A week-old baby was taken off his parents in hospital by social workers after his father expressed unorthodox views about “the benefits of formula milk”.
Social workers swooped on the baby boy after the father raised medics’ eyebrows with his views on bottle sterilisation and formula feeding.
Now, in a damning decision, Kirklees Council has been ordered to pay the mother, the father and the little boy, now aged 15 months, a total of £11,250 in damages for breaching their human rights.
Mr Justice Cobb said there was “no doubt in my mind” that the council had violated the family’s human rights, and even “misled” a family judge. Kirklees, which has offices in Huddersfield, had persuaded a judge to sanction the baby being taken into emergency care without even telling his parents about the hearing.
The mother, in her 20s, suffered from minor mental health problems and other difficulties and the father had in the past been aggressive to others. But staff at the special care baby unit where he was cared for in the days after his delivery had expressed “no child protection concerns”.
Maternity ward medics did, however, tell the council they were anxious about the couple’s long-term ability to care for their baby. Amongst other things, they said the father had “expressed unorthodox views about the need for sterilisation of bottles and the benefits of formula milk”.
Just before the baby was due to be discharged from hospital into his parents’ care, the council rushed to court and obtained an emergency care order, placing him with grandparents.
The judge was told that the parents were “on notice” of the hearing and had “agreed” to their baby being taken away from them.
The council also “forgot to notify Cafcass” (The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) about the case so there was no lawyer present to represent the baby boy’s interests.
Mr Justice Cobb said the couple were in fact “unaware” of the hearing and were “understandably very upset” when they were told about it.
A spate of further hearings followed and the baby was finally sent home to his parents 10 weeks later. In the year since then, the judge said the boy had “continued to thrive in his parents’ care”.
He added: “There is no doubt in my mind, indeed it is admitted, that Kirklees Council breached the human rights of a baby boy and his parents.”
The failure to notify the parents of the care hearing was “particularly egregious” and involved “misleading the judge no fewer than three times”.
Awarding the mother, the father and the little boy £3,750 damages each, the judge said that was “just and fair satisfaction” for the wrongs done to them. Mr Justice Cobb ordered the council to pay a substantial portion of the £120,000 in legal costs run up in the case.
The Judge analysed the case at a private family court hearing in Sheffield earlier this month and announced his decision in a ruling. The couple can not be identified.
A Kirklees Council spokesperson said: “The court and parties accepted that the council was correct to issue these proceedings, but mistakes were made which resulted in the court awarding the family compensation. The local authority has been ordered to pay a contribution of the publicly funded costs of the claimants, which cover specific periods of the case. This is due to the way the claimants litigation was conducted.”