Haringey snatched child from me to give to abusers

Evening Standard, UK/December 9, 2008

A photograph of a small boy, smiling broadly for the camera, stands on a shelf in Jamila Badawi's home. It was taken just over two years ago at a time of great happiness for Jamila, who was foster mother to the child. Today, he is known as Child C, the subject of a police investigation into claims that after he was taken from her by Haringey council social workers he was subjected to serious abuse.

Jamila still weeps for the child she came to think of as her own. Indeed, the story of Child C, told here for the first time, is highly disturbing and includes a description of a social worker snatching him from his toy truck as the bewildered child screamed for his "mama". Coming so soon after the horror of the Baby P affair, this new case suggests yet again that something is terribly wrong in Haringey. Last week a government report revealed systemic failures in the council's care of vulnerable children. Children's minister Ed Balls described the findings as "devastating". Baby P died of horrific injuries after prolonged abuse, despite the fact he was on Haringey's at-risk register.

Sharon Shoesmith, director of children's services, was yesterday sacked, having already been removed from her post. Council leader George Meehan and cabinet member for children Liz Santry resigned last month.

Child C, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, has been known to Haringey's social services staff for several years. He was taken from his natural mother in Kenya soon after he was born, smuggled into Britain and, it is alleged, trafficked to a wealthy couple desperate for a child.

When the police found out, he was placed with foster carers. He went through a succession of them before he found a stable home with Jamila. She is a middle-aged woman with a grown- up son who lives alone in her own home in north London. She has a spacious, pleasant house surrounded by plants she carefully tends.

She is of north African descent, a fact that became crucial in her long-running struggle to keep Child C. She has been forced to abandon that fight now, but she still cares for the child and the disclosure that he is at the centre of claims of abuse causes her enormous distress.

The alarm was sounded by Hamish Cameron, a consultant child psychiatrist who advises the courts on difficult cases. He is familiar with Baby C's history. He wanted the police to look into suspicions the boy was being mistreated by his new adoptive parents. Child C was admitted to intensive care in a coma soon after he was adopted, it was claimed, and earlier this year was again treated in hospital for a head injury.

Dr Cameron said: "We need an investigation which is independent of Haringey into the welfare of this child. The question is, once the local authority is in charge of the welfare of a child, who monitors the local authority? The answer is no one. There's no way of alerting anyone to the welfare of such a child until they are dead."

The allegations being investigated by the Metropolitan Police's child abuse team include claims that Child C had banged his head against a wall. Nursery workers, it is said, have reported that he appears emotionally disturbed.

Sharon Shoesmith played an important part in the Child C story and two weeks ago she agreed the allegations of abuse should be investigated..

"She was personally involved in what happened when he was taken from me," Jamila said. "I wrote to her, pleaded with her. She brushed me aside."

Ms Shoesmith doubtless believed she was acting in Child C's best interest. The Standard was told that Haringey social workers wanted to place Child C with black adoptive parents. Jamila is not black. After taking back the child, social workers fast-tracked adoption procedures and he was adopted by the Afro-Caribbean couple who are now helping with the investigation into alleged abuse.

The story of how he was forcibly snatched by social workers, and their treatment of Jamila, is harrowing.

Jamila took down the framed photograph of Child C and held it as she talked. It was April, 2005, she said, when she first saw him. At that time she was among Haringey's approved foster parents and had already successfully fostered a baby who was born in a pub as its mother engaged in a binge drinking session.

"There are so many sad children," Jamila said. "When C came to me he was in a state. He was huge ... fat ... he could hardly fit on this chair." She rose from her armchair to show how large the child was. "He was only 18 months old and I heard he had already had five carers. He couldn't walk. He had teeth, but he couldn't eat. He'd been fed on liquids."

She was told the child had been brought into Britain for a childless couple who had wanted to keep him, but gave him up when the police conducted an investigation into baby trafficking allegations. Child C features in the trafficking case, the Evening Standard has learned, and the background makes his short life appear even more tragic.

