Boy hides from social workers in the jungle
Britain's zealous social workers have rarely gone to such lengths to seize a child from loving parents, says Christopher Booker.
By Christopher Booker
Published: 7:00PM BST 16 Oct 2010
Of all the stories I have covered about zealous social workers seizing children from loving parents without cause, none is more bizarre than the one that looked as though it would be concluded in the High Court last Friday.
After London social workers had spent thousands of pounds vainly trying to track down, in the Ugandan jungle, a four-year-old boy who had evaded their clutches, the council indicated that it wished to close the case. But in a last minute twist, the judge gave the social workers three more months to find the child – so the story hasn’t yet got a happy ending.
The boy’s mother is a Ugandan Catholic who has lived in Britain for more than 20 years, has degrees in IT and finance from two London universities, and has held down good jobs. Six years ago, however, she was temporarily homeless with a young daughter. She appealed for help to the social workers of the borough where she then lived. She was told she could put her little girl in foster care, but could be given no help herself. When she refused to hand over her child, a care order was made on the grounds of the mother’s “neglect”.
The mother was arrested at work, in front of her shocked colleagues, by six policemen, one armed with a pistol, and held in custody so her daughter could be seized. With court approval, the social workers then gave the girl to her father, despite the fact that he had a criminal record and was HIV positive.
Three years later, with a new partner, the mother had a son. Since she was on a register, the social workers where she now lived wanted to seize the child, but she left hospital a day before the papers arrived and they lost the trail. For three years the little boy lived happily with his parents, until last year the social workers of a third council caught up with her and began asking questions. Fearful that he would be seized, she took her son to Uganda to live with her family. Only six months later did the council serve papers with the court.
In March this year, she returned to England with her mother, who is infirm and suffers from dementia. When she arrived at immigration, with her mother in a wheelchair, she was arrested by four policemen. As she was taken off into custody, she asked the police to contact social workers to arrange help for her mother, who was in need of constant care and spoke no English. Having confiscated her passport, the police refused to assist and held her in the cells for 36 hours, leaving her mother helpless. A shocked Ugandan stranger intervened and took care of her until her daughter was released. But the police held onto their passports, meaning the mother could neither reclaim their luggage nor get work.
The council hired an agency staffed by ex-social workers to track down her son in Uganda. For six months – trying to enlist the help of the Ugandan authorities – the agency got nowhere, to the point where last week the council seemed ready to admit defeat and ask for the case to be discharged – at which point I would have been free to report it in full, naming all those involved.
Due to an unexpected intervention, however, the judge ruled on Friday that he would not discharge the case until social workers have had three more months to find the child (who lives happily in a remote village, only distressed at being apart from his parents). Meanwhile the mother cannot have her passport, and therefore cannot reclaim the luggage from Heathrow or get a job. (She earns a little money running a market stall but otherwise depends on her partner.) I doubt the child will be found, but I must postpone the happy ending until January.