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   Case summaries      W v Essex County Council


W v Essex County Council [2000] 2 WLR 601  House of Lords

The claimants were foster parents for adolescent children and also had four children of their own aged 8-12. They had expressly told the council and social worker that they did not want a child who was known  to be or suspected of being a sexual abuser. However, a 15 year old boy was placed with them. He had been cautioned by the police for a sexual offence and was under investigation for raping his sister. This information was known by the council and social worker but was not communicated to the claimants. The claimants allege that the boy committed serious sexual offences against their children as a consequence they and their children suffered psychiatric injury. They brought an action against the council claiming their negligence in placing the child with them against their wishes and without informing them of the boy’s background caused the psychiatric injuries suffered by them and their children. The defendants applied to have the claims struck out as giving rise to no duty of care. The trial judge struck out the parents claim but refused to strike out the claim in respect of the children. The Court of Appeal held no duty was owed since the parents were secondary victims and did not satisfy the criteria set out in Alcock v Chief Constable. The claimants appealed to the House of Lords.


The appeal was allowed. The House of Lords refused to strike out the claims. Lord Slynn stated the law regarding psychiatric injury was still developing and the categories of primary victims are not closed. It was arguable that the claimants may be primary victims based on a feeling of responsibility in unwittingly bringing the abuser in to the house. Furthermore the concept of the ’immediate aftermath of the incident’ has to be assessed on the particular factual situation. Therefore the issues should go to trial.

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