The Telegraph has been extremely consistent, and the Daily Mail has covered stories every so often, while Camilla Cavendish was very active in The Times, until she got an award.
But it’s clearly not been enough to make a difference, especially since parents get gagged and are threatened with prison.
Here are some samples:
The unnatural justice of secret family courts – Sunday Telegraph 26/08/2009
British justice: a family ruined
A chilling example of our secret State where a mother and child are forced into hiding by Camilla Cavendish,The Times, February 21, 2008
Last autumn a small English congregation was rocked by the news that two of its parishioners had fled abroad. A 56-year-old man had helped his pregnant wife to flee from social workers, who had already taken her son into care and were threatening to seize their baby.
Most people had no idea why. For the process that led this couple to such a desperate act was entirely secret. The local authority had warned the mother not to talk to her friends or even her MP. The judge who heard the arguments from social services sat in secret. The open-minded social workers who had initially been assigned to sort out a custody battle between the woman and her previous husband were replaced by others who seemed determined to build a guilty case against her. That is how the secret State operates. A monumental injustice has been perpetrated in this quiet corner of England; our laws are being used to try to cover it up.
I will call this couple Hugh and Sarah. Neither they nor their families have ever been in trouble with the law, as far as I know. Sarah’s only fault seems to have been to suffer through a violent and volatile first marriage, which produced a son. When the marriage ended, the boy was taken into temporary foster care for a few months – as a by-product of the marriage breakdown and against her will – while she “sorted her life out” and found them a new home. But even as she cleared every hurdle set by the court, social workers dreamt up new ones. The months dragged by. A psychologist said the boy was suffering terribly in care and was desperate to come home. Sarah’s mother and sister, both respected professionals with good incomes, apparently offered to foster or adopt him. The local authority did not even deign to reply.
For a long time, Sarah and her family seem to have played along. At every new hearing they thought that common sense would prevail. But it didn’t. The court appeared to blame her for not ending her marriage more quickly, which had put strain on the boy, while social workers seemed to insist that she now build a good relationship with the man she had left. Eventually, she came to believe that the local authority intended to have her son adopted. She also seems to have feared that they would take away her new baby, Hugh’s baby, when it was born. One night in September they fled the country with the little boy. When Hugh returned a few days later, to keep his business going and his staff in jobs, he was arrested.
Many people would think this man a hero. Instead, he received a far longer sentence – 16 months for abduction – than many muggers. This kind of sentence might be justified, perhaps, to set an example to others. But the irony of this exemplary sentence is that no one was ever supposed to know the details. (I am treading a legal tightrope writing about it at all.) How could a secret sentence for a secret crime deter anyone?
Sarah’s baby has now been born, in hiding. I am told that the language from social services has become hysterical. But if the State was genuinely concerned for these two children, it would have put “wanted” pictures up in every newspaper in Europe.
It won’t do that, of course, because to name the woman and her children would be to tear a hole in the fabric of the secret State, a hole we could all see through. I would be able to tell you her side of the story, the child’s side of the story. I would be able to tell you every vindictive twist of this saga. And the local authority knows perfectly well how it would look. So silence is maintained.
And very effective it is too. The impotence is the worst thing. The way that perfectly decent individuals are gagged and unable to defend themselves undermines a fundamental principle of British law. I have a court order on my desk that threatens all the main actors in this case with dire consequences if they talk about it to anyone.
Can that really be the way we run justice in a country that was the fount of the rule of law? At the heart of this story is a little boy who was wrenched from the mother he loves, bundled around in foster care and never told why, when she appears to have been perfectly capable of looking after him. When she had relatives who were perfectly capable of doing so. In the meantime, he was becoming more and more troubled and unhappy. To find safety and love, that little boy has had to leave England.
What does that say about our country? The public funds the judges, the courts, the social workers. It deserves to know what they do. That does not mean vilifying all social workers, or defending every parent. But it does mean ending the presumption of guilt that infects so many family court hearings. It does mean asking why certain local authorities seem unable to let go of children whose parents have resolved their difficulties. It does mean knowing how social workers could have got away with failing to return this particular boy, after his mother had met all the criteria set by a judge at the beginning. It is simply unacceptable that social services have put themselves above the law.
We need these people to be named, and to hear in their words what happened. We need to open up the family courts. We need to tear down the wall of secrecy that has forced a decent woman to live as a fugitive, to save her little boy from a life with strangers, used like a pawn in a game of vengeance. Even if the local authority were to drop its case, it is hard to see how Sarah could ever trust them enough to return. At home, for their God- fearing congregation, the question is simple: what justice can ever be done behind closed doors? And in whose name?
Jailed: The man who helped his wife flee abroad as social workers threatened to take their baby – By FIONA BARTON, Daily Mail 7th Feb 2008
A father is in jail and his wife is in hiding abroad with her children after he helped them flee the country to escape social services, it emerged yesterday.
The businessman’s wife was heavily pregnant with their first child – and was terrified the baby would be taken at birth by social workers – when he drove his family to Dover, and then on to Paris.
