Greenwich Council has been criticised by a High Court judge over the way it handled a sensitive adoption case.

Mrs Justice Theis said social services staff failed to carry out "basic core social work" and failed to make "basic inquiries" about the possibility of the children being cared for by a member of their wider family.

The judge said staff had also accidentally revealed detail of the people earmarked as adopters and that this "serious and significant data breach" had led to those prospective adopters having to move home.

The judge outlined criticisms in a written ruling published following a private hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London in 2018.

Mrs Justice Theis named the local authority as Greenwich but said the children could not be identified.

A family court judge had approved a plan for adoption in late 2016 and the children had been placed with prospective adopters in spring 2017.

But Mrs Justice Theis said council staff had not "properly assessed" an aunt who was willing to care for them.

The judge has approved adoption, after reviewing evidence, and concluded the children should stay where they have been for nearly two years, saying moving the children to their aunt's home now would disrupt them and cause harm.

Mrs Justice Theis said "one of the tragedies" of the case was the children would in all likelihood have been able to live with their aunt had she been properly assessed before they were placed with prospective adopters.

"I, of course, accept that they operate under considerable pressure; however, I am satisfied in this case basic core social work was not carried out by the allocated social worker."

The judge said there had been a "failure to make basic inquiries about the possibility of placement in the wider family" and a "failure of effective supervision of the allocated social worker".

She added: "What this case has highlighted is the critical importance of a local authority having effective systems in place from an early stage in care proceedings to ensure that the wider maternal/paternal families are considered as possible placement options."

Mrs Justice Theis said the "data breach" had occurred when council staff accidentally sent legal documents containing identifying detail of the "adoptive placement" to the aunt who was being considered as a possible carer.

She added: "... this serious data breach by the local authority meant the prospective adopters and the children had to move home at very short notice, have not been able to return to their property, and have had to take significant steps to secure theirs and the children's identity".

Cllr David Gardner, deputy leader and cabinet member for children’s services and schools, said: “The council is deeply sorry for the circumstances in this case but are pleased that the adoption of the children with a secure and settled family has been granted by the court.

"We recognise our failure in our systems and the impact that the data breach may have had on those involved.

“We have learned a number of lessons from this case and have already implemented measures to minimise the risk of this happening again.

"We once again would like to sincerely apologise for our failings in this case and continue to offer support to all concerned who, like the council, have the best interests of these children at heart.”