'We're classed as child abusers'

Date: 2009-02-16
Source: bbc.co.uk

Four years ago, Mark and Nicky Webster were suspected of child abuse and their three children were adopted. Last week, an appeal court judge agreed they may have suffered a miscarriage of justice.

But the children had to stay with their adoptive parents. In an interview with Victoria Derbyshire on BBC Radio 5 Live, they said they were facing up to not seeing them again for years.

When Nicky Webster took her five-year-old son to hospital for a bad virus infection, she could not have foreseen the consequences.

Doctors found a fracture in the child's ankle - and within two days all three of the couple's children had been taken into care.

"They said the only way these injuries occur is through pulling and twisting - we were absolutely horrified," said Mrs Webster.

"If indeed we had been harming him in any way, wouldn't we try to keep that away from anyone's attention?"

"I went on auto-pilot. It was like an out-of-body experience. It was like I was on the outside looking in."

The allegations set the couple at odds as each blamed the other.
   
"You keep thinking what happened. Of course after a while you start looking at each other," said Mr Webster.

"They were saying this was child abuse - they'd turned us against each other."

There followed a day-long adoption hearing and the children - who were then aged five, three and two - were no longer theirs.

The couple were told by lawyers that they had no argument against social services' case and to "draw a line under it".

But after the couple had their fourth child, they discovered there was another quite plausible explanation for the fractures.

Norfolk County Council took the Websters to court in a bid to take away the new baby, Brandon, believing he was in the hands of child abusers.

Rare deficiency

To fight to keep him, the Websters went to new experts who came up with a startling new conclusion - the children had not been abused; the fractures had been caused by scurvy.

Mrs Webster said her son had feeding problems and was put on to soya formula. But the problem started when he was switched to regular soya milk feeds.

"I wasn't told that they're not nutritionally complete," said Mrs Webster.

"If I'd been told to put him on vitamin supplements, I would have done."

At first, the Websters thought the explanation would mean they could have their children back.

But adoption orders are irreversible, except in exceptional circumstances. The Websters no longer had any claim on them.

Mr Webster said: "There may have been a miscarriage of justice but there was nothing we could do because they had been with the adoptive parents too long.

"It seems a bit silly because if a child is kidnapped, and taken away for three years, what are they going to say? 'It's been with the kidnappers for three years and the parents are not going to get them back'?

"What does this say about the law? That they know there's been a miscarriage of justice but they can't do anything about it."

It seems like the end of the road for the couple. They say they cannot afford to take the case further because their savings were used up when they fled to Ireland to avoid Brandon being taken into care.

Mrs Webster is pregnant again because she said she could not bear for Brandon to grow up without siblings.

The adopted children are no longer theirs. They can contact their natural parents when they are 18. In the meantime, the Websters receive updates each year on how the children are doing.

Last week's judgement was a step closer to the "acknowledgement we needed" that they did not abuse their children, Mrs Webster said.

But it did not clear their names.

Mark says: "If you wanted to be a taxi driver, you can't because you get checked and we're schedule one offenders.

"We're classed as child abusers."

The couple is now facing up to not seeing their children again for at least another 10 years - until the eldest is 18.

But they are trying not to dwell on it and have pledged to "keep on banging on".

Lisa Christensen of Norfolk County Council said she sympathised with the couple's plight.

She said the council had tried to "explore in a fair and measured way all the issues raised by Mr and Mrs Webster".

She went on: "When there are significant concerns about the welfare of a child or children, staff have a duty to act and are subject to public criticism if they fail to intervene.

"In 2004 the medical evidence was unanimous and we clearly had a duty therefore to place the matter before the court."

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