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A judge has condemned the "disgraceful" conduct of social workers over an adoption case, says Christopher Booker.
By Christopher Booker/Daily Telegraph
August 22, 2009
The revealing of the names of those responsible for the killing of Baby P reminded us yet again of the failure of Haringey social workers to avert the child's death. What a shocking contrast this provides to the behaviour of East Sussex social workers in the case I reported a month ago, which led to their seizure and putting out for adoption of a girl, now seven years old, from a respectable middle-class home, to the anguish of both her parents and the little girl herself.
The chief reason offered by the social workers for abducting the girl two years ago was that her home had been left in an appalling mess after a raid by RSPCA officials and 18 policemen. They ransacked the premises looking for non-existent guns, and released into the house a pack of dogs kept in kennels outside by her father, a professional dog-breeder. The parents were arrested for protesting at what was happening (the mother suffering a miscarriage while in police custody) and the social workers were summoned to remove their daughter.
Everything about this case is bizarre, not least the apparent complicity of social workers, lawyers and the courts in determining that the child should not be returned to her parents, as she wishes, but rather, after two years in foster care, sent for adoption.
I have now been able to read through many papers relating to the case, including the judgments resulting from the 74 hearings in which the parents attempted to get their daughter back. What stands out is the startling contrast between the two totally different versions of the case given by the social workers and the courts on one hand and, on the other, that presented by the parents themselves and by many who knew them. The latter include their GP, who recently wrote that he had never "encountered such a case of appalling injustice".
The most impressive document was a report by an independent social worker, based on many interviews with those involved, including the child herself and the chief social worker in charge of her. In measured terms, this made mincemeat of the council's case. Nothing about it is more suspicious than the contrast between descriptions of the "clean and tidy" home reported by those who knew the family well and the mess allegedly found by the policemen who burst into it mob-handed on the day in question.
The report found an equally glaring contrast between the social workers' insistence that the child was quite happy to have been removed from her parents, and the abundant evidence, observed at first-hand, that the little girl had an extremely good relationship with her parents and wants nothing more than to be reunited with them. The courts seem to have totally ignored this report, whose author last month expressed astonishment that the child had not been returned home.
What has also come to light is a remarkable judgment by Lord Justice Thorpe and Lord Justice Wall in the Appeal Court last year, in another case which also involved the apparently ruthless determination of East Sussex social workers to send a child for adoption. The judges were fiercely critical. The social workers' conduct, said Lord Justice Thorpe, could only reinforce the suspicions of those who believe "councils have a secret agenda to establish a high score of children they have placed for adoption".
Lord Justice Wall described East Sussex's conduct as "disgraceful – not a word I use lightly" and also as "about the worst I have ever encountered in a career now spanning nearly 40 years". "The social workers in question," he said, appeared "not only to have been inadequately managed, they do not appear to have been properly trained". As for the barrister who represented East Sussex (and who also appeared in most of the hearings in the "dog-breeder" case), Lord Justice Wall said "her attitude came across, to me at least, as – in effect – so what?" She had demonstrated, he said, "profound misunderstanding" of the council's legal position vis à vis adoption. He ordered his comments to be circulated to family courts and adoption agencies across the land.
Though the circumstances are different, anyone reading the documents could not fail to be struck by how many of the judges' comments are relevant to the case I reported. The same council's social workers have again pushed for a child to be adopted in a way which prompts the family's GP to say "the destruction of this once happy family is, in my opinion, evil". And that barrister who was involved in both cases is now – a family court judge.