Adopted woman wins court fight to reveal her past

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The Independent Online

A woman adopted after the war won a landmark court ruling on Friday that could force adoption agencies to be more open with their records.

Linda Gunn-Russo, 54, the daughter of an American GI and a British woman, had taken High Court action against the agency involved in her case, which had refused to divulge confidential details about her early life. In his ruling, Mr Justice Scott Baker ordered the Nugent Care Society (NCS) to review its decision, document by document.

Ms Gunn-Russo, who lives in Liverpool, was born in 1946 to Elizabeth Gunn and Mid Russo, an Italian-American serviceman. She was adopted by the Rogan family when she was nearly two after a short spell in an orphanage.

Both her birth parents and adoptive parents have died and relatives from both families supported Ms Gunn-Russo in her struggle to gain access to all files regarding her adoption.

The NCS, a Catholic-run children's society founded in 1881, had insisted that its policy was to withhold records that either the birth parents or the adoptive parents wanted to remain confidential. But the judge said the agency had not exercised the "wide discretion" it had under the adoption regulations to disclose material on an individual case.

He said: "The NCS should look again at their general policy and consider whether it operates too rigidly against disclosure in the light of present-day circumstances."

In particular, it had not properly considered the passage of time since Ms Gunn-Russo's adoption, and the death of those individuals who might have wished to maintain confidentiality. The society should have gone through systematically and asked "whether there was any longer any compelling reason for maintaining the confidentiality of each document".

The judge concluded: "They should reconsider Ms Gunn-Russo's application for those records that remain undisclosed and they should do so in the light of this judgement."

After his verdict, Ms Gunn-Russo said: "I'm still trying to take it all in. Hopefully this will open files up for people all over the country. We won't have to sit back and take no for an answer when we ask about our parents and early lives. It's about our personal identification."

The NCS promised to review its policy on disclosure in light of the ruling and to reach a fresh decision in Ms Gunn-Russo's case.

"The society will consider each of the documents of which she does not have a copy, which – bar one – are documents relating to her adoptive parents, and decide whether there are continuing reasons for them not to be disclosed."

The 1975 Children Act gave adoptees over the age of 18 the right to obtain the names of their birth parents. Adoption agencies have, since then, increasingly tried to give adoptees more information about their birth parents and have encouraged them to stay in touch.

Joanne Sawyer, the legal officer from the civil rights group Liberty, which took on Ms Gunn-Russo's case, said it was an important verdict that should "strengthen the principle of people's right to know. It will encourage adoption agencies to consider each person's circumstances individually."

The British Agencies For Adoption and Fostering said national guidelines were needed to help adoption officials decide what to disclose in difficult cases. "There are some cases where it is not in the child's interest to know everything."

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