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Couple in adoption row allowed to take baby son home


Lucy Bannerman

The Times

A couple who were forced to give their three children up for adoption have been told they will finally be able to take their fourth child home.

Nicola and Mark Webster will this weekend begin a new life with their five-month-old son Brandon after an unprecedented battle to have a decision over his future heard in open court.

The move, which will see them return home after four months of round-the-clock surveillance in a care unit, comes a day after a landmark ruling which lifted for the first time the veil of secrecy that shrouds the family courts.

Speaking on behalf of the couple outside the High Court in London today their solicitor, Sarah Harman, said it was a "remarkable" outcome to a regretful situation."Nicola and Mark always have and always will deny any ill-treatment," she said.

"They have demonstrated they’re good and caring parents to Brandon. They have shown they have a close, loving and supportive relationship."

Referring to three elder children who will never be reunited with their biological parents, she said: "Nicola and Mark believe that had such an investigation been undertaken in previous proceedings their three elder children would still be at home.

"They regret that so much emphasis was on the evidence of experts and that evidence from two professionals who knew them and their children was not put before the court."

The Websters, who were deemed to be unfit parents by social services at Northwick County Council, have been living under 24-hour surveillance in a "big brother" style residential centre with their son since he was a few weeks old.

Nicola, 26, a factory worker, and her husband, Mark, 33, a forklift truck driver, had their parenting skills scrutinised and underwent psychiatric and psychological assessment. They will now be monitored daily at their home and, provided they pass further assessment, they hope to be granted permanent custody of Brandon at a final hearing, scheduled for June next year.

Justice Munby, the senior family law judge who this week made the first move in bringing such highly charged cases into the open, said: "I approve of this important step in Brandon’s life. Within the next few days Brandon will be moving home with his parents."

However, as his parents prepared to take Brandon back to Cromer, Norfolk, the council released details of a catalogue of injuries which the Websters were alleged to have inflicted on his elder siblings.

The three children were taken into care amid suspicions they had been physically abused. Three years ago doctors found several fractures on one child’s leg which they claimed was consistent with abuse.

The couple have vehemently denied the allegations, claiming that the fracture was a result of brittle bone disease which they say runs in the maternal side of the family. However social services claim the DNA testing shows that neither the children nor their mother are carriers of the disease.

Today, the council pointed to evidence heard at a number of hearings between May and November which claimed that Mr and Mrs Webster had "caused significant harm" to the eldest son and daughter and that their third child was "at risk".

A paediatric radiologist, it was revealed, had found their second child suffered rib fractures which suggested "a compressive force having been applied to the chest with enough force to break the rib".

And a number of other injuries which suggested that "all the child’s limbs were forcibly twisted on one or more occasions with enough force to cause fractures".

A child psychiatrist also reported that their daughter was a "troubled girl" who suffered from "relative emotional deprivations" while their older son was "an intensely anxious and wary child" with a sense of "uncertainty and fearfulness" when with his parents.

Ms Harman said she was "appalled but not surprised" by the statement, adding that its selective nature further underlined the need to prise open the closed doors of the family justice system.

She said: "Northwick County Council have sought to keep this case out of the public domain, and now that it is in public they give a selective report of the family."

The lawyer added that although the Websters will never regain custody of the adopted children they want to prove themselves responsible parents by seeking to re-open the case and review the original evidence."They love their three elder children and think of them every day. They don’t intend to interrupt their placement but they do intend to do everything to clear their names. Their legal team is seeking to call an American professor in paediatrics as an expert witness to back their case."

The couple met when Mrs Webster was 13 and separated for a year following the birth of their first child.

When Mrs Webster fell pregnant - by accident - for a fourth time last year, they fled to Ireland to have the baby. They were told they could either face Irish authorities or return to England where they would be assessed once again by social services.

Emerging from the court hand-in-hand with his wife Mr Webster said: "We are very, very pleased but there’s still a long way to go."

2006 Nov 3