There are many things in life that piss me off and that, in some respects, is a good thing because things that piss me off are a constant source of inspiration for things to write about on this blog.
I will freely admit to having many pet hates and something of misanthropic streak which surfaces from time to time, almost always in the face of hypocrisy, wilful ignorance and crass stupidity for which I have a very low tolerance threshold, particularly in people who hold public office and/or positions of authority and even more so when their trenchant hypocrisy, ignorance or stupidity, or any combination thereof, leads them to abuse their position.
That’s why I have ‘issues’ with Nadine Dorries and her attempt to restrict access to abortion services. Its not simply that we have a difference of opinion over a matter of public policy but that, in order to pursue her campaign, she has resorted to lies, misrepresentations, fabrications, the abuse of evidence and outright bullshit and its that that pisses me off and marks both her and her campaign out as being amongst the most disreputable abuses of public office I’ve seen in a very long time.
The same could equally be said of John Hemming, the MP for Birmingham Yardley and his so-called ‘Justice for Families‘ campaign, which amounts to little more that a vehicle for John to pursue an overwrought personal vendetta against social workers, family courts and the entire statutory child protection system because a social worker had the temerity to interview his then pregnant mistress after she disclosed to her GP that she had failed to register a stillbirth she had at the age of 17.
Hemming, at the time, accused the social worker who interviewed his mistress, Emily Cox, of acting ‘”like the Gestapo’ and issued a writ claiming damages of £300,000 which claimed that ‘the family’ had been “defamed, tortured and assaulted”, a writ that subsequently disappeared off the face of the earth without seemingly getting within whining distance of a court, none of which will comes as any great surprise to anyone who’s aware of the uniformly low opinion that Hemming engenders in members of the legal profession whenever he appears before them.
Brian Mawrey QC, who sat as judge in the Election Court hearing into ballot-stuffing in Birmingham in 2005 described Hemmings contribution to the case as follows:
“His evidence was largely inadmissible hearsay. He possesses an inability to give a straight answer to a straight question which would be the envy of a national politician appearing on the Today programme.”
More recently, Lord Justice Nicholas Wall, sitting in the Court of Appeal, described Hemming’s contribution to a case in which he attempted to challenge the actions of the Official Solicitor in an adoption case as ‘not only unacceptable but shocking’.
During this hearing, and without producing any evidence to substantiate his allegations, Hemming accused a psychologist who assessed the competence of the appellant – an appellabt who, from the evidence presented in court, has an effective IQ of between 55 and 70 – of being in the pay of the Local Authority and acting out of bias and under a conflict of interest, prompting Lord Justice Wall to assert that…
124. Even more unarguable – indeed it is outrageous – is Mr Hemming’s allegation that HJ [the psychologist] was the paid expert of the local authority. She was nothing of the kind. Such an allegation is not only without any evidential foundation of any kind: it is plainly contradicted by the evidence.
Not to mention libellous were it not for the fact that Hemming made these accusations in court, which makes them privileged.
125. Mr. Hemming’s allegation that HJ is part of an “evil” system only warrants comment because it comes from a Member of Parliament, and thus from a person in a responsible public position whom one ought to be able to trust only to make serious accusations when they are based on evidence. I am astonished that somebody in Mr. Hemming’s position should have seen fit to put such a disgraceful allegation into the public domain. I reject it unreservedly.
In regards to an allegation that case files had been tampered with, Lord Justice Wall commented that:
It is a profoundly serious allegation. However, it is one for which, in my judgement, there is absolutely no evidence. The only query is the mistaken date on the typed attendance note.
Added this observation on Hemming’s conduct…
88. I find it not only unacceptable but shocking, that a man in Mr Hemming’s position should feel able to make so serious an allegation without any evidence to support it. In my judgment, it is irresponsible and an abuse of his position. Unfortunately, as other aspects of this judgment will make clear, it is not the only part of the case in which Mr Hemming has been willing to scatter unfounded allegations of professional impropriety and malpractice without any evidence to support them.
And if that were not enough of an indictment of Hemming’s conduct, Lord Justice Wall saved the best for last…
As to Mr. Hemming, my judgment is that his self-imposed role as a critic of the family justice system is gravely damaged, and speaking for myself I will not be persuaded to take seriously any criticism made by him in the future unless it is corroborated by reliable, independent evidence.
Hemming is a Member of Parliament and yet here we have a Lord Justice of Appeal, a judge whose position and status within the judiciary is exceeded only by the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (Law Lords) and by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice and Master of the Rolls, stating clearly and unequivocally that Hemming’s opinions cannot be trusted unless they are supported by reliable, independent evidence.
However, as it turns out, even when Hemming does get his hands on reliable, independent evidence, his opinions and his interpretation of that evidence cannot be relied upon, as he demonstrates here:
We can then look at the figures as to what happens to babies taken into care at birth. If anyone wants the full spreadsheet for 2004,2005 and 2006 they should email me and I will send it. If a lot of people ask I will publish it.
However, I have the figures (from DCSF) for source and destination by age of child. In other words I have the figures for the number of newborns (0-7 days) taken into care in England in each of those years and what had happened by 2007…
…In each case fewer than 1/5 of newborn babies return to their mothers. I have expressed it as the situation where if mother stays then you have to toss a coin twice and get heads both times to keep your baby. The chances are, in fact, worse than that.
You can see Hemming’s figures for yourself – in full – here and what you’ll find are tables for 2004, 5 & 6 showing the numbers of children ‘taken’ into care for the first time (with breakdowns by age) and their outcome as of the end of 2007, whether they remained in the system in foster care, care homes or having been placed for adoption, or had left the system after being returned to their parents, or adopted, or for one of several other reasons… and yes, on average, less than one in five newborn babies who enter the care system eventually return to their parents as do only one in four who enter the system under one year of age.
