We've written about this many times before and no doubt we will again, but we make no apology because it's a disgusting abuse of power and abnegation of responsibility by people who are paid to do better, and if the only way we can fight it is by banging on and on, then on and on we will bang ...
A loving mother had her children taken away from her in a dawn raid on her home after being wrongly accused of cruelty. The three terrified youngsters watched as she was handcuffed before they were each put into separate cars and taken into foster care.
It took 19 months for the devastated family to be reunited – when a judge exonerated the parents and strongly criticised the social workers and police responsible for the appalling error.
Judge Nicholas Marston said social services, who had accused the parents of deliberately causing symptoms of illness in their disabled son, acted on claims ‘based on misunderstandings’ or which were ‘just plain wrong’.
The couple were wrongly alleged to have given 12-year-old Kane medicine to induce symptoms of digestive, nervous system and growth problems, as well as the fact he is on the autistic spectrum. Social workers accused them of Fabricated or Induced Illness by carers (FII), also known as Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy.
The 6am police swoop, which involved 14 officers descending on a quiet Hampshire cul-de-sac, was described by the judge as ‘utterly disproportionate’ and ‘itself abusive of the children involved’. The children’s father, who had left for work as an engineer at the time of the raid, was also later arrested on suspicion of neglect. Parents Kealey and Andy, who wish to keep the family surname secret, were never charged but say they have been ‘destroyed’ by the ordeal.
Kealey, 39, who had a nervous breakdown brought on by the arrest and has since suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, said: ‘I didn’t see my children for over a year. I wasn’t allowed to speak to them. It was torture. There aren’t words to describe going a year without seeing your babies. We are broken. The old me is gone. It is very hard for the children because they see a very different mum.’
Although his parents have now regained full custody, Kane is voluntarily staying in foster and respite care because Kealey is currently too ill to care for him. Andy, 47, lost his job on his arrest and has since had to take up a new position abroad, meaning he gets to see the children only every three or four months.
He said: ‘Social services were more interested in proving we were wrong than giving Kane care. They thought we had managed to convince 30 doctors over Kane’s lifetime. They said we had given him medicine to induce the problems, but he had the problems before he had the medicine so I don’t know how they worked that out.’
The arrests, in July 2010, were triggered after staff at Bursledon House specialist children’s centre in Southampton, where Kane was undergoing treatment, told social services that he was not showing all the symptoms his parents described and they concluded it was a case of FII.
Once in care, the children were unable to see or speak to their mother for a year and were allowed to see their father only on weekly three-hour supervised visits. Kane was kept separately from his sisters Carris and Marly, then 14 and eight, for four months, before they were all sent to a foster family 60 miles from the family home in Farnborough, with a daily two-hour round trip to school. Carris, who is now 16, had been predicted 14 A*s at GCSE, but left school with only two passes. She took herself out of care as soon as she turned 16 last summer and returned to her family.
At a four-week hearing at Portsmouth County Court in February, Judge Marston praised Kealey and Andy for being ‘caring, loving’ parents and criticised Hampshire County Council for failing to prove any of its claims. In his judgment, he said: ‘What happened here is that a picture was painted before the facts were properly analysed, indeed before many of the facts were actually known, and then the facts were made to fit the picture.’
John Coughlan, Hampshire County Council’s director of children’s services, said that the council had acted with the ‘best motives’, adding: ‘It is our duty as a local authority to secure the well-being of children.’
Detective Superintendent Nigel Lecointe, head of the public protection department of Hampshire Constabulary, said he accepted his officers’ actions had been ‘perceived to be heavy-handed’ and ‘had a significant long-term effect on the family’.
Predictably, many people have posted on the internet to say that they hope the family will sue. Usually this isn't a realistic option – you have to be rich to afford to take legal action. But if only it were possible, this might be the best thing to do – for all our sakes. Only when these bullies find themselves being bullied and pursued will they start to think twice about the consequences of their actions.
For example, a man in Walsall called for an ambulancce because he had chest pains. When the ambulance got him to hospital, he was left festering in A&E and nobody came to look at him. After a while he collapsed and died.
The police have arrested several members of hospital staff, and the ambulance crew, on suspicion of causing death by negligence. We think this is excellent. It may be that this is the only way to get NHS managers to take seriously the fact that they are consistently and obstinately failing to deliver the standards of care for which they are paid.
The mealy-mouthed words of Hampshire County Council’s director of children’s services, about 'our duty as a local authority to secure the well-being of children’ are just that: a glib, self-serving cop-out. Do we accept from David Cameron that he is acting from the best possible motives and doing the best he can? Of course not. Would it do any good for a train driver to say 'I ran past that red light but I was doing the best I could'? When the captain of that Italian cruise ship said he was just doing his job, keeping the passengers happy, did it cut any ice?
We pay people to do their jobs properly, effectively and intelligently. If they can't or won't do that, they should lose their jobs at the very least. We don't pay them to act from the best possible motives, we pay them to get it right, not just sometimes, but every time.
You often hear public servants prating about “responsibility”. 'I am responsible,' they say, 'for the rubbish collections or the schools budget or protecting the council's data'. And then the next sentence goes '... so I can decide how often your bins are emptied or whether the teachers get paid this month or whether it's appropriate to leave my laptop on the bus'. They think that because they are responsible that gives them power over the rest of us.
But it doesn't, and someone needs to make it clear to them that their sole duty is to do their jobs correctly and make no mistakes. Not just when it suits them, not just when it's easy, not just when their motives are pure, but every hour of every day of every year. That's the real meaning of responsibility.
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