Published in the Sunday Telegraph 7th November 2010
There was a time when Britain took pride in offering a safe haven to the victims of tyrannies in other countries. Today we see this in reverse, with scores of families each year fleeing this country as the only way to escape a vicious system bent on seizing their newborn children for no good reason. Last week I heard two more such horror stories and this week I will relate the first, in which I am legally compelled to disguise the names.
Roger and Carol lived happily in Doncaster with their five-year-old daughter. One day last November they had a marital disagreement, involving no more than raised voices. They were overheard by a neighbour who called the police. The couple were arrested and held for nine hours before being released without charge. But the police had summoned the social workers to remove the child, who had not been harmed in any way other than hearing her parents having a row – as countless children do every day.
The social workers obtained an interim care order, on the grounds that the child was “at risk of emotional harm”, and gave her to Roger’s parents, both of whom have worked for the police. Relations were amicable, but the grandparents insisted on working closely with the social workers. The parents were only allowed contact with their daughter in a filthy little “contact room” in the local social services office. As is usual, the parents were told that if they showed any emotion their contact would be stopped. In February, under this strain, Carol had a miscarriage.
Last June, puzzled at why the interim care order had not been renewed as the law requires, Carol called the court. She was told that the order had lapsed three months earlier. When her husband confirmed this by a second call to the court, Carol drove to her in-laws’ home to explain that there was no longer any legal reason why her daughter could not be returned to her. Her mother-in-law protested, but the child was so overjoyed to go home that she ran to get into her mother’s car. The mother-in-law stood in front of the car but Carol reversed and drove off.
When her daughter said she was hungry, they stopped at a motorway service station. The grandmother had alerted the police, the car number was picked up by a camera and before long Carol (who was pregnant again) was arrested, handcuffed and pushed into a police van. At the police station, she collapsed and was taken to hospital. Next day she was driven back to Doncaster and interviewed four times. The police confirmed there was no care order in place but, to her astonishment, Carol was told she would be charged with assaulting her mother-in-law, although there had been no physical contact between them. She was released after midnight.
When the social workers applied for a new care order, the judge reproved their “slipshod work” but granted the order on the grounds that Carol had taken back her child “without thought”.
Before the next hearing, the parents’ solicitors advised them to undergo psychological assessments. The psychologist found nothing wrong with Carol, but Roger had “narcissistic personality traits”. They then underwent a second assessment, based on “true or false” responses to 170 statements (such as: “Last week I flew the Atlantic eight times”). This time, Roger was normal, but Carol showed “high probability of being a borderline alcoholic” – though she hardly ever drinks.
Eventually, the court ruled they could have no further contact with their child. In September, Carol was in court to face the assault charges. The magistrates found, by two to one, that though there was no direct evidence she had assaulted her mother-in-law, she had been “emotional” in court which indicated the “possibility” that she might have been similarly emotional during the confrontation. They therefore found her guilty, ordering her to return for sentencing in October.
Two days later, it transpired that the hospital she had visited for ante-natal tests had told the social workers she was pregnant. Her daughter’s guardian told her that, when the baby was born, the social workers would seize it. At this point, Carol decided she could take no more. “I had already lost one child,” she says. “I had suffered a miscarriage of justice. After all I had been through, there was no way I was going to lose another child.”
She did her homework on the internet, not least through the Forced Adoption website run by Ian Josephs, a businessman living in the south of France, where she read many stories similar to her own. She discovered that a possible escape route was Northern Cyprus, which has no extradition agreement with the UK.
Without telling her husband, she sold one of her cars to raise money for the journey, and travelled overnight in a coach down the motorway, passing the place where her daughter’s last sight of her mother had been of her being bundled into a police van. At Heathrow she waited hours for her plane, terrified she might be arrested. After 24 hours she arrived in Cyprus in the middle of the night, alone in an unknown land. But she had made it. The next day, being a resourceful woman, she began to find her feet, amazed at how friendly and helpful everyone was, including the authorities. Two days later, her husband flew out to join her.
Now, after a month, set up in a spacious villa, surrounded with friends, they cannot believe their good fortune. A scan in the efficient local hospital confirms that they can expect the birth of a healthy son. As they begin to build a new life, Carol told me last week: “We feel we have escaped from hell into heaven. The only thing that matters to us is that we have managed to protect our baby and future children from an outrageous, heartless business, built around treating children as a commodity. Any other family in our situation really needs to take heed and get out. I don’t feel proud to be a British citizen any more because of what happened to us.”
Meanwhile, back in Britain, The Sun and ITV’s This Morning were celebrating National Adoption Week by advertising a row of available children, complete with names and winsome pictures. What neither would be allowed to do, though, is to report how those children came to be parted from their parents. In some cases it may genuinely have been in the child’s interests. But in too many others the reality of how cruelly children in Britain can be snatched from loving parents might make The Sun’s readers very angry indeed.