By SUE REID
Last updated at 22:13 22 February 2008
One November afternoon at just after two o'clock, Louise Mason stood in a hospital ward and kissed her 11-week- old baby goodbye.
She had dressed the little girl with care, packing a suitcase of tiny clothes and soft toys. Inside, she had placed a handwritten letter to the foster parents who would look after her in the future.
On that day five years ago, Louise felt as though her heart would burst.
"I wrote down everything about my daughter," she told me this week.
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Falsely accused: Louise Mason, pictured with the youngest of her three children
"I said she had colicky attacks at six in the evening, and should be rocked until she slept. I said she needed to be coaxed to take her milk."
After writing that sad note, the young mother from Northampton was forced to hand over the baby girl to social workers, who carried her off to her new home.
Louise, 32, then returned to her house, with its empty cot, in the seaside city of Derry, Northern Ireland. It must have been one of the loneliest journeys of her life.
The baby girl - now aged five - has never been returned to this wholly innocent mother who, because she was wrongly accused of harming her baby, also subsequently had two other children taken away from her.
This week, though, a High Court revealed there had been a terrible miscarriage of justice, and ordered that Louise must be reunited with all her children.
Furthermore, the judge, Mr Justice Gillon - in an age where children are removed from their parents by family courts sitting in secret - took the extremely unusual step of allowing Louise to be named, and for the tragic details of her case to become public.
In a statement he said: "The workings of the family justice system in this case are matters of public interest, and do merit public discussion. Public confidence in the process is necessary, and the emergence of the changing circumstances of this case merits an open discussion."
He went on to list the extraordinary catalogue of events which began when, worried out of her mind, Louise took her sickly month- old baby daughter to her GP, begging for help.
These shocking details shed light on a family justice system normally hidden from view.
Of course, there are parents who harm their children and deserve the full punishment of the law.
But in the family courts, thousands of children are removed from their parents to adoption or foster care in deeply dubious hearings which never become public.
If anyone speaks about the details - to a neighbour, to a friend, to a relative - they are in contempt of court.
Crucially, the courts' culture of secrecy means that if a social worker lies, or fabricates notes, or a doctor makes a mistake, then no one finds out, and there is no retribution.
It is only because Louise was charged with a criminal offence in an open and public court - like other innocent mothers wrongly accused of infanticide, such as Angela Cannings and the late Sally Clark - that her harrowing story can be heard.
Louise was born in Northampton, the youngest of three. Her father had a plastering business, and her mother raised a close, caring family.
By the time she was in her 20s, Louise was running a successful restaurant. A few years later, she met her boyfriend, who came from Derry, and the couple had a baby. They moved to Northern Ireland to set up home.
Louise says now: "I came here in 2001, thinking Derry was the perfect place for children to grow up."
The couple had a second baby - another girl, born a healthy 7lb. But then she and her partner split up, leaving Louise a single mother.
"I was quite able to cope with the toddler and the baby, who was very placid," explains Louise. "I was a full-time mother and proud of it."
Then came the bombshell. One Saturday, when the baby was just four weeks old, Louise noticed that she was looking very ill, as though she was about to collapse.
In fact, it is now known that without medical care she would have died within an hour.
"I rushed my daughter around to our local doctor, who immediately rang the Derry hospital. I hurried there with this little bundle in my arms.
"The baby was taken off me in the children's ward. I next saw her five hours later, at 7pm.
"One of the doctors then sat me down and said: 'It is touch and go'" The team mentioned right away that it might be cancer. I remember that as though it were yesterday," says Louise, crying this week at the memory.
"The next morning, they again said cancer was suspected."
A day later, on the Sunday, the baby was taken by ambulance to the Royal Belfast hospital 60 miles away. She had a blood transfusion and tests. By the Tuesday, three days after the emergency admission, Louise was hoping that she would get a proper diagnosis.
But further investigation had showed that the left kidney and the area around it was swollen, and among medical staff there was a wide variety of opinion about the cause. Before long, doctors became highly suspicious that this was, in fact, caused by an injury.
Louise was called into a room and confronted by a doctor.
"He asked me if I had done anything to hurt my baby. He said he had called the social services and the police. I promised him I had done nothing to my child."
Her words fell on deaf ears. Back home, her elder daughter, who was being cared for by a neighbour, was collected by social workers and taken into foster care.
Yet still the trusting Louise thought it would all be sorted out in a few days. How wrong she was.
Seven weeks later, on November 15, 2002, the police contacted her.
"They asked me to attend the police station for an interview under caution. They said I was suspected of grievous bodily harm with intent."
The interview dragged on. At lunchtime, Louise was put in a cell. She was distraught.
"I was frozen with fright," she recalls.
"I kept telling them that there was no bruising or redness found on the baby, so how could I have hurt her?"
Four days later, worse news followed: her baby daughter was to be taken into foster care, too.
