Father banned from family home by social workers over unfounded allegations
A father of four who was forced out of his own home by social workers over unfounded allegations of sexual abuse has been reunited with his family.
By Patrick Sawer
Published: 9:30PM BST 25 Jul 2009
Man cleared of child abuse at Derby Family Court and allowed to rejoin his family. Photo: RII SCHROER
In a three-year ordeal, 48-year-old 'Anthony' remained barred from living with his wife and younger children even after a jury acquitted him on 15 charges of abusing his eldest daughter.
Despite reports from schools and independent assessors which raised no concerns over the children's welfare, Derbyshire social services decided not to accept the 'not guilty' verdict of the criminal trial, and instead to take the case to a family court, where there is a lesser burden of proof.
That tactic failed on Friday when a family court judge found that none of the allegations against Anthony, a care worker, had been proved.
Following the judge's verdict, he told The Sunday Telegraph: "I'm absolutely overwhelmed and overjoyed. It's such a relief to be able to go home now and be with my family again and see my children normally instead of for just a few hours a week.
"It was the intention of social services to split me and my wife up, but they have only made us stronger."
Anthony's wife 'Christine' – who has backed him at every stage – said: "Justice has been done at last and it's absolutely fantastic. There were many times when I feared we would not win because it felt the entire system was against us. But now we can go home together and start rebuilding our family life."
Christine, a computer consultant, added: "We were persecuted because social services refused to change their attitude and admit their mistakes."
The churchgoing couple, who live in a detached house in a country town, found their life turned upside down three years ago when their eldest daughter, now in her early twenties, accused her father of having sexually abused her since the age of 12. The shocking claim came after a series of angry teenage rows with her parents over her future education and the kind of boyfriend she was seeing.
The rows culminated in the daughter leaving the family home and telling her boyfriend that she had been sexually abused by her father.
The boyfriend reported this to police, who arrested Anthony in spring 2007. Four months later he was charged with sexual abuse and released on bail.
Christine said: "We were totally stunned. We had never had any trouble from her before and she had always got on so brilliantly with her dad. It was a complete bolt from the blue."
When Anthony was eventually cleared of all charges, following a four day trial in April last year, during which his eldest daughter gave evidence against him,
the couple were ecstatic.
But a further bombshell awaited them. A few days later social services informed them the not-guilty verdict had made little difference to their attitude.
Christine, 42, said: "Social services said there was not enough evidence to prove he was not a risk to the children. Despite my husband being found not guilty by a jury they wanted to hold a family court hearing to determine that on the balance of probabilities something had taken place. That's a far lower standard of proof than was required in the crown court."
Last December, five months after Anthony's acquittal, social services told him that if he didn't leave the family home altogether they would start proceedings to have his daughters taken into care.
This came despite the fact the girls were being regularly interviewed by independent welfare professionals – who reported no concerns about their
home lives – and that social services had up until that point agreed to Anthony living at home
The girls' primary and secondary schools even wrote letters to the social services department saying they had no concerns about their welfare.
At the same time, a report by social workers handling the case admitted: "There appear to be no concerns with regard to their [the children's] presentation. There are been no concerns expressed with regard to the parents' capacity to parent their children. Social care recognise that the children are not currently presenting in a concerning way."
Yet despite the report noting that Anthony had been found not guilty of all charges, it still insisted that "he presents as a potential risk to the children".
Desperate not to have the children taken into care, Anthony moved out just before the New Year into rented accommodation five miles from the family home.
He was only allowed to see his other daughters for two hours a day, under supervision.
Last week a family court in Derby held a hearing to determine whether Anthony posed a threat to his children or could be allowed home.
Following several days of evidence, in which the couple's eldest daughter again took the stand against her father, Judge James Orrell found in favour of Anthony.
He said: "This has been one of the most difficult fact-finding hearings of this kind I've had to deal with. The evidence on both sides has been finely balanced.
"Although I do not find that [the couple's eldest daughter] has lied to me, her evidence has not persuaded me that on the balance of probability her father sexually assaulted her. I do not find any of the allegations proved."
The Judge also found that Christine had acted in the best interests of her daughters at all times.
Though jubilant at the outcome, the case has left Anthony and Christine bitter. Christine, who was supported by John Hemming MP, said: "Social services don't have many resources but they don't seem to be able to focus on the right priorities. Instead they focus on easy targets like us.
"We are a nice, quiet, middle-class family they feel they can just push around and bully. 'B', the original social worker, believed my daughter's claims, that became the official line, and it's hard for that sort of institution to change its view."
Derbyshire social services said: "We always act in what we believe to be the best interests of the children involved. We believed we had grounds for pursuing this case and we await the final judgement in four to five weeks' time."
* Names have been changed to protect their identities.
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