Sunday, 19 July 2009

Social Services: The Hounds of the Family


The way in which Social Services judge families is often based upon prejudice and is often marked by unfair and unjust judgmentalism. I knew so many poor families at ATD Fourth World who had experienced this at the hands of Social Services. Social Services are on the front line of the erosion of the second most fundamental right after the right to life - the right to live as a family...

Article by Christopher Booker courtesy of The Telegraph

Two weeks ago I reported as shocking a story as this column has ever covered. It described how a loving family was torn apart when the parents were arrested by police on what turned out to be wholly spurious charges, so that their three children could be taken into care by social workers. As reported on another page, it now seems this awful episode has come to a happy ending.

However a new case has lately been surfacing, if anything even more shocking. This also involved the arrest of two parents and the abduction of their child by social workers, in a story so bizarre that, at last week's Prime Minister's Questions, Gordon Brown was asked about it by the family's MP, Charles Hendry, who has long been concerned with the case because the mother is a vice-chairman of his local Conservative Association. The family's horrified GP says that, in 43 years of medical practice, he has never "encountered a case of such appalling injustice".

I first planned to describe this case in April, but was pre-empted by the draconian reporting restrictions on family cases, which, for reasons which will become tragically clear, have now been partly lifted.

The story began in April 2007 when "Mr Smith", as I must call him, had a visit from the RSPCA over the dog-breeding business he ran from the family home. He had docked the tails of five new-born puppies – a procedure that had become illegal two days beforehand. Unaware of this, he promised in future to obey the new law.

Three days later, however, at nine o'clock in the morning, two RSPCA officials returned, accompanied in cars and riot vans by 18 policemen, who had apparently been tipped off, quite wrongly, that Mr Smith had guns in the house.

Armed with pepper spray, they ransacked the house, looking for the nonexistent guns. The dogs, released from their kennels, also rampaged through the house. When Mr Smith and his wife, who was three months pregnant, volubly protested at what was happening, they were forcibly arrested in front of their screaming five-year-old daughter "Jenny" and taken away. Two hours later, with the house in a shambles – the dogs having strewn the rabbit entrails meant for their dinner across the floor – social workers arrived to remove the crying child.

Held for hours in a police cell, Mrs Smith had a miscarriage. When she was finally set free, she returned home that evening to find her daughter gone. It was the beginning of a barely comprehensible nightmare.

Her husband was charged with various offences connected with the dogs, including the tail-docking, but was eventually given a conditional discharge by a judge who accepted that he was "an animal lover" who had not been cruel to his dogs.

Far more serious, however, was that the social workers seemed determined to hang onto the child, now in foster care, on the sole grounds that they had found the house dirty and in a mess (the "animal entrails" played a large part in their evidence). This was despite the testimony of a woman Pc (who had visited the house a month earlier on a different matter) that she found it "clean and tidy". Two hundred horrified neighbours, who knew the couple as doting parents of a happy, well-cared-for child, were about to stage a protest demonstration when they were stopped by the police, on the social workers' instructions that this might identify the child [...click here for more...]

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