`I would cry to myself: Why? Why? Why have they done this?'

Imagine if social workers took your children away for five years. That is what happened to three families in Ayrshire, whose children were ordered to be returned yesterday. John Arlidge spoke to one couple about their agony of waiting

At 9am on 23 June 1990 a 46-year-old builder left home and drove to the offices of the Strathclyde social work department in Ayr. He had never been there before; the only reason he was going there at all was that he had agreed to give a lift to a relative attending a care hearing.

It was a bright morning. He dropped the man off outside the office block and told him he would meet him later in a seafront car park. He had been assured that the hearing would not last long.

After several hours, the man had not shown up. Worried, the builder decided to pick up his daughter in Ayr and return to the social work offices to look for his relative. It was a decision he was to regret for the next five years.

At the door, a policeman who had been discussing an investigation into alleged child sexual abuse in Ayrshire with social workers asked the builder his name. When he replied, the officer paused. Did he have a 10-year-old daughter? "Yes, she's in the car." The officer asked the man to bring the girl to the office.

There, social workers who had been attending a Children's Panel hearing into the alleged abuse earlier that day, said they wanted to "take the girl away for a few days for tests". Why? "Just a routine medical matter." The builder was reluctant, but it was made clear he had no choice. "Just a few days?" he asked. "Aye," one social worker replied. He kissed his daughter goodbye, found his relative, and left.

It was four months before he heard from his daughter again. Social workers told him and his wife that the girl had been taken into care but they would not say where. A short letter written by their daughter arrived in October 1993 from the residential home run by Strathclyde Regional Council where she was being kept. "I want to come home," it said. But by that time the operation had widened. Seven other youngsters from two closely-related Ayrshire families had been removed from their homes and taken into care by the council. One, a seven-month-old girl, was snatched from her mother's arms.

All eight children had been removed by social workers and police, who feared that they were the victims of a 90-strong group of adults who were abusing children in ritualistic games at Satanic parties. The allegations, which first came from the mentally disturbed mother of one of the children, were fantastic. Devil worshippers had dressed as animals, drunk blood, placed children in coffins and smeared the youngsters' faces with faeces. There had been sacrificial killings in graveyards.

It was unbelievable - indeed, the mother later retracted her evidence and the police dropped the case - but social workers, relying on interviews with the children, convinced the courts there was enough evidence of abuse to keep them in care. That was five years ago. Since then, six of the children have not seen their parents.

Yesterday, however, all that changed when Scotland's most senior judge, Lord Hope, ordered the children's return. One child returned to her parents last week and last night the process of reuniting the other families began. A lawyer for the families said: "The emotions were mixed - great joy at seeing their children again but great sadness because of the injustice of their ordeal."

Lord Hope had earlier ruled that the Satanic allegations surrounding the families - who cannot be named for legal reasons - were unfounded. The claims were not the distraught revelations of abused minds but the "unjustifiable" conclusions of social workers with "a fashion" to seek out abuse. Care workers from Strathclyde Council who conducted the initial abuse investigation had "massaged" evidence and conducted "appalling ... leading" interviews with the children in their single-minded determination to "prove" the allegations. The case, Britain's most serious child abuse scandal, was, Lord Hope said, "a tragedy of immense proportions".

Although the parents are jubilant that they have been cleared of guilt by suspicion, the task of rebuilding their families will be a long one. Four of the children were so young when they were taken away they have no memory of their mother and father. Most do not even know their parents' names. Kate Phillips and Maurice Smyth, two solicitors who have fought Strathclyde Council for the past four years, said the damage to the children and their parents was "incalculable". The families could receive counselling for up to 10 years.

Two of the three families are too upset to talk about their experiences. One mother, who became pregnant after her three children were taken into care, was so frightened that social workers would remove her fourth that she fled to Ireland to have the child.

But one family, the builder who lost his daughter at Ayr social work department and his wife, have spoken about their ordeal. In their new home on the west coast of Scotland, they spoke yesterday of how they "never gave up hope" that they would be reunited.

The mother, aged 47, described how the memory of her daughter - her only child - sustained her for the five years she was in care. "When she was taken away I no longer really worried about myself. I would hang around the house all day and cry myself to sleep on my daughter's bed at night. It got so bad that I moved in with my sister. I loved my daughter and I knew from her letters that she loved me too. I could not understand why we were separated.

"Wherever I went I took a photograph of my girl. I used to put it by my bed at my sister's house and kiss it before I went to sleep and, again, when I woke up. That kept me going. It was all I had. At times I just could not bear it. Any mother can imagine what it is like. I used to go out shopping to the town and I would see a small girl with ribbons in her hair. When my wee girl was taken away her hair was in ribbons. I would cry to myself: `Why? Why? Why have they done this to me?'

"I would go to the social work department and beg them to return my girl but they would not listen. They said that the courts had made an order that she and the others should stay in care for their own good. I was furious because I knew that the court was wrong. We were given limited access to our daughter after six months but everywhere we went the social workers came with us - even into the loo at McDonald's. We could see her twice a month but only for a few hours. I got more upset, but it made me more determined that one day we would be back together again permanently."

The girl's father, now 50, who lost his job after his daughter was taken into care and has not worked since, said that despite the extraordinary allegations levelled against him and his wife, most local people were supportive. "I can honestly say that never a wrong word was said to us. I mean we were supposed to be part of these sex parties. It was just unbelievable and thankfully, few people round here did believe it."

The girl herself, now 15, who has described how social workers tried to bully her into making allegations against her parents during "interrogation" sessions, said she was "just so happy I can't tell you" to be back home. "I have stayed in two foster families. They were OK but I love my mother and father. All the time I was away, I just wanted to come home. I kept telling the social workers I hadn't been abused but they never listened. I just knew one day I would be back here. Now that I am, I feel closer to my parents then ever before."

In July 1993, after a lengthy legal battle, lawyers for the three Ayrshire families persuaded Lord Hope to order a new hearing into the "evidence". Sheriff Colin Miller, who conducted the year-long hearing, found that the evidence had been "ineptly" collected and was "contaminated". Lord Hope upheld Sheriff Miller's judgment last week.

She is not bitter towards the care workers but her parents are determined to seek damages. "These people have destroyed our lives," the girl's father said. "Taking your child away is worse than a death. A death you can come to terms with. But knowing your daughter has been removed for the most awful reasons - which you know to be lies - is so much more unjust."

His wife said: "The social workers in this case have families. How can they carry on with their lives knowing what they have done to us? They have caused so much harm. They have destroyed five years of our lives. I can honestly say I hate them." Lawyers for the families are to meet next week to discuss an action for damages. Compensation could be as much as £3m.

But all the families agree that money cannot make up for the loss of the five years of their children's lives. The girl's mother said: "My daughter is quite old and she has been able to cope well. For the other families it is different. Some children were so young they will not know their mum and dad. What do you say to a parent who has lost the first five years of their child's life?"

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

    £37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

    Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

    £25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

    Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

    £16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones