Group of 23 children missing from Home Office hotel in ‘welfare vacuum’, High Court told

A group of children who went missing from a hotel housing asylum seekers on the south coast are in a “vacuum”, the High Court has heard.

Article 39, a charity which advocates for children in institutions, is asking the court to intervene in the case of 23 children who have disappeared from a Home Office-run hotel in Brighton and Hove.

At a hearing on Tuesday, Amanda Weston KC, for the charity, argued that the children – who are mostly 17 years old and from Albania – are in a “welfare vacuum” as no body has parental responsibility for them.

The barrister (pictured) said the court “must take a role” in the “exceptional” case, adding in written submissions: “Here, by definition, the children in question have no parent available either to provide their day-to-day care or to bring any application on their behalf to seek remedies to locate them.

“They are intensely vulnerable and at the highest end of the spectrum of children who require the court’s protection.”

Mrs Justice Lieven said children “virtually universally go missing within days, if not a day” after arriving at the hotel and noted that some have been missing for five months.

“The obvious implication of the information is that these children are coming here and being picked up from this hotel by people they know. That could be friends, could be family, could be traffickers, we don’t know,” she said.

The hearing in London was told the young people could be made wards of court – a move which gives the court overarching responsibility for a child.

“If there is a gap, wardship can fill it,” Ms Weston told the court.

“No one is going to bat for these children,” the barrister later said, adding that if there was clarity from the court about who is legally responsible for the missing children “that will be progress as far as Article 39 is concerned”.

Joanne Clement KC, for the Department for Education, said Brighton and Hove City Council “recognises they have duties to these children”.

She told the court: “This is not a case of Brighton throwing their hands in the air and saying ‘nothing to do with us’.”

The barrister, whose arguments were supported by the Home Office, continued: “They are children in need, the safeguarding duties apply.

“When they are found, they will be accommodated by the local authority where they are found.”

Ms Clement said it was not up to the court to dictate what the police should do to find the children after they are reported as missing.

“No local authorities or police have come to this court saying they need additional powers to search for and find these children,” she added.

She later said that if there were concerns about the steps authorities such as the police were taking, a claim in a different part of the High Court could be made.

Ms Clement also referred to an independent scrutiny report on the missing children by Brighton and Hove Safeguarding Children’s Partnership, which found there was “little evidence to support claims made of kidnap and criminal coercion”.

The report’s author, Chris Robson, concluded: “I have been provided with evidence of good practice and investigation by local agencies when children do go missing, I can see little more that could be done.”

Mrs Justice Lieven will give a ruling at a later date.

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