£8,000 For Couple Whose Baby Was Wrongly Taken Away By Social Workers

A British couple whose baby was wrongly taken away by social workers were awarded £8,000 in compensation yesterday by the European Court of Human Rights.

The parents, who cannot be named, were suspected of abusing their daughter, then aged three months, after taking her to hospital with a broken leg in September 1998.

She was placed into the care of an aunt, but after further fractures occurred doctors realised that the baby had brittle bone disease.

After nine months the child was returned to her parents.

The couple sued for negligence, alleging doctors’ failure to spot the problem sooner had caused massive suffering, but their case was rejected by the UK courts.

After a nine-year legal battle, the European court in Strasbourg ruled in their favour.

Last night, the couple said they were ‘delighted’ by the judgment, but campaigners said it could herald a wave of claims against social services.

Judges in Strasbourg upheld the family’s claim that the refusal of British courts to let them sue the hospital had breached their human rights.

The Human Rights judges said: ‘Indeed, the authorities, medical and social, had a duty to protect children and could not be held liable every time genuine and reasonably-held concerns about the safety of children in their families were proved, retrospectively, to have been misguided.’

They also said the social or medical authorities could not be faulted for not immediately diagnosing brittle bone disease, a very rare and difficult condition to identify in small infants.

The judgment concluded: ‘The court was therefore satisfied that the domestic authorities had relevant and sufficient reasons to take protective measures, which had been proportionate in the circumstances and had given due and timely account to the applicants’ interests.

‘Accordingly, the court held unanimously that there had been no violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life).

‘However, the court found that the applicants should have had available to them a means to claim that the local authority’s handling of procedures had been responsible for any damage they had suffered and to claim compensation.

‘As such redress had not been available at the relevant time, the court held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy).’

The couple was also awarded £14,000 for legal costs and expenses.