This is a follow-up from Monday’s piece, about the latest Christopher Booker outrage.
You may remember that from Mr Booker’s account, the child had a small mark on his neck and another small mark, which led to social workers trying to snatch all of the children, and the parents instead fled with the help of Forced Adoption to another country.
You may also remember how incandescent Mr Booker was that the Local Authority couldn’t be named because of a gagging order.
Eleven days ago, the second oldest child of Russian-Latvian parents working in a town I cannot name for legal reasons was seen by a teacher to have a small mark on his neck. When the school reported this to social services, an examination revealed another slight mark on his leg. The family found itself plunged into an inexplicable nightmare
In this latest case of the family that got away (but which Judge Duggan does not allow us to name), the conduct of the Irish and Latvian police seems yet further evidence of just how little confidence foreign authorities now have in the fairness and legality of Britain’s increasingly notorious system of “child protection”.
The judgment is now up. Is it an “inexplicable nightmare”? Does child protection in Booker’s sub-headline need his air-quotes around it to show that it was no such thing?
Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council and Flight to Latvia 2015
The eagle-eyed reader may spot that the name of the Local Authority is in the name of the case, rather than being prevented from being known because of a gagging order. There is no gagging order. The usual restrictions on naming the children apply. [“Ah,” Booker defenders are saying already, “that’s only because Booker called them out on it, so they had to back down.”]
- The written evidence available to me indicates that on 12th November 2015 D was seen at school with a burn mark on his neck and another mark on his thigh. The appearance suggested injury with a rope. He said his father was responsible for the neck, an injury inflicted, he said, with a belt. He said his mother was responsible for the injury to the thigh. N was examined and was found to have bruising to the cheek for which he does not appear to have provided an explanation.
- The parents have been seen. The father says that the injury to the neck was caused by him in unclear accidental circumstances which I am afraid need more explanation. The mother said that the injury to N’s cheek arose from an incident in school but on investigation the only relevant incident at school concerned the oldest child. The parents agreed with Police and local authority that while investigations took place, the children’s safety would be ensured by their temporary residence with the grandparents. This was implemented but on 19th November 2015 the children did not turn up for school and enquiries revealed that the parents had removed the children from the grandparents the previous evening and left the district. It is a concern that the grandparents, who have been entrusted with responsibility for the safety of the children, did not see fit to draw this development to the attention of the local authority.
Now, let me be clear. We have here marks to a child’s neck. The child says that the father hit him with a belt. The father says there was some sort of accident, the mother says it happened at school. Three competing accounts. The parents did not attend Court to give their accounts, or ask their lawyers (who would have not have cost them a penny) to cross-examine witnesses and to refute the claims. It might well be that if all of the evidence had been tested, that the Court would have decided that there was no deliberate injury to the child. So this judgment is not PROOF that the father hit the child with a belt – but it does meet the test to be considered by the law – were there reasonable grounds to believe that the father had hit the child? Given that father and mother chose not to come to Court to tell the Court the truth, the Court would be left with little choice but to consider there were reasonable grounds to believe that the child had been harmed.
The social workers had not believed the parents accounts and had believed the child. They had made arrangements to keep the children safe within the family whilst investigations took place. Those arrangements were breached. The social workers went to the Court, to say “We think the children aren’t safe and we would like an order to protect them”.
The parents were able to come to Court with free lawyers to give their account and to say that the children would be safe, and an independent Judge would hear both sides of the case and make a decision – that decision being on the principles that :-
(a) It is for the Local Authority to prove harm, not for the parents to prove their innocence
(b) Even if the child had been harmed, the Court would still look at what measures short of removal could keep the child safe
(c) An order for removal would only be made if it was necessary to keep the child safe, and would only be whilst assessments were carried out over a period of time to see if the parents could make changes.
I would like to ask Mr Booker what actions he thinks social workers ought to take instead of this if they are told by a child that his father hit him round the neck with a belt? Because it seems to me that the alternative is to do what Mr Booker did, and assume that the parents did not do it. And I’m fairly sure that if they got that wrong and the child suffered further injuries, the Daily Telegraph would not be leaping to their defence. I’m fairly sure that the Daily Telegraph wouldn’t be putting air quotes around child protection then – they’d be saying, and rightly so, “This child told you that his dad hit him round the neck with a belt and you did NOTHING to keep him safe. Your job was to protect that child, and you didn’t do it”
If a social worker thinks that a child has been deliberately injured and can’t keep the child safe whilst investigations take place, putting the matter before the Court is the safe and fair thing to do. It is not an ‘inexplicable nightmare’
The alternative is that people just take a guess as to what happened to the child. Maybe the child made it up, in which case the family are safe and happy in Latvia. Maybe the child really was hit by his father, in which case it isn’t great that the parents were helped to leave the country with the children.
Which is it?
I don’t know. And you don’t know. And Ian from Forced Adoption doesn’t know. And Christopher Booker doesn’t know.
I’d suggest that perhaps given that none of us know, and that the risk of guessing and getting it wrong is big either way, that the best way to make that decision is for an independent Judge to do it, having heard evidence from both sides, not just one.
Do Judges get it right all the time? No, sadly. I write about these cases all the time. And social workers don’t get it right all the time either. And nor do doctors, or teachers, or anyone. It might well be that this child made it up and is quite safe with mum and dad. We just don’t KNOW.
But you see the difference between a Judge deciding, and Christopher Booker deciding what happened, is that (a) The Judge hears BOTH sides (b) The Judge hasn’t made their mind up who to believe before you even start and (c) If the Judge gets it wrong, the decision can be appealed and put right. What’s the appeal process for Christopher Booker deciding that this child is safe with mum and dad? And if we have Christopher Booker deciding what’s going to happen in these cases, what stops Katie Hopkins doing it?