She had a second reason for fleeing – she believed her eight-year-old son from a previous marriage was to be adopted against her wishes.
Her 56-year-old husband was arrested on his return to Britain, and later jailed for 16 months for abducting the eight- year-old, known as Child S.
The boy’s mother, who is a professional woman in her 40s but cannot be identified for legal reasons, has since given birth prematurely to a girl and is struggling to cope far from friends and family.
Her plight raises further disturbing questions about the secret family courts which only last week were in the spotlight when social workers illegally snatched a newborn baby from its mother.
Such cases are shrouded in the heaviest secrecy – with families threatened with jail if they discuss their fears that their children are being removed unjustly.
But the story of the father and his family in hiding can be revealed for the first time because he appealed in a criminal case – which can be reported – begging for his 16-month jail sentence to be reduced.
His plea to the High Court was dismissed and the father, who has never seen his baby daughter, was led away in tears.
A teacher friend of the father was also in tears.
The friend said: “This isn’t justice. They are a law- abiding family with respect for the police, but putting him in prison for protecting his family makes the law an ass. What good does it serve?”
The three appeal judges were told yesterday how Child S’s parents had separated in 2004 after a volatile and violent marriage.
The mother claims she was told the boy would be taken into temporary foster care until she “sorted her life out”.
But when she asked for his return, social services refused.
After months of legal battles, a family court judge sided with the council’s plan to put the boy up for enforced adoption. By this time, the mother was pregnant.
A friend said: “She was led to believe by social services she would have no chance of keeping the child she was carrying, which is outrageous. She was in despair.”
According to papers before the appeal court, she then made contact with her son at school last September and whispered instructions to him through the playground fence.
In the early hours, Child S “crept out” of his foster home to meet his mother and stepfather and the escape plan was under way.
The mother left a note which claimed: “We had to go.” The court was told that detectives believed the mother and children were in Spain or France.
Dismissing the appeal, Mr Justice Bennett acknowledged the “powerful emotions” involved, but said: “Such proceedings taken by a local authority must be respected by parents.
“Those who act must expect a prison sentence because a real punishment is called for and to deter others who might be subject to the same pressures.”
The judge expressed his disbelief that the father did not know the whereabouts of his wife.
The father – who has adult children from a previous marriage – is being destroyed by prison, a friend said outside court.
She added: “He is absolutely shell-shocked by the actions of the courts. Basically, they have said you are not allowed to be human in your responses.
“What parent wouldn’t act to stop their child being taken from them? He has aged ten years and gone grey with the worry of it all.”
Free the ‘Grandfather One’: Is it really in the public interest that a grandparent is jailed for not avoiding his grandson? – Camilla Cavendish, The Times, December 13, 2007
Two MPs have put down an early day motion in the House of Commons to bring attention to what they believe is a miscarriage of justice. It notes that a man named Charles Roy Taylor has been sent to prison for 20 months for being in contact with his stepgrandson. It “wonders if this is a good use of scarce prison resources; and calls for the Secretary of State for Justice to consider whether he should be released for Christmas”. Jack Straw no doubt has bigger things on his mind. And no story like this is ever as simple as it looks. But it deserves attention.
Charles Roy Taylor is a 71-year-old with a heart condition. He knew that a jail sentence was the penalty he might pay if he did not take steps to avoid his stepgrandson. But this seems desperately unfair. The teenager, whom we shall call John, has been in care since his mother died of an overdose. He has been phoning his grandparents and running away to see them for some time. In the end, social services became concerned that the grandparents were “undermining the care plan” by continuing to see John. It does not appear to be clear to the grandparents what the care plan is. But it does not seem to include them, even though they could presumably be John’s first port of call when he leaves the care system at 18.
It is not the local authority’s fault that this child had a difficult childhood. In taking responsibility for him, social workers were doing their best. Neither he nor his grandparents sound like the easiest people to deal with. But as in so many cases of this kind, bitterness between the family and the authorities appears to have escalated into a ludicrous situation, which simply cannot be in the best interests of the child.
After a great deal of argy-bargy that I cannot go into for legal reasons, Mr Taylor last year gave an undertaking not to communicate with John until he was 18. But asking a man not to pick up the phone to a child, not to take him in when he turns up at the front door, is a harsh demand. It is tantamount to asking him to deny that the child exists, when what that child may need most is attention.
In stalking cases, when Person A is ordered to avoid Person B, it is usually at the explicit request of Person B, who fears assault. In this case, Person B was apparently desperate to see his grandparents. He seems to see them as his best hope. So in whose interests was such an order? If he has broken his undertaking, Mr Taylor has surely been responding as humanely as most of us would. A jail sentence seems wholly disproportionate.
When I first learnt of this case I felt that there must be more to it. That perhaps the grandparents were suspected of abuse. I can find no evidence of any such allegation. Indeed, the authorities initially seemed happy to leave them in contact with John. What appears to have happened is that the exchanges between the family and social workers became increasingly bitter, all of whom no doubt believed themselves to be in the right.
