Social workers followed me to France to snatch my baby

Social workers followed me to France to snatch my baby
After a landmark court victory, a British mother tells her harrowing story

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UPDATED:

07:18 GMT, 2 August 2012

At a cottage deep in the French countryside, a baby girl kicks her feet in the air and smiles at her father, Joe, as she is cuddled by her mother, Marie.

Little Luna is home at last — reunited with her parents at the end of an historic legal battle against British social workers which began when Marie became pregnant and moved to France from her home in Norfolk.

Soon after Luna was born in February, social workers from Norfolk snatched her from her family, flew her to Britain, put her into the care of foster parents and began making plans to have her adopted.

Reunited: Marie, Joe and baby Luna

Reunited: Marie, Joe and baby Luna

They had accused Marie of putting Luna
‘at risk’ of harm by keeping in touch with her violent estranged
husband, who is not baby Luna’s father and who had previously been
jailed for assault.

It is an allegation 31-year-old Marie
strenuously denies, saying she never wants to see the man again. But
social workers spent up to 250,000 of taxpayers’ money in court and
legal fees to try to prove their case.

It is believed to be the first time
British social workers have snatched a baby born abroad from its parents
— a baby who had never set foot in Britain — and brought it back to
this country for adoption.

For 12 weeks, Joe and Marie were
allowed to see and speak to their daughter just three times, and only
then via video calls to Luna’s foster family on internet phone system
Skype.

Then in a landmark decision, the High
Court in London ruled Norfolk social services’ actions were illegal.
Because Luna was born in France and her parents had a permanent home
there, she was outside England’s jurisdiction.

The little girl was returned to the
couple after French social services concluded they were trustworthy
parents. Joe and Marie were told: ‘Your new life is ahead of you with
your baby — go and enjoy her.’

Marie said this week at their home
near Cahors in south-west France: ‘We were so excited. Luna went to
sleep that first night back with us as though she had never been away.

'I lost the chance of breastfeeding her, and we missed her first smile. We blame the English social workers'

But she added: ‘I had lost the chance of breastfeeding her, and we missed her first smile. We blame the English social workers.’

The couple now plan to seek compensation from Norfolk social services for unnecessarily separating them from their baby.

John Hemming, the Lib Dem MP who has
advised many parents whose children have been removed by social
services, said: ‘The Norfolk social workers don’t seem to recognise any
limits on their legal authority.’

The couple’s solicitor, Brendan
Fleming, added: ‘I find it amazing that social workers flew to a country
outside their jurisdiction and brought this baby to Britain at a cost
of thousands of pounds of public money.’

Social workers are under immense
pressure not to make a mistake following the Baby P case in London in
2007. He died after suffering many injuries despite being seen by
Haringey social services and NHS doctors.

This has led to a big increase in the
number of children taken into care — mostly against their parents’
wishes. Meanwhile, there has growing criticism of the accuracy of
evidence given by psychological ‘experts’ in the family courts and a
growing mistrust in social services.

As a result, increasing numbers of
parents under investigation have fled abroad, worried their children
will be forcibly removed from them by social workers.

It is estimated that there are now at
least 300 families living overseas for this reason, in countries such as
Ireland, Cyprus, Spain, Italy and France, where the social services try
to keep troubled families together rather than taking their sons or
daughters away.

Marie and Joe have certainly had
turbulent personal lives, though they are intelligent and obviously very
much in love. They met at school in Norwich at 14, and had a
relationship for five years.

Joe ended up working in Rugby as a builder, but returned to Norwich after he fell out with his girlfriend and was homeless.

Tragedy: Social workers are under immense pressure not to make a mistake following the case of Baby P

Tragedy: Social workers are under immense pressure not to make a mistake following the case of Baby P

In the meantime, Marie had married
young and had five children by her abusive husband before fleeing his
violence. At one stage, she lived with her children in a hostel for
abused women.

But when this proved difficult, she
asked social services for help. They took the children into temporary
care, and have refused to return them (we have hidden Marie’s face here
to protect her other children’s identities).

Social services accused her of
secretly keeping in touch with her husband, putting her children,
including Luna, at risk of violence.

Marie insists her only contact with
her ex-partner came when she was living in the hostel and, in
desperation, asked for his help in transporting her children to and from
their schools. She bitterly regrets this.

‘I am the last person who would want to see my husband — particularly as I repeatedly reported him to the police,’ she said.

Joe and Marie then embarked on a fresh
relationship after becoming Facebook friends. They set up home
together, and last summer Marie became pregnant.

During one of the family court cases
over her other children, Norwich social services learned she was
expecting — and warned Marie her baby would be taken into care and
prepared for adoption.

The couple were horrified. They were
already planning a new life in France, where they could share a house
with Joe’s mother in the village of Frayssinet-le-Gelat, near Cahors,
where she has lived and worked as a landscape gardener for ten years.

Last November, when Marie was 20
weeks’ pregnant, they left Britain. ‘We needed a fresh start, but we did
not run away,’ insisted Joe.

In France, he started work as a
general builder. But ten days after Luna’s birth in hospital, a letter
was left in their postbox by a courier from Norfolk social services,
saying they planned to put Luna into care in England.

‘I was distraught,’ said Marie. ‘They
said I had to “return” her to England, although she had never been to
England. They said she was “at risk” from me because of my husband.’

The couple wrote back to Norfolk
social services saying they were not going to cooperate in an ‘illegal
kidnapping’. But by early March, social services in France had been
contacted by Norwich social workers.

'We were cuddling Luna, and even the male French social worker in charge of our case was welling up'

Joe and Marie were invited to meet a
female judge and local social workers in a Cahors court house to discuss
their baby’s future. At the end of the meeting, the judge said that
until matters were ironed out, Luna must go into the care of a French
social services.

‘We left without Luna and I cried all the way home,’ Marie said.

‘For the next few weeks, Luna was
fostered by a woman locally. We were allowed to see her at a social
services centre twice a week.’

However, on Friday, March 23, matters
changed for the worse. At the end of a visit to Luna, Joe noticed
gendarmes outside the centre as two English social workers walked inside
to take six-week-old Luna to Britain.

‘We were cuddling Luna, and even the male French social worker in charge of our case was welling up,’ said Joe.

‘We put Luna in her car seat on the
floor, and left the centre so we would not have to watch her being
carried off by strangers.’

That was the last they were to see of their daughter — apart from three Skype sessions — for the best part of three months.

It was then that their English
solicitor, Brendan Fleming, advised Joe and Marie to ask the High Court
in London for an urgent ruling on their case. The couple flew to England
for the May hearing, when a judge told Norfolk social services that
France, not England, had jurisdiction over the baby.

In mid-June, Luna was returned to her
French foster mother, while social services in France looked into their
case. And finally, Marie and Joe were exonerated.

Two weeks ago, the couple got the news they longed to hear. ‘You can take your baby home,’ said a judge at a hearing in Cahors.

‘We walked out into the street cuddling and kissing our daughter,’ said Joe.

‘Now the nightmare is over and she is ours for ever.’