The couple who wrongly lost three children to social services launch historic court fight to win them back
Britain's Leftist social workers are utter animals. They only pursue decent people -- and on the flimsiest of grounds in that case
A couple who had their three oldest children taken away by social services after false claims of abuse went to court last week in a bid to make legal history by reversing their adoption. A lawyer acting for Mark and Nicky Webster made an impassioned plea to three appeal court judges to right the unimaginable wrong that robbed them of the children - all under nine - who can be known only as A, B and C.
And the Websters, who now have another son, Brandon, and a fifth child on the way, are hopeful of success after judge Lord Justice Wilson remarked on the brevity of the original hearing that ruled they should be put up for adoption. He told the Appeal Court: `One thing that strikes one about that judgment is not only that it is very short but that there is very little context.'
The children were taken away in 2003 after B suffered leg fractures that doctors wrongly deemed were due to abuse. The Mail on Sunday has championed the plight of Nicky, 28, and Mark, 35, from Cromer, Norfolk, since it first came to light. And speaking outside court, Nicky explained: `We want to clear our names properly and we want the children to know the truth. They need to know that their mummy and daddy did not hurt them, that they loved them and cared for them.'
The Websters first hit the headlines when Nicky fled to Ireland before Brandon was born in 2006 so Norfolk social services could not take him away. The couple fought a long battle to prove they had not harmed their children and last year experts agreed B's leg injuries were not due to physical abuse but a disorder that stopped him eating anything other than soya milk. At that stage, a judge concluded Brandon, now two, was not `at risk'.
But winning back the older children, now eight, seven and five, will be much harder, as reversing an adoption means rewriting the law. Nicky said: `It's taken us years to get this far and this isn't the end. But we have to fight. We've been told adoption is irreversible and that however wrong it was there's nothing we can do about it so to just give up. But would you do that if they were your children? When would you decide, "Well, we've tried for long enough now. We'll just stop"?' The two eldest children, A and B, were adopted into one family while the youngest, C, went to another.
Nicky said: `I gave birth to those children and we were a family for longer than they have been with their adoptive families. So it's hard to sit and listen to lawyers argue that we can't fight to have our children back because it would be unsettling. When it comes down to it the only feelings I'm interested in considering are my children's. `We still "feel" the children. Brandon looks so like his brothers, it can really catch you off-guard. I know I'm expecting a girl this time and I'm excited but I'm scared. Will she look just like my first little girl?'
Astonishingly, last week Norfolk County Council's lawyer Kate Thirwall QC argued the Websters have no right to contest the adoption as the children are no longer theirs. `Adoption orders possess a peculiar finality,' she said. `The child becomes to all purposes the child of the adoptive parents as if he were their natural child.'
But Mark and Nicky's QC, Ian Peddie, said: `It is hard to understand how the parents cope with this injustice but the children also stand to suffer if they do not know the truth of what caused them to be taken from their parents. It is assumed that the older children are aware of their Webster heritage. Child A was five years 11 months, Child B almost four and Child C two years five months when the adoption was finalised. They have sibling contact three times a year. Child A had spent more time with her natural parents than the adoptive parents and may well have memory of her time with them. `We are well aware that adoptive orders are meant to be permanent and final. But we assert that this is a fundamental miscarriage of justice and denial of natural justice and in that case this court will interfere with an adoption order. `We are conscious of the floodgates argument but this case is quite exceptional.'
Judgment was reserved until January. In the meantime, the Websters are still unable to work with children. Nicky said: `We're still on the abusers register. Mark wants to be a taxi driver but he's not allowed to drive a child unaccompanied. A friend asked me to help at a music class for pre-school children. But I'm not allowed.'
How the Government plans to record intimate information on every child in Britain
When police raided Tory MP Damian Green's home, they `sheepishly' asked whether children were present before ransacking it. His wife assumed they were being polite. But, under sinister new guidelines, officers must assess all children they encounter - including while `searching premises' - for a police database called MERLIN. This, in turn, feeds into a giant new Whitehall database on Britain's children, Contact Point, which goes live nationally in January. The Tories have vowed to scrap it, arguing that it threatens family privacy and children's safety. But civil liberties campaigners say we must resist it now, before it is too late.
Since April 1, hundreds of thousands of State employees, from police to teachers, youth and nursery workers, social workers and sports coaches, have been entitled to interrogate children aged up to 19, using the `Common Assessment Framework' (CAF), a creepy, eight-page, 60-section questionnaire. CAF includes eyewateringly intimate questions about children's sexual behaviour, their family's structure, culture and religion, their views on `discrimination', their friends, secret fears, feelings and family income, plus `any serious difficulties in their parents' relationship'.
