supporting the EDL?
A mum in northern England believes her kids were taken because of her political views. She talks to spiked.
‘You hear the things the social workers say, and you just bang your head against a brick wall and think, “Am I actually hearing this? Is this real?”’
Toni McLeod is an eight-month pregnant 25-year-old mother-of-three based in Durham in the north-east of England. Her three existing children – one daughter and two sons – are currently in care and she can only see them under supervision. She now fears that her imminent fourth child will be taken away from her by Durham County Council’s social workers as soon as she gives birth. Why? Because, she believes, of her political beliefs, or, to be more specific, her association with the right-wing English Defence League (EDL). A report by a Durham social worker seen by spiked seems to corroborate McLeod’s claims. It states: ‘Toni needs to break away from the inappropriate friendships she has through the EDL… in order that she can model and display appropriate positive relationships to the baby as he/she develops.’
McLeod agreed to talk to spiked about her predicament. She first hit the headlines over the weekend when the Sunday Express reported on her plight. The Express said: ‘Social workers fear [her] child would become radicalised with EDL views and want it put up for adoption immediately.’ She confirms the Express story is pretty much true, although she did notice some minor mistakes. ‘I have never owned a pitbull’, she says. Her case has also been raised by Lib Dem MP John Hemming in the House of Commons.
Not a pitbull in sight: Toni McLeod with her four dogs.
She tells me that the day she was reported to social workers for being an EDL supporter, her life started to unravel. A social worker visited her home and was not exactly sympathetic. ‘I may as well have been Satan reincarnated’, says McLeod. She says she has never made any secret of her support for the EDL. ‘I’m honest enough that if you ask me an honest question, I’ll give you an honest answer. So [the social worker] asked me and I said “yeah, I am involved with the English Defence League”. I haven’t been since 2010, but previous to then I was.’
Although social workers now apparently accept that McLeod no longer supports the EDL, she says they still aren’t happy. Apparently they fear she might still have ‘the ethos of the EDL beliefs’. The Express said social workers are also worried about McLeod’s ‘previous alcohol and drug misuse, her ‘“aggressive behaviour” and her alleged “mental health issues”’. But McLeod insists that it is her support for the anti-Islamic EDL which has caused her to lose her kids, and the social worker document seen by spiked certainly suggests that it was at least a factor.
One of the things that bothers her most is that the decision to take her future child into care is based less on what McLeod has actually done than on what she might do in the future: ‘There doesn’t need to be any actual proof of anything. It can all be based on possible risk in the future… Like in my case, it’s the likelihood of emotional abuse through radicalisation. The baby’s not even born!’
She is determined to appeal her case and take it to the High Court. As a result of what she calls the ‘brilliant support’ of MP Hemming and the Justice for Families campaign group, she is now getting offers from legal professionals who are willing to take on her case. She is clearly determined not to take any of this lying down.
McLeod prides herself on having a near-photographic memory, and she is frank, articulate and not afraid to ask challenging questions. But she fears her forceful approach has done her no favours with social services. ‘I do genuinely think that if I had been quiet, if I’d bent over backwards for social services, I probably wouldn’t have this problem.’ Despite her toughness, she says the whole drama has been ‘emotionally, physically draining’.
‘It might not be this year, it might not be the year after, but even if I have to wait until all my children are 18 years old, they will, eventually, be coming home’, she says. She worries that other parents might end up going through the same thing as her, and is therefore keen to raise awareness of her case and what she sees as its injustice. ‘Where is it going to end?’, she asks. She wonders what will happen ‘if I get a social worker that happens to have a disliking of Labour, or the Lib Dems, or the Conservatives. It’s like, hold on a minute, please don’t say I’m going to have my kids taken away if I don’t agree with your political views?’
For legal reasons, it isn’t possible to reveal the judge’s reasons for reaching his decision about McLeod’s children. But given McLeod’s account, her defence by Hemming (who opposes the EDL), and most importantly the social-worker document which explicitly lists her involvement with the EDL as one of her ‘problems’, it seems she is justified to be concerned about state intervention into families on the basis of the parents’ political beliefs.
What if social workers decide that Marxists or libertarians don’t make good parents? Would those kinds of people start to lose their children, too? McLeod says the reason she cut her ties with the EDL is because she wanted to get her children back. If this is true, we must ask: should a mother have to forgo her democratic freedom to engage in politics for fear of losing her kids?
Patrick Hayes is a reporter for spiked. Visit his personal website here. Follow him on Twitter @p_hayes.