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Jailed and Deported for Motherhood

September 16, 2013 permalink

An American mother giving birth to a boy in Ireland gets snagged at the intersection of immigration and child protection laws. She spends a year in jail for kidnapping an unrelated child (really her own) and gets deported to Washington while her son is prepared for adoption in the UK. Christopher Booker reports.



Deported, imprisoned and beaten for being a parent

An American woman has suffered a miserable experience after British social workers intervened.

Under Britain's implacable system, an American woman has been deported while her son remains in foster care
Photo: PA

Last Thursday, a crippled American woman in a wheelchair was bundled by six members of prison staff in riot gear into a van at Holloway, where she had been for 21 months. Driven to Heathrow, accompanied by four guards from a firm hired by the UK Border Agency, she was put on an aircraft, to be dumped on the Tarmac in Washington, where she was deprived of her US passport, given no money and left to fend for herself – while her four-year-old son remained miserably in Britain in the care of Barnet council.

Two years ago, social workers had been informed by someone working for a charity that her mildly autistic son, who had been born while she was in Ireland and is an Irish citizen, needed speech therapy. When she disagreed, the social workers made moves for the boy to be taken into care. Before they could obtain the necessary order, however, she escaped with her son to Spain. After the council won its care order, a European Arrest Warrant was issued for her to be returned to London, on the grounds that she had kidnapped someone else’s child.

This arose from the fact that she had lived and worked for a while in London under an assumed name, because she had overstayed her UK visa. Thus, she and her son had different surnames. But this was not the reason given for the arrest warrant, which said only that she was “connected with” the boy, clearly implying that he was not her son. In a Spanish prison she was beaten by prison staff who had been told that the child was not hers.

Back in England, the boy was taken into care and his mother sent to Holloway. In April 2012, she faced a criminal charge of abducting someone else’s child. By the court’s leave, her charge sheet was amended to show a name different from her son’s. She was told by her lawyers that her only hope of seeing him again was to plead guilty. She was ordered to be deported as a criminal after completing 12 months in prison. She tried to lodge appeals, but got nowhere, although she was eventually able to arrange DNA tests, which were only made available after she had served her sentence, and which confirmed that the boy was her son. Pictures taken of him when the tests were carried out showed her once happy, healthy boy looking miserable, lost and ill after a year in foster care.

Last July, as she remained in prison as an “overstayer” while her attempts to appeal continued, her friends found her horribly bruised, crippled and in need of a wheelchair, from what she described as a savage beating by six members of the prison staff, who believed that she had kidnapped someone else’s child. Finally, on Thursday she was deported to Washington, where she has no family, friends or means of support. Her new US passport, bought for her by a friend for £250, was confiscated. Her son remains in foster care and is to be put up for adoption.

Her supporters suggest that the only humane solution to this horrible mess would be to send the boy to live with his mother in America. But that is not how this implacable system works.

Source: Telegraph (UK)

In another article Booker follows up on the story of the hapless mother.



Social workers damn us both ways

The other side of the story is a steep increase in care applications

airplane takeoff
An American mother flew to Washington airport on temporary travel papers arranged by the UK Border Agency
Photo: Alamy

When our social workers excuse their failings by saying “we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t”, they do not realise that both things are true. The media may have piled in on the story of how they failed to intervene to save little Hamzah Khan, found dead two years after being starved to death by his mother, even though social workers had visited his home and found nothing wrong.

We may have been shocked by the report showing how Birmingham’s social workers “lost sight of” little Keanu Williams, beaten to death by his mother, for which the only excuse offered by the city’s sixth head of children’s services in six years (five were paid more than the Prime Minister), was that his staff were “overworked”.

But almost unnoticed is the other side of the story of what is going on in our “child protection” system, when applications by the same social workers to take children into care have rocketed by 250 per cent in five years.

As I regularly report, just as great a scandal is that far too many of these children are being unhappily removed from their parents for no good reason. The social workers are correctly damned both ways: not just for failing to intervene when they should, but just as much for spending untold hours and billions of pounds a year on busily tearing families apart when there is no real call for it.

