An English council has been ordered to pay damages after taking a week-old baby into care because his father expressed "unorthodox" views about the need to sterilise feeding bottles.
A family court judge awarded the couple and their son, who is now 15 months old, a total of £11,250 ($20,000) after ruling that Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire had breached their human rights and misled a judge in a bid to remove the child from their care.
The case, which has cost taxpayers about £120,000, centred on a couple in their mid-20s, who cannot be identified. They have mild learning difficulties and have received assistance from adult social care workers for about a decade.
In a ruling published yesterday, Mr Justice Cobb said the couple had not been referred to social services before the baby's birth, in November 2015, despite the fact that the mother has minor mental health problems and the father had "displayed aggressive behaviour".
Four days after the boy was born, however, hospital staff called the council to raise concerns about "the long-term parenting capacity of this mother and father".
Mr Justice Cobb said: "It was suggested that the mother had no family support, and that the father was expressing unorthodox views about the need for sterilisation of bottles, and the benefits of formula milk."
Social workers then sought an emergency hearing to place the child under the care of his paternal grandmother. However, they did not tell the parents that the hearing was taking place, wrongly told the judge that they had been informed, and also "forgot to notify" the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), which represents children's interests in court.
The judge said: "The failure of the local authority to notify the claimants that the hearing was taking place on the afternoon of 13 November was particularly egregious; misleading the district judge no fewer than three times that the parents knew of the hearing aggravates the culpability yet further."
The judge said that the baby boy was returned to his mother and father after three months and "has continued to thrive in his parents' care".
He added: "There is no doubt in my mind, indeed it is admitted, that Kirklees Council breached the human rights of a baby boy and his parents.
"I am satisfied that the breaches were serious. The separation of a baby from his parents represents a very serious interference with family life."
The judge criticised "unwarranted expenditure" of the law firms involved in the case, after cost schedules supplied to the court showed that the family had racked up legal aid bills of nearly £80,000, and the Kirklees Council had costs of around £40,000.
The judge awarded the mother, father and baby £3750 each, but said that as they did "not conscientiously attempt to settle" the claim, they were "unlikely to receive these sums" because the funds were likely to be recouped by the Legal Aid Agency.
A Kirklees Council spokesman pointed to a section of the judgment in which the judge noted that the council was "entitled on the information available to them" to bring the proceedings.
A spokesman said: "Mistakes were made which resulted in the court awarding the family compensation.
"The local authority has been ordered to pay a contribution of the publicly funded costs of the claimants, which cover specific periods of the case. This is due to the way the claimants' litigation was conducted."
- Originally published in Telegraph UK