The council cannot comment on individual cases. It will say only that “Mr Taylor was sentenced by the High Court after he breached a court order”. It cannot comment on John’s treatment in care. John seems unhappy. He has apparently asked to be discharged. But his voice can only be heard within the system, a system he seems determined to rebel against.
There is a growing campaign on the internet to release Mr Taylor. This has two parts. The first is that a 20-month jail sentence is preposterous when the prisons are so overcrowded that dangerous criminals are being released early. The second is that Mr Taylor was allegedly committed to jail in a “secret court”. This seems unlikely. But it is an allegation that is made frequently. Legally, you cannot send someone to jail in a secret court. In practice, it is questionable whether a judge sitting in a family court from which press and public are excluded, who declares the court open for a few minutes to pronounce sentence, is really “open”.
This matters, because the view of the legal profession increasingly seems to be that the less we know the better. The justification for keeping family courts closed, despite the recommendations of the Commons Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, is to protect children’s privacy. Yet this argument is no longer confined to the family courts. It is increasingly being trotted out in criminal cases too.
In the past month, one court has ruled that the defendants in a witchcraft trial, who were alleged to have done unspeakable things to children, could not be named in case this led to the identification of their victims. Another court banned publication of anything about a mother accused of poisoning her child with salt, in case the information affected her surviving child. The Times has recently succeeded in overturning yet another ruling, that a man who pleaded guilty to making indecent images of children could not be named in case his relatives might suffer. The Court of Appeal found that the man should be named, and that the attempts to restrict the proceedings were invalid.
The law must not become a secret process. Some lawyers seem convinced that the media want to identify vulnerable children, but it is always possible to write these stories without doing so. Seeing that justice is done is a fundamental part of law.
What is sad is that our elaborate system of child protection, which is designed to put children first, has sometimes become a way of avoiding accountability. The two MPs are right to ask whose interests Mr Taylor’s jailing serves. Presumably, the last thing John wants is for his grandfather to be in jail. They are both victims of a system that asks us to take on trust that it knows best. But prison is surely the wrong place for Charles Roy Taylor.
How social workers took away our children for 11 months without a shred of evidence – By SUE REID, Daily Mail – 9 May 2008
Enjoying the sunshine at a park near their home, the Aston family cling closely to each other as if to make sure they will never be prised apart again. Jodie, a bubbly ten-year-old, entwines her arms around her brother, Luke, who was 12 last Thursday, while both children smile fondly at their parents, Craig and Donna.
Yet the happy scene is full of poignancy. Until very recently, this Yorkshire couple were trapped in what a High Court judge described this week as “every parent’s nightmare”.
For an interminable 11 months, Jodie and Luke were removed from their home because their parents faced accusations from doctors of the most hideous crime imaginable: sexually molesting their own daughter.
They were permitted to visit their children only under strict supervision, for just three hours a week. All letters which they sent to Jodie and Luke were vetted by social workers – making them feel like criminals.
What’s more, they were cruelly ordered not to say “I love you” to either boy or girl. Throughout this ordeal, the couple always protested their innocence and were relieved beyond belief. When Mr Justice Holman cleared them of any wrongdoing. He ordered the children’s return, insisting that his ruling be made public so lessons are learned by doctors, social workers and lawyers working in the child protection service.
In a landmark judgment, he warned that even two decades after the infamous Cleveland child abuse scandal, parents are still being wrongly accused of molesting their sons and daughters.
The Cleveland controversy was Britain’s biggest and first mass child abuse scare.
In 1987, 121 children were taken into state care in North-East England over five months after abuse was diagnosed on the basis of physical examinations carried out by a controversial paediatrician called Marietta Higgs.
The parents were often wrongly condemned – just like the Astons today – without their children being listened to or their family background being taken into account.
The doctors in the Eighties had relied on the discredited sign called Reflex Anal Dilatation (RAD), said to indicate sexual abuse.
Last year, the controversial sign was condemned as unreliable by the Government’s chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, who admitted that its use had led to mistakes in Cleveland.
Everyone hoped the lessons had been learnt from Cleveland. But now the shocking extent of young Jodie Aston’s ordeal is becoming clear, it seems that is tragically not the case.
Mr Justice Holman said it was inevitable that Jodie was now “emotionally damaged” by her experiences.
After the private hearing at Leeds High Court, he said: “Unless there is clear diagnostic evidence of abuse (for example, the presence of semen or a foreign body internally), purely medical assessments and opinions should not be allowed to predominate. Even 20 years after Cleveland, I wonder if the lessons have fully been learned.” The importance of this judgment cannot be overstated. Jodie’s father, a 33-year-old railway signals’ engineer, courageously agreed to talk for the first time about the case.
He said: “I hope the judge’s words will rein in doctors, and help other parents accused of sexually abusing their children without any real proof.” What happened to the Aston family seems incredible in 21st-century England. They are now seeking legal advice in the hope that the General Medical Council, the doctors’ disciplinary body, will investigate their case.
