Britain is the only country in Europe where children are routinely removed from their parents without consent
By Christopher Booker
October 10, 2009 / Telegraph.co.uk
This week I return to one of the most disturbing stories this column has ever reported. It began on a morning in April 2007 when the home of a respectable middle-class family in Sussex was overrun by 18 policemen and two RSPCA officials, supposedly looking for guns. When the father, a professional dog breeder, volubly protested, he and his pregnant wife were arrested and handcuffed, to the horror of their watching five-year old daughter (whom I call, for legal reasons, "Jenny").
East Sussex social workers were then called to remove the little girl. Her mother had a miscarriage while in custody and returned to an empty home, left in chaos. Jenny has remained in foster care ever since, and despite her parents pleading for her return through 74 legal hearings, the ruling by a family court judge last March that she be put out for adoption was upheld in July by the Appeal Court.
The dominant impression from these recordings is of Jenny's desperation to be reunited with her parents, and of an increasingly distraught child who cannot understand what has been done to her. The parents claim that pressure was put on her constantly to say that she didn't want to see them again. Why did the family court judge not allow this evidence to be heard in court, although she did admit accounts of these "contacts" by the social workers?
A second document is the judgment by Mr Justice Bodey in the Appeal Court confirming that Jenny must be put out for adoption. No evidence had been produced that her parents ever caused Jenny physical or mental harm. His ruling centred on two points. One was evidence that her home was a mess on the day of the raid, although those who knew the house well testify that it was normally clean and tidy. The other was that, when the family's home was invaded by 18 policemen (a figure confirmed by one policeman in evidence), the father verbally abused them in colourful fashion (but didn't attack them physically). Are these really adequate grounds for tearing a child and her parents permanently apart?
A third document is the book Forced Abduction by Ian Josephs, a businessman who has taken an active interest in the removal of children from their parents by social workers ever since he was a Tory county councillor in the 1960s. He acted in part of the Jenny case as a "Mackenzie friend", that is, an informal assistant and adviser.
Mr Josephs shows that Britain is almost the only country in Europe which routinely allows children to be separated from parents without their consent. Indeed, he reproduces a press release put out in 2003 by Hammersmith & Fulham Council boasting how, under a Local Public Service Agreement, it had received a reward of £500,000 from central government for hitting its target of 101 adoptions in the year. This particular, highly controversial scheme of cash bonuses has, thankfully, since been abandoned.
The impression given by these documents supports the GP's view that this is an "appalling case of injustice". Social workers, lawyers and judges seem enmeshed in a system heavily skewed towards putting children out for adoption – by a process so shrouded in secrecy that it seems designed more to protect the system itself than the interests of the child. Most alarming of all is that there seems no one with the authority to intervene in cases such as Jenny's, where that system appears to have left both a loving family and justice horribly betrayed.