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Family and Career Destruction
April 12, 2014 permalink
Christopher Booker reports on a mother ruined by the courts when her lawyer broke confidence to give a misconstrued version of her remarks to child protectors. She is separated from her daughter and a criminal conviction prevents her from earning a living in her previous profession.
If 'emotional abuse’ is to be a crime, who is guilty here?
A mother's misunderstood comment led to her being jailed and her daughter put into a care home
Each time I investigate a new instance of how crazily our “child protection” system has gone off the rails, I wonder how any story could be as bad. To paraphrase the opening lines of Anna Karenina, “all happy families are alike, but each unhappy family that has fallen into the clutches of this system experiences how corrupted it has become in its own way”.
This week’s example is that of a mother and daughter who lived happily together in the middle of one of the most beautiful areas of countryside in Britain. The mother held a responsible job, requiring professional qualifications; the girl enjoyed riding, swimming and gymnastics, and was a year ahead of her age at school. The only shadow on this idyll was that the mother took up with a new partner, who one day hit her so badly before running away that she called the police. Thanks to her full co-operation, he handed himself in and was sent to prison.
By now, however, the social workers had been called in, removing the child into foster care, under a Police Protection Order. When this expired, the mother quite legally took her daughter back. But the social workers now obtained an interim care order, to take her back into foster care for a full “assessment”. This seemed so uncalled for that 500 neighbours and friends signed a petition to say that it would be hard to find a child more happily cared for than she was by her mother.
One day, visiting her daughter, the mother was disturbed to see marks on the girl’s arm that could only have been caused by physical ill-treatment in her foster home. The girl’s grandmother, a respected retired teacher in her seventies, was so concerned that she reported the injury to the social workers, who brushed it aside. Next day, the two women, still shocked at the social workers’ refusal to take any action, visited a young trainee solicitor on a quite different matter: to arrange for a charge on the mother’s property to fund the building of a new house in the grandmother’s garden.
During the interview, the mother mentioned their concern over what had happened to her daughter, saying casually that the social workers’ dismissive response was the kind of thing that had prompted so many other parents to snatch their children from care, to flee with them abroad. She had absolutely no intention of following suit. But the young solicitor, completely misunderstanding what she had heard, reported this confidential conversation to the social workers. She suggested that the purpose of raising the money must have been not to pay for the grandmother’s building work, but to finance the mother’s flight abroad with her child. The following day, the two women were arrested and charged with “conspiracy” to abduct the girl.
They faced a criminal trial before a judge who had only just moved over from the family courts. Not a shred of evidence was produced to support the charge, other than the solicitor’s statement. Despite evidence from both the mother and the builder that this was an absurd misunderstanding, the judge seemed to prefer the case put by the social workers and police. When the bemused jury came to an inconclusive verdict, she insisted that they come up with a verdict of 10 to two. The mother was given 18 months, the 76-year-old grandmother, formerly a department head at the school where she worked for 40 years, was also jailed, but let out after two weeks.
When the mother was released, she learnt that her daughter had been removed to a new care home, according to the former foster carer “kicking and screaming, 'I want my mammy’ ”. This week there is to be a new hearing, into an application by the mother to be reunited with her daughter. The little girl, apparently longing to come home, is represented by an “advocate” who has only once met her. But the social workers are leaning heavily on the fact that her mother now has a criminal record (which, incidentally, disqualifies her from doing her old work).
To anyone looking at all sides of this story, it is hard not to conclude that something terrible has happened. The mother believes that she made only two serious mistakes: first by contacting the police, which got the social workers involved in the first place; second, by making those casual remarks, which were so grievously misinterpreted, causing her to be sent to prison. There are now MPs calling for the “emotional abuse” of children to be made a criminal offence. But in this case, as in so many others, we must ask: who is really guilty of the emotional abuse of this bewildered and unhappy child, for nearly two years robbed of the loving home where she longs to be?
Source: Telegraph (UK)