King’s Lynn MP accuses council in adoption case row

Henry Bellingham MP ENGANL00120130910155218
Henry Bellingham MP ENGANL00120130910155218
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Norfolk County Council chiefs have apologised to Lynn’s MP after he claimed they tried to stop him helping a constituent to fight moves to stop her children from being adopted.

Henry Bellingham described the authority’s behaviour as “staggering” when he raised the case in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

The North West Norfolk MP said County Hall officials had contacted the solicitor for his constituent, who has been named only as Miss P, after details of the case involving her children, aged three and two, were shared with him.

The council claimed that was a contempt of court and a breach of family case rules, despite a 2009 change in the law that allows MPs to receive papers on such cases as interested parties.

Mr Bellingham said: “Norfolk County Council was either ignorant of that change in the law, which I find pretty staggering, or it deliberately misled a vulnerable young mother about the law and conspired to stop MPs going about their duty.”

And justice minister Simon Hughes replied: “It is clear to me that the solicitor acting for Norfolk County Council was wrong in what she said.”

Sheila Lock, the council’s interim head of children’s services, said it had “never” been the council’s intention to stop MPs from representing their constituents and said officers had been in dialogue with Mr Bellingham on the matter for several weeks.

She added that the authority had written to him a fortnight ago to apologise and assure him that measures had been taken to prevent a similar situation happening again.

Ms Lock said: “As we have explained to Mr Bellingham, our first priority always is to act in the interest of the child and given the very nature of such cases, this sometimes requires a difficult balancing act between the need to protect a child’s confidentiality and the information desires of adults.

“What we know is that this matter raises issues that go wider than Norfolk, which is why we discussed with him that we would be raising this matter with the Association of Directors of Children’s Services in the Eastern region and seek further advice.

“We are a waiting for that advice but we have told Mr Bellingham that we will share it with him and respond positively to any matters that it raises.”

However, Mr Bellingham has said he will write to Commons speaker John Bercow to formally register his concerns and may refer the case to the Parliamentary privileges committee, which investigates alleged breaches of MPs’ privileges.

He also suggested that the work of the county council’s legal service, nplaw, should be investigated.

He said that, while social services staff had apologised to him, nplaw had not and asked: “Have other children been adopted as a result of the wrong legal advice being given? Are their lawyers fit for purpose?”