Social workers who forcibly removed three children from their mother after she was breathalysed at home acted unlawfully, a High Court judge has ruled.
Police called to the house were wrongly told an Emergency Protection Order was in place which prohibited her from drinking alcohol.
No such restrictions had been in force against the woman, who cannot be named to protect her children's identities.
She launched judicial review proceedings to quash decisions by police and the South Eastern and Social Care Trust over their removal in February 2009.
At the time there were concerns about the children's school attendance records, and one of them arriving in soiled underwear.
Issues were also raised about their mother sometimes being under the influence of alcohol when she collected them.
Checks on the family presented a mixed picture, with medical advice indicating a bowel problem could account for the frequent soiling. But the woman's drinking was also assessed to be too high for good health.
Because of ongoing concerns about the possibility of alcohol misuse and domestic violence in surrounding adult relationships, local Social Services were assigned to the case.
Following an incident on February 26, 2009, a social worker asked police to enter the mother's home.
A constable was told at the scene that an Emergency Protection Order was in place which banned the woman from drinking, that it had been breached and Social Services intended to remove the children.
A judge who heard the case set out how this conversation took place “quite literally over the head” of the mother.
The woman then agreed to take a breath test which established she was not legally fit to drive.
Mr Justice Treacy said: “Apparently fortified by this information, the social workers proceeded to forcibly remove the children of the family.
“This process was executed despite the clear distress, protests and physical resistance of the mother and children alike.”
He said there was never any order in place authorising the removal of the children and that the removal was therefore unlawful.