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  • Thu 15 Jun 2006. Mother wins fight to get her baby back SHAN ROSS

  • Mother wins fight to get her baby back

    Social workers condemned after newly born child was taken from mother Woman was in last stages of giving birth Sheriff rules social workers action as 'wrong' Key quote "I was in the throes of labour, quite dilated and about to deliver. My back was bent backwards, the head was sticking out and I was just about to push the rest of the body out. I raised my head and saw two men and two women walk into the birthing room." - Corellie Bonhomme

    Story in full A SHERIFF has condemned social workers who removed a newborn baby from her mother only minutes after the child's umbilical cord was cut.

    Two social workers and two sheriff officers entered the birthing suite as Corellie Bonhomme went into the final stages of labour. Immediately after her daughter, Fifi, was born, they took her away after obtaining a sheriff's order giving them permission to take custody.

    But after a five-month fight and a lengthy hearing, another sheriff has ruled the decision and the way it was enforced was wrong, and he ordered the child to be reunited with her mother.

    Ms Bonhomme, 34, has also received an apology from NHS Dumfries and Galloway over the incident at Dumfries Royal Infirmary last December. The trust has promised to change its working practices.

    Now reunited with Fifi, Ms Bonhomme, who lives in Dumfries, said only the baby's head had appeared when the door opened and social workers accompanied by sheriff officers came into the room at the hospital to serve a Child Protection Order to take the baby into care.

    She said medical staff restrained her as she tried to clamber down from the delivery table to stop Fifi, now aged six months, being taken away.

    "I had a needle in my arm and was on morphine and was having gas and air when I heard a midwife say, 'oh, there's social work involvement'.

    "I was in the throes of labour, quite dilated and about to deliver. My back was bent backwards, the head was sticking out and I was just about to push the rest of the body out. I raised my head and saw two men and two women walk into the birthing room.

    "I pushed Fi out and the doctor took her away. I never got to touch her. I tried to get up. I was trying to get hold of the baby. But the staff said 'get back on the bed, get back on the bed'. The doctor put his hand just above my chest and pushed me down, saying the placenta was still to come out. It was horrific. I was going 'where's my baby, I want my baby'.

    "I spent Christmas alone, crying and crying and wondering how I could get Fifi back."

    The original child protection order was issued by Sheriff Kenneth Barr on 15 December last year, the day baby Fifi was born.

    But Ms Bonhomme, who has had two previous children removed by social services in the London borough of Camden, was determined to win back her daughter.

    Last month, Sheriff Kenneth Ross overruled the legal order and granted her custody.

    He said Ms Bonhomme's long-running dispute with social workers in Camden had led to the authorities in Scotland taking the baby into care unnecessarily. He also criticised the way Fifi was taken.

    Commenting on the incident in the birthing suite, Sheriff Ross said: "Fifi was removed very soon after birth. It was not clear to me why that was necessary. She was in hospital in the secure care of the staff there. There was no evidence that Ms Bonhomme was intending to leave precipitately."

    He also questioned Dumfries and Galloway Council for basing the Child Protection Order on "extremely contentious" English proceedings.

    He said Camden social work department's approach of viewing "Fifi's welfare entirely through the prism of their experience and perception" of Ms Bonhomme's care of her other two children had transmitted itself to Dumfries and Galloway's social work department and that had led them to apply for the Child Protection Order.

    A child protection case conference in Camden last September placed the unborn Fifi on the Child Protection Register under the category 'neglect'. It also recommended the child be placed under police protection at birth and removed from her mother, with care proceedings to be initiated immediately.

    Dumfries and Galloway Council instigated legal proceedings after Camden's legal move was communicated to them.

    Camden had become involved after Ms Bonhomme left hospital early after the birth of her second child in 2003 against medical advice. They initiated proceedings because of what they claim was her erratic behaviour, failure to provide appropriate and satisfactory care for her children and hostility towards professional staff.

    But Sheriff Ross said the report did not present a full picture of Ms Bonhomme's current life circumstances, in particular her two-year relationship with a new partner, Derek Bryden, and offers from his family to help with Fifi's upbringing.

    A spokesman for Dumfries and Galloway Council said they had followed normal procedure in cases like this and would abide by the judgment of the court. He added: "As Ms Bonhomme has made a complaint to the council, it would be inappropriate to make any further comment."

    NHS Dumfries and Galloway said: "A complaint was received from the individual concerned and responded to in accordance with the NHS complaints procedure. The complaint remains part of the complaints process and, accordingly, it would be inappropriate to comment further."

    Actions 'may breach human rights law' THE treatment of Ms Bonhomme in the birthing suite at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary was last night described as a potential breach of human rights legislation.

    John Scott, the chairman of the Scottish Human Rights Centre, said: "This could be seen as a breach of Article 8 which guarantees the right to privacy and family life.

    "It is certainly a breach of common decency and completely unacceptable.

    "There should not be anyone in a birthing room except the woman, her husband or partner and medical staff.

    "There needs to be proper guidance issued to make sure it never happens again."

    Shona Robison, SNP health spokeswoman, said: "This appears to have been very heavy-handed and a breach of privacy and dignity."

    However, a spokeswoman for the Royal College of Midwives said that in such circumstances medical staff were being put in an extremely difficult position.

    "The guiding principle for us is the wellbeing of the mother and child and we would not do anything to jeopardise that relationship.

    "But if two legal officers appear on the scene and are present at, for example, ten minutes after the birth, which would be regarded as 'post natal', we wouldn't have a choice. We would strongly object if they appeared while the woman was giving birth as we would not want them around at the point of delivery."

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