Page last updated at 19:14 GMT, Friday, 3 November 2006

Couple allowed to take baby home

Websters
The Websters said they are victims of a miscarriage of justice

A Norfolk couple at the centre of a legal battle over their children are to be allowed to take their baby son home for the first time.

Nicola and Mark Webster have denied the abuse allegations which led to three other children being adopted.

Mrs Webster and five-month-old baby Brandon have lived in an assessment centre since just after his birth.

The family will shortly be reunited in their own home. A final decision will be made next year on Brandon's future.

The High Court is hearing the case of the couple, from Cromer, who are fighting to keep custody of Brandon.

Social workers

A High Court judge on Thursday lifted a court order hiding the family's identity, and allowing the proceedings to be reported.

The landmark decision followed a legal battle by the BBC programme Real Story to report the parents' story.

The action was supported by the parents themselves and the Mail on Sunday newspaper.

All the care proceedings are based on allegations the children had been physically abused by the parents.

The couple said a fracture suffered by one of the children was caused by brittle bone disease which they claim runs in the family.

The couple will be able to take Brandon home but will still be supervised, with social workers able to call in unannounced, and they will maintain contact with health visitors.

Our job is to support families and try and keep them together wherever possible
Lisa Christensen
Norfolk County Council

The judge also moved to give permission to the parents to instruct a US professor to examine medical records and x-rays and submit a report to court.

Lisa Christensen, Norfolk County Council's director of children's services, said: "It is essential to state at the outset that it was a judge who, having heard all the evidence, decided that adoption was in the best interests of the three children.

"When the two judgments are publicly available, people will be able to see for themselves the extensive and detailed range of evidence that led the judge to make that decision.

"Our priority has always been putting the best interests of Brandon first.

"Indeed, our job is to support families and try and keep them together wherever possible, and that is exactly what we have done in working with the Websters, and that is what we will continue to try and do.

"As the judgments from the previous proceedings demonstrate, there are clear differences between the situation now with Mr and Mrs Webster and their son, and the situation relating to child A, child B and child C."

The Department for Constitutional Affairs has also welcomed the openness of proceedings in this case as an example of the press acting as watchdog to ensure justice is done.

A statement from the department said: "This is an important judgment that raises issues about the family justice system and contributes to the debate on greater openness in the family courts.

"The work of the family courts is of the greatest importance, making judgments in the most difficult of circumstances - judgments which will often have profound effects on the lives of those involved."

New proposals from the department recommend that the press is allowed into family courts with protections for anonymity.

The statement said: "We want to open up the family courts while ensuring that we protect the privacy of the personal lives of those involved family proceedings - particularly children."



SEE ALSO
Judge lifts family reporting ban
02 Nov 06 |  Norfolk

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