Abuse case couple lose fight to get children back

Adoption of three children upheld despite possible miscarriage of justice

By Stephen Howard
Thursday 12 February 2009 01:00

A couple whose children were taken from them and adopted cannot have them back, even though they "may be right" in believing they suffered a miscarriage of justice, three Court of Appeal judges have ruled.

Nicky and Mark Webster, from Cromer, Norfolk, were seeking to set aside adoption orders made in December 2005 for their three eldest children, identified only as A, B and C.

The children were taken into care in 2004 because the local authority believed that one child, a boy, had suffered non-accidental injuries inflicted by one or both of his parents. Two were adopted by one family; the third went to another. Evidence came to light in 2007 showing that the child may not have suffered deliberate injury, as his fractures may have been attributable to scurvy or iron deficiency caused by a feeding disorder.

The couple applied to the courts to try to get their children back. But a summary of yesterday's decision released by the three Court of Appeal judges reads: "The case emphasises the finality of adoption orders. The circumstances in which adoption orders can be revoked or set aside are extremely limited. None applied in the present case. The court concluded that after three years it was in any event too late to set the orders aside, and that it would not be in the interests of the children to do so.

"It is therefore possible (Mr and Mrs Webster would say probable) that the basis upon which A, B and C were taken into care and subsequently adopted (Mr and Mrs Webster's alleged non-accidental injury of child B) was wrong."

The statement continued: "Mr and Mrs Webster believe that they have suffered a miscarriage of justice. They may be right. It would, however, be wrong in the court's view to criticise any of the doctors or social workers in the case. Each has acted properly throughout. If there is a lesson to be learned from the case it is the need to obtain second opinions on injuries to children at the earliest opportunity, particularly in cases where, as here, the facts are unusual."

The Websters had wanted a re-hearing of the care proceedings to challenge the adoption order – a move which could have enabled the children to be returned to them or at least allow them to have contact.

At the hearing in December last year, their counsel, Ian Peddie QC, told Lord Justice Wall, Lord Justice Moore-Bick and Lord Justice Wilson that it was an "exceptional" case. "We say there has been a terrible miscarriage of justice and the natural parents' primary concern is to correct it," he said. "It is our assertion that the children need to know the truth as to why they were adopted."

Mr Webster, 35, and his 27-year-old wife fled to Ireland to stop their fourth child, Brandon, six, being taken into care at birth but last year the local authority dropped proceedings after accepting that he was in "robust good health".

In his judgment, Lord Justice Wall said: "For Mr and Mrs Webster... the case has been a disaster, quite apart from any breach of their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights." He added that the case had been a "deeply regrettable experience for the local authority" and a "painful learning experience" for the medical profession.

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