An Italian woman is fighting for custody of her 15-month-old daughter, who she alleges British social services removed from her womb after over a month of involuntary commitment at a psychiatric hospital.
According to a report by the Telegraph, the woman, who remains unnamed to the public as her case unfolds, traveled while pregnant to Essex in 2012 for an airline’s training course. Once there, an escalated episode of travel anxiety turned into an unending bureaucratic nightmare and violation of her reproductive rights.
When the woman could not find passports for her daughters who were still in Italy with her mother, she called the police. They arrived while she was on the phone with her mother, with whom they asked to speak. Her mother told them she suffered from bi-polar disorder and probably did not take her medication. The police said they were going to take her to the hospital to check on the baby but reportedly took her instead to a psychiatric hospital.
According to her lawyers, she told the hospital staff she wanted to return to her hotel, but they restrained and committed her. In August 2012–more than a month into her forced stay–doctors delivered her baby, and she says the procedure was performed against her will.
By now Essex social services were involved, and five weeks later she was told she could not have breakfast that day. When no explanation was forthcoming, she volubly protested. She was strapped down and forcibly sedated, and when she woke up hours later, found she was in a different hospital and that her baby had been removed by caesarean section while she was unconscious and taken into care by social workers. She was not allowed to see her baby daughter, and later learnt that a High Court judge, Mr Justice Mostyn, had given the social workers permission to arrange for the child to be delivered. In October, at a hearing before another judge, she was represented by lawyers assigned to her by the local authority and told she would be escorted back to Italy without her baby.
The mother resumed her medication and started to fight for her daughter. Courts in Rome were upset by her story, but a judge said since she did not fight the decision further in the UK justice system, she had officially accepted the foreign nation’s jurisdiction in the case. However, her legal team contests, she did not know what they were going to do with her, and she was unconscious during the c-section.
They claim that even if the council had been acting in the woman’s best interests, officials should have consulted her family beforehand and also involved Italian social services, who would be better-placed to look after the child.
Brendan Fleming, the woman’s British lawyer, told The Sunday Telegraph: “I have never heard of anything like this in all my 40 years in the job.
“I can understand if someone is very ill that they may not be able to consent to a medical procedure, but a forced caesarean is unprecedented.
“If there were concerns about the care of this child by an Italian mother, then the better plan would have been for the authorities here to have notified social services in Italy and for the child to have been taken back there.”
The mother returned to Britain in February 2013 for a hearing in her case. According to her lawyers, the judge at that hearing seemed to understand she was currently of sound mind, but he said he could not allow her to regain custody of her child in case she suffered a relapse. Thus, the child must be placed for adoption.
British law states that children up for adoption should be placed with members of extended families. The woman’s ex-husband, an American who fathered her first child, is pleading with the courts to allow his sister to gain custody. Essex services have denied his request because the aunt is only an aunt through the child’s half-sister and is not a blood relative.
Therefore, if the woman does not successfully appeal the court’s decision, her daughter will be sent to live with complete strangers, cut off from her real family all because of a single panic attack in the wrong country at the wrong time.