All of which tells us nothing of value because nowhere in Hemming’s data is there any information on precisely why these children are entering the care system – the data comes from Local Authority SSDA903 returns which provide information on ‘looked after children’, the legal definition of which is any child who
is provided with accommodation, for a continuous period of more than 24 hours, [Children Act 1989 Section 20 and 21], or is subject to a care order [Children Act 1989 Part IV]
So while this includes children going into care under a care order or a police protection order, it also covers those taken into care under a voluntary agreement between the parent(s) and the Local Authority and those who are voluntarily placed for adoption, where the Local Authority is acting as the adoption agency.
And yet, on the strength of this ‘evidence’ Hemming goes on to assert that ‘the statistics above demonstrate that Emigration should be considered [to avoid the possibility of having a child taken into care]’ even though, at best, these statistics are meaningless, because they fail to distinguish between those children who are voluntarily placed in care and those who go into care under a police protection or care order while, at worst, they, and the ‘advice’ offered by Hemming, is misleading, tendentious and potentially dangerous.
The back-story here is a case that found its way onto the pages of the Daily Mail in which a pregnant young woman has ’emigrated’ to the Irish Republic because she fears that she may have her baby taken into care by her local social services department if she gives birth in the UK.
A mother-to-be has fled to Ireland because she fears social services are planning to seize her newborn child and have it adopted.
Sam Thomas, 19, left Britain alone, despite being heavily pregnant.
She discovered that her social worker had told the local hospital not to let her leave the maternity ward with her child – a girl – without social services being involved.
As for why social services has taken an interest in this young woman, the article goes on to note that…
Miss Thomas accepts that she has harmed herself and taken an overdose in the past, but insists she has not been troubled by problems related to depression for two years.
Yet council documents show her past difficulties are still considered serious.
And I should bloody well hope so…
Published estimates for the prevalence of post natal depression vary considerably due to differences in research methodology, so the best we can say for certain is that it can affect anything from 5% to 25% of new mothers. That said, a considerable amount of work has also gone in to efforts to identify the various factors that may indicate that particular individual may be at an elevated risk of undergoing post natal depression and one of major indicators is a prior history of depression – and even on the limited information we have about this young women from the Mail’s article it would appear that there may several other factors that come into play. The fact that she has gone to Ireland on her own and is living in a B&B suggests a lack of social support, which ups the risk. There is no mention of the child’s father in the article, which suggests that this may well be an unplanned pregnancy, and the risk goes up for that as well, and while the article indicates that her mother is trying to support her emotionally and financial, there is no mention of her own father, so we can reasonably infer a low socio-economic status and add another risk factor to the list.
None of this, of course, indicates that she is likely to be an unfit mother, it merely indicates that she may need additional support to help her cope with her baby once its born and that it would be sensible to monitor her progress as she adjusts to motherhood in the first few days after the baby is born, if only to be sure that the major hormonal readjustment that all women go through after giving birth – which is what causes many of them to get ‘the baby blues’ – doesn’t trigger a bout of depression and that, generally, mother and baby are doing fine. Caring for a new baby can be stressful, particularly if its your first and while things tend to settle down fairly quickly, some families are unlucky enough to have a baby who’s prone to crying or to irregular sleep patterns or who develops colic – and all these are indicators of an elevated risk of post natal depression, as well.
So, its quite reasonable for social services to request that a case conference be held before a new mother who make be at increased risk of depression leaves hospital not because social worker are professional baby stealers but simply to ensure that a support plan is put in place to help the mother cope with her new arrival.
Now, okay, somewhere in this specific case, something has gone awry because the mother has got it into her head that she’s likely to have the baby taken away once its born, so that’s something that does need to be investigated. It suggests one of two things, either there are issues here that are causing concern but which haven’t been disclosed or it could be that our runaway soon-to-be mum has got the wrong end of the stick and panicked, in which case, and for her own good, someone needs to get in there and sort the situation out so she can return home to what bit of family support she does have. What no one needs here, however, is the Daily Mail whipping up hysteria about baby stealing social workers, least of all with the backing of fabulist, conspiracy-peddling, MP with a track record of making wild and unsubstantiated allegations that he’s incapable of backing up with evidence.
Not to put a point on it, Hemming is rapidly becoming a public menace and if this carries on then it can only be a matter of time before his low-rent Witchfinder General shtick results in disaster, in someone failing to get they support they really need or, worse still, in someone who genuinely is incapable of caring for a newborn child, skipping town on the back of Hemming’s half-baked ‘advice’, and the worse case scenario is that we wind up with a dead baby, a dead mother, or both, on our hands…
…and if that happens then the one thing you can be certain of is that neither Hemming or the Daily Mail will be prepared to accept a single shred of responsibility for their part in a tragedy. No, it’ll be a quick bout of Pontius Pilates and on with the next witch hunt, the one where social workers should have done more to prevent an ‘avoidable’ tragedy and heads must roll.
There may well be a case for reform of the family court system and for greater transparency and openness in it workings – in fact, one of the best arguments for such reform is the existence of conspiracist idiots like Hemming who, but for those occasions where a court requires them to put up or shut up and finds them wanting, get away with peddling their fictions precisely because the confidentiality of the existing system precludes social workers and other child protection workers from hitting back and telling the real story, the one that exposes Hemming for what he is, someone who is ‘willing to scatter unfounded allegations of professional impropriety and malpractice without any evidence to support them’.
The current system may have its flaws and it may make mistakes from time to time but its still a damn sight better way of dealing with complex family and child protection issues than rounding up the peasants and handing out the blazing torches…
…and yes, this does indicate that I consider Hemming to be entirely unfit to hold public office.