Losing children was ‘hell on earth’

Hackney Town Hall, in Mare Street.

Hackney Town Hall, in Mare Street. - Credit: Archant

A husband and wife who both won £10,000 damages from Hackney Council after their children were kept in foster care for too long, have described the ordeal as “hell on earth”.

The couple’s eight children, including a breast-feeding baby, were put in various foster homes eight years ago, after one of the children was arrested for shoplifting and told police that a bruise on his face was caused by his father beating him with a belt.

Police alerted social workers that their home was not in a fit state for the children to live in, but a decision was made that if simple improvements were made then the children – who cannot be identified – could return.

This only happened after two months and a string of foster placements – some of “dubious quality” according to the judge.

A criminal investigation led to a 20-count indictment against the parents but they were acquitted two years later when no evidence was offered.

A Local Government Ombudsman took nearly six years to come to a decision which upheld some of the parents’ complaints about the council’s handling of the case, but the couple felt their grievances had not been properly addressed and brought civil proceedings against the council, which denied liability.

They accepted the authorities had acted lawfully by initially taking their children into foster care through a police protection order, but claimed damages because the children were not handed back after the order’s 72-hour expiry.

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The father said: “It was hell on earth, it was a period of distress and uncertainty, what we were really appalled by was the failure of the council to recognise the damage that they did, and their insensitivity to our plight.

“They knew our children were being tossed here there and everywhere, going from one home to another.

“The key emotion was a sense of helplessness, we felt overwhelmed and overrun by the council machinery.

“These things are impossible to express in words.

“The judgement doesn’t make up for what we went through but it softens the blow that we felt and continue to feel.”

Deputy High Court judge Sir Robert Francis allowed their claim under the Human Rights Act and said that if ever there was a case illustrating the challenges that faced children, parents, public authorities and the courts when concerns were raised about the safety and welfare of children, it was this one.

He said: “This was undoubtedly a close family, presided over by loving parents.

“They were extremely distressed by the continued separation from their children and constantly voiced their anxieties in that regard to the defendants.

“They witnessed the adverse effects of foster care on more than one of their children.”

Hackney Council could not comment as it plans to appeal.

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