A British couple told yesterday how social workers travelled to France to seize their newborn baby after they moved to the country.
Officials intervened after accusations that the mother’s five other children had suffered physical and sexual abuse.
But the woman and her partner say the claims emerged only after the youngsters had been taken into care at her request during a period of personal and financial upheaval.
The couple say they were told to attend a court near their home for an ‘informal meeting’ following a hearing in front of a French judge they had not been informed about.
When they arrived, they were taken into a room guarded by six gendarmes and a British social worker ordered them to hand over their baby.
The mother said: ‘It was just awful. We went into a room and I breastfed my baby for the last time. I placed her in her pushchair and walked away. What else could I do?
The woman’s husband was jailed for 12 months in 2007 after he assaulted her and one of their children
She moved from her home town in Norfolk and started a relationship with another man.
But when he also started to show violent behaviour she moved in with a friend before Norfolk social services moved the family into a hotel in early 2010.
Relying on child benefit to pay for food and the taxis needed to transport her children, all aged under 10, to different schools, she struggled to manage and eventually allowed her abusive husband to give his support.
‘I know it was not the best thing to do but I had no choice,’ the mother said. ‘I was desperate.’
When social services found out, she says they threatened to take her children away. In desperation, she suggested they arranged care for them while she found a new home and a job.
The woman said she was told they would be looked after for a maximum of eight weeks.
But she was still asking for them to be returned six months later when she was told they had made claims of sexual abuse against a number of family, friends, teachers and even other children
In August last year a judge at Norwich County Court levelled criticisms against the mother, including that she was still ‘in the thrall’ of former partners and that she had lied about having a heart condition when she was absent one day during court proceedings.
She later admitted to the court it was due to complications with her pregnancy. She said yesterday she did not want to reveal she was expecting again.
The judge raised severe reservations about the case presented about the alleged abuse
but went on to rule that there had been physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
By now she was with another man, a childhood friend who was the father of her unborn child, and she took up his offer to start a new life by moving to his mother’s home in south-west France.
They relocated in November last year and she gave birth to their daughter in February.
Within days, social workers had obtained a UK court order stating the child was ‘at risk of significant harm’ and requesting the French authorities to assist returning it to Britain.
Lisa Christensen, director of children’s services at Norfolk Council, said: ‘The decision to remove a baby from his or her natural parents is only ever taken by the court after a thorough assessment of the child’s welfare and need for protection.’