Tuesday, 9 October 2007

A level playing field

Anyone who still thinks that the authorities in this country place any value on fairness or natural justice should spare a thought for Fran Lyon.

For those not familiar with this tragic but sadly not unique case, Fran is a pregnant 22-year-old from Hexham who, on the basis of a report by a paediatrician she has never met, has been branded a danger to her unborn child. Fran was raped as a teenager, and the trauma left her with psychiatric problems for some years. But while her psychiatrists have discharged her, when social services got to hear of her condition they got in touch with a controversial expert in the possibly non-existent condition "Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy". He reported that she might, under certain conditions, develop the disorder. But then again, it all depended on the circumstances. On this basis, the authorities decided she was an unfit mother. Unless their decision is overturned, they will apply to the secretive family courts to have her baby (already named Molly) taken away as soon as she is born.

This remarkably courageous young woman, who is studying for a degree in neuroscience, is deeply committed to being a good mother. Yet when her psychiatrist wrote a letter informing the child protection panel of the true facts, she was contacted by a social worker who tried to get the letter withdrawn. Something along the lines of "You wouldn't want to endanger a child, now would you?"

It's now reported that, even as she battles officialdom for the right even to a fair hearing, she faces the loss of her home. The meetings with lawyers and doctors, the endless form-filling and worry have not surprisingly affected her earning capacity. Before, she was working up to seventy hours a week for a charity. Even now, she manages half that: the equivalent of a full time job. But not enough to pay the rent.

It gets worse. While the baby-snatchers of Northumberland social services can spend as much tax-payers money as they like on lawyers, Fran isn't even entitled to Legal Aid. And she has to find the money to travel to and from the numerous meetings and appointments she is required to attend.

She says, "It is wrong because there is no system in place to help people in a situation like this. I didn’t ask for this to happen but I have to pay the consequences."

It's not only wrong, Fran. It's deliberate.

Fran has a website. She should find out soon if her appeal has been successful. But even if it is, she has been subjected to months of completely unnecessary anguish by hatchet-faced "caring professionals" who are effectively beyond public scrutiny.