Yesterday, Leeds’ Safeguarding Children’s Board launched a review into Jodie’s case, saying “all relevant, accurate facts” must be taken into account in future child abuse inquiries.
Officials said it was too early to reveal how many other children have been taken into care or even adopted, as a result of suspected sexual abuse over recent years.
However, the Mail is aware of two other families in the city who have had their children removed, largely on the basis of the RAD testing technique, yet who insist they are entirely innocent.
The Astons’ nightmare began when they took Jodie, then aged eight, to Leeds General Infirmary’s casualty department on a Monday evening in August 2005. She had scraped her groin on a small wall while playing with friends.
She was examined by doctors in Leeds at least eight times. Photographs and videos – later shown in court – were taken of her naked body again and again.
The girl was referred to the community paediatrics department at the city’s St James’s University Hospital on the following Thursday. Nothing was found to be amiss after an intimate examination. But two months later, Jodie was changing into her pyjamas after school when her mother saw a spot of blood on her pants.
Jodie, who was prone to eczema and had visible raw splits in the skin of her hands and arms, was again taken to casualty before being referred for a second time to the paediatrics unit at St James’s.
The hospital has a busy child protection team, overseen by the respected paediatric consultant Dr Christopher Hobbs.
Significantly, he is an original pioneer of the RAD technique in this country. In June 1986, just a year before the Cleveland controversy broke, Dr Hobbs and his colleague Jane Wynne introduced young Marietta Higgs to this new way of diagnosing child molestation during a Leeds’ medical conference.
By looking at and probing a child’s bottom, the paediatricians claimed they could see if there was reflex anal dilatation and – therefore – abuse.
Dr Higgs enthusiastically embraced the technique, provoking the Cleveland crisis.
However, 80 per cent of the “victims” were later returned to their parents because they had not been hurt at all.
Since then, the nagging doubts about the technique have grown. Today, it is well-known that RAD can appear normally and spontaneously in any child.
According to some paediatricians – notably an expert named Professor Astrid Hegar from America, where RAD has been abandoned in some states – half of all children who have not been sexually abused show the same “tell-tale” sign when their bottoms are examined.
That means, of course, that almost any family taking their child to hospital or the doctor’s surgery can be accused of child abuse.
Yet in Britain, many child doctors – including Dr Hobbs – rely on the technique as an important piece of many pieces in the jigsaw of diagnosing child abuse.
Even before 1987 – at the height of the Cleveland crisis – both Hobbs and Wynne were discovering high numbers of child sex abuse cases in Leeds by using RAD.
According to the doctors’ research, published in the medical journal The Lancet, 94 boys and 243 girls were diagnosed as sexual abuse victims in a previous two-year period. The paper – still quoted in medical literature – says that eight in ten of the boys, and a quarter of the girls, had “anal signs”.
Astonishingly, in half of all cases, the abusers were deemed to be the children’s natural father and – even more bizarrely – five per cent were women. A quarter of the Leeds adults involved were convicted by the courts. The two doctors wrote at the time: “Sexual abuse is emerging as a major child and mental health problem.” So it was against this background – in a city whose medical establishments were at the centre of the RAD debate – that Jodie Aston was taken by her mother to hospital. It was the first of many visits and, during one, on November 24, 2005, she met Dr Hobbs.
Although he did not physically examine Jodie, at the end of the appointment he and a fellow paediatrician said that they suspected child abuse. It was a terrible moment for Jodie’s mother, Donna.
She says today: “I couldn’t believe it. I began to cry. I walked out of there not knowing what to think. Jodie saw that I was quiet, and thought she had done something wrong. I waited in the car park for Craig to come and pick us up.
“I asked Jodie if her Daddy had done anything to her. She said “no” and I believed her. But when I got in the car, Craig saw that I had been crying. He asked me what was wrong and I just mumbled something about child abuse because I didn’t want to upset Jodie.” At home, after the children had gone to bed, Donna had to ask her husband a question that no wife should have to. Craig said he had not touched his daughter.
“I was being accused of something worse than murder,” Craig said this week.
“From that point, we began to watch the children like hawks.
“We did not allow them even to go to the shops nearby. Luke said we were treating them like babies,” added Donna, 34. However, the family remained under suspicion. Donna was told by the authorities that she was also considered the potential abuser of her daughter.
The following March, Jodie faced another assessment with Dr Hobbs. Just a few weeks earlier, she had again come home with a small blood spot on her pants.
This time, the paediatrician conducted a physical examination, which included RAD. He wrote in his report afterwards: “I feel that the time has come for me to involve social services, because I am concerned about the possibility that she may have been sexually abused.”
The family were trapped. The doctors ignored Donna’s suggestion that eczema might be the cause of the blood spots. Meanwhile, social workers began visiting the family regularly.
Overwhelmed with worry, Craig and Donna were advised to get an independent second medical opinion on Jodie’s condition. Therefore, their GP arranged for a doctor called Ruth Skelton to examine their daughter. This proved to be a disastrous move.
