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Vicky Haigh Jailed
July 7, 2012 permalink
Christopher Booker follows up on two cases. Joe Ollis and Marie Black have finally been reunited with their daughter Luna in France. But Vicky Haigh remains serving her three-year jail sentence for a trifling infraction. Suspected real reason for her harsh sentence: publicly criticizing the family court system.
A baby comes home – but a mother remains in jail
A girl taken from her parents in France has finally been returned, but Vicky Haigh's case has no such happy ending
There were contrasting outcomes last week to two of the stories I have been reporting involving parents whose children were removed from them by our family courts. In France there were tears of joy when Marie Black and Joe Ollis were reunited with their baby daughter Luna, born in France in February but then seized by Norfolk social workers, to be brought back to England to live in foster care. Although this action had been sanctioned by a British court, a High Court judge ruled in May that the seizure was illegal, because Luna was born in France and was therefore outside UK jurisdiction.
Despite further prevarication by the social workers, they eventually obeyed the judge’s order that the child should be returned to France. Last week, finally, Luna was handed by a French court back to her parents. “At first,” they tell me, “she was quiet and withdrawn after her time in foster care, but now she is alert and cheerful.”
This is a landmark case which should give cheer to those scores of parents who flee abroad for the birth of children threatened with seizure by our social workers. For this reason, perhaps the British taxpayer’s expenditure on this episode – estimated at £250,000 or more – was not entirely wasted.
Rather less happy was the outcome of the Court of Appeal hearing on Wednesday at which, as I reported last week, the former racehorse trainer Vicky Haigh awaited a response to her appeal against a three-year prison sentence for breaching a “non-molestation order”. The order had prohibited any further contact with the daughter whom Miss Haigh had lived with for the first seven years of the girl’s life. The breach occurred when she walked by chance into a petrol station and saw her daughter sitting alone in her ex-husband’s car. She opened the door to speak to her, the girl’s father came back, and there followed a brief, heated exchange, lasting under a minute. For this, Miss Haigh received the longest sentence, by far, ever handed down for any breach of such an order, even those involving physical violence.
Only allowed to observe Wednesday’s hearing via a video link to her prison in Yorkshire, she heard allegations that she had been planning to kidnap her daughter (for which no evidence has ever been produced), and reference to a very hostile judgment on her case made last year by Lord Justice Wall, head of the family courts, which he ordered to be published. The judges agreed to reduce her sentence by nine months, the most they could consider without allowing her, under the rules, to be freed immediately.
Source: Telegraph (UK)
Addendum: The Daily Mail gives more detail on Luna Black.
Social workers followed me to France to snatch my baby
After a landmark court victory, a British mother tells her harrowing story
At a cottage deep in the French countryside, a baby girl kicks her feet in the air and smiles at her father, Joe, as she is cuddled by her mother, Marie.
Little Luna is home at last — reunited with her parents at the end of an historic legal battle against British social workers which began when Marie became pregnant and moved to France from her home in Norfolk.
Soon after Luna was born in February, social workers from Norfolk snatched her from her family, flew her to Britain, put her into the care of foster parents and began making plans to have her adopted.
They had accused Marie of putting Luna ‘at risk’ of harm by keeping in touch with her violent estranged husband, who is not baby Luna’s father and who had previously been jailed for assault.
It is an allegation 31-year-old Marie strenuously denies, saying she never wants to see the man again. But social workers spent up to £250,000 of taxpayers’ money in court and legal fees to try to prove their case.
It is believed to be the first time British social workers have snatched a baby born abroad from its parents — a baby who had never set foot in Britain — and brought it back to this country for adoption.
For 12 weeks, Joe and Marie were allowed to see and speak to their daughter just three times, and only then via video calls to Luna’s foster family on internet phone system Skype.
Then in a landmark decision, the High Court in London ruled Norfolk social services’ actions were illegal. Because Luna was born in France and her parents had a permanent home there, she was outside England’s jurisdiction.
The little girl was returned to the couple after French social services concluded they were trustworthy parents. Joe and Marie were told: ‘Your new life is ahead of you with your baby — go and enjoy her.’
Marie said this week at their home near Cahors in south-west France: ‘We were so excited. Luna went to sleep that first night back with us as though she had never been away.
'I lost the chance of breastfeeding her, and we missed her first smile. We blame the English social workers'
But she added: ‘I had lost the chance of breastfeeding her, and we missed her first smile. We blame the English social workers.’
The couple now plan to seek compensation from Norfolk social services for unnecessarily separating them from their baby.
