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Parents speak out after legal battle to get their autistic daughter back

The parents of a severely autistic woman fear others with the disability could be at risk of being taken away from their parents because authorities are using discredited communication techniques.

Robin and Julia Burn's daughter Carina was taken away from them and they were arrested after it was alleged they had sexually assaulted their daughter.

Carina Burn has autism and uses facilitated communication with her parents Credit: Family photo

It later emerged that the allegations - claimed to have been made by Carina - could not have been true.

9:30am...knock on the door and there were six police officers and two police cars sitting outside our front door.

That was totally unexpected and we really didn't find out the true extent of what the allegations were and what we were accused of until the solicitor took us to one side and said 'right I've got the charge sheet, I've got all the details and this is it' and we went through it all.

– Robin Burn, Carina's father

Carina's mother, Julia said: "I was frightened, Robin was frightened. I was panicking for Carina. I was just panicking and panicking for us because we were faced with these terrible allegations."

What started was a legal battle that only finished recently.

The allegations themselves, were said to have been made by Carina, using a communication technique called 'facilitated communication'. It is a method which is discredited.

It relies on the patient pointing at specific words, with someone's hand helping the process.

Kate Whittaker took on Carina's case