Samantha Baldwin v the State’s secret care system
Police have arrested Samantha Baldwin on suspicion of abducting her two young sons, Dylan Madge, 6, and Louis Madge, 9, on March 27. Samantha Baldwin – age 40 (Daily Telegraph) and 42 (Nottingham Post) – and her sons were found, reportedly, at The Sherwood Hideaway in Ollerton – a holiday venue advertised as a “woodland retreat of luxury lodges nestled deep within Sherwood Forest”.
The “stylish, luxury lodges” offer customers a “luxurious holiday experience”, with “crisp Egyptian cotton sheets and sumptuous towels, duck-down pillows, Molton Brown toiletries, central heating and iPod docking stations”. Some lodges feature private outdoor hot tubs. Samantha Baldwin and her boys were not slumming it. A week at the retreat costs about £1,000.
As well as pinching Samantha Baldwin, police have arrested two other women, aged 62 and 36 – the Mail says they are Samantha’s mother Dianne, 62, and sister Leonie, 36. They’re on police bail. Removed from their mother, the two boys are with “care of childcare professionals”, which sounds a lot like they’ve been placed with strangers in foster care.
And fostering is a thriving business. Christopher Booker says the country’s “80,000 foster carers [are] earning up to £500 a week or more for each child… within five years, according to the Local Government Association, ‘children’s services’ will account for a fifth of all the money raised in council tax.”
Nottinghamshire Police don’t explain why three women have been arrested and a mother’s children placed in the care of the State. “Nottinghamshire Police is now working to establish the full facts of the disappearance and is putting in place additional support measures for all parties involved,” says Chief Superintendent Helen Chamberlain. “We would ask the public to consider before commenting as, in line with media law, when a person is in custody any comments or speculation could be seen to be prejudicial.”
And that’s that. No comment. You cannot wonder aloud in print why Samantha Baldwin allegedly legged it nor why two others allegedly assisted her.
All we know is what the Nottingham Post tells us: “During a hearing at Nottingham Family Court that day [when she went missing], Louis and Dylan were declared wards of court, meaning Samantha has no legal custody. Police say they are concerned that Samantha poses a risk to the boys.”
Superintendent Rich Fretwell from Nottinghamshire Police, added: “This [the court order] means Samantha does not have legal custody at this time. During that same day Samantha went missing, having left court shorty after 11am. We are working on the notion that they remain together. We are concerned that Samantha poses a risk to the boys and we have a 100 strong team of officers working around the clock to trace her and return the children safely.”
What happens in a family court is a secret. The Guardian notes:
Family courts, which deal with issues such as divorce, financial provision for children, contact with children, adoption and local authority intervention to protect children, were opened to the media in 2009, but hearings largely remain secret. Judges can limit media attendance, there are tight restrictions on what – if anything – can be reported, the media have no access to documents and can be ordered to leave the court on the decision of the judge or magistrate.
On April 5, Chief Superintendent Chamberlain appealed to Samantha “from one mum to another”. She said without irony: “The boys are away from home and their friends and must be unsure of what’s happening. I am sure people who know you and the boys are worried and want to hear from you.”
The Mail quotes a “close friend and civil servant who has known her since her teens”. From them we learn that “Samantha’s whole life was her sons. She was amazingly devoted and we are proud of her and how she brought them up… There has been a mistake. Both children adore her and she does them. They will be distraught at being taken from her and being given to strangers.” Another pal adds: “’If ever there was a good mother, she was it.” The message in the Mail is clear: the boys are loved. If the aim is to prevent the children from suffering, why has a family been broken up?
But we can’t talk about it. The story is rooted in the secretive child protection system. The media cannot place these secret courts in the full glare of public’s gaze. Law prevents it. What goes on in family courts largely remains hidden. That cannot be right.
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