Northern Ireland

Three children unlawfully removed from their mother

Social workers who forcibly removed three children from their mother acted unlawfully, the High Court has ruled.

Police called to the house were wrongly told an emergency protection order was in place which prohibited her from drinking alcohol.

No such restrictions had been in force against the woman, who cannot be named to protect her children's identities.

She launched judicial review proceedings to quash decisions by police and social workers.

The South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust ordered the children's removal in February 2009.

At the time there were concerns about the children's school attendance records, and one of them arriving in soiled underwear.

Issues were also raised about their mother sometimes being under the influence when she collected them.

An investigation of the family presented a mixed picture, with medical advice indicating that a bowel problem could account for the frequent soiling.

The mother's drinking was also assessed to be too high for good health.

Due to ongoing concerns about the possibility both of alcohol misuse and domestic violence in surrounding adult relationships, local social services were assigned to the case.

Following an incident on 26 February a senior social worker asked police to enter the mother's home.

A constable was told at the scene that an emergency protection order was in place which banned the woman from drinking, that it had been breached and that social services intended to remove the children.

A judge who heard the case set out how this conversation took place "quite literally over the head" of the mother.

The woman then agreed to take a breath test which established she was not legally fit to drive.

Mr Justice Treacy said: "Apparently fortified by this information, the social workers proceeded to forcibly remove the children of the family.

"This process was executed despite the clear distress, protests and physical resistance of the mother and children alike.

"The children were taken away and placed in the care of the applicant's family."

It later emerged that no order existed in the case at the time, either prohibiting the woman from drinking or with any child protection terms.

The judge said: "For all the above reasons I conclude there was never any lawful order in place authorising the removal of these children from the applicant.

"That removal was therefore unlawful."