exposing the dark side of adoption
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Be sure of facts before families are torn apart


Denise Robertson

Western Mail

Almost every week I receive letters from people whose children are being taken from them by the Family Courts. One such letter arrived two years ago. In it Nicky Webster told me I was her last hope.

Her three children had been taken into care after one was found to have fractures in his leg. The council concerned was putting them up for adoption and she and her husband, Mark, were distraught, especially when, on contact visits, their children begged to be taken home.

I asked a colleague to talk to them initially, very aware that some people who write to me deserve to lose their children. “I think they’re genuine,” I was told so I spoke to them myself. Mark was almost in tears as he told me “I think we’ve already lost them but all I want is for them to know, when they grow up, that we didn’t abuse them”.

In writing to me Nicky broke the court injunction which forbade her to speak to anyone, but by now she was too desperate to care.

I managed to get the magnificent solicitor, George Hawkes, to take up their cause and eventually the crusading journalist John Sweeney blew the whole case apart on television. But by now Nicola was pregnant with her fourth child and terrified it too would be taken from her.

Indeed, social services had told her they would do this. Nicky had begged that if the children were adopted they go together as a family. Responsible people, some of them public servants, came forward to support the Websters but one was told by her superior that she must change her testimony and say they were unfit parents. I consider this to be perverting the course of justice. The children were subsequently adopted to separate homes.

The Websters went on the run before the new baby’s birth but eventually came back to plead their case in the High Court. There, a judge criticised the speedy adoption of the three older children, saying, “I can’t understand how a case of this seriousness was capable of being disposed of in a day”.

No thinking person wants anything other than the welfare of children but before we smash a family should not immense care be taken to allow the facts to be laid before the court?

Last week the Websters were granted custody of the new baby after the council admitted that “injuries” to the other child had been caused not by abuse but by a vitamin deficiency due to lactose intolerance. Adoption proceedings cannot be overturned in Britain so the three older children are lost but they have what Mark wanted, proof that they were never abused and were much loved.

As you read this I will be with the Websters in London, cooing over the new baby but conscious of the brothers and sister he may never see, growing up in separate homes without knowledge of their siblings. And of the loving adoptive parents who, if they have read accounts in the press and put two and two together, will realise the children they cherish were torn wrongfully from another woman’s arms.

I will also be thinking of the other families I have not been able to help whose happiness was, to borrow the words of a judge, “disposed of in a day”.

But what about Lily’s hard-working mother?

The talented and lovely Lily Allen is never out of the newspapers, always as the child of controversial actor and comedian Keith Allen, usually with an accompanying list of his deeds and misdeeds. Very occasionally the mother who gave her birth is listed too, as plain Alison Owen. As it happens I know Alison Owen slightly.

Years ago, just after she had produced the successful film, Hear My Song, she optioned one of my novels for a film.

Alas, she was then whisked away to Hollywood. My movie never happened, but Alison went on to co-produce the Academy Award-winning Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett. It also starred a 12-year-old Lily Allen as a lady-in-waiting. So why, when writing about the daughter, do we play up the naughty-boy father and downgrade the hard-working mother, who not only carved out a career but brought up three children after their father had fled the nest?

We do have funny values sometimes.

Smashing time with pottery

I collect antique pottery. I love it because, although it’s fragile, it has survived, rather like human beings.

The latest television hit in China, Collectors’ World, invites viewers to bring out their “antiques” for valuation, pieces hidden during the Cultural Revolution, which tried to obliterate China’s heritage. If your “gem” turns out to be genuine that’s fine. If not, it’s smashed to smithereens with a golden hammer.

One girl took along a family “heirloom” she believed to be from the 18th century Quianlong era. It was a dud and she crumpled with the vase as the hammer descended. The host said sentiment could not get in the way of teaching viewers the dangers of forgery.

I gave a favourite piece of mine to Dickinson Deals to aid a charity but any mention of a hammer and Dickinson would have been toast!

She makes me ashamed of my sex

Thirty years ago a woman had an affair. Her millionaire husband consequently divorced her and gave her a six-figure sum in settlement.

They both remarried, she to the man with whom she had had the affair. Since then she has gone through her £300,000 capital and so, 30 years later, a court has awarded her another £200,000. Her ex-husband is appealing the judgment but I am almost rendered speechless. How can an unfaithful ex-wife, married subsequently to another man, have any claim on the husband she wronged, a man who met his financial obligations to her in full when they separated? Her even asking for more makes me ashamed of my sex. The court granting it makes me livid.

Strange logic

People objecting to vaccination of children again the possibility of a sexually transmitted disease causing cervical cancer in adult life fear it will encourage children to indulge in underage sex. Does this mean that vaccinating them against rubella, to safeguard subsequent foetuses, encourages them to indulge in underage pregnancy?

Britannia rues the waves

As I travel across Britain I’m quite used to seeing the odd flooded field, especially in winter, but nothing had prepared me for the devastation I saw last week.

Vast tracts of Britain are under water. It stretches away to the horizon like the Atlantic. Seabirds bob serenely around flooded treetops, anxious land birds search desperately for solid ground. I saw a solitary cow on a little spur gazing out forlornly, while sheep huddled yards from water cascading through a hedge.

Worst of all were the houses, some of them completely cut off, and a flooded car park, with vehicles waterlogged and deserted. Roads could only be identified by signs poking above the surface and in fields crops are ravaged and topsoil washed away.

There will be a price to pay for all of this. Six lives have been lost and thousands of distraught householders are gazing on devastation.

Was turncoat Tory ‘consistently wrong’?

There are converts – people who experience a genuine revelation on the road to Damascus – and there are turncoats.

In March 2005 Tory Quentin Davies, who defected to Labour last week, called Gordon Brown “incredibly imprudent, desperately complacent… I trust and believe that something nasty will happen to the Chancellor in electoral terms before too long”.

He has also called him “consistently wrong”, “incompetent and naïve”, “guilty of fundamental mismanagement of the British economy”, of “losing control” and of being “extraordinarily incompetent”.

Now this pro-foxhunting, anti-gay-rights MP is Gordon Brown’s new best friend. I’ve heard of strange bedfellows, but really!

2007 Jul 3