Social workers have been slammed by a top judge after twins were needlessly torn apart and sent to live with different adoptive families.

And, in a damning decision, Mr Justice Keehan ordered Herefordshire Council to pay £50,000 damages to the eight-year-olds and their adopters.

The judge listed a catalogue of "extraordinary" failures which mean that the little girl and boy will no longer be brother and sister in the eyes of the law.

They even included adoptive parents being deliberately misled about the twins' behavioural problems, he told the High Court in London today.

And, before the future of the twins had even been properly assessed, social workers had "already decided" that they should be separated.

The twins could have stayed together, but were destined to live apart due to the council's "lamentable" and "astonishing" failures, said the judge.

And he ruled that £50,000 was the least deserved by adopters who had been put through hell and twins whose human rights had been violated.

The twins were left deeply damaged after spending their early lives living with neglectful parents and were removed from the family home in 2014.

The decision to place them separately, taken in 2016, was "because of the incompetence and serial failings of Herefordshire Council," the judge said.

Social workers "failed to consider appropriately the consequences of separating the twins" and kept details of their challenging behaviour from adopters.

They also failed to follow a court-approved care plan or to properly investigate the alternative of placing the children together in long-term foster care.

The council's "litany of errors" also included a "failure to promote contact" between the twins after they were separated.

The judge said: "The catalogue of the local authority's errors and failings in this case is troubling and hugely lamentable."

Most seriously, "important and highly relevant" information about the twins' behaviour had been "deleted" from their files.

"This could only have been done to mislead the prospective adopters about the twins' respective behaviours and needs," the judge added.

Adopters had also been misled by a social worker's "deliberate and misleading quote" form a consultant psychologist's report.

By that time it had "already been decided" to separate the twins and a "so-called assessment" was written "to support that conclusion".

The judge also highlighted failures by independent reviewing officers (IROs) whose duty it was to oversee the council's decision-making.

"The IROs and IRO service did absolutely nothing to protect and promote the welfare best interests of the children.

"They did nothing to challenge the local authority's dreadful and, at times, irrational decision-making and care planning," he said.

"I am of the view that if this local authority had exercised good social work practice and exercised a modicum of child focused judgment in its decision-making processes, there was, in my judgement, a real possibility that the children could have been placed and lived together for a substantial period of their childhood."

The judge said he had "struggled with the concept" that it could ever be in the twins' best interests to be separated.

"They are not just simply siblings, they are twins. In making adoption orders in favour of two separate sets of prospective adopters, I would sever their legal relationship as brother and sister."

However, making the adoption orders sought by the council, the judge said the twins were now well settled with their prospective adopters and it was too late to even "contemplate" removing them.

"They are, for the first time in their lives, allowing themselves to believe that they have their forever families," he told the court.

Uprooting them again would leave one or both of the twins "devastated" and risk causing them "lifelong grave harm".

The judge ordered that there must be frequent direct and indirect contact between the twins in the years to come.

Awarding the twins £20,000 damages each, he said the breaches of their human rights were "extensive and relate to almost every aspect of this local authority's involvement with the children and the prospective adopters." Each of the adoptive families was awarded £5,000.

Mr Justice Keehan said the council's children's services department is now under new management and paid tribute to its director, Chris Baird, and assistant director, Liz Elgar, for the "open and forthright manner" in which they had responded to the criticisms.

They had "expressed commitment to a root and branch reform of children's services in Herefordshire and a commitment that far more robust systems are in place to ensure compliance with good social work practice."

In a statement, Herefordshire Council said it wished to apologise to the young people for the poor standard of care provided.

"The council fully accepts the judgments and the findings of Mr Justice Keehan, and recognises there were failings in the support provided," the statement reads.

"The standard of service fell well below where it should be. We deeply regret this and we’re sorry for the impact this has had.

"Since a change in senior management earlier this year, stronger supervision and decision making arrangements have been put in place across children’s services.

"The judgments highlighted particular concerns about the effectiveness of the council’s independent reviewing service.

"We have already taken steps to strengthen this service by increasing management oversight and implementing robust processes to ensure staff feel confident to raise any concerns.

"We will also be arranging an externally-led review of the service.

"We know there is more to do to improve our practice and to ensure that all children and young people in our care are well-supported.

"We strive to keep all children and young people in our care safe and give them the best possible start in life, and we will continue to do so."