February 21, 2010

Written Copy Of Speech Made By Sue Reid ( Daily Mail ) Reporter at House Of Commons

By Sue Reid


Some in this room this afternoon will find it hard to believe what they
are hearing.

It will sound more like life in Stalin’s Russia or England’s Dark Ages
when women were convicted of witchcraft on concocted allegations, then
burned at the stake.

Yet the destruction of British families in the name of state child
protection has frightening similarities.

And it is being encouraged by the Government, the legal system, the
medical establishment and above all our by the fatally flawed social

In the 22 years since the Cleveland child abuse scandal, when 121
children were ripped from innocent families on the say-so of a maverick
group of doctors and social workers very little has changed for the
better in child protection.

If anything, things have got worse. And at the heart of the problem are
the deceptively named family courts, which operate behind shut doors in
every town and city up and down the land.


In England and Wales, 75 children a week are taken from their families
at family court hearings, which are held in the utmost secrecy with what
would appear a laudable aim of protecting the children’s identities.

However, this secrecy throws a veil over everything that happens in
these courts, which, anyway operate with no jury and without the kind of
public scrutiny that leads to a fair trial.

In the normal courts, you are innocent until you are proven guilty but
in the family courts this corner stone of justice does not exist.

All too often, the parents fighting to keep their children have the odds
stacked against them.

As Barbara Hewson, a barrister who has been involved in the family court
process, has told me ’There is a dangerous culture operating here. The
parents always have to prove a negative, that they will never be a
potential risk to their child.


‘That is like proving you will never be mentally ill. There is always a
theoretical possibility that you might be. But if these parents cannot
prove it, it is enough for the court to take the child away.’

Jean Robinson, a director of the Association for the Improvement of the
Maternity Services – who has witnessed scores of babies being taken from
their mothers by social workers at birth –  has also warned that the
family court system is stacked against the innocent.

‘The same group of professionals goes round the family courts. The
council social workers know the medical experts and are paying them to
give evidence against the parents. The judges know them all. It is far
too cosy.’

But most worrying of all is that no parent who appears at a family court
can talk about what happens here.

A whispered word to a friend, from a distraught mother about to lose her
child to adoption, means she can face prison for contempt.


Hundreds of parents – it is four every single week – have been sent to
jail for breaching this code of secrecy.

Yet parents tell me on a regular basis that evidence from social workers
is routinely made up or distorted, with notes fabricated, to make a case
to take their children away forever.

And, of course, because of the secrecy of the family courts, this can
never be properly exposed.

However, in a few weeks time, the Justice Minister Jack Straw has
promised to open up the family courts.  Reporters will be allowed in to
hear proceedings, although there will be strict controls on what they
are allowed to write or publish afterwards.

And there is also a nasty sting in the tail.

Parents who have lost their children in forced adoptions – or, indeed,
have had them returned –  can today tell their heartbreaking stories
AFTER the case is finished,  shining a rare light into the murky shadows
of the system.


But under the new rules, they and their children will be gagged from
talking about their experiences.

Families who have suffered at the hands of our child protection system
will be silenced as never before.

A few years ago I wrote – as did Camilla Cavendish – about couple from
Enfield, north London, whose little girl was carried off by social
workers and into care at a few weeks old.

The father had been accused by Enfield Social Services of maltreating a
boy from his former marriage (a claim totally rejected by police who
investigated, it has to be said).

This family has fought like tigers to keep their little girl. Yet three
weeks ago, a judge in the family division of the High Court finally
dismissed the parents’ new medical evidence that the boy was suffering
from a neurological ailment, and had not been shaken by his father.

In a bitter irony (considering the secrecy of the child protection
system) the little girl was advertised as though she was a puppy for
adoption by Enfield social workers.


She has now been introduced to her new adoptive parents and will soon
live with them.

Yet even though their case is over, her real parents have been gagged. A
judge has granted a draconian injunction, at the request of Enfield
Council, to stop them talking about this tragedy in their lives until
the little girl is 18 in 2022. It is a sign of the way things are going.

