Pyschologist probed over study that hit national headlines

Prof Jane Ireland, from the University of Central Lancashire

Prof Jane Ireland, from the University of Central Lancashire

A psychologist who poured doubt on the validity of family court decisions has been dragged before a fitness to practice hearing.

Professor Jane Ireland, who lectures at UCLan, claimed in a study for the Family Justice Council that one in five expert witnesses in family cases were unqualified or unreliable.

Her findings were published on Channel 4 and in the Daily Mail in 2012.

A 10-day hearing began yesterday by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) into Prof Ireland’s conduct after a raft of complaints about her study were raised.

Regarding the study, Prof Ireland acknowleged she made use of court documents without informed consent but claimed it wasn’t required, denied she failed to properly redact personal and sensitive information from her research, denied her methodolgy was flawed, denied she failed to declare a conflict of interest and denied her conclusions were unsubstantiated.

The hearing heard from retired educational pyschologist Sam Westmacott, who had been an expert witness in family hearings for 12 years and had made a complaint about Prof Ireland’s study.

It was put to Mrs Westamacott by Prof Ireland’s representative that she had complained in order to protect her own position.

She replied: “I spent many years working as a writer for broadsheet and tabloid papers and producing current affair shows for the likes of TVam and consequently I realised within seconds of watching the Channel 4 programme the extreme damage that could be done to the reputation of all pyschologists in this country and what concerned me most of all was the knock-on effect for families and children we work to serve.

“Famlies and children would be harmed if this was taken seriously.”

She added: “When I saw the report and the dubious conclusions drawn, I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

“I did not connect it to myself in any way, I wanted the BPS to get experts to investigate the research.”

(Proceeding)