Ukip threatens to sue Rotherham Council over foster home ‘outrage’

Education Secretary Michael Gove
Education Secretary Michael Gove
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A COUPLE at the centre of a fostering row because of their membership of the UK Independence Party are demanding an apology and fear they may be barred from looking after children after claiming their names have been “besmirched” by their local council.

Social services chiefs in Rotherham have been ordered to explain their actions after an urgent review into how three children from a migrant family were removed from their care because their political affiliation was deemed to be at odds with the youngsters’ European backgrounds.

Rotherham Council sparked outrage when it emerged social workers had removed the children, a baby girl, a boy and an older girl, after reportedly receiving an anonymous tip-off about the foster parents’ membership of UKIP, which wants withdrawal from the European Union and immigration curbs.

The couple say a social worker told them the party was “racist”.

Education Secretary Michael Gove called the decision “indefensible”, while even Labour leader Ed Miliband condemned the Labour-led authority.

Today, in a statement, council leader Roger Stone said: “The Secretary of State for Education has asked for an inquiry relating to this case over the weekend. The council welcomes this. We will work very closely with and give full co-operation to the Department.”

Mr Stone said there were sensitive issues involved but added: “At all stages, however, we will seek to be as open and transparent as possible as we co-operate with the Secretary of State.”

Mr Stone said: “This morning I received a report of the immediate investigation that was ordered early on Saturday by the Cabinet member for children’s services.

“Having now listened to the initial report, I am now able to set out the way forward.

“As we said on Saturday, membership of Ukip should not bar someone from fostering.

“The council places the highest priority on safeguarding children, and our overriding concern in all decisions about the children in our care is for their best interests.

“We have been able to establish the facts in this case as far as is possible over the weekend, and I can confirm that the children are safe and in very good care.

“However, this remains a very complex case involving legal advice relating to the decision in question, particular features of the children’s background and an external agency responsible for finding and providing the foster carers concerned.”

The council leader said: “The chief executive has this morning invited the senior officials making the inquiries to meet with him and other council officers in Rotherham as soon as possible, so that this information can be rapidly reported to the Secretary of State.

“In order to help the investigation further, we will also make all the facts established so far available to the Secretary of State’s officials.

“The investigation will focus on the information, advice and evidence gathered before making this decision, the nature of the decision itself and how it was communicated.

“This is a sensitive child protection case. It involves both vulnerable children and the foster carers, so the information the council is able to release publicly is limited by law.

“At all stages, however, we will seek to be as open and transparent as possible as we co-operate with the Secretary of State.”

The couple at the centre of the controversy have said they want the youngsters back and a public apology.

The pair, who have not been identified and who live in South Yorkshire, said in an ideal world they would like the children back but their chances have been wrecked because they do not want to cause them any more upheaval.

The wife said: “We feel that we have personally been slandered and we would like a public apology from Rotherham.

“We would also like something in the form of a letter stating that they have got it wrong in this case and that it will not be on our records that we have had children removed from our care.

“We just want a clean slate.”

The couple, a qualified nursery nurse and a former Royal Navy reservist, initially spoke out after being told by the social worker that Ukip was a racist party.

The children, a baby girl, a boy and an older girl, were removed by social workers after the Labour-run council reportedly received an anonymous tip-off about the foster parents’ membership of the right-wing party which wants withdrawal from the European Union and immigration curbs.

Social workers said they were concerned about the children’s “cultural and ethnic needs”.

Mr Stone announced on Saturday that the authority would investigate what had happened after mounting condemnation from political leaders including Mr Gove and Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Mr Gove said social workers had made “the wrong decision in the wrong way for the wrong reasons”, and that he would be personally investigating and exploring steps to “deal with” the situation.

The politician, who heads the Government department responsible for children’s services and who was himself adopted as a child, said: “Rotherham’s reasons for denying this family the chance to foster are indefensible.”

Ukip leader Nigel Farage said that “without any shadow of a doubt” Rotherham’s head of children’s services Joyce Thacker should lose her job over the row and the children should be returned to the foster parents.

And he indicated that the party is considering legal action to get redress from the council.

Mr Farage told BBC2’s Politics Show: “I want them to be pardoned, I want the children to be returned to them and, yes, heads should roll.

“Without any shadow of a doubt, (Ms Thacker) should go.”

Commenting on the investigation, Mr Farage added: “These people are now left in limbo, the children are uprooted once again and heads clearly aren’t going to roll.

“I am concerned that the inquiry is just a means to kicking the can down the road.

“If we are not going to get redress from Rotherham Council, we will have to consider other means. We are going to have to look at the legal route.”

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said: “I welcome the statement from Rotherham Council and their commitment to provide full co-operation with the Department for Education’s investigation, so any lessons can be learned both for Rotherham and other parts of the country.

“We would be happy to work with Mr Gove’s team on any wider issues this raises as well.

“The uppermost concern for everyone should be that the situation for the three children is resolved in their best interests.

“Being a Ukip member should not be a bar to being a foster or adoptive parent - the key factor is whether those parents are providing a safe and loving environment.”

The row has threatened to overshadow the Rotherham by-election, with voters due to go to the polls on Thursday to replace Denis MacShane, the Labour MP who resigned over an expenses scandal.

Some commentators have suggested the case could boost UKIP’s showing at the polls, but party candidate Jane Collins denied trying to make political capital out of it.

She told the Yorkshire Post: “A by-election takes second place to what’s happened to the children and this couple.

“I’m getting very cross with people saying we could have sat on this. It happened in the last 10 days and it has nothing to do with this by-election whatsoever – it’s to do with exposing something that needed exposing as soon as it came about.”

UKIP leader Nigel Farage nonetheless urged voters to make their views known, calling the decision “typical of the kind of bigotry we get from the Labour Party and from Labour-controlled councils”.

Asked what the specific problem was with the couple being UKIP members, Joyce Thacker, the council’s strategic director of children and young people’s services, said: “These children are from EU migrant backgrounds and UKIP has very clear statements on ending multiculturalism, not having that going forward, and I have to think about how sensitive I am being to those children.”

Mr Gove, who was adopted as a child, has said he would personally investigate.