How has such a terrifying intrusion into private life crept, almost unnoticed, under the radar? The answer is New Labour has cleverly packaged CAF as an aid to `child protection' and delivering better services as part of its Every Child Matters project (ECM). The 224million pound programme has been beset by delays, incomprehensible acronyms and New Labour gobbledegook. But let us not be deceived - it is about control, not care, and spying, not safety.
ECM claims that nearly half of Britain's 11million children have `additional needs', so must continuously be assessed for the giant database at the Government's Department for Schools and Families. CAF questionnaires will be kept until they are 19, or for 75 years if they have been in care, and can be accessed electronically by hundreds of thousands of staff in other agencies.
Contact Point will also store information from databases kept by the NHS, GPs, schools, the Child Benefit Agency and the National Pupil Register. The potential for sensitive material about our children falling into malevolent hands is enormous.
Incredibly, parental consent is not often required for this intrusion into children's lives. Youngsters from the age of 12 are deemed mature enough to agree to being CAF-ed - whatever their parents' objections. But campaigners stress that families should teach their children to say No: submitting to CAF is, currently at least, voluntary. The Government claims that the database will identify children at risk of poverty, abuse or future criminality. But since when did filling in endless forms release funds for frontline services, rather than divert them?
By bizarre coincidence - or not - this assault on treasured British notions of privacy and propriety was devised by the woman responsible for Britain's most notorious social-work scandal. ECM was launched in September 2003 by Margaret Hodge, Tony Blair's shocking choice as Britain's first Children's Minister. Her main `qualification' was being his pal and running Islington Council when its 12 children's homes were awash with paedophiles and sympathisers of the `Left-wing' Paedophile Information Exchange. This campaigned for sex to be legalised with children from the age of four.
One can only wonder how many Pervy Petes within childcare today will relish being actively invited to ask children about their sexual behaviour (CAF seemingly views this as normal), the `sleeping arrangements' at home and how they feel about `changes to their body'.
I have been exposing child-abuse scandals for nearly 20 years and believe that this new Stalinist bureaucracy will not save a single child. Many of the paedophiles I exposed in Hodge's homes `groomed' children for eventual abuse through precisely such questions. Hodge claimed that constant State monitoring of children was justified by the Victoria Climbie scandal. Yet adequate powers to protect genuinely endangered children already exist. Why, then, did the appalling mothers of Shannon Matthews and Baby P retain their children? The problem was not lack of paperwork but too many stupid, politically correct people reading it and failing to act.
CAF will not mean that the State now swoops on the demonic families in flea-infested homes with rottweilers and broken-backed babies. No, just as with the Government's fearless war on pensioner recycling `louts', they will instead target and terrorise ordinary, decent families. Why? One reason is simply to control people. Many of today's New Labour MPs are ex-Marxists and radical feminists who still believe that the family poses the greatest potential opposition to the strong State.
The Government's decreed desirable `outcomes' for children are so frighteningly broad that many decent parents could find themselves labelled failures or abusers. Everyone involved with children - including volunteers, and police on raids - is now expected to use the Government's `Pre-Assessment Checklist', to see if they are achieving these five `outcomes' - being healthy, staying safe, enjoying life, making a `positive contribution' and achieving `economic well-being'.
Even parents working desperately hard to feed their children and keep them safe could be classified as failing them. The questionnaire asks if children's parents are `over-protective', and whether work leaves them `too tired to pay attention to your needs'. CAF practitioners are also taught specifically to ask if parents `promote a healthy lifestyle' and oppose `bullying and discrimination'.
An increasingly rigid State already rejects potentially loving foster and adoptive carers who smoke or have politically `incorrect' views because they are Christian. How long until natural parents are also found guilty of thought crime? Might Damian Green have been considered guilty of encouraging discrimination, through challenging the Government on immigration?
The worst thing is that Every Child Matters has made real protection work harder - the highly effective Child Protection Register was abolished in April and social workers are now drowning in paperwork about entirely innocent families. A suppressed University of York study found it took them a day to enter data electronically on just one child.
Terri Dowty, director of Action on Rights for Children, says: `People should fill in CAF questionnaires only if they have a real, defined need - for example, a disabled child and they need equipment - and then answer only strictly relevant questions. Otherwise, parents should teach their children that if they are asked at school to fill in these forms to say that they want first to go home and discuss it.'
