Parents withdraw from adoption case after family court ‘nightmare’

Council claims withdrawal is “cynical response by the birth parents to the evidence against them”. Family Court chief says rehearing will still go ahead "to find the truth"


A rehearing of a decision to adopt a four-year-old will go ahead without their birth parents involvement after they withdrew from proceedings on the grounds that removing them from their adoptive parents “would not be the right thing”.

Child X was placed with adopters two-and-a-half years ago and had an adoption order made last year. Their birth parents were granted a rehearing of care proceedings in June following an appeal after a criminal court found they hadn’t caused the harm to the child which had led to them being placed with adopters.

‘Presumed guilty’

The rehearing was scheduled to take place last month. But a week before proceedings began both parents wrote to the family court chief, Sir James Munby, and explained their decision to withdraw.

“The whole family court process left us feeling that we were presumed guilty until proven innocent and that is just so very wrong,” the mother wrote.

“The last four years have been a nightmare for us, the hardest years that I have had to cope with in my entire life…Since the family court’s decision, my health has been going downhill…We have been robbed of one of our most basic rights, to be happy and have a family, by people who know nothing about us, who seemed to assume the worst before they even knew the facts.”

Too late

The mother and father concluded that they couldn’t go through with the proceedings as they knew allowing X to return to them would be an “unusual order for the court to make”.

They said by the time a decision could be made, their child would be five years old.

“We now know it is too late to move [X] from [the] adoptive parents. This would not be the right thing for [X],” the parents told Munby.

“I want [X] to know that we would never hurt [X], but I cannot go through a fourth long court hearing where I am accused again of lying to cover up hurting [X] or to cover up for [the birth father] hurting [X]. This nightmare has been going on now for four and a half years. I cannot take any more.

“We accept that it would not be right for [X] to be moved.”

The father added: “The idea of taking [X] away from all [X] knows is not something I can live with.”

Munby then had to decide whether the rehearing of care proceedings should continue without the parents.


The local authority argued that the move was a “cynical response by the birth parents to the evidence against them”, which the authority felt “overwhelmingly” supported its case that X had suffered injury in the care of the birth parents.

There was “much more” evidence available than had been in any case beforehand, lawyers for the authority argued.

They claimed it was “no solution” to allow the decision of the original care proceedings hearing to stand.

“The Circuit Judge’s findings have been publicly questioned and there is, in all the circumstances, a clear need for a court – this court – to look at all the evidence, including the evidence the Circuit Judge did not see.”

The adoptive parents had “a degree of sympathy with the position of the birth parents”, however lawyers on their behalf argued that it was “wholly unsatisfactory” to have so much detailed evidence constructed to be “abandoned because of the reluctance of the birth parents”.

They said it was necessary for the court to make findings as the child was entitled to have the cause of their injuries determined.

Life story

The child’s guardian also argued the matters before the court were “crucial for X generally and especially for X’s life story and X’s understanding as X grows up”. In the guardian’s view, the child needed an accurate narrative of the circumstances that led to his removal from the birth parents and subsequent adoption.

Munby concluded the rehearing should go ahead. “We are in a very good position to know what the birth parents’ case is and how it would, in all probability, be deployed before me were they to remain participating fully in the rehearing.”

He also did not rule out the birth parents being compelled to give evidence if the local authority, or other party, sought to bring them before court. He made no comment on their reasons for withdrawing from the case.

The task of analysing the evidence and case that would have been put forward by the parents could be undertaken by counsel instructed by the guardian if the case was to proceed in their absence, Munby said.

“Which does not, in the unusual circumstances of this case, in any way compromise the guardian’s neutrality. The simple fact is that this is no longer a case in which the guardian has a welfare role to perform,” he added.

Munby said the process was necessary to “find out the truth for X and for the public”.

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15 Responses to Parents withdraw from adoption case after family court ‘nightmare’

  1. Tom J November 9, 2016 at 4:50 pm #

    Reading in between the lines- I can see how having it now having been made clear that they did not cause the harm- these parents would be bewildered about why they should have to go through this process in order for the state to return their child.

    I guess if it was my child I would hope that I would grin and bare it and go along for the ride hoping that at some point the state would return my child having incorrectly accused me of harm in the past.

    Hence I can see why the state wants to follow process, but I can also imagine the likely impact upon parents of having to jump through numerous hoops whilst thinking ‘just return my child that you took under a completely false premise!’.

    • CT November 11, 2016 at 10:57 am #

      It isn’t the case that the state things that these parents haven’t caused harm, being found not guilty beyond reasonable doubt is not the same as a finding in a family court which is based on balance of probabilities. The LA clearly does think the court should decide on the evidence whether the finding of facts stands, and if you read the judgement, it appears that there is evidence that wasn’t before the crown court.

      • Tom J November 11, 2016 at 4:13 pm #

        ‘a criminal court found they hadn’t caused the harm to the child’

        So I guess you believe that this second trial may find that they did?