Dr Skelton had been trained by Dr Hobbs. As Mr Justice Holman commented in his judgment: “In my view, the selection of her was deeply regrettable. Dr Skelton lacked the complete independence that is required for a second opinion in these sorts of circumstances.
“She was being asked to review the previous opinion of someone who was a more senior colleague, then working daily at the same hospital, and who had been her own teacher.”
It emerged that Dr Skelton had discussed Jodie’s case with Dr Hobbs before the so-called independent examination took place in March last year.
Dr Skelton concluded that she could spot RAD. According to her report, she said that Jodie had “been sexually abused chronically, over a long period, both anally and probably vaginally . . . I feel that this child is not protected at all at present.” Both Jodie and her elder brother, Luke, were taken away from the parents the same day. It was arranged that they would live with their maternal grandparents, aged 77 and 78, three miles away from their home in Armley, a suburb of Leeds. Donna still finds it hard to relate the story as she sits with the children and Craig in the family’s neat sitting room.
She says: “The social workers came at 9.30am to tell us they wanted to remove Jodie and Luke. It was a Thursday. Jodie and Luke were at school. They never came home for almost a year.
“I packed a few things for the first night: toothbrushes, pyjamas, a big bear toy that was Jodie’s favourite. Then I had to come home alone.
“Craig was in a worse state than me. I thought he was going to harm himself. We woke up in night crying. We hugged each other because it was as if the children were dead.”
This week, she said: “There were more tears, but we had to cope for the sake of the children. On Christmas Day last year, we were only allowed to see them for one hour.” Yet the family’s fortunes were changing.
Craig’s lawyers had instructed the American paediatrician, Professor Hegar, to give her views. She has examined 40,000 children for suspected abuse during a 28-year career. She believes that a family’s history – and a host of other factors – are vital when deciding if a child has been molested.
Professor Hegar studied the medical reports and photographs of Jodie. She said: “I believe that the medical examiners in this case have relied heavily on Reflex Anal Dilatation as diagnostic of sexual abuse.
“This is a common finding in up to 49 per cent of children who have not been abused. There is no research … that supports the use of RAD as a sensitive or specific finding for sexual abuse.”
Professor Hegar also suggested that dermatologists should examine Jodie to find another cause of her bleeding. One skin expert diagnosed that a small split in her skin, caused by eczema, may have produced the suspect spots of blood on Jodie’s underwear.
Her crucial views were also heard by video link during the hearing into Jodie’s case. Afterwards, Mr Justice Holman said Donna and Craig Aston are intelligent, responsible parents.
During the hearing, he met both their “bright and well-mannered” children, giving them chocolate biscuits and talking to them for nearly an hour.
Jodie told him that no one had touched her at home, or at primary school. Her brother Luke declared, quite spontaneously, that it was “all a big mistake”.
He added: “We have got the best mum and dad. Why would they abuse my little sister?”
Both of the Aston children said they loved their parents dearly and only wanted to go home. Now, at last, thanks to an enlightened judge, they have finally got their wish.
But how many other families who suffered similarly disgraceful misdiagnoses, more than 20 years after it had been presumed the lessons of Cleveland had been learnt, are still fighting to clear their names?
My baby had cancer but social workers falsely accused me of child abuse and took all three of my children – By SUE REID – Daily Mail, 22 February 2008
One November afternoon at just after two o’clock, Louise Mason stood in a hospital ward and kissed her 11-week- old baby goodbye.
She had dressed the little girl with care, packing a suitcase of tiny clothes and soft toys. Inside, she had placed a handwritten letter to the foster parents who would look after her in the future.
On that day five years ago, Louise felt as though her heart would burst.
“I wrote down everything about my daughter,” she told me this week.
“I said she had colicky attacks at six in the evening, and should be rocked until she slept. I said she needed to be coaxed to take her milk.”
After writing that sad note, the young mother from Northampton was forced to hand over the baby girl to social workers, who carried her off to her new home.
Louise, 32, then returned to her house, with its empty cot, in the seaside city of Derry, Northern Ireland. It must have been one of the loneliest journeys of her life.
The baby girl – now aged five – has never been returned to this wholly innocent mother who, because she was wrongly accused of harming her baby, also subsequently had two other children taken away from her.
This week, though, a High Court revealed there had been a terrible miscarriage of justice, and ordered that Louise must be reunited with all her children.
Furthermore, the judge, Mr Justice Gillon – in an age where children are removed from their parents by family courts sitting in secret – took the extremely unusual step of allowing Louise to be named, and for the tragic details of her case to become public.
In a statement he said: “The workings of the family justice system in this case are matters of public interest, and do merit public discussion. Public confidence in the process is necessary, and the emergence of the changing circumstances of this case merits an open discussion.”
He went on to list the extraordinary catalogue of events which began when, worried out of her mind, Louise took her sickly month- old baby daughter to her GP, begging for help.
