Last summer a pregnant Italian mother flew to England for a two-week Ryanair training course at Stansted. Staying at an airport hotel, she had something of a panic attack when she couldn’t find the passports for her two daughters, who were with her mother back in Italy. She called the police, who arrived at her room when she was on the phone to her mother. The police asked to speak to the grandmother, who explained that her daughter was probably over-excited because she suffered from a “bipolar” condition and hadn’t been taking her medication to calm her down.
The police told the mother that they were taking her to hospital to “make sure that the baby was OK”. On arrival, she was startled to see that it was a psychiatric hospital, and said she wanted to go back to her hotel. She was restrained by orderlies, sectioned under the Mental Health Act and told that she must stay in the hospital.
By now Essex social services were involved, and five weeks later she was told she could not have breakfast that day. When no explanation was forthcoming, she volubly protested. She was strapped down and forcibly sedated, and when she woke up hours later, found she was in a different hospital and that her baby had been removed by caesarean section while she was unconscious and taken into care by social workers. She was not allowed to see her baby daughter, and later learnt that a High Court judge, Mr Justice Mostyn, had given the social workers permission to arrange for the child to be delivered. In October, at a hearing before another judge, she was represented by lawyers assigned to her by the local authority and told she would be escorted back to Italy without her baby.
All this was such a shock to the mother that, back in Italy, she resumed taking her medication and embarked on a legal battle for the return of her daughter, which has by now involved lawyers in three countries, all of whom I have spoken to at length to establish the facts of this remarkable story. The High Court in Rome expressed outrage at what had been done to an Italian citizen “habitually resident” in Italy. But the judge there concluded that, since she had not protested at the time, she had accepted that the British courts had jurisdiction – even though she had not known what was to be done to her, was deemed to have no “capacity” to instruct lawyers because she had been sectioned, and had only been represented by solicitors assigned to her by the local authority.
In February, when the mother returned to Chelmsford to plead for the return of her daughter, the judge, I am told, admitted that, since resuming her medication, she seemed impressively articulate and a different person from the one he had seen earlier. But, because he could not risk a failure to maintain her medication in the future, he ruled that the child must be placed for adoption.
By now a new twist had entered the story. Supported by the mother, her American husband – from whom she is amicably separated, and who is the father of her eldest daughter – asked that the baby be sent to Los Angeles to live with his sister, herself a very capable mother, described by her US lawyer as “a rock”. British law is clear that wherever possible children should be adopted by members of their wider family. But in March, Essex social services ruled that this was unacceptable because, even though she was the aunt of the baby’s stepsister, the American woman had no “blood” tie to the baby. So, rather than allow the child to be looked after by her “kin”, she must be sent to live with complete strangers.
Since the adoption process is not yet complete, the mother has now, in a final attempt to get the British court’s ruling reversed, called in Brendan Fleming, the most formidable of the few British solicitors prepared to fight for parents whose children have been seized by social workers for seemingly no good reason. Also now involved is John Hemming MP, who has previously helped other foreign parents to win back their children from Britain’s “child protection” system, on the grounds that the UK courts have no jurisdiction over them. He describes this story, of the mother whose baby was forcibly delivered while she lay unconscious, as “extraordinary, unlike any other case I have come across, and one I hope to raise in Parliament”.