As the law requires local authorities to ensure they safeguard and promote the welfare of children, the High Court has ruled in Camurat v Thurrock Borough Council that they cannot be held to be negligent when supplying information to the police in good faith when they are investigating safeguarding issues.
Mr Camurat, a teacher at a school in Thurrock, was investigated for using inappropriate use of force against pupils and interviewed by the police in relation to some of them. Following two incidents in 2007, he received a letter of professional advice and after a third incident in 2008 he was suspended and given a final written warning.
At the end of 2008, as part of the negotiations about his return to work Mr Camurat agreed to terminate his employment with Thurrock. He received a termination payment of £28,000 and an agreed letter of reference under a settlement agreement. Clause 10 stated that “Any written reference which any third party may request … will be in the terms set out in Schedule 2. Any reference given orally will be consistent with the terms and spirit of the agreed reference”. Although most of the reference was positive, it also mentioned the advice letter he had received as regards his interaction with pupils as well as the final warning for grappling with a student over a mobile phone.
Mr Camurat then applied for and was issued with an Enhanced Criminal Record Certificate (ECRC) which did not disclose any of the disciplinary matters. However, following a request by the police, Thurrock disclosed the chronology of the allegations against Mr Camurat which was reproduced in full in a second ECRC. Mr Camurat claimed that as a result he lost his new job at a school in Blackheath. He challenged the ECRC which was amended to remove the chronology in 2014.
He brought claims against Thurrock for breach of contract, negligence, misrepresentation and malicious falsehood on the basis that the reference in the agreement to “any third party” included the police and that issuing the chronology was contrary to the “spirit” of the reference.
High Court decision
The High Court held that although the purpose of the settlement agreement was to give Mr Camurat his best chance of continuing to work as a teacher, he had to accept the terms of the reference because, as far as the Council was concerned, it was “as good as it gets for him”.
Considering the express terms the Court held that Clause 10 was quite clear and that reference to “any third party” meant any potential future employer. It did not require the Council to refuse a request for information by the police or anybody interested in safeguarding issues. As to the argument that there was an implied term that the Council would take reasonable care and skill when replying to the police within the spirit of the reference, the Court rejected this as to do so would mean that the Council could not respond to enquiries by the police.
Likewise, the Council could not be said to have acted beyond its powers as a statutory body when providing the information to the police. Indeed, if it had modified its response to reflect a private agreement with Mr Camurat, that would constitute “a neglect of the defendant’s duty and [would] therefore [be] void”, given that the safety of children was potentially at stake.
Finally, it held that the Council could not be held to be negligent as there was no basis for imposing a duty of care on a supplier of information to police, as that might “discourage those who would in good faith provide assistance to the police on safeguarding issues”.
Mr Camurat has been given leave to appeal. In the meantime, workers in sectors where the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults applies and who reach a settlement agreement should be aware that the employer may still disclose information to the appropriate safeguarding bodies.