Geoffrey Briggs was convicted of grievous bodily harm
BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight programme has revealed startling new details behind the lives of tragic Romanian baby twins adopted by a Portadown couple.
In October 2000, less than four months after arriving in County Armagh, one of the boys died in the care of his adoptive parents Gwen and Geoffrey Briggs – his tiny body covered in multiple fractures.
Two weeks after the death of David Briggs, his brother Samuel was brought to hospital with a fractured skull. Geoffrey Briggs had punched the child for refusing to take some medicine.
Briggs was subsequently jailed for grievous bodily harm for the attack on Samuel. No-one has ever faced charges over David.
The Briggs have since left Northern Ireland but Spotlight tracked them down to their new home in Scotland.
A special investigation by the programme, shown on Tuesday, revealed the children were not orphans and have a mother in Romania who claims the twins – real names David and Samuel Filipache – were internationally adopted without her knowledge or consent.
The twins were not orphans and have seven siblings
Mrs Filipache and her husband, who have been together for 23 years, have seven other children – the older and younger brothers and sisters of the twins.
Spotlight’s production team in Romania tracked down the family and found that no-one had ever told them of the fate of David and Samuel, despite the information being available on the internet.
The mother said she believed the twins were in a children’s home in Slobozia, about an hour’s drive away from her village, and she was unaware they had left Romania.
Despite her distress at the news of David’s death, which was broken privately to the mother by the production team, Mrs Filipache said she was thankful to know what had happened to the twins who, she says, were thought about and talked about in her family every day.
Mrs Filipache told Spotlight she believed David’s body should be returned to Romania for burial in his homeland.
She also had this to say about Briggs’ assault on Samuel: “I am a religious person and I am not allowed to put revenge in someone, but I hope that God will punish him.”
The close-knit Filipache family are Roma gypsies and live in grinding poverty in a village several hours’ journey from the Romanian capital Bucharest.
They share one room in a relative’s house which has had no electricity, running water or furniture since their own home collapsed in a storm last year.
The local child protection authorities in Slobozia say they took the children into care because of the living conditions of the family at the time.
Mrs Filipache was never told about the fate of David and Samuel
They were unable to specify what assistance had been offered to the Filipaches to help them keep the twins.
Under Romanian law at the time, international adoption was supposed to be the last resort for children who were taken into care after other possibilities like reintegration into the family, fostering or domestic adoption were exhausted.
Although the adoption consent for the Filipache twins was signed only a week after an emergency care order was enforced, officials stressed the process was entirely legal and that the paperwork was signed in the presence of a public notary.
Their legal spokesman Badea Nicolae said: “The mother agreed for the children to be put into the institution because it was actually impossible for her to bring up seven children.”
They made me sign something, but God knows what I signed
Mrs Filipache, whom the authorities acknowledge is barely literate, claimed she thought she was signing a form to renounce any family allowance from the government for the twins.
“They never told me anything, and they wouldn’t tell me for fear I might send them to jail. They made me sign something, but God knows what I signed,” she said.
“These people should have asked me if I wanted them to have a better life, to be brought up by someone else.
“I as a mother, I had the right to know and to give my consent. They shouldn’t have sold my children as Judas sold Jesus.”
Spotlight learned that the Briggs paid $24,000 for the adoption process. There is no suggestion that the Romanian child protection authorities in Slobozia or the Filipache family, received any money.
Badea Nicolae said of the money: “We are surprised to hear about that. The law forbids us to receive money for these things.
“Maybe the adoptive family can tell you better because they know to whom they paid the money.”
A private Romanian adoption agency based in Bucharest which was used by the Briggs could not be reached for comment.
A series of errors compounded the tragedy surrounding the twins.
The Assistant State Pathologist for Northern Ireland, Dr Michael Curtis, failed to examine X-rays which showed multiple fractures on David’s body when he carried out an initial post-mortem.
Although he was cleared of serious professional misconduct when he appeared in front of the General Medical Council, he is currently facing internal disciplinary proceedings.
Last month, the Briggs family’s health visitor appeared before a nurse’s disciplinary committee on charges of misconduct, failing to keep proper records and falsifying records. The outcome is still awaited. Claire McDonnell denies the charges.
A report commissioned by the Department of Health and published last September was highly critical of the Craigavon and Banbridge Community Trust which was responsible for monitoring the Briggs.
Romania banned international adoptions in 2001 amid allegations of corruption in the system.