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UK couple who fled here fight to keep baby


Andrew Alderson

A BABY girl has become the focus of a custody battle after a British couple fled to Ireland so the mother could give birth.

On the advice of an MP, the heavily pregnant woman and her boyfriend left the UK last week after British social workers told them their child would be taken into care within hours of birth.

However, within 24 hours of the birth of their daughter, weighing 7lb 10oz, at Wexford General Hospital on Thursday, the baby was seized by Irish social workers.

Tomorrow her parents must begin what is likely to be a lengthy legal battle in Ireland for their right to bring up the child. It is understood that social workers may seek to have her adopted.

The couple have already had their first two daughters taken into care in Britain following an incident in which one of the girls was found to have been hurt. Although the parents were later cleared of any offence, their children were never returned and were adopted against their wishes.

They were advised by John Hemming, an MP and an expert in family law, that they were unlikely to get a fair hearing in a British court. He put them in touch with a contact in Ireland. But the hospital in Wexford learned about the family's troubled past when they contacted a hospital in Essex to obtain the woman's medical records.

Mr Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley, said: "I am embarrassed that I have to say to people that they won't get a fair hearing in the family courts in England and Wales, and the best thing for people facing removal of their child at birth is to emigrate."

He still believes the couple are likely to get a fairer hearing in Ireland in what may prove to be a test case. The couple cannot be named in order to protect the identity of their baby and their two other children, who were taken into care in 2005, one aged two, the other newborn.

In an interview they said they had been left distraught by the events of last week.

Speaking after they saw their day-old baby driven away to go to a foster carer, the tearful father said: "We are completely devastated. We have done nothing wrong and yet we have lost our baby."

Speaking before the birth, the couple explained why they had come to Ireland. "This has been a difficult decision but we are not prepared to lose another child. It's heartbreaking being without my other daughters, I think about them every day, but I just have to be strong," said the mother, aged 27.

"We had a meeting with social services (in Essex) who told us as soon as our daughter was born they would take her into 'temporary' foster care while they did assessments. They said that she would be at significant risk of harm. They said, if necessary, they would get an emergency protection order."

The father, age 35, and a former serviceman, said: "I am very angry. I fought for my country but now I have been forced to leave it. We are not baby factories for these people just so they can get their quotas up."

The father added: "We have basically sold everything to get the money to move to Ireland. Under family law in England, you are guilty until proven innocent -- and you can never prove your innocence."

The two daughters were taken into care after the mother took the older girl to see a doctor, who diagnosed that she had been sexually abused.

The couple insist that if anyone abused their daughter, the culprit must have been a babysitter or a member of the extended family, and that the incident occurred without their knowledge. The couple have been together for more than five years and plan to marry in September.

2009 Jun 7