One such case I reported here three weeks ago is that of the American mother who on September 15 was dumped in a wheelchair at Washington airport by the UK Border Agency (UKBA), after serving 21 months in Holloway Prison for “abducting” her son to Spain to prevent him being seized on the flimsiest excuse by Barnet social workers.

She had been given £250 by a wellwisher to buy a new US passport. But this was confiscated on her arrival by US immigration officials because she had flown in on a temporary travel document arranged by the UKBA.

What the UKBA had not bothered to arrange were the “reception and rehabilitation” facilities she was promised. She was thus abandoned in her wheelchair at the airport, penniless and without a passport, only to discover that, without any official identification, she could not get access to any of the help with accommodation or food she desperately needed. She cannot even apply for a job.

For three weeks she has been living at the airport, subsisting on the odd charitable gift, at her wits’ end as to where to turn. She cannot obtain the necessary ID without her birth certificate, which has apparently been lost by the London solicitors whose advice to her that she should plead guilty to abducting her son landed her in this plight in the first place.

When I asked the Home Office why the UKBA failed to make those reception and rehabilitation arrangements she was promised, I was told: “We cannot discuss individual cases.” There is certainly no surer way to find yourself damned in Britain today than to fall foul of our utterly dysfunctional “child protection” system.

Source: Telegraph (UK)

Addendum: A year later British courts punish friends who try to right the injustice.



Costs ruling in family court penalises those helping wronged parents

'McKenzie Friends' now risk severe financial penalties if their case is lost after a ruling by Mrs Justice Ingrid Simler

Washington DC
An American woman, crippled after being beaten up by staff in Holloway Prison, was deported by the UK Border Agency, to be left in her wheelchair at Washington airport without money or a passport.
Photo: ALAMY

Since Sir James Munby stepped up last year to become head of our family courts, he has been making heroic efforts to restore sanity and justice to what had become an indefensibly secretive and dysfunctional system. His latest move, just when cuts in legal aid are forcing ever more parents to represent themselves, aided by unpaid legal advisers or “McKenzie Friends”, has been to issue new guidelines to ensure that this does not leave them seriously disadvantaged against the serried ranks of taxpayer-funded lawyers on the other side. But the latest recruit to his High Court team, Mrs Justice Ingrid Simler, has now issued a ruling that threatens to tilt the scales of justice against such parents more than ever.

Last September I reported the case of an American woman, crippled after being beaten up by staff in Holloway Prison, who was deported by the UK Border Agency, to be left in her wheelchair at Washington airport without money or a passport. She was originally imprisoned for taking her mildly autistic son from foster care, after social workers had removed him because they said he needed speech therapy which she thought unnecessary. Because she and her son had different names, after she changed hers to avoid detection for overstaying her UK visa, she was charged with having abducted someone else’s child, to which her state-funded barrister advised her to plead guilty. Although DNA tests later confirmed that she was the mother, it was this damning false allegation that led to her being beaten up. Photographs of the boy show how, after a year in “care”, her once happy, healthy son now looked lost, miserable and ill.

After being stuck for weeks at Washington airport, sleeping on benches because she had no money or the documents that would have allowed her to apply for accommodation or look for work, the mother was advised by friends in Britain, including Sabine McNeill and Belinda McKenzie, who run the Association of McKenzie Friends, to apply for a judicial review of her case, which an experienced lawyer told them was full of legal irregularities. Unable to return to the UK without a passport, she drafted a statement with the help of her advisers, which they presented to the High Court in December. A judge adjourned the hearing for them to “validate” their right to speak for her.

This month, however, when none of them could be present, Mrs Justice Simler ruled not just that their case was “totally without merit” but that the lay advisers were now considered to be “parties to the case”, and must pay more than £4,000 in court costs. They would have a chance to challenge this, but were told that, if the court found against them, their costs would be even higher. In effect, the judge was sending a warning to all such lay advisers that, by offering help to litigants, they now risk severe financial penalties if their case is lost. As John Hemming MP recognises, “if lay advisors are to be threatened with hefty costs merely for helping victims of a miscarriage of justice, then the rule of law is under threat”. This ruling appears so flatly to counter Lord Justice Munby’s latest attempt to achieve a fairer balance between lawyers paid by the state and those “McKenzie Friends” that it would be very interesting to know his view.

Source: Telegraph (UK)