At the hospital, she was told by social workers to get the 11-week-old baby she was accused of harming ready. Her fingers trembling, Louise dressed her baby and kissed her goodbye.
From then on, she was allowed to see her children at a special supervised centre for only four-and-a-half hours a week.
They were delivered to the centre from their foster homes by social workers, and then taken away again.
"The eldest one could remember me," says Louise, "but I had hardly had a chance to bond with the new baby before she was taken from me."
All the time, Louise faced a barrage of accusations. The authorities claimed that she was a potential killer.
A leading member of the social work team told her: "I do not think you are safe to be left in a room alone with any boy or girl."
In January 2004 - a little over year later - a formal application to take the children into care was made in the family division of the Northern Ireland High Court in Belfast.
The medical evidence given by five doctors from the hospitals was damning. They said Louise had deliberately hurt the baby girl with great force.
"It was then that they began to make noises about adoption,' says Louise. 'My legal team were fighting hard, but it was a battle we could not win because we did not have the medical evidence." The children remained with their foster parents.
That autumn, Louise was brought before a criminal court in Derry facing two charges of causing grievous bodily harm to the baby girl.
It was only then that anyone listened to her.
In an emotional outburst, she blurted out to the jury that she wanted to take a lie detector test to prove that she had done nothing wrong. It was the turning point. The jury believed her, and in November 2004 she was acquitted of the charges. However, her children remained in care.
Meanwhile, the story of the mother begging for a lie detector test was reported in the local Press. By chance, the consultant radiologist who had treated Louise's baby girl at the local hospital on the very first day she was brought in, read the article and was appalled.
He remembered the case and the wide divergence of medical opinion, yet had never known that Louise was under suspicion or that she was to have been prosecuted. He was convinced then that the child was suffering from a rare form of cancer of the left kidney, called neuroblastoma, which could have caused the bleeding.
Dr D - as he was called in Mr Justice Gillon's judgment this week - contacted Louise's solicitor and offered to help clear her name.
"It was a miracle," Louise told me.
"That doctor was my guardian angel. The last years have been very hard for me. I was pilloried. It felt like torture having my children taken from me."
Even though she had been acquitted, the social workers appeared to ignore the verdict.
But Dr D told Louise's solicitor that he was struck by the "power" of her request to the jury to have a lie detector test.
He offered to help, suggesting that a team of independent paediatricians, including experts on kidneys, cancer and non-accidental injury, should be asked to give their own opinions on the findings of the five hospital doctors.
Significantly, the independent experts thought that the baby's internal bleeding had occurred naturally. And when their testimony was produced by Louise's lawyers at a Court of Appeal hearing, the judges quashed the family court rulings.
As a result, in June last year the Foyle Health and Social Services Trust, which covers Derry, said it no longer intended to pursue their action to keep Louise's children in care or have them adopted. It was an almighty climbdown.
By then, however, another tragedy had happened on the say-so of the social workers.
In 2005, a year after she had been acquitted, Louise had became pregnant for a third time.
She is reluctant to talk about the father, or name him, although they are no longer together - but at Christmas time, when she was heavily pregnant, the social workers called and told her they planned to take the latest addition away from her at birth.
"I couldn't believe my ears," says Louise.
"I had been declared not guilty in a criminal court - yet they still had both my children and were wanting my new baby. It was torture."
The baby was born early in 2006. True to their word, Louise had just given birth and was trying to breastfeed when the social workers arrived at Altnagelvin Hospital, Derry.
The nurses, on the instructions of the social workers, took the newborn baby away to safety in another ward while Louise's solicitor remonstrated with them that it was cruel to do such a thing.
It was five hours before the baby was returned to Louise in the maternity unit.
Ten days later, when she was about to leave hospital, the social workers returned and seized the child, placing the baby with foster parents.
Only recently - following the collapse of the Social Services Trust case - has Louise been given back the baby, and her eldest child, too.
She has missed a whole chunk of their early years.
But perhaps the saddest thing of all is that the little girl who was so sick as a baby may never return home again. She has known no mother or father apart from her foster parents, and has bonded with them very closely.
Although she has now recovered - significantly, it was a form of cancer that can go into remission of its own accord, without the need for surgery or chemotherapy - her left kidney does not function normally.
But she is happy with the couple whom she calls her Mummy and Daddy.
Recently, as part of a phased plan to reunite her permanently with her natural family, she came back to stay with Louise for a night.
"She cried terribly for her foster parents all the evening - it made us all unhappy," says Louise, sadly.
"She knows me, but will only call me Mummy Louise. It breaks me into pieces.
"She may never come home and live with me again because she wants to be with the only people she has ever recognised as her parents. It may be cruel to take her back now."
It is, by any standards, a tragic indictment of the child protection system.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-517667/My-baby-cancer-social-workers-falsely-accused-child-abuse-took-children.html#ixzz1tJGezrXC