A bit over the top, you think? Read on …
We wrote at length and several times about the dreadful case of the Webster/Hardingham family from Norfolk, whose three older children were all snatched from them by Norfolk Social Services and the Family Courts and permanently adopted. The Hardinghams were cleared of any suggestion of child abuse, but still only managed to hang on to their fourth child by the skin of their teeth.
Some time ago we also wrote about another, similar case. As events have now moved on, we take the unusual step of re-writing and re-posting our original Grumpy Page.
This is the original report from the Daily Telegraph …
A pregnant woman has been told that her baby will be taken from her at birth because she is deemed capable of "emotional abuse", even though psychiatrists treating her say there is no evidence to suggest that she will harm her child in any way.
Social services' recommendation that the baby should be taken from Fran Lyon, a 22-year-old charity worker who has five A-levels and a degree in neuroscience, was based in part on a letter from a paediatrician she has never met.
Hexham children's services, part of Northumberland County Council, said the decision had been made because Miss Lyon was likely to suffer from Munchausen's Syndrome by proxy, a condition unproven by science in which a mother will make up an illness in her child, or harm it, to draw attention to herself. Under the plan, a doctor will hand the newborn to a social worker, provided there are no medical complications. Social services' request for an emergency protection order - these are usually granted - will be heard in secret in the family court at Hexham magistrates on the same day. From then on, anyone discussing the case, including Miss Lyon, will be deemed to be in contempt of the court.
Miss Lyon, from Hexham, who is five months pregnant, is seeking a judicial review of the decision about Molly, as she calls her baby. She described it as "barbaric and draconian", and said it was "scandalous" that social services had not accepted submissions supporting her case. "The paediatrician has never met me," she said. "He is not a psychiatrist and cannot possibly make assertions about my current or future mental health. Yet his letter was the only one considered in the case conference on August 16 which lasted just 10 minutes." Northumberland County Council insists that two highly experienced doctors - another consultant paediatrician and a medical consultant - attended the case conference.
The case adds to growing concern, highlighted in a series of articles in The Sunday Telegraph, over a huge rise in the number of babies under a year old being taken from parents. The figure was 2,000 last year, three times the number 10 years ago. Critics say councils are taking more babies from parents to help them meet adoption "targets".
John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP and chairman of the Justice for Families campaign group, said the case showed "exactly what is wrong with public family law". He added: "There is absolutely no evidence that Fran would harm her child. However, a vague letter from a paediatrician who has never met her has been used in a decision to remove her baby at birth, while evidence from professionals treating her, that she would have no problems has been ignored." Mr Hemming was concerned that "vague assertions" of Munchausen's Syndrome by proxy - now known as "fabricated and invented illness" - had been used to remove a number of children from parents in the North-East.
Miss Lyon came under scrutiny because she had a mental health problem when she was 16 after being physically and emotionally abused by her father and raped by a stranger. She suffered eating disorders and self-harm but, after therapy, graduated from Edinburgh University and now works for two mental health charities, Borderline and Personality Plus.
Dr Stella Newrith, a consultant psychiatrist, who treated Miss Lyon for her childhood trauma for a year, wrote to Northumberland social services stating: "There has never been any clinical evidence to suggest that Fran would put herself or others at risk, and there is certainly no evidence to suggest that she would put a child at risk of emotional, physical or sexual harm."
Despite this support, endorsed by other psychiatrists and Miss Lyon's GP, social services based their recommendation partly on a letter from Dr Martin Ward Platt, a consultant paediatrician, who was unable to attend the meeting. He wrote: "Even in the absence of a psychological assessment, if the professionals were concerned on the evidence available that Miss Holton (as Miss Lyon was briefly known), probably does fabricate or induce illness, there would be no option but the precautionary principle of taking the baby into foster care at birth, pending a post-natal forensic psychological assessment."
We now learn that Fran Lyon has moved out of Hexham after receiving a copy of her "birth plan" from social services at Northumberland County Council. It says she will be given a maximum of 15 minutes with her baby - who she has already named Molly - before the baby is taken into care. "I have been told that I am not even to breastfeed my child in case I try to poison her," she said.
Miss Lyon's problem is that the moment the baby is taken from her, Social Workers will apply for a Care Order, and once it is granted any further discussion or reporting of the case will be in Contempt of Court - the baby will disappear into the secretive world of unaccountable social workers and their kangaroo courts, be adopted (for which the local authority will receive a fat grant from central government, presumably) and lost for ever. And no-one will be any the wiser, and no-one can question or discuss the issue for fear of imprisonment.
Fran has moved to the Birmingham Yardley constituency of Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming, who has taken up her case and is campaigning to overturn the decision - hopefully a sensible move on her part. If the Northumberland social workers can't get their hands on the baby, they can't invoke the power and secrecy of the courts. One can only hope that Birmingham officials take a more enlightened approach.
John Hemming MP is chairman of the Justice for Families organisation and believes councils are now taking more babies to meet Government adoption targets. Tony Blair offered councils substantial grants for increasing the number of adoptions. Although he intended it as a way to get older children out of care and into families, councils know that prospective parents would much rather adopt little babies, not teenagers, and have started snatching more and more new-borns whenever the opportunity arises in order to attract the grants.
Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy - the theory that mothers harm their children simply in order to attract attention to themselves - was invented by the infamous Sir Roy Meadows during the 1970s. It has been at the heart of a series of miscarriages of justice. Sir Roy was responsible for evidence that led to the wrongful convictions of Angela Cannings and Sally Clark for murdering their children. Mrs.Clark died earlier this year.
Martin Ward Platt, the consultant paediatrician on whose written opinion the decision to seize baby Molly was based, did not attend the case conference, is not a psychiatrist and has never met Miss Lyon. Yet she claims his letter was the only one considered in the case conference on August 16th - a meeting lasting just 10 minutes. Northumberland County Council insists that two highly experienced doctors - another consultant paediatrician and a medical consultant - did attend the meeting but there is no record of what opinions they offered, if any.
Platt's involvement, quite apart from its devastating effect on Miss Lyon and baby Molly, seems pretty foolish. Was not a certain "expert" witness once briefly erased from the Medical Register for having made allegations about someone he had never even met? Platt is a well-known paediatrician, and author of "The Wonder Years - the essential guide to child development ages 0-5". Why this makes him an expert on the possible or likely mental health of a 22-year-old woman is not clear.
Dr.Platt's phone number is 0191 282 5197, he works at the Newcastle Neonatal Service, Ward 35, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4LP and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. We are sure he wouldn't mind us telling you this - it's plastered all over his website, after all.
You have to wonder, don't you, what happened to Miss Lyon's rights as a patient? If she's not mentally unstable, her daughter Molly is in no danger so Northumberland County Council have no case.
If she is mentally unstable, what she should have a right to expect from these authorities is not persecution likely to render her even more flaky, but treatment, support, help and encouragement to overcome her difficulties and lead a normal life. But of course there's no government grant for that, is there?
The GOS says: In another case, a recording of social workers threatening to take a newborn into care had to be removed from the YouTube website after Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire started legal action, claiming the Data Protection Act was breached. Vanessa Brookes, 34, taped social workers telling her and her husband that they would seek to place the baby in care, while admitting there was "no immediate risk to the child."
The baby will have been born by now, and we don't know the outcome of this case. Since the social workers presumably obtained a Care Order we probably never will.
However, we can tell you that the original YouTube recoding is archived on foreign servers out of range of English law, including this one. It's a .flv file which can be downloaded with Firefox and probably other browsers, and played on various flash video players.
either on this site or on the World Wide Web.
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