A case of mistaken identity left a Rotherham couple heartbroken after the baby they hoped to adopt was taken off them.
The couple took care of the baby when he was seven months old because his drug addict mother could not care for him.
They were convinced they would be allowed to adopt him but were forced to give him up 13 months later when it was discovered that the wrong man had been identified as the baby’s father.
When his real dad came forward, his sister - the baby’s aunt - said she wanted him.
Judge Mr Justice Holman, at the High Court, ruled it was ‘positively better’ for the boy, now 20 months, to return to his natural family.
Paying tribute to the couple who had cared for the baby, referred to as C, said he ‘sincerely and deeply appreciated the intense grief’ they would feel.
He said it was a ‘harrowing case’.
The judge added: “Some will agree, and some strongly disagree, with what I have decided.”
The court heard that the baby was taken from his mother immediately after his birth because of her alcohol and drug problems.
After a few months in foster care, he was placed with the couple, referred to as A and B, and who were described as ‘perfect adopters’.
After the baby’s birth social workers and other professionals all accepted the mother’s claim that her current partner was the father.
But after the couple applied for an adoption order for the baby another man stepped forward, claiming he was the real father.
DNA tests proved his paternity.
When the truth emerged, the father’s sister opposed the adoption and said the little boy should live with her.
The judge said there was no doubt the couple had become ‘very well attached’ to the boy - and he to them.
He added: “The agony which they must have experienced since they first learned of these facts and the opposition to adoption cannot be overstated.
“Yet, they have continued selflessly to care for C with love and devotion to an exemplary standard.
“That is very selfless of them and underlines their love for C.”
The judge acknowledged that the child would suffer ‘short term emotional and psychological harm, and certainly distress’ on being separated from the couple.
But he said it was ‘positively better for this boy not to be adopted but to move to the aunt’.
“I have found this decision extremely painful, for I sincerely and deeply appreciate the intense grief it will cause to A and B and to their extended families and friends,” he said.
“I am clear that the welfare of C throughout his life decisively requires that he is not adopted by moves to live with his aunt.”