Leading Article: The Bramleys have bucked a bad system

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The Independent Culture
LIZ RAILTON, the head of Cambridgeshire social services, was asked whether her concession to the Bramleys would not encourage other parents to think they could get their way by going into hiding. She clearly thought it would, but reluctantly had to concede that it was in the best interests of the children that their four months on the run should end.

Her concern is misplaced. The real lesson is that it should not have required the Bramleys to run away, or a huge media hue and cry, to force Cambridgeshire to do what it should have done in the first place, namely let the Bramleys have their day in court. Jeff and Jennifer Bramley - and possibly the two children - were the victims of a grave, if unintended, injustice in that the legal system did not allow them to go to court to contest Cambridgeshire's decision.

So it would be quite wrong now to penalise the Bramleys for abducting Jade and Hannah. All the reasons why it is alleged that the Bramleys would not make good parents seem to stem from too much love for the children - however inappropriately expressed it may have appeared to some - when the real scandal of abused and neglected children stems from too little.

Let us hope that the right lessons are drawn from this happy middle to the story, if not its happy ending. The law needs to be changed to give prospective adoptive parents more rights. Specifically, they need a right to appeal against decisions made by councils, backed up by the right to go to court. Social services departments need to ensure that everyone affected by their decisions feels that they have been given a fair hearing.

And, while no one can condone child abduction, there is something heartening about the eventual flexibility of the authorities in the face of a determined attempt to buck an unfair system.