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Blameless Parents Lose Daughter

February 7, 2009 permalink

A British court has removed four-year-old Crystal Walton from her parents in a case in which the judge himself says the parents could not be convicted of any wrongdoing. Enclosed below are an article by Camilla Cavendish published in 2006 and a news article this week in the Enfield Advertiser. Enfield is the London district where the family lives.

The British press cannot report the names, but we can tell you the parents are Sarah and Ian Walton and their lost daughter is Crystal. To help in indexing we have used OCR to give the judge's opinion in html, you can also read the scanned version (1 megabyte pdf). It seems best not to draw attention to the source information for this paragraph.



Family courts are the B-side of the Law

London Times 21 December 2006, Camilla Cavendish

"What a strange, fumbling kind of justice system it is that condemns a woman as an unfit mother for the heinous crime of trusting her husband. Yet this is what seems to have happened in a recent case that I feel compelled to write about, even though legal restrictions force me to leave out much of the detail.

The nub of the case is this. A woman, let us call her Janie, gave birth to her first and only child a year ago. That baby was taken away from her and subsequently put up for adoption. Not because of her own failure to care for the baby – her own love and care never seem to have been in question. No. She has lost her baby because of a suspicion that her husband John may have injured another child in his previous marriage almost ten years ago.

The suspicion was no more than that. John was never charged with anything, let alone convicted. Social workers were never sufficiently worried to take that first child into care. Since his divorce John has shared custody of that child perfectly amicably with his ex-wife. Yet the same local authority which left the first child with him has forbidden him to see this new baby. And his new wife, despite having nothing to do with the first case, may never see her baby again.

Unless this case is overruled in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, where it is now heading, it will set a peculiar precedent. For it implies that any British mother could be penalised for choosing a partner to whom the State has taken a dislike: penalised with the loss of the thing that is most precious to her in the world.

It cannot be this simple, you are thinking. Well, not quite. The child of the first marriage is disabled, and did seem to have suffered an injury – I am not permitted to say more. But no one knows how. Both John and his first wife have always protested their innocence. They had a second child who came to no harm. No court will ever truly know whether John was innocent. But the fact is that he was never found guilty. For the local authority to leave him alone with a child that it thought he had harmed, and to take away another that had not been harmed is utterly hypocritical. No court should be able to punish you for a crime you may commit, when there is no evidence.

It should, surely, be a crime to remove a newborn baby from a mother who has never harmed it.

For that in itself is a form of abuse. Yet the secret State often chooses to abuse the children itself, rather than let them run the risk of staying put. They are at least alive, it calculates, even if it is a diminished kind of alive, deprived of the mother bond. And too often, it strikes the wrong balance. In 2002, the ECHR ruled against the British Government for removing a new baby from its mother in hospital and refusing even to let her cuddle it under supervision, when there was no evidence that the baby faced a serious risk at that time. The judgment came too late, though. The baby had already been adopted."

"This is what Janie fears. The ECHR has agreed to hear her appeal and to consider whether the English court ruling breached Janie and John's right to family life, to freedom of opinion and to freedom of expression. That is quite a ticket. But even if the ECHR finds in Janie's favour, it may be too late. The local authority is already seeking families to adopt her baby. Her only hope is that prospective adopters will be put off by knowing of her appeal.

Any lawyer will tell you that family courts are the B-side of the legal system. The majority of judgments will never be read outside the courtroom. Perhaps judges fear the consequences if they do not support social services and social services are later proved right. They seem to start from the assumption that children are de facto wards of court who need protection from their parents.

Even then, Janie's case seems extraordinary. Certainly the parents are not the brightest people in the world. They are not perfect. But the more I learn about it, the more I believe that Janie and John's biggest mistakes were emotional. Janie seems to have been very co-operative. However, John has been irritable, even aggressive, which would support the view that he has a violent nature. But can you really convict on that basis? Which of us could control our temper if faced with losing a child to a bunch of hypocrites? In a Hollywood movie, anger is a natural reaction to injustice. In an English suburb, defiance makes you guilty. The legal system wants "remorse". But how can you show remorse for something you haven't done?

Until this case I had tended to be sceptical about the claims that the Government's targets for adoption were leading to miscarriages of justice. I still feel that ministers were right to want to speed up adoption and to release more children more quickly from the hell of care. But I have now started to take more seriously the argument that these targets have created a perverse incentive for local authorities to take more babies into care. Babies are, after all, more attractive to prospective adopters than older children and therefore an easy way to reach those targets. In Janie and John's case, you do have to wonder why the authorities have rushed to take away a healthy baby, when they did not take away a disabled one.

Janie's case seems to me to make a strong argument for introducing juries. Why is a burglar facing six months in jail allowed to ask for a jury trial, but a mother facing the irretrievable loss of her only child is not? Mistakes will always be made when the ordinary, imperfect citizen is judged by the imperfect and powerful. Personally, I would rather face 12 men good and true."

Source: Family Law Week

Guilty of nothing but still lose their daughter

Thursday, 05 February 2009

Sarah and Ian Walton

A JUDGE has crushed the hopes of a couple who fought to be reunited with their little girl after she was put up for adoption by social services – even though he said the evidence used to keep the family apart would not stand up in a criminal court.

The couple, who along with their daughter cannot be named due to a draconian injunction brought against the Advertiser by Enfield Council, had their child taken from them four years ago on the vague basis that she may suffer “potential future harm”.

This was because the father had been accused – though never charged – of shaking his son from a previous marriage, leading to that child being brain damaged.

Perversely, social services allow the father full and unsupervised access to his disabled son. But when he remarried and his daughter was born, social workers, backed by police, stormed into their house when she was just four days old and took the child from its mother, claiming the baby was at risk.

The father has consistently denied hurting his son and the couple were given a final chance to win their daughter back by challenging the shaken baby accusation in the High Court.

But the judge, Mr Justice Mark Hedley, failed to support their case, despite saying: “The father has never been prosecuted for any offence nor have I seen evidence on which a jury could be invited to be sure of guilt of any offence.”

Appealing to the judge after the ruling, the tearful mother said: “You know it’s my only child – I have done nothing wrong and neither has my husband.”

And the father told the Advertiser that although the family will seek an appeal on the judgment, there is little chance it will be successful.

He said: “I feel like my heart has just been ripped out – even in his own ruling the judge said I hadn’t been prosecuted.

“In a criminal court I would be found not guilty and we would be with our little girl right now. We have been given a life sentence and what they have taken away from us will last forever.”

The mother – who has never been accused of any wrongdoing whatsoever – was told that unless she leaves her husband she will never have custody of her child.

Adoption proceedings are due to go ahead within the next couple of months and it is now extremely ments and chose to support the testimony of Enfield Council’s expert, Dr Neil Stoodley, from Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, who claimed it was most likely that the brain damage was caused by non-accidental head injury.

The family were praised for their conduct by the judge, who said they had acted with courtesy, restraint and ability.

“The court can have nothing but admiration for the persistence of the parents in this case or any doubt but that the father’s belief in his innocence and the injustice done to his families is genuinely held,” he said.

Andrew Fraser, Enfield Council’s joint acting director for education, children’s services and leisure, said: “The judgment confirms the validity of the original medical evidence before the court, and means the child remains in her current placement.

“Our main concern is, and must always be, to ensure that children are safe and protected from harm.”

Source: Enfield Advertiser

Addendum: Here is the Walton family on YouTube.