The new head of social services at Kingston Council has been criticised by a High Court judge for launching an “unlawful” child abuse investigation into an innocent family in her old job.
Sylvia Chew came under fire during a judicial review into a two-year child protection investigation opened by Haringey Council - where she was head of service for first response before joining Kingston in October.
The case related to a couple, known for legal reasons as 'AB' and 'CD', who were investigated by Haringey children’s services after the authority received an anonymous letter accusing the pair of slapping their young daughter.
But they were cleared of any wrongdoing when Judge Anthony Thornton quashed the council’s investigation – and awarded the couple £2,000 in damages.
Judge Thornton also criticised Ms Chew for launching a section 47 child protection investigation on the basis of the badly-written tip-off letter and the family’s subsequent response, which the council deemed to be “lacking warmth”.
Haringey – the council at the centre of the Baby P scandal - has since apologised to the couple, saying the investigation “fell below the standards that we would expect”.
The Surrey Comet contacted Kingston Council and asked to speak to Ms Chew, but was told she would not be making any further comment.
A spokesman said the council was not aware of the legal proceedings against Haringey until after the ruling.
But council leader Derek Osbourne backed Ms Chew, saying her impact at Kingston since joining had been positive.
He said: “We appointed Sylvia after a process that infused interviews, assessments and references from Haringey.
"Nick Whitfield [Kingston Council’s director of children’s services] has spoken to the director of Haringey and was told Sylvia Chew was definitely part of the fixing of Haringey and bringing it forward after Baby P.
“Our belief was – and still is I think – that her experience at Haringey is highly valuable, and what we have here is a one-off error of judgement that we have to consider carefully.
"But on the basis of interviews, references she has given and her performance since arriving, we have no concerns about her. Our own experience has been positive."