These shocking details shed light on a family justice system normally hidden from view.
Of course, there are parents who harm their children and deserve the full punishment of the law.
But in the family courts, thousands of children are removed from their parents to adoption or foster care in deeply dubious hearings which never become public.
If anyone speaks about the details – to a neighbour, to a friend, to a relative – they are in contempt of court.
Crucially, the courts’ culture of secrecy means that if a social worker lies, or fabricates notes, or a doctor makes a mistake, then no one finds out, and there is no retribution.
It is only because Louise was charged with a criminal offence in an open and public court – like other innocent mothers wrongly accused of infanticide, such as Angela Cannings and the late Sally Clark – that her harrowing story can be heard.
Louise was born in Northampton, the youngest of three. Her father had a plastering business, and her mother raised a close, caring family.
By the time she was in her 20s, Louise was running a successful restaurant. A few years later, she met her boyfriend, who came from Derry, and the couple had a baby. They moved to Northern Ireland to set up home.
Louise says now: “I came here in 2001, thinking Derry was the perfect place for children to grow up.”
The couple had a second baby – another girl, born a healthy 7lb. But then she and her partner split up, leaving Louise a single mother.
“I was quite able to cope with the toddler and the baby, who was very placid,” explains Louise. “I was a full-time mother and proud of it.”
Then came the bombshell. One Saturday, when the baby was just four weeks old, Louise noticed that she was looking very ill, as though she was about to collapse.
In fact, it is now known that without medical care she would have died within an hour.
“I rushed my daughter around to our local doctor, who immediately rang the Derry hospital. I hurried there with this little bundle in my arms.
“The baby was taken off me in the children’s ward. I next saw her five hours later, at 7pm.
“One of the doctors then sat me down and said: ‘It is touch and go'” The team mentioned right away that it might be cancer. I remember that as though it were yesterday,” says Louise, crying this week at the memory.
“The next morning, they again said cancer was suspected.”
A day later, on the Sunday, the baby was taken by ambulance to the Royal Belfast hospital 60 miles away. She had a blood transfusion and tests. By the Tuesday, three days after the emergency admission, Louise was hoping that she would get a proper diagnosis.
But further investigation had showed that the left kidney and the area around it was swollen, and among medical staff there was a wide variety of opinion about the cause. Before long, doctors became highly suspicious that this was, in fact, caused by an injury.
Louise was called into a room and confronted by a doctor.
“He asked me if I had done anything to hurt my baby. He said he had called the social services and the police. I promised him I had done nothing to my child.”
Her words fell on deaf ears. Back home, her elder daughter, who was being cared for by a neighbour, was collected by social workers and taken into foster care.
Yet still the trusting Louise thought it would all be sorted out in a few days. How wrong she was.
Seven weeks later, on November 15, 2002, the police contacted her.
“They asked me to attend the police station for an interview under caution. They said I was suspected of grievous bodily harm with intent.”
The interview dragged on. At lunchtime, Louise was put in a cell. She was distraught.
“I was frozen with fright,” she recalls.
“I kept telling them that there was no bruising or redness found on the baby, so how could I have hurt her?”
Four days later, worse news followed: her baby daughter was to be taken into foster care, too.
At the hospital, she was told by social workers to get the 11-week- old baby she was accused of harming ready. Her fingers trembling, Louise dressed her baby and kissed her goodbye.
From then on, she was allowed to see her children at a special supervised centre for only four-and-a-half hours a week.
They were delivered to the centre from their foster homes by social workers, and then taken away again.
“The eldest one could remember me,” says Louise, “but I had hardly had a chance to bond with the new baby before she was taken from me.”
All the time, Louise faced a barrage of accusations. The authorities claimed that she was a potential killer.
A leading member of the social work team told her: “I do not think you are safe to be left in a room alone with any boy or girl.”
In January 2004 – a little over year later – a formal application to take the children into care was made in the family division of the Northern Ireland High Court in Belfast.
The medical evidence given by five doctors from the hospitals was damning. They said Louise had deliberately hurt the baby girl with great force.
“It was then that they began to make noises about adoption,’ says Louise. ‘My legal team were fighting hard, but it was a battle we could not win because we did not have the medical evidence.” The children remained with their foster parents.
That autumn, Louise was brought before a criminal court in Derry facing two charges of causing grievous bodily harm to the baby girl.
It was only then that anyone listened to her.
In an emotional outburst, she blurted out to the jury that she wanted to take a lie detector test to prove that she had done nothing wrong. It was the turning point. The jury believed her, and in November 2004 she was acquitted of the charges. However, her children remained in care.
Meanwhile, the story of the mother begging for a lie detector test was reported in the local Press. By chance, the consultant radiologist who had treated Louise’s baby girl at the local hospital on the very first day she was brought in, read the article and was appalled.
He remembered the case and the wide divergence of medical opinion, yet had never known that Louise was under suspicion or that she was to have been prosecuted. He was convinced then that the child was suffering from a rare form of cancer of the left kidney, called neuroblastoma, which could have caused the bleeding.
