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Couple who beat court secrecy can take baby home


Lucy Bannerman

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

Nicola and Mark Webster will begin a new life with their five-month-old son, Brandon, this weekend after a 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 yesterday, their solicitor, Sarah Harman, said it was a remarkable outcome to a regrettable situation.

“Nicola and Mark always have and always will deny any ill-treatment,” she said.

“They have demonstrated they are 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 the couple, 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 Norfolk 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. Mrs Webster, 26, a factory worker, and her 33-year-old husband, 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.

Mr 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 the child’s parents prepared to take him back to Cromer, Norfolk, the council released details of a catalogue of injuries that the Websters were alleged to have inflicted on his elder siblings.

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: “Norfolk 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 would never regain custody of the adopted children they wanted to prove themselves responsible parents by seeking to reopen the case and review the original evidence.”

When Mrs Webster became pregnant last year the couple fled to Ireland to have the baby. They were told they could either face the Irish authorities or return to England where they would be assessed once again by social services.

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

2006 Nov 4