Couple fight test case to disown adopted son

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The Independent Online
Councils who believed they had been left immune from legal action against their social workers after a landmark House of Lords judgment last month face a new test case from a family who adopted an abused child.

The Lords gave the final ruling on several test cases which had been progressing through the courts for years. They clarified the law by saying that local authorities cannot be held to be negligent for the conduct of social workers. Many other cases alleging negligence had been held up pending the judgment.

In the new case, which has been transferred to the High Court in London because of its importance, the family are suing not for negligence but for deceit. They say they were deliberately misled about the boy they were adopting.

The family are seeking damages from Solihull council in the West Midlands and Barnardo's, which acted as the adoption agency. They are also seeking, in a second action, to become the first couple in Britain to have an adoption revoked, so the boy is no longer legally their son.

The couple's solicitors, Tyndalwood and Millichip of Birmingham, confirmed that the action for deceit was proceeding, but declined to give any further details because they have given an undertaking to the court that they and the family will not speak to the media.

The boy, now 14, is back in council care and seems unlikely to be able to lead an independent life. The parents argue that if they had known the boy's history, they would not have adopted him. They say their five years of ignorance meant he was denied the correct treatment which might have helped him.

The couple, whose name and circumstances cannot be published because the identity of the child has to be protected, have been granted legal aid for their case. They allege that based on internal documents and reports they have been shown since, it was known and recorded that the child had been abused, and they were never told.

They are claiming for the material and emotional cost of the years they spent with the boy, although they insist their main concern is to bring their experiences to the attention of other couples and social services departments.

Married in the mid-1970s, the childless couple turned to adoption when fertility treatment failed. The husband was over 30, making him too old for most adoption agencies, but they found there was still a chance if they were prepared to consider a handicapped or older child.

In 1986, they were offered a boy aged six. He came for a day, and never went away. Within five months he was legally their child. The couple say they were told nothing about his past life which might have helped prepare them for what was to come, or put them off the idea of adoptioing him altogether.

Solihull council, which first took the child into care, and Bar-nardo's say they cannot comment in detail on individual cases, but deny there was any failure to disclose information.