'Morally I was right to smuggle Lucy'

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Indy Politics
IF CHANGES to the adoption rules proposed yesterday had been law, Eileen Fryer, 45, a single mother, would be a criminal. Her daughter might be dead, writes Stephen Ward.

Mrs Fryer's experience illustrates the tension between ideal solutions and the practical realities of adopting from overseas.

She lives with her elderly parents in Bexley, Kent, and works full time with a building society. She agrees hers is not the ideal profile for a prospective adoptive mother, but disagrees that it stops her from being a good parent.

Like most of Britain, she first saw the Romanian babies in their orphanages on television in January 1991. When she decided to try to adopt one, she went by the book, first finding a child who was offered for adoption in an orphanage, then applying to Bexley council for approval. She went for Aids counselling and had arranged to take six months off work when the child arrived.

Mrs Fryer, who had wanted to adopt since separating from her husband in 1976, had established that the 18-month-old girl she wanted had been permanently rejected by her natural parents - often children are placed in orphanages then taken back when they are older). The supposed father had four other children and believed the baby had been fathered by another man. The mother had left.

But the adoption panel decided she could not adopt. By now it was April. 'I was devastated when they told me,' she said. 'I thought I had lost my little girl, and I went back to Romania to say goodbye.'

When she arrived at the orphanage the child had gone, to be adopted instead by an American couple. But the orphanage showed her an even more needy case: lying on a cot, wrapped in filthy bandages, being bottle-fed only occasionally. The teenage parents were unmarried, lived in a single room with no water. They already had a child, did not want another, and were happy for the baby to be adopted. No money changed hands, Mrs Fryer insists.

For Mrs Fryer it was a case of a baby in urgent need overriding the rules, even though she fully accepts the point of those rules. She tried to adopt the baby, but became tangled in red tape in Bucharest. By now it was July 1991, and Mrs Fryer took the law into her own hands, taking the baby back overland, and across the channel through Dover where the authorities asked no questions about her. The White Paper would make that a criminal offence.

Presented with a fait accompli, social workers were supportive, and within a year the adoption was approved in absentia in Romania, then by an English court. Lucy Lucicia Mihaela with the aid of English specialist medicine fought off Hepatitis B she had contracted in the orphanage, recovered her weight and health, overcame reluctance to be touched, and fits in happily with the other children at her nursery. 'When I knew she had hepatitis, I knew that morally I had done the right thing,' Mrs Fryer said.

(Photograph omitted)