John Hemming, the Lib Dem MP who has advised many parents whose children have been removed by social services, said: ‘The Norfolk social workers don’t seem to recognise any limits on their legal authority.’
The couple’s solicitor, Brendan Fleming, added: ‘I find it amazing that social workers flew to a country outside their jurisdiction and brought this baby to Britain at a cost of thousands of pounds of public money.’
Social workers are under immense pressure not to make a mistake following the Baby P case in London in 2007. He died after suffering many injuries despite being seen by Haringey social services and NHS doctors.
This has led to a big increase in the number of children taken into care — mostly against their parents’ wishes. Meanwhile, there has growing criticism of the accuracy of evidence given by psychological ‘experts’ in the family courts and a growing mistrust in social services.
As a result, increasing numbers of parents under investigation have fled abroad, worried their children will be forcibly removed from them by social workers.
It is estimated that there are now at least 300 families living overseas for this reason, in countries such as Ireland, Cyprus, Spain, Italy and France, where the social services try to keep troubled families together rather than taking their sons or daughters away.
Marie and Joe have certainly had turbulent personal lives, though they are intelligent and obviously very much in love. They met at school in Norwich at 14, and had a relationship for five years.
Joe ended up working in Rugby as a builder, but returned to Norwich after he fell out with his girlfriend and was homeless.
In the meantime, Marie had married young and had five children by her abusive husband before fleeing his violence. At one stage, she lived with her children in a hostel for abused women.
But when this proved difficult, she asked social services for help. They took the children into temporary care, and have refused to return them (we have hidden Marie’s face here to protect her other children’s identities).
Social services accused her of secretly keeping in touch with her husband, putting her children, including Luna, at risk of violence.
Marie insists her only contact with her ex-partner came when she was living in the hostel and, in desperation, asked for his help in transporting her children to and from their schools. She bitterly regrets this.
‘I am the last person who would want to see my husband — particularly as I repeatedly reported him to the police,’ she said.
Joe and Marie then embarked on a fresh relationship after becoming Facebook friends. They set up home together, and last summer Marie became pregnant.
During one of the family court cases over her other children, Norwich social services learned she was expecting — and warned Marie her baby would be taken into care and prepared for adoption.
The couple were horrified. They were already planning a new life in France, where they could share a house with Joe’s mother in the village of Frayssinet-le-Gelat, near Cahors, where she has lived and worked as a landscape gardener for ten years.
Last November, when Marie was 20 weeks’ pregnant, they left Britain. ‘We needed a fresh start, but we did not run away,’ insisted Joe.
In France, he started work as a general builder. But ten days after Luna’s birth in hospital, a letter was left in their postbox by a courier from Norfolk social services, saying they planned to put Luna into care in England.
‘I was distraught,’ said Marie. ‘They said I had to “return” her to England, although she had never been to England. They said she was “at risk” from me because of my husband.’
The couple wrote back to Norfolk social services saying they were not going to cooperate in an ‘illegal kidnapping’. But by early March, social services in France had been contacted by Norwich social workers.
'We were cuddling Luna, and even the male French social worker in charge of our case was welling up'
Joe and Marie were invited to meet a female judge and local social workers in a Cahors court house to discuss their baby’s future. At the end of the meeting, the judge said that until matters were ironed out, Luna must go into the care of a French social services.
‘We left without Luna and I cried all the way home,’ Marie said.
‘For the next few weeks, Luna was fostered by a woman locally. We were allowed to see her at a social services centre twice a week.’
However, on Friday, March 23, matters changed for the worse. At the end of a visit to Luna, Joe noticed gendarmes outside the centre as two English social workers walked inside to take six-week-old Luna to Britain.
‘We were cuddling Luna, and even the male French social worker in charge of our case was welling up,’ said Joe.
‘We put Luna in her car seat on the floor, and left the centre so we would not have to watch her being carried off by strangers.’
That was the last they were to see of their daughter — apart from three Skype sessions — for the best part of three months.
It was then that their English solicitor, Brendan Fleming, advised Joe and Marie to ask the High Court in London for an urgent ruling on their case. The couple flew to England for the May hearing, when a judge told Norfolk social services that France, not England, had jurisdiction over the baby.
In mid-June, Luna was returned to her French foster mother, while social services in France looked into their case. And finally, Marie and Joe were exonerated.
Two weeks ago, the couple got the news they longed to hear. ‘You can take your baby home,’ said a judge at a hearing in Cahors.
‘We walked out into the street cuddling and kissing our daughter,’ said Joe.
‘Now the nightmare is over and she is ours for ever.’
Source: Daily Mail