English social workers pursue yet another mother who had taken refuge in Ireland with her child.
Almost hourly last week I followed yet another child-snatching drama, as bizarre and disturbing as any I have reported. So irked were the social workers of an English council when, six months ago, a mother and her 14-year-old son evaded their clutches by fleeing to Ireland that they hit on a cunning ruse. They tracked down the woman’s former husband, who had not seen his son for seven years, and paid for him to go to Dublin to front a case for “child abduction”, on the grounds that his son had been taken abroad without his consent.
The judge, relying on a document supplied at the last minute by the English social workers, which the mother and son were not allowed to see or challenge, ruled – in defiance of the UN Convention on Children’s Rights and a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights – that the boy must be returned to England. He was so distraught that he attempted suicide, spending two days in hospital before waiting in council care to be deported.
The social workers first intervened in this family’s life two years ago, following a malicious allegation which proved wholly untrue. But so persistent were the social workers in questioning this bright, articulate boy – I spoke to him last week before he was taken into care – that he eventually refused to talk to them any more. Their response was to threaten that he would be taken into care for “failure to co-operate”. The mother’s response was to flee with her son to Ireland, where the English social workers tried to persuade their Irish colleagues to take him into care.
The pair soon established a friendly relationship with their Irish social worker, who could see no reason for sending them back to England. They had settled happily into their new life, and the well-behaved boy did well at school, making many new friends.
But the English social workers were not giving up. A few weeks ago, the couple were assigned a new social worker, trained in the UK, whose attitude was very different. They were summoned to Dublin to face a charge of “child abduction”, brought in the name of the ex-husband and father, who left home in 2004 amid allegations of sexually molesting his son (no charges were brought).
He and the Irish social worker sat in the Dublin courtroom, while a battery of lawyers put various bizarre allegations to the mother. She had already been described as an “alcoholic” even though for medical reasons she never drinks and several tests had shown no trace of alcohol in her blood. One lawyer now put it to her that she was “a paranoid schozophrenic”. She replied: “Are you a doctor? Do you know what is necessary to diagnose that condition?” When he said he had no idea, she told him: “Physical tests and a full psychiatric examination, neither of which I have had.”
On the last day, mother and son attended together, expecting that, under the UN Convention, the boy would be allowed to speak for himself. But the judge announced that, over lunch, she had read a new document supplied by the English social workers, which the pair were not allowed to see. She ruled that they must return to England, assuring them that they would be allowed to live together.
The Irish social worker, however, later told the boy that, as soon as they landed, it was planned that he should be made a ward of court and taken into care, while the mother suspected that she might be arrested for abduction. That night, in their hotel, she found her distracted son preparing to hang himself, and he was taken to hospital. The Irish social worker applied for a care order, and the boy was taken to an institution with an electrified fence, where his mobile phone was confiscated and he was kept under constant watch.
The Irish social worker then admitted to the boy that he had been misled by his English counterparts, who assured him the father was “only an occasional social drinker”. They had now revealed that he is an alcoholic with a record of violence. Yet it was entirely on this man’s word that a mother and son who have lived happily together for 14 years are now to be torn apart.
The lawyers they were given in Ireland refused to raise a recent landmark judgment in the ECHR that, in abduction cases, the interests and wishes of the child must take precedence over the wishes of an aggrieved parent. Mother and son believe that they have been horribly betrayed, by the lawyers, by the judge and by social workers who have treated them like criminals for no offence other than their refusal to accept unwarranted, officious interference in their life.
On Friday, 10 minutes before the mother was due for a job interview, to support herself while she remains in Ireland, she was rung by the Irish social worker and summoned back to court immediately. It was merely to hear that her son will be deported to England on Tuesday. This tragedy is far from over.
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