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Three sons will not be handed back to mum, Northern Ireland judge rules

Published 14/09/2016

Lawyers claimed mother had been denied a fair trial
Lawyers claimed mother had been denied a fair trial

Three boys in Northern Ireland subjected to years of chronic neglect were rightfully taken from their parents' care, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mrs Justice Keegan also said more robust action should arguably have been taken much sooner to protect brothers who lived in filthy homes with dog faeces spread throughout.

Two of them were still wearing nappies to school, where they were alienated by classmates because of their personal hygiene, she pointed out.

By the time the boys were taken into foster care at the ages of ten, nine and seven their toe nails had become so overgrown they curled round their toes.

The judge said: "Sadly this case is characterised by the children presenting in an appalling condition over many years."

In May this year a Health and Social Care Trust secured an order to have the three brothers taken into care, but leaving their two older siblings, aged 14 and 13, at home.

They had been put on the child protection register due to confirmed neglect and suspected emotional abuse.

Allegations that the father was hitting them were also raised.

Lawyers for the mother of the children, who cannot be identified, mounted a High Court appeal against the decision to remove her sons.

They claimed she was denied a fair trial and argued that the Trust relied heavily on hearsay evidence of conversations with medical professionals and school staff.

It was also contended that another expert assessment should have been provided.

But in a newly published judgment dismissing the woman's challenge, Mrs Justice Keegan set out the history of what her children endured:

  •  The family moved home 14 times, causing instability in the children's lives.
  •  One flat was described as having rotten sofas and floors, a stench, flies in the living room, and dogs lying in their own faeces.
  •  The three youngest boys were discovered in dirty nappies their parents seemed unmotivated to change.
  •  One boy's bed was wet but made up for him to sleep in.
  •  The children were attending school in an unkempt state, soiling themselves and struggling to make friends.
  •  They went two years without seeing a dentist.

The court heard that the children's mother suffered significant intellectual impairment, with an IQ of between 62-70.

Her husband was described as being aggressive towards social services.

When the children were taken into foster care their bags of clothes and soft toys smelt strongly of smoke, body odour and damp.

Their underwear was covered in faeces and had to be binned.

According to the judge they appeared to lack full appreciation of going to the toilet.

Two of them were unable to use a knife and fork.

Mrs Justice Keegan detailed how their ability to walk improved after seeing a chiropodist about their overgrown toe nails.

She held that the Trust's intervention was lawful, justified and necessary to safeguard the children's welfare.

"This is a serious case of chronic neglect where intervention has only come after a long process of voluntary arrangements," she said.

"Arguably, there should have been more robust action much sooner in this case to protect these children."

As the judge threw out the appeal, she stressed the Trust's duty to examine family situations on an ongoing basis.

She added: "The obligations imposed on a public authority are weighty and continue after care orders are made."

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