Social workers and police swooped on a family home and removed a gravely ill little girl from her loving parents’ care, after what was termed by judge as a ‘feeding frenzy’ of misinformation.
The couple were left “helpless” after the one-year-old was taken from them on the basis of “wholly improbable” fears that one of them had cut a tube used to keep her alive.
A top judge said Surrey County Council social workers had enlisted uniformed police support in the girl’s ‘peremptory’ removal, giving her parents ‘no choice’ but to comply.
The desperate couple lived without their daughter for almost six months whilst social workers mulled over concerns that they had “fabricated” or “induced” some of her medical problems.
But now, after paying tribute to the “enormous fortitude” of the couple – whose devotion to their daughter had shone through the case like a ‘golden thread’ – Mrs Justice Theis has finally opened the way for their little girl’s return home.
The girl was born with a range of medical conditions and had to undergo major heart surgery when she was only 10 days old. She remains dependent on a ventilator 24 hours-a-day and has to be fed through a gastrostomy tube.
She was in hospital for 11 months whilst her parents, who had been told when she was born that she only had a 5 per cent chance of survival, were trained in how to look after her before being allowed to take her home.
For months the parents managed to cope with a relentless, round-the-clock, care regime with professional support and the judge said that, despite the odds against her, the girl was ‘meeting all her milestones’.
However, concerns were raised about the parents’ care of their daughter – including claims that they were “escalating” and “over-reacting” to minor medical problems and that the mother had failed to “maintain professional boundaries” with carers and nurses.
The couple were said to have unwisely tried to wean their daughter off her ventilator and were accused of undermining her care by “challenging professional advice” and ‘manipulating staff’.
However – after hearing nine days of argument and 22 witnesses – Mrs Justice Theis said the claims against the parents were simply not borne out by the evidence and many of the issues had been “to put it at its most neutral, misunderstood” by social workers.
Some of the professional anxieties about the parents had “gained authority by repetition without a proper analysis or understanding of the underlying factual foundation.”
The judge added that social workers’ “negative attitude to the parents” had been fostered by the suggestion that they had ‘induced’ or ‘fabricated’ some of their daughter’s problems – a claim which had never been properly investigated.
The crisis came early this year after one or other of the parents were accused of putting their daughter at risk of harm by deliberately cutting a tube that formed part of her ventilation equipment.
The judge said that allegation was “wholly improbable” and any finding against the parents could only be based on a “huge degree of speculation.”
She told the High Court: “Regrettably, the evidence points to a feeding frenzy of misrepresented and incomplete information that, adopting the terminology used against the parents, escalated out of control.”
Following an emergency meeting, the council decided the girl was at “immediate risk of harm” and two social workers – along with four police officers, three of them in uniform – arrived unannounced on the couple’s doorstep that same evening to remove their daughter.
The council accepted in court that the steps taken that evening “cannot be justified” and the judge described them as ‘wholly inappropriate’.
She added: “The peremptory removal of the girl from her parents’ care was achieved through an unfair process whereby the local authority held all the cards and the parents had no choice but to ‘agree’ in circumstances where they, in reality, had no choice.”
The parents, she added, were given no access to legal advice and were “powerless” to challenge what the council had done. Although they “probably knew best” what their daughter’s needs were, their attempts to have a say were viewed as meddling.
Pinpointing a ‘lack of effective leadership within the local authority’, the judge said break downs in communication between professionals and changes from one social work team to another did not help the situation.
The allegations against the parents were not checked or viewed in a balanced way and the judge added: “There was little evidence of effective and consistent management or supervision of the social workers who were operating on the ground”.
She told the court: “The parents in this case have shown enormous fortitude. The events of the last two years must have been extremely difficult. They had to cope with being told soon after their daughter’s birth that she had only a 5 per cent chance of survival.
“They endured the enormous uncertainty of their daughter having many medical operations and procedures whilst she was in hospital for nearly a year. They coped with the detailed training they needed to undertake before she could come home.”
They had managed to deal with a complex home care package, involving around 30 people, and the judge noted: “Many parents would have buckled under any of those factors, let alone the combination of them all.”
She added: “During this hearing, they have quietly and attentively sat through the evidence, whilst each part of theirs and their daughter’s lives has been picked over.
“It is clear to me that they have only been able to do so through their devotion to their daughter, which is without question. That is a golden thread that has guided and sustained them through all that they have endured.”
SOURCE: The Telegraph