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Race furore as addict wins son

AT THE end of a legal tug-of-war that gripped Chicago because of overtones of racism and political favouritism, one of the city's leading power couples - an alderman and his wife, an appeals court judge - have been ordered to return their three-year-old foster son within a year to his natural mother, a former cocaine addict.

The ruling was a stunning victory for Tina Olison, 37, who is black. Her child, known as Baby T, was taken from her when he was just days old by a child welfare agency because traces of cocaine were found in his body at birth. The infant was placed with foster parents - Edward Burke and Anne Burke, an Appellate Court Judge. The Burkes, both white, had been seeking legally to adopt him.

Judge Judith Brawka said it was based in part on the progress made by Ms Olison, who had recovered from cocaine addiction, had secured full- time employment and had found religion.

Judge Brawka noted that an elder brother, called Boy B, who had been placed with his maternal grandmother, would also be returning to Ms Olison's care under court instructions. She ordered a transition period of 12 months before Baby T is returned definitively to his mother. Throughout the case, black leaders claimed the case would be slanted in favour of the Burkes because of their political standing and colour. One black pastor kept a vigil outside Alderman Burke's office at the beginning of the trial.

Ms Olison wept when she heard the ruling. "My stomach is finally unknotted," she told reporters. "When God is for you, he's greater than the weight of the world against you." Complaining that the decision had been delayed for two years, she said it was because of "pure political clout".

The ruling brings bitter disappointment, however, to Mr Burke, who is Chicago's longest serving city alderman, and his wife. Both in their fifties, they have four grown-up children of their own. Some observers said their case may have been hurt because they had baptised Baby T as a Catholic. Ms Olison is a member of the Pentecostal Church of God in Christ, where baptisms are not performed on infants.

Ms Olison was admonished by the judge, however, to be sensitive in celebrating the ruling and not to treat it as a "prize you have won". The judge told her: "He is not the spoils of war after a battle. He is a human being."