When the original article was published, I received an avalanche of
phone calls and e-mails from other parents who said their children had
also been, or were about to be, forcibly adopted.

They come from council estates, middle-class suburbs, and even a castle
in the heart of England.

Many of the families left desperate whispered messages on my office
phone late at night. An e-mail from one father just said: ‘Please,
please help, NOW. We are about to lose our son. In family court tomorrow
for final disposals hearing before he is taken for adoption. We have
done nothing wrong.’

A father calling himself ‘James’ rang from a public payphone to say his
wife’s baby was one of eight young children seized by social workers
from hospital maternity units in Tyne side during a two-week period last


A Welsh grandfather complained that his grandson of three weeks was
earmarked by social workers for adoption before even being born.

The mother, a 21-year-old with a mild learning disorder, was told that
she might — just might — get post-natal depression and neglect her son
in the future. To her great distress, her baby was put in the care of
Monmouth social services within minutes of arriving in the world.

The grandfather said: ‘Our entire extended family — including two
nurses, a qualified nanny and a police officer — have offered to help
her care for the baby. I believe my grandson has been deliberately
targeted for adoption since he was in the womb.’

Every one of these people was breaking the law by speaking to me.

Until a year ago, council social work departments were paid bonuses to
meet adoption targets. And, believe me, it is still a numbers game.

Children are taken on any excuse because it means the social worker will
get a pat on the back.


I know of innocent mothers who have had their babes in arms forcibly
adopted because as teenage girls they suffered a bout of depression.

Others have had their families destroyed because they once had a violent
boyfriend, or on the grounds that they might, just might, shout at their
son or daughter when they become teenagers.

In the scramble to keep adoption figures high, social workers cast the
net wide. The real child killers are lost in the crowd.

Yet social workers are only human. They do make mistakes. Take the
tragedy of Baby P.

So why are these ordinary mortals allowed to operate within a shadowy
secretive court system with such impunity?

The damage done to children who are taken away from their birth mother
is well documented. Many are psychologically scarred for life.


Surely, social workers in Britain, as in many other countries, should be
supporting families with problems instead of ripping them apart?

Recently, a High Court judge in Northern Ireland ordered that a mother
called Louise Mason should be reunited with all three of her children
after they were taken away for adoption.

He took the highly unusual step of allowing Louise to talk about her
case although it was not finally finished and stated that:’ The workings
of the family justice system in this case are a matter of public
interest, and do merit public discussion.’

Louise was accused of hurting her month old daughter after taking her to
the local GP when the child became ill.

It has turned out now that her daughter had cancer, although she has now

But doctors at the local hospital refused to believe Louise when she
said she had done nothing to harm her child and called in social

Louise’s other two children were also taken away, although they have now
been returned to her.


Only a miracle saved this family from complete destruction. A doctor who
first admitted the baby at the hospital, and then went off duty, heard
of Louise’s plight months later and off his own bat contacted the
authorities saying he always suspected the little girl had cancer.

Medical tests were done, and the authorities finally believed the

But perhaps the saddest thing of all is that Louise’s baby daughter may
never live at home again. She has known no mother or father apart from
her foster parents, and has bonded with them very closely.

When she stays with her mother Louise for a night, she cries piteously.
‘We now think it would be cruel to bring her back.’ Louise told me.

It is, by any standards, a tragic indictment of the child protection

Yet what happened to Louise is not unusual.


Every week my phone rings with a desperate parent relating a similar
story. They have taken their child to the doctor, or to hospital, with a
perfectly normal childhood injury, and have been caught up in a fight
against social services to stop their children being adopted.

The truth is that nowhere else in the world is this happening with such
frequency, and in such secrecy, with the backing of the state.



1 Comment »

  1. I have recently finished writing a book re my experience of having my children removed by the courts and social services ten years ago. I was one of the few who had them returned and the children bear the scars today of what they endured during their years ordeal! They were aged 1, 3 and 5 and I was pregnant with my 4th. They are now 9, 11, 13 and 15.

    Comment by Sue O'Callaghan — August 20, 2013 @ 12:46 am | Reply

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