Dr D – as he was called in Mr Justice Gillon’s judgment this week – contacted Louise’s solicitor and offered to help clear her name.
“It was a miracle,” Louise told me.
“That doctor was my guardian angel. The last years have been very hard for me. I was pilloried. It felt like torture having my children taken from me.”
Even though she had been acquitted, the social workers appeared to ignore the verdict.
But Dr D told Louise’s solicitor that he was struck by the “power” of her request to the jury to have a lie detector test.
He offered to help, suggesting that a team of independent paediatricians, including experts on kidneys, cancer and non- accidental injury, should be asked to give their own opinions on the findings of the five hospital doctors.
Significantly, the independent experts thought that the baby’s internal bleeding had occurred naturally. And when their testimony was produced by Louise’s lawyers at a Court of Appeal hearing, the judges quashed the family court rulings.
As a result, in June last year the Foyle Health and Social Services Trust, which covers Derry, said it no longer intended to pursue their action to keep Louise’s children in care or have them adopted. It was an almighty climbdown.
By then, however, another tragedy had happened on the say-so of the social workers.
In 2005, a year after she had been acquitted, Louise had became pregnant for a third time.
She is reluctant to talk about the father, or name him, although they are no longer together – but at Christmas time, when she was heavily pregnant, the social workers called and told her they planned to take the latest addition away from her at birth.
“I couldn’t believe my ears,” says Louise.
“I had been declared not guilty in a criminal court – yet they still had both my children and were wanting my new baby. It was torture.”
The baby was born early in 2006. True to their word, Louise had just given birth and was trying to breastfeed when the social workers arrived at Altnagelvin Hospital, Derry.
The nurses, on the instructions of the social workers, took the newborn baby away to safety in another ward while Louise’s solicitor remonstrated with them that it was cruel to do such a thing.
It was five hours before the baby was returned to Louise in the maternity unit.
Ten days later, when she was about to leave hospital, the social workers returned and seized the child, placing the baby with foster parents.
Only recently – following the collapse of the Social Services Trust case – has Louise been given back the baby, and her eldest child, too.
She has missed a whole chunk of their early years.
But perhaps the saddest thing of all is that the little girl who was so sick as a baby may never return home again. She has known no mother or father apart from her foster parents, and has bonded with them very closely.
Although she has now recovered – significantly, it was a form of cancer that can go into remission of its own accord, without the need for surgery or chemotherapy – her left kidney does not function normally.
But she is happy with the couple whom she calls her Mummy and Daddy.
Recently, as part of a phased plan to reunite her permanently with her natural family, she came back to stay with Louise for a night.
“She cried terribly for her foster parents all the evening – it made us all unhappy,” says Louise, sadly.
“She knows me, but will only call me Mummy Louise. It breaks me into pieces.
“She may never come home and live with me again because she wants to be with the only people she has ever recognised as her parents. It may be cruel to take her back now.”
Damages win for Tim and Gina Williams – falsely suspected of abusing their childrenThe Times, Dec 23, 2008 by Simon de Bruxelles
A couple whose three children spent two years in care because social workers wrongly believed that they were at risk of abuse have been awarded a “six-figure” sum in compensation.
Tim and Gina Williams’s son and two daughters were taken from them and placed with separate foster families. The couple, from Newport, South Wales, received an undisclosed sum yesterday in an agreed settlement at the High Court in Cardiff and were given a full written apology from Newport City Council.
The court was told that there had never been any evidence that the children, now aged 14, 11 and 9, had been abused. As a result of the social workers’ actions, the Williams missed their children’s birthdays, Christmases and their first days in new schools.
A judge completely exonerated them at the High Court in October 2006 and the children were returned to them.
The couple, who waived their right to anonymity, began a compensation claim against Newport City Council and Royal Gwent Healthcare NHS Trust soon after. Robin Tolson, QC, for the couple, said: “This settlement brings closure, at least of a kind, for Tim and Gina Williams and their children. The effect of what happened will continue to be felt for a long time but at least this now marks the end of four years spent fighting for their children and their rights before the court.”
Mr Williams, 39, and two of his children sat at the back of the court during the brief hearing.
In August 2004 Mr Williams called the police after finding his youngest daughter naked from the waist down with an 11-year-old friend. The girl was taken to hospital for a precautionary check-up and the doctor who carried out the examination claimed to have found evidence of longstanding abuse but by an adult, not an 11-year-old.
Mr Williams and his wife were told that they were under suspicion and the children were taken into care. A second doctor confirmed the evidence of abuse and the couple were restricted to supervised weekly visits to their children.
There were exonerated after a US expert in child abuse examined the evidence and disputed the claims by the British doctors, who subsequently accepted that they had been mistaken. The council conceded that the children should never have been taken from their parents on the basis of the evidence.
Giving his judgment, Judge Crispin Masterman said that the children’s names were never put on the child protection register and it was simply decided to remove them from the family home. He said that the criticisms were coupled with an acknowledgment that all professionals involved were acting for the good of the children.