Dowty fears that the new State questionnaire is `designed to teach children to accept being interrogated and classified from the earliest age, by anyone and everyone. It is truly frightening'. No one, supposedly, can be forced to fill in a CAF. But practitioners are advised to report the family to the local safeguarding children team `if a common assessment is refused and you are concerned'. They may also store the CAF centrally even when permission is refused.
Campaigners are considering challenging CAF in the European Court of Human Rights, which has thrown out Britain's attempts to store innocent citizens' DNA. But they desperately need benefactors and lawyers prepared to fund test cases and support innocent families under pressure.
Tragically, Britain, the cradle of parliamentary democracy, is becoming notorious worldwide for snooping on its citizens. Professor Nigel Parton, NSPCC Professor of Childhood Studies at Huddersfield University, warned a recent international conference in Finland that the Every Child Matters agenda means what we are witnessing is the emergence of the `preventive-surveillance state', with `major implications for the civil liberties and human rights of the citizen, particularly for children and parents'.
Once, people who warned of a growing police state seemed paranoid. The Damian Green raid was a wake-up call. Let us now protect our children, our and our country's future, with all our might.
Cancer patients die after mistaken all-clear from NHS
Two patients have died and three more are seriously ill after being mistakenly given the all-clear by two doctors drafted in from overseas to help cut NHS waiting lists. An undisclosed number of colonoscopy procedures, an operation where a camera is inserted into the bowel to check for malignancies, have had to be reviewed after a specialist found cancer in an unidentified patient in January this year. The total number who may be terminally ill is still unknown.
Steve Davies, 47, a father of three died in September last year after having previously been told he was healthy following a colonoscopy at Shepton Mallet treatment centre in Somerset, a private hospital which contracts with the local NHS to provide waiting list surgery and diagnostic procedures. A second man died in January. Another man seen by the second doctor involved has come forward because of local publicity and discovered he has advanced cancer.Two more missed diagnosis have been identified by the review, carried out by a team of independent experts drafted in by the Department of Health.
The surgeon at the centre of the investigation is Ben Mak, a Dutchman who has spent much of his career operating on landmine and bullet-wound injuries for the Red Cross in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Angola. As a result of concerns Mak was suspended and resigned in May. 1,828 colonoscopies performed by him between his arrival in Shepton in October 2005 and March 2008 have been reviewed by a team of independent experts drafted in by the Department of Health. 97 of them were considered sufficiently worrying to require patients to undergo immediate re-investigation for possible malignancy. Of the remainder, most have either been told to consult their GP as soon as possible, or to ensure they are rechecked within five years. Only 480 have been told there is nothing to worry about.
Colonoscopies carried out by another surgeon, have also been reviewed. Hospital authorities at Shepton Mallet insisted there was no evidence of misdiagnosis in this doctor's work, but Stuart Bromley, an Exeter solicitor, says he has a client now gravely ill with cancer, who was told by the doctor in September last year there was no evidence of a tumour.
Colon cancer is one of the most common forms of the disease. It affects 23,000 people annually, of whom 16,000 die. Experts say such tumours are normally slow-growing and can be detected on a colonoscopy up to four years before they become fatal.
Edwin Scarbrick, vice-president of the British Society of Gastroenterology, said NHS units and most private centres are now signed up to a national accreditation programme overseen by four of the medical Royal Colleges. This ensures colonoscopy diagnoses are regularly audited and reviewed. It is not clear what audit system was used at Shepton Mallet, but the hospital's annual report for the year to March 2008, reported no problems. "There has been a lot of debate about the involvement of the independent sector in this work," said Scarbrick.
Steve Davies' widow Tracey, said there was ample evidence he was seriously ill. Davies, a painter and decorator from Westbury-sub-Mendip, had suffered severe bleeding and agonising pain but was apparently told his condition was not malignant when Mak scanned him twice the previous January. He has left a daughter aged 20 and sons aged 15 and 17. "We are devastated" she said. I can't believe how this was allowed to happen."
Allan Fairhurst, 61, from Frome, is among those waiting to hear if previously undetected growths he had removed last month, are malignant. "I won't get the results until next week. Holding on to be told whether you have cancer after all, is very worrying."
The Shepton Mallet review will re-open debate about the safety of independent treatment centres which contract with the NHS to keep routine waiting lists down. Most rely on overseas staff, and there have been concerns over the ability to check clinician's credentials.
