Home alone mothers back to face police: Seven children, including a baby, taken into emergency care after women went on holiday

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TWO MOTHERS who left seven children, including a nine-month-old girl, alone at home while they went on a week's holiday together were interviewed by police on returning last night.

After media appeals for them to contact police and social workers, the women telephoned a neighbour yesterday to say they were on their way back to Dorking, Surrey.

The children, who were taken into emergency care by Surrey social services on Monday, were last night staying with foster parents.

Police had earlier set up a check point on an estate in Dorking while a woman police officer waited to interview the mothers at the house where the children were left at the weekend.

The children, the oldest of whom is a 14-year-old boy, had told police and social workers their mothers did not tell them where they were going. A Surrey social services spokesman said: 'We don't know if they are abroad or not. The children don't know where they are and neither do we.'

The women, who told the children to expect them back tomorrow, could face criminal charges for neglect and a maximum jail sentence of 10 years. They were not kept in custody by police after questioning last night, but will be interviewed again today.

Neighbours alerted police to the latest 'home alone' case on Monday. A 16-year-old girl has claimed that she found a note from the two women leaving her 'in charge of the kids' for whom she had baby-sat last Friday. They had written that they 'had to have a break'. On Tuesday, social workers were granted interim care orders for the two families - two brothers, aged 14 and 11, and their four-year-old sister and two brothers, aged 12 and eight, their sister, seven, and the baby.

Alan Rhodes, assistant director of social services, said that the children had been placed with four different sets of foster parents. 'We have no concern about the children's health but obviously there is the matter of whether they are alarmed or scared to be without their parents.'

The Department of Health said that, in law, there was no set age at which children were thought responsible enough to be on their own or in charge of other children. Police officers and social workers had to judge the circumstances and the maturity of the children. However, any charges brought against the mothers will be made under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 which makes it an offence to abandon or neglect children under the age of 16.

Surrey social services said the seven children were taken into care under the Children Act 1989 because they were judged to be suffering, or at risk of suffering, significant harm.

The term 'home alone' - derived from a family film about a child who has to fend for himself after he is mistakenly left behind when his family go on holiday - was coined to describe such cases at the end of last year when a Chicago couple left their two children to fend for themselves while they flew off on a nine-day Christmas break in Acapulco.

David and Sharon Schoo were the subject of hate mail in America when it was discovered their daughters Nicole, nine, and Diana, four, had been left with TV dinners and instructions on how to look after themselves. They were told not to answer the telephone and their parents did not give them a contact number.

The Schoos faced more than 60 charges of abuse and neglect. After plea bargaining, they were given two years' probation and community service. They recently put the children up for adoption.

Last week, Heidi Colwell, 23, was freed on appeal after serving 17 days of a six-month jail sentence imposed when she admitted leaving her daughter Jessica, two, home alone while she went to work in Stratford-upon-Avon.

She was charged with wilfully neglecting her daughter and the trial judge said that she had given her daughter less thought than one would give a dog.

Her sentence was quashed after the Court of Appeal ruled that Jessica had suffered enough. Ms Colwell had said that she could not afford a childminder.

Child-care groups said it was impossible for many single parents to find affordable child care.