Just over five years ago, a wealthy Nigerian couple consulted Gilbert Deya, the self-styled archbishop of Gilbert Deya Ministries, based in Peckham. Deya claims he has the power to give "miracle babies" to infertile and post-menopausal women members of his evangelical church to which he invites donations. In all, 22 such "births" are said to have occurred among his congregation. The Nigerian couple said they were unable to have a child and wanted his help.

The woman travelled to Kenya and returned with a newly born baby she said was her own. The Kenyan authorities claim it was Child C, taken from his mother soon after his birth and taken out of the country on forged documents.

The Kenyan government alleges Deya stole the baby and four other children between 1999 and 2004. His wife, Mary Deya, received a two-year sentence in Nairobi last May after being convicted of child-stealing offences.

Deya, 55, claims the charges have been trumped up by his political enemies and he is currently fighting extradition, but the High Court last month refused him permission to appeal to the House of Lords and he is expected to be sent to Kenya to stand trial soon.

When Child C was removed from the Nigerian couple after DNA tests confirmed he was not related to either of them, he was placed in the care of Haringey council's children's department. "When he came to me he had a burn on his arm," Jamila said. "I asked the social worker what had happened, but she just said, 'I don't know'. She wasn't interested."

Jamila said she tried to feed the child chicken and rice, but at first he could only manage liquids. "My mother is a child specialist and I rang her to get advice," she said. "I also got some help from Whittington Hospital and after a lot of effort I managed to get him walking. He desperately needed exercise and I took him to a football class for very young children."

C lost weight. Jamila took him to a nursery to play with other children and he began talking for the first time.

"When he started speaking I introduced a bit of French, then Arabic," she said. "He is a very bright child and he took to the languages easily." Child C spent 15 months with Jamila and towards the end of that time, in late 2006, she was summond home to north Africa by her family. Her elderly father was dying.

"I contacted the social services and told them I would have to go abroad for a short time," she said. "I said I just needed someone to take care of C for a couple of days while I said goodbye to my father." The response shocked her.

"They said they would place him with a respite carer for a minimum of two weeks. I didn't want that. I told them I would only be 48 hours. They refused. So I didn't go and my father died. I never saw him."

The episode appeared to prompt activity at the children's department. Jamila says she was then told Child C was to be offered for adoption. She knew she would be unable to adopt because she was in her early fifties. Instead, she applied to be the boy's legal guardian.

"They fought me all the way," she said. "We ended up in court. The hearing took seven days. The judge was very sympathetic but he found in favour of Haringey."

According to Jamila, the judge instructed the children's department to take Child C "gradually and sensitively".

At this point in her story she became distressed. "I still can't believe what they did," she said. "In the morning my son took him for a trip on the London Eye and in the afternoon he was out there" - she gestured through the window to a raised courtyard - "playing on his truck. Suddenly, the social worker turned up with her manager. She just lifted him bodily out of his truck and ran off with him. He started screaming 'Mama! Mama!' and I ran after him, but the manager physically held me back. The children he was playing with were terrified. It was a horrible scene. Awful."

Jamila said she wrote to Sharon Shoesmith to protest that the manner of C's removal contradicted the instructions of the judge. "I got a petition of over 200 names from people round here who were shocked at what had happened. It didn't do any good. Sharon Shoesmith wrote back to say he was happy with his adoptive parents and that was the end of it."

Jamila has not seen the boy since that day. But she heard, through contacts in Haringey, that he was not happy and neither were his new parents. It recently emerged that his adoptive mother found him difficult to manage and left him in the care of a social worker. "He is ruining my marriage," she complained.

Haringey confirmed the police were investigating allegations of abuse, but a spokesman refused to say whether Child C was still with his adoptive parents.

Jamila hopes the council has acted to guarantee his safety. But given everything that has happened, she can perhaps be forgiven for wondering whether, even now, Haringey is doing the right thing.

* Jamila Badawi is a pseudonym used to protect Child C's identity.

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