There is also concern that the General Medical Council (GMC), which monitors performance of UK doctors, has no jurisdiction over foreign clinicians. Channels for ensuring the GMC is notified of problem overseas doctors identified through overseas medical registries are also unreliable. A GMC spokesman said the amount of information relayed in either direction, depended purely on whether the GMC had a relationship with a country's medical regulators.
Neither Mak nor the other doctor responded to messages or emails. Caroline Gamlin, director of public health for Somerset, said patients could be assured that the work of the two surgeons now performing colonoscopies at Shepton Mallet has been investigated and is entirely satisfactory. She said the centre is currently going through the Royal Colleges audit accreditation process.
A spokesman for Shepton Mallet hospital said: "It is important to stress that patients with suspected cancer are not referred to Shepton Mallet NHS Treatment Centre for colonoscopies. Patients with suspected cancer are referred to specialist cancer treatment centres, while the Shepton Mallet NHS Treatment Centre performs routine colonoscopies."
"The results of the independent review show 1,593 patients need take no further action and do not have cancer:197 patients will require a follow up investigation over the next four years as part of their routine surveillance, but are classified as being at low risk of cancer. Sadly, four patients have been found to have developed cancer, however, the independent review of the DVDs of their procedures did not show any evidence of misdiagnosis. In addition, a further 34 patients were correctly fast tracked for specialist cancer treatment. No patient wants to be told that a previous procedure needs to be repeated. For the majority of patients, this is not the case, but we would once again like to offer our sincere apologies to patients whose colonoscopies were reviewed as part of this investigation."
"Shepton Mallet Treatment Centre has to meet national standards set by the Department of Health and it does so. This year, for the first time, Independent Treatment Centres like Shepton Mallet can apply for accreditation by the Joint Advisory Group on GI Endoscopy. We are one of the first to be going through the process of getting that accreditation because we are committed to providing patients with the highest possible standards of care." "[The other doctor] is not an SMTC employee but an agency doctor whose work is subject to clinical audit. The clinical audit of his colonoscopies has shown his work to be satisfactory and he is on the GMC's specialist register."
Intelligent men have better sperm: research
More evidence that high IQ is usually a sign of greater overall biological fitness. Amusing that this was one piece of research where the small size of the effect was played up
Research has suggested that in our ancestors intelligence and sperm quality were linked so clever men were more likely to reproduce. It is thought that the genes that are linked to intelligence also have a role to play in sperm quality, even if the effect is only small.
But experts said that if couples are having problems conceiving it does not mean the man is not intelligent or that training your brain will improve your chances of becoming a father. In modern society intelligent men actually tend to father fewer children through greater use of contraception and marrying later.
A team at King's College London were testing a theory that single genes can affect a wide range of characteristics that are seemingly unrelated. Ms Rosalind Arden, lead author, said "As an initial proof-of-concept, we took two characteristics that seemed, on the surface, unlikely to be associated with each other- intelligence and sperm quality - and tested whether there was a statistical relationship between them. "We found a small positive relationship: brighter men had better sperm.
"But we are not trying to say that under modern conditions intelligent men are going to have more children. "We wanted to test the idea that intelligence is favoured by natural selection." The effect remained after factors, such as intelligent men being less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise more, were taken into account. The research is published in the Journal Intelligence.
Dr Allan Pacey, Senior Lecturer in Andrology, University of Sheffield, said: "The fact that it's possible to detect a statistical relationship between intelligence and semen quality in adult men probably says more about the co-development of brain and testicles when the man was in his mother's womb, and therefore how well they both function in adult life, rather than suggesting that playing Sudoku can somehow stimulate more sperm to be produced. "The improvement in semen quality with intelligence observed in this paper is small and therefore it is unlikely to have a big impact on the ability of men of different intelligences to conceive." The effect was small so is unlikely to be relevant to individuals, Ms Arden said.
The researchers analysed data from 4,462 former US soldiers who had served during the Vietnam war who took several intelligence tests and underwent a detailed medical examination. Of these, 425 men also provided semen samples. The researchers examined the relationships between intelligence, semen quality which was measured using standard sperm motility, sperm concentration, sperm count tests, age, and the main lifestyle factors known to predict health: obesity body mass index, and use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and hard drugs. The correlations were small but highly statistically significant.
Ms Arden said: "This does not mean that men who prefer Play-Doh to Plato always have poor sperm: the relationship we found was marginal. "We look forward to seeing if the results can be replicated in other data sets, with other measures of intelligence and other measures of physical health that are also strongly related to evolutionary fitness".