“It is undoubtedly true that social services departments have in recent years operated with inadequate resources and under immense stress and run the risk of attracting equal criticism whether they remove a child or whether they do not.”
A Newport council representative said: “A settlement has now been reached which will support the children’s future. The wellbeing of the children has remained paramount throughout this case. While the local authority has offered sincere apologies to the family, our priority was always the safety of the children. The court concluded that the council acted in good faith given the strength of the medical evidence presented.
“The council, together with other members of Newport safeguarding children board, has embraced the recommendations of the multi-agency review.”
Under the terms of the settlement, the family are banned from talking about it.
It is, by any standards, a tragic indictment of the child protection system.
BBC News Bradford – May 22 2006, Foster carers abused young boys – A gay couple have been warned they face lengthy prison sentences after being found guilty of sexually abusing young boys placed in their foster care. Ian Wathey, 40, and his partner Craig Faunch, 32, were found guilty at Leeds Crown Court of a series of sex offences against the boys.
Friendly neighbours who had lived peacefully side by side for years in Kosovo and in Bosnia suddenly turned on each other savagely slaughtering babies and young children. It is a sad fact that seemingly normal, decent people can very often be persuaded or tempted to perform extremely cruel and horrific deeds. It should not therefore be too hard to understand that the desire of social workers (who are certainly no exception) to be proved right, more often than not outweighs the welfare of the child.
The secrecy of the family courts and the gagging of aggrieved parents who are unable to protest to the media, when they lose their children, combine to facilitate wins in court for social services and losses for parents!
In Spain, France, Italy and most of the countries in Western Europe children are only forcibly separated from their parents, when they suffer extreme physical violence or sexual abuse. Professionals from European counties are horrified when they see social workers and secret courts in England taking young children and worse still new born babies for such spurious reasons as “risk of emotional harm”. This concept just does not exist on the continent.
Children simply cannot be removed from their parents, unless a crime has been committed. Separating children from their parents for past behaviour in different circumstances many years ago is considered a violation of the Human Rights of both child and parent.
The UK was condemned by the European Court in the case of p,c,and s, for actions considered “draconian” and the UK was fined. Unfortunately the UK family courts still largely ignore human rights and parents are strongly advised to consider pursuing their cases in the European Court when all else fails.
There is of course also the money racket that really oils the wheels of the SS adoption and fostering machine, and all the official figures and government statistics supporting claims made in this section plus other details of these horrors can be found in my “introduction section“.
150 years ago very young children worked in factories and went up chimneys.We look back in horror nowadays and wonder how our great grandfathers let such things happen.I believe that future generations in the UK will take a similar view when reading about the family courts of this era in Britain.Nevertheless such things did happen in Victorian Britain, and the horrors in the family courts that you read about in the papers are equally true at the present time.
Extreme Power can corrupt even the nicest people and it is no exaggeration to say that in many ways social workers certainly have more power over selected individuals than any government minister! Social workers can and do get emergency protection orders on the flimsiest pretexts (suspicion of devil worship for instance!) and on allegations against parents that frequently have no foundation.No evidence need be presented as simple allegations by social workers or anonymous “referrals” are nearly always sufficient. Conveniently there seems to be no penalty if subsequently the allegations against parents (who must be absent and are not alloweddefend themselves at this stage) prove malicious and false.
Judge Condemns Council Staff – Daily Mail, Saturday March 18, 2006
Social workers ‘took girl from her family on a whim’
By Steve Doughty – Social Affairs Correspondent
SOCIAL workers took a nine-year-old girl away from her family for more than a year on a whim, a High Court judge said yesterday.
They embellished facts, told untruths and misled a court after deciding to take the girl into care on the spur of the moment, according to a judge.
Social workers decided the child’s mother suffered from Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy – a condition which is said to make a parent wish to harm their child, Mr. Justice McFarlane’s Judgement revealed.
They did not consult a doctor about their assumption until the girl had been living in council care for three months.
He said he suspected one social worker of a ‘malevolent and unprofessional motive’ and said the attitude of he council bosses who defended her and her colleagues was ‘astounding’.
The judgment said that shortly before the girl was taken from her parents for 14 months, a council meeting on the case had noted: ‘home and care good. Mother and child have good relationship. Detrimental to move.’
Sometimes the Social services behave so outrageously that it is too much for even the most “SS tolerant” of judges in the family court. However, the clearly wronged parents in a case like the recent one portrayed above, still took a year to retrieve their daughter and nobody was prosecuted for perjury or held in contempt for misleading the court!
Once the order is granted, the social workers can demand a police escort to break into the parents house (often in the middle of the night) to drag the children away without giving any reason for their actions! Alas once the children have gone and are “twin tracked” for fostering and adoption it can be very hard indeed for parents to retrieve them. No politicians have powers like these and it is just human nature that powers this great will be abused and used to achieve the social worker’s target objectives rather than the reunification of the family and the welfare of the child.