        I can feel the frustration of parents- that if the state doesn’t get you at the first lengthily criminal trial, it will go again for a second bite of the cherry. Particularly your suggestion that they will bung in some extra information at the second inquisition. This reminds me of America prior to double jeopardy laws where the state would keep doing a retrial until they got what they wanted.

        It must be emotionally and financially exhausting.

  2. Neil November 9, 2016 at 6:30 pm #

    There seems to be a complete lack of understanding how gruelling all those Court hearings must have been for the parents; I cannot help but feel that the Council just wants to put the boot in. Is there anything to be gained by proceeding with another hearing because the child has now been adopted and if the child was ever in dangerfro the parents that danger has now passed. What a waste of High Court time and money

    • Kes November 11, 2016 at 6:39 pm #

      That child will become an adult one day and is more than entitled to have knowledge and facts about their early life. I’m astounded that you feel this would be a waste of money

  3. Lorri Nowell November 10, 2016 at 2:40 am #

    The Courts and the Case workers have put this family through so much hell they can’t even function correctly. 4 years is ridiculous for any case to go on. This practice must be stopped. Innocent Parents are going through living hell and losing their children and lives for wrong reasons placed upon them. These court cases need a jury trial so all eyes are on board

    • Beverley November 10, 2016 at 10:59 pm #

      How on earth could this team of professionals be so wrong.? where did the source of their information come from. I cant help but think what’s written on appraisal forms. Really.??

      • CT November 11, 2016 at 10:43 am #

        This isn’t about the professionals being wrong, it is about burden of proof, and if you read the judgement there is also now evidence that wasn’t before the crown court. The family court will decide on a balance of probabilities, not beyond reasonable doubt, because the later does not protect children. You can think that is wrong, but you do need to think about the Ellie Butler case where a child died after her father was found not guilty in a criminal court.

        • Anna November 14, 2016 at 5:36 am #

          Wellsaid. People don’t realize that the purden of proof in criminal court and in child welfare cases are very different. A criminal court not convicting doesn’t mean the parents didn’t do it, just that the circumstances may not lead to a conviction. This can happen for so many reasons. A child may be terribly abused but a part of getting parents convicted may include the children speaking in court which could do far more harm than good for the child.

  4. Lena Marie November 10, 2016 at 5:29 am #

    Many times life presents overwhelming difficulties. Hearts are breaking on both sides of this particular delimma, while the young child is doing, thinking, and experiencing what? My usual activities do not include reading things of this nature, much less making any comment at all. Today (tonight) I felt the need to. Thus, while going through the article, I found myself constantly wondering about the young child. Every person should be turning their attention toward X, and X only. Except for God, who is omnipresent, omniscient, and all powerful. May all involved be graced with love from the Lord Jesus himself! Remember: God is love.

  5. Anita Singh November 11, 2016 at 12:22 am #

    Before wading into the Local Authority so strongly, and a massive assumption that these parents have been put through hell and that there is a lack of understanding about how gruelling these proceedings can be, spare a thought for the child and what could be the consequences for this little boy if indeed his birth father really did hurt him. To this end, please remember Ellie Butler, as her father also used the fact that his criminal conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal. He argued that this proved his innocence that he had never hurt Ellie. Despite all of the social work evidence, the High Court decided that on the basis of the Court of Appeal’s decision that Ellie’s father did not cause her injuries, that he was entirely innocent of any possible abuse. Ellie’s parents also appealed to have Ellie returned to their care, on the basis of their success in asserting their professed “innocence”. Following their successful challenge of social workers, Ellie was returned to the care of her parents. Nine months later she was dead.

    Please stop this constant vilification of social workers, as the immediate assumption is that the LA wants to put the boot in to these poor parents in the court process for no reason. The amount of evidence that has to be gathered now in care proceedings is heavy in order to justify the removal of a child. Also the burden of proof in care proceedings is different to that in criminal proceeding. The article clearly refers to the amount of evidence that the Local Authority asserts it has and it is for the Courts to decide upon, based upon the evidence before them. Lets hope for this little boy X’s sake, that unlike Ellie, they get it right.

    • CT November 11, 2016 at 10:45 am #

      One of the main issues for Ellie was that the LA was not involved, ISWs were, and it isn’t very clear how that worked (or didn’t) in the case.

      • Anita Singh November 11, 2016 at 11:15 am #

        CT, the LA did not act in Ellie Butler’s case, because of the High Court decision to return her, the LA reported that social workers felt unable to act because of the High Court decision to return her, (despite overwhelming evidence of serious concerns, even her grandfather warned the Judge she would have blood on her hands if she directed the return of Ellie to her parents). Whilst the ISW did undertake a highly flawed assessment of Ben Butler, there were other social work reports that clearly raised concerns, but were ignored.

  6. Veronika November 11, 2016 at 7:10 am #

    It is seems to be a sad story but let’s not forget that we do not know the reason of the removal, family background and the whole story. It is look like the family was suffered injustice but we cannot judge just from one article.

  7. Hels November 13, 2016 at 9:39 pm #

    Finding of fact, and criminal proceedings not unusual to have them side by side!!