The Fourth Floor - Jason O'Brien

This is a powerful story of the toughest end of social work. There is some hope in it and interagency joint working but it's also a reminder, for me at least, of why we need to invest in social work, make sure social workers are paid and supported properly.



The Fourth Floor - Jason O’Brien

It was a day that whispered a promise of better things. An azure sky lit from the west, cherry blossom drifting on the bare morning breeze. I spotted the van in the distance. It pulled up. Two Met officers inside, the sliding door slightly ajar. I wrenched it open with a half-hearted tug. Another officer, disinterested, but a cloth sack held securely between his knees.

The journey across the borough quiet but for faint crackles from the radio and a muffled monologue from the driver, the spring brightness now monotone, drifting by with a cinematic reality imposed by the tinted glass.

Pulling into the car park we moved quickly to the communal door. The caretaker, a slight, downcast man in khaki, murmured something and provided access. We filed in, bypassing the dormant lift. The stairwell, pissy and imposing, led upwards.

Four storeys high. There was a brief exchange, a few trivial observations. An official rap at the numbered door, shouts through the letterbox and a final fist-hammer. The officer withdrew it from his sack, gripping his prize possession like a submachine gun. An explosion. Splitting wood. Fragmenting glass and metal.

The Met officers led, impervious to the festering stench that swallowed us whole. A short passageway, caught on film, the signs everywhere. Blackened bottles. Drug-tainted residue. Everywhere filth and the ominous hum of bluebottles.

Shouting now, the officers moving from room to room. A slight shape sprawled on the bed, an outline seeping onto grey sheets. More flies. An infant at the bars of a cot, stiff and blue. Death-induced vomit from an officer.

It was terrifying. A muffled whimper. Torchlight found a balled up figure beneath the cot. A feral animal. A child. I reached out, breathless as the putrid air invaded me. Coaxing. A touch. Fingers, emaciated and damaged. Too weak to resist. A scramble and arms which clung.


Jason O'Brien started life in public services in 1998, with Manchester City Council. He worked in housing for 12years before qualifying as a social worker and moving to London in 2012. As a working class man from an inner city estate, his professional strength is the personal connection to the families and struggles which he knows first hand. 

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