why I falsely accused father of abusing daughter': Police leant on me to stand by claim, social worker told tribunal

A social worker who accused an innocent father of abusing his daughter has claimed the police put pressure on her to stand by the lie.

Suzi Smith has admitted falsely accusing Jonathan Coupland, 53, of attacking his six-year-old child in an official custody case note – which led to him being handcuffed in front of neighbours and thrown into a cell.

After the Mail revealed the case earlier this year, Mrs Smith was brought before a disciplinary hearing this week over her behaviour.

Mrs Smith, who worked for Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, which represents children in the family courts, admitted writing the damning note but claimed she later tried to retract the allegation – only to be put under huge strain by the police to stick to her story.

‘At the earliest opportunity, I repeatedly tried to correct this,’ she told the Health and Care Professions Council. ‘I would not give in to pressure. I would not submit to pressure placed on me to exaggerate or lie.’

Asked who was putting pressure on her, she replied: ‘I was under pressure at that police station ... to exaggerate or confirm what I had written.’

Mrs Smith said officers were determined to act on the claims because the Lincolnshire unit had previously been ‘lambasted’ by a judge for poor handling of another child protection issue. ‘They were not listening to what I was saying,’ she added.

Mr Coupland, a former painter and decorator, raised his daughter, now eight, alone in Spalding, Lincolnshire. He was granted custody shortly after her birth, but his former partner, a Thai illegal immigrant, has fought him through the courts.

Mrs Smith made a home visit in January 2012 and wrote the case note while she was ‘really, really angry’, claiming she saw Mr Coupland stroking his daughter inappropriately – which he has always denied and she now admits was not true.

Mrs Smith allegedly lied in a fit of pique after the single father criticised her handling of the case. She then waited three months to tell authorities about what she claimed she saw.

Mr Coupland was arrested at home on suspicion of sexual assault and questioned for about ten hours, and officers threatened to put his daughter in temporary care.

A day later, he was informed there would be no further action after Mrs Smith was interviewed and backtracked on her claims. Cafcass, which is funded by the Department of Justice, sacked Mrs Smith and has paid Mr Coupland £86,000 in damages.

Mrs Smith told the hearing she did not mean to implicate Mr Coupland but misunderstood what she had seen. She said when she realised her mistake she tried to put the record straight. She added: ‘I sincerely apologise to the father.’

Last night Mr Coupland told the Mail: ‘I was arrested for sexually assaulting the most precious thing in my life ... Once you are tarred with that brush, that is it. People where I live think I am a paedophile.

‘I want answers from the police. I want to know why they put pressure on Suzi Smith to lie. I don’t accept her apology in any way. No parent or child should go through what my family has gone through.’

Lincolnshire Police said it was ‘duty bound to investigate’ the initial report of sexual assault, but added: ‘We will approach the individual concerned and will investigate any complaints.’

Panel chairman Stephen Fash said Mrs Smith had ‘overstated’ what she thought she had observed.

The panel found she made the false allegation, but did not do so dishonestly. It will decide whether she is guilty of misconduct at a later hearing.

Original report here




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