A Hackney couple have won £10,000 each in damages from the local council after their eight children were wrongly put into foster care.
Sir Robert Francis, a deputy High Court judge, said the case illustrated the challenges that faced children, parents, public authorities and the courts when concerns were raised about the safety and welfare of children.
The proceedings were sparked by the arrest on suspicion of shoplifting eight years ago of one of the children. The family cannot be identified due to legal reasons.
He was said to have told the police that a bruise on his face was caused when his father beat him with a belt.
The police visited the family home and alerted Hackney Council it was not in a fit state to house the children.
Giving his ruling in a civil case brought against the council by the parents of the children, the judge said: “A relatively trivial incident on 5 July 2007, followed by an allegation made by a young child in potential trouble, led to the exposure of issues about the upbringing of a large family in respect of whom there had been no previous concerns.
“Eight children, including a young baby, were removed from their parents’ care and distributed to foster homes. A swift consideration of the welfare issues concluded that if some simple improvements were made to their home, the children could return home.”
Yet it was some two months before the children returned to their parents, after experiencing a variety of foster placements, some of which were of dubious quality.
A criminal investigation led to a 20-count indictment against the parents but, in the end, two years later, no evidence was offered and the parents were acquitted.
The judge said that the parents’ complaints about the handling of their case by Hackney were considered over a period of nearly six years, culminating in a final decision by the Local Government Ombudsman in April 2013.
In spite of their complaints being upheld in part, and the exoneration of their character in the crown court, the couple believed their grievances had not been properly addressed and brought civil proceedings against Hackney, which denied liability.
They accepted that the authorities acted lawfully in the initial action of taking their children into foster care under the authority of a police protection order, but claimed damages for what they said were Hackney’s unlawful actions in keeping the children after the expiry of the order.
The judge rejected the couple’s claims of misfeasance in public office, negligence and religious discrimination but allowed their claim under the Human Rights Act.
He said: “This was undoubtedly a close family presided over by loving parents. They were extremely distressed by the continued separation from their children and constantly voiced their anxieties in that regard to the defendants.
“They witnessed the adverse effects of foster care on more than one of their children, one of whom was a baby who was being breast fed.
“On the other hand, I must bear in mind that the initial separation was justified, and that an investigation of the type which occurred would have taken place in any event. This is not a case of permanent loss or bereavement, and the children were returned in the end.”
A Hackney Council spokesperson said: “Hackney Council will be appealing the decision. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”