The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has criticised Darlington Borough Council for removing a newborn from his father because of the father’s links to the English Defence League (EDL).
BBC News reports that the child was born while his mother was in prison – but the council took the baby into foster care after labelling the EDL “immoral” and “racist”.
Sitting in the family court, Sir James ordered the council to return the child to his father – and said that the council’s handling of the case was “an almost textbook example of how not to do it”.
Sir James was ruling on an adoption application brought by the council – which would have removed the child permanently from his parents.
The mother had not put herself forward as a carer of the child – but had supported the baby’s father in his bid for custody.
The child – who cannot be named for legal reasons – is now 13 months old.
The baby’s father is in his mid-20s – and the council said there were concerns over the child remaining with him because it was thought he had once had links to the EDL. It is reported that the child’s father had at the age of 17 been given a police caution after he had sex with a 13-year-old girl.
In a written ruling following the hearing in Middlesbrough, Sir James said:
“The city fathers of Darlington and Darlington's director of social services are not guardians of morality. Nor is this court.
“It is an undoubted fact of life that many youths and young men have sexual intercourse with underage girls.
“But if such behaviour were to be treated without more [evidence] as grounds for care proceedings years later, the system would be overwhelmed.
“Some 17-year-old men who have sexual intercourse with 13-year-old girls may have significantly distorted views about sex and children, and therefore pose a risk to their own children of whatever age or gender; but that is not automatically true of all such men.
“The mere fact, if fact it be, that the father was a member, probably only for a short time, of the English Defence League is neither here nor there, whatever one may think of its beliefs and policies.
“It is concerning to see the local authority again harping on about the allegedly immoral aspects of the father's behaviour.”
The chief executive of Darlington Borough Council, Ada Burns, said:
“In this case we should have given greater consideration to placing the child with the father.
“We have taken the issues raised by Sir James Munby on board and used them to review our practice and support to families.
“The responsibility for this has been fully accepted by the senior management and leadership of the council.”
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