By Christopher Booker
Once again the police act as shock troops for social workers.
In all my stories about the disturbing workings of the system supposedly designed to protect our children from harm, I have come across few odder than the events of last Monday. A mother and her 14-year-old daughter, I am told, jointly applied to a judge for the girl to be allowed to return home, where she has wanted to be ever since being taken into care last year. Nine months ago, she was subjected to repeated serious assaults by a friend of her foster family. This was investigated by the police, who recorded it as a case of statutory assault but took no further action. The girl was moved to a more responsible foster mother, and was allowed, with the knowledge of her social workers, to make regular unsupervised visits to her mother nearby.
On Monday, when the application for discharge of her care order was rejected, the girl was very upset. She went round to her mother, who rang the foster mother to say that her daughter would return in an hour or two when she had calmed down. On advice from the girl’s solicitor, she also rang the police to say where her daughter was and that she was at no risk of harm.
Forty minutes later, a policewoman and three policemen arrived, saying that they just wanted to speak to the girl to confirm that she was OK. On this assurance, the mother allowed them in, upon which, according to her, their attitude changed. They burst into the house, where the girl was lying on a sofa playing an Xbox game. The policewoman said: “Put on your clothes, you’re coming with us.” When the mother, an intelligent and successful professional woman, repeatedly asked under what legal authorisation they were acting, they gave no reply. She therefore rang the police station to assure them that her daughter was in no danger.
In the girl’s own words to me, when she said she was quite safe and saw no reason to go with them, the policewoman tried “to grab the TV control and to snatch off my headset”. When the girl resisted, the policewoman “grabbed me by the arm, pulling me off the sofa, where a policeman pinned me down, banging my head several times on the floor”. She was then told she was under arrest, handcuffed and dragged protesting and shoeless to the police car, bumping into one of the men on the way.
At the police station, without interview or access to a solicitor, she was charged with assaulting the policewoman and the man who had been holding her, and put in a cell for the night. “They were all teasing me and laughing,” she says. When she asked to see a doctor about the bruising she had suffered, she was offered paracetamol. Next morning, after 12 hours in custody, she was taken to her foster home. She is due to appear in a youth court on Thursday on two charges of assault.
The police force in question tells me that they were authorised to remove her from her home under Section 46 of the Children Act – but this only allows for emergency removal where a child is in danger of “significant harm”. They also say that a new care order had been made that day, forbidding the girl to visit her mother’s home, which both the mother and the girl’s solicitor strongly deny. The police confirm that an investigation is under way into a formal complaint by the mother about her daughter’s treatment.