AN UPCOMING BBC Panorama investigation into Herefordshire Council’s troubled children’s services department will give those harmed by its shortcomings the chance to have their say for the first time, its presenter has said.

Investigative journalist Louise Tickle has been following developments at the department since three highly critical High Court judgments on it were handed down by Mr Justice Keehan in 2018, as reported by the Hereford Times.

The council said then that “stronger supervision and decision making arrangements have since been put in place across children’s services”.

But in March 2021, Mr Justice Keehan published another strongly worded rebuke to the council after the death of a child in care, identifying “significant and systemic failings” in how it looked after children.


A subsequent Ofsted inspection in July found the council “has made little progress” in the three years between the judgments.

In 2019, and as reported by the Hereford Times, Herefordshire Council acted on “incorrect legal advice” when it gave permission for a child in care’s life support to be switched off, a full council meeting has heard.

Mr Baird had given permission for the child, who was being cared for at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, to be removed from life support after seeking legal advice from the department’s lawyers on June 6, 2019, Mr Justice Keehan said.


Councillors at an extraordinary meeting of the council in April 2021, covered by the Hereford Times, hit out at the failings of the department’s legal services after the judge found the decision should not have been made by the children’s services director but instead by a court.

That same meeting also heard council staff were too worried for the future of their careers to whistleblow.

Hereford Times: Louise Tickle at the Royal Courts of Justice Louise Tickle at the Royal Courts of Justice

Fears that staff felt unable to speak out against poor practice led to an amendment that all staff resigning from their positions at Herefordshire Council would be offered an exit review with an external interviewer being passed at the meeting, which was called to receive a damning judgement which found a raft of failures in the council’s children’s services department.

Proposer Councillor Paul Symonds told the April 27 meeting that he was astounded by the arrogance and acceptance within the council and that it was a fairly simple and straightforward policy which would offer some reassurance and could help councillors raise the alarm if necessary.

His views were shared by seconder, Coun Terry James, who said he was truly concerned by the exit interview process after speaking to a former children’s services staff member who “might want to come back and work here again under a different council”.


A new director of the department, Darryl Freeman, was confirmed n December – having previously headed Devon County Council children’s services, where in 2020 Ofsted identified “serious failures... which senior leaders did not know about”.

Herefordshire Council has since backed a £11.5 million spending on children’s services in the current financial year, paying for more than 80 new staff.

It has been a long battle to bring the story to the screen, Louise Tickle said.

“Normally you would be in contempt of court for reporting on family court cases,” she said. Instead, she went to court to have reporting restrictions lifted to cover the story, with Herefordshire Council hiring a QC to resist this – in the event, unsuccessfully.

“But I still didn’t know who the people involved were,” she explained, with the council eventually compelled to forward her letters to the families concerned.

“Otherwise, there is one young woman in the film who would not have known about it, and wouldn’t have got the chance to tell her story,” Ms Tickle said.

We have found out things that weren’t in the judgments, about the harm people had been caused.”

As a result, “it was six months before I could even propose making the programme”, she said.

Panorama - Protecting Our Children: A Balancing Act airs on BBC One on Monday, May 16, at 8pm.