Innocent couple fight for the return of their adopted child
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Richard Carter and Karrissa Cox took their six-week old baby to hospital because they discovered bleeding at the mouth after a feed. But the hospital staff found bruises and marks, and they did an X-ray which suggested there might be fractures. They suspected that the parents had inflicted injuries on the child, so they called the social workers and the baby was taken into care.
It was subsequently discovered that the child had rickets, which weakens and softens the bones and creates deformities. The condition is caused by deficiency of calcium and vitamin D. It was also discovered that the child had a genetic disorder called Von Willebrand disease which inhibits blood clotting and causes bleeding and bruises.
However, by the time it was known that the child had these conditions, and it was proved in a criminal court that the parents had done nothing wrong, the baby had been adopted. The parents were aquitted of child cruelty and were relieved of the prospect of going to prison, but then they were told they could not have their child back because adoption is final and cannot be reversed.
It was a long, protracted process. Richard and Karrissa took their baby to Surrey County Hospital, Guildford, in April 2012 and the child was taken into care. They were allowed supervised visits until there was a family court hearing in March 2015 where the adoption order was issued and all contact ceased. But this adoption should never have occurred because there was a series of criminal hearings in progress at Guildford Crown Court, to deal with the charge of child cruelty. The hearings began on 5th June 2014, nine months before the adoption, and ended on 7th October 2015, seven months after the adoption.
At the time of the family court hearing, it was known that the child had been taken to hospital with a condition that might have nothing to do with violence and abuse, and the argument was presented to the court (one of the few facts about this hearing that is known). But they ignored it, such was their haste to get on with the adoption quickly.
The family courts don't need to prove things, they work on the balance of probability, and in this case they were not interested in the prospect that the parents might subsequently be found "not guilty".
Why does this happen? It's because not much is known about what goes on in the family courts. Hearings are held in secret behind closed doors, journalists and other observers are not allowed in, and the process is not open to public scrutiny like the criminal courts.
This appalling miscarriage of justice could have been prevented if the family court hearing had been held in a court which is open to independent observers, with the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses like any other court. Obviously there are circumstances where reporting restrictions have to apply, but there is no reason for the level of secrecy that occurs as a matter of routine. The family courts have to be opened up to independent scrutiny so we can be assured that correct procedures are followed.
Richard and Karrissa said they will fight to get their child back and will not give up.