Couple flee abroad to fight against the 'Big Brother state' that took their baby
London Telegraph | August 30 2005
A couple whose son was taken away by social workers over what they say were false claims of mistreatment have moved abroad, fearing that any more children they might have could also be seized.
Emma and Martin - not their real names, as a court ruling prevents them being identified - strenuously deny harming Peter and are attempting to challenge the court ruling that placed him for adoption.
But the couple claim that they can no longer live under the shadow of the "Big Brother state" that broke up their family and feel they will be safer if they continue the fight to clear their names from outside Britain.
Their plight was highlighted in The Daily Telegraph last year when they revealed that they had last seen Peter just after his first birthday, nearly two years ago, at a final contact meeting before he was taken for adoption.
At the time they were hoping that the courts or social services would listen to new medical evidence that they said showed they had never harmed their child.
But it did not happen, and they claim their ordeal was one of many where parents have been left reeling by the speed at which families can be split up and by the casual manner in which evidence against them is assembled.
Today, they are no longer waiting for a miracle. They have sold their house in Essex, the one they bought three years ago as a family home for their new-born son, and moved. They have no idea where Peter lives and have heard nothing of him for two years.
"This isn't a defeat," said Emma. "Leaving Peter behind is the hardest thing we have ever had to do. But we feel stronger about carrying on the fight from safer territory. In Britain we know that the authorities talk to one another and we fear that everything we do - even going to the doctor about something seemingly innocent like a sore toe - would somehow be twisted against us.
"Also, if we stayed in Britain and were to try for another baby, we would have to go through nine months of pregnancy fearing that the child would be taken from us 20 minutes after the birth and put up for adoption. We couldn't go through that again."
Their new home is decorated with pictures of the child they lost. When acquaintances ask about him, they reply: "He's not with us any more." No one is tactless enough to enquire further. If they did, they would find out that when Peter was six months old Emma took him first to her GP and then, to be safe, to hospital because he had a bump on his head.
An X-ray revealed that Peter had a fractured skull. It wasn't causing him any trouble but, because his parents could not explain the bump, social services and the police were called.
An emergency protection order was obtained and Peter was taken away from his parents at the hospital.
From then on, their only contact with him was at supervised and increasingly infrequent meetings while the case against them as child abusers was pieced together.
A radiologist, Christine Hall, instructed by police, found only a hairline fracture. But a second, Karl Johnson, appointed by the local authority, said - to Emma and Martin's amazement - that there was also evidence of a previous leg fracture. Knowing nothing of this, they could not explain it.
From then on they felt they did not stand a chance of proving their innocence. As the case against them built up, only evidence of their "bad character" was noted, while a far greater number of favourable testimonials - including Peter's exemplary health and welfare records - were not produced.
With Government policy dictating a desire for increased and speedier adoptions, the family was irrevocably split up just eight months after Peter was first taken from them.
Martin was described as a violent man because a decade previously he had defended a young boy against older bullies; and a cut that Emma once sustained when she tripped over during an argument was enough to prove their "violent" relationship.
The guardian ad litem, appointed by the court to act in Peter's interests, contributed further to the case against them when she described Peter as having "frozen awareness" - a sign of a child brought up in a volatile environment. The evidence for this was that he looked "distracted" in a home video.
Overseas specialists in child abuse declared Peter's leg injury non-existent and said the head injury was consistent with a knock from luggage while on public transport - the parents' only explanation for what might have happened - but it was too late. Peter was with his new family and adoptions are irreversible, no matter what evidence comes to light.
In preparation for the day when they see him again, Emma and Martin have been reading books about adopted children to try to understand the psychological confusion many feel at being "rejected" by their birth parents and sent to live with other families without knowing the circumstances of their adoption. Such accounts trouble Emma deeply, but also spur her on to fight for contact. "I want to do this not just for us, but for the rest of the family. My father, for instance, is deeply saddened that he may never see his grandson again. Even if we are not allowed to see our son, I would like our parents to have some contact so he will at least have known his grandparents."
Emboldened by no longer being on British soil, they have stepped up their fight, although they still cannot use their own names or give all the details they would like because of the secrecy covering cases in the family courts. They do not, however, wish their where-abouts to be made public.
Bill Bache, the solicitor who secured Angela Cannings's release from prison, is acting for them pro bono, but they are still waiting to hear from a barrister who is considering taking their case on the same basis. Legal aid is rarely given for an appeal. "I believe that family cases should be funded right to the end, in the best interests of the child," said Emma. "In our case, the authorities would say our case is at an end - the child has been adopted and that's final."
Meanwhile, she has lodged complaints with the GMC against the three medical expert witnesses involved. Among other points, she claims that each of them was speaking outside their area of expertise.
As there is no independent body dealing with complaints against social workers or guardians ad litem, and the complaints she made via their internal complaints procedures fell on deaf ears, she has turned to the police.
The nub of her case for malfeasance in public office is that Peter's guardian was not a psychologist and was therefore - like the doctors - speaking outside her area of expertise when she diagnosed "frozen awareness".
"But our biggest problem was persecution by social services who told endless lies under oath and fabricated evidence against us," she said.
As they start their new life, Emma and Martin are debating whether they dare try for another baby. With "child abuser" written over their medical notes, Emma fears that even in another country she might have to risk a pregnancy without medical monitoring because of the chance of her baby being taken away if her "history" is disclosed.
In the meantime she is stencilling a bedroom in their new home for Martin's four-year-old from his former marriage. Despite the accusations against them, and the decision to remove their baby from their care, there has never been any attempt to stop them seeing that child. This is just one of the many aspects of the case that makes them think that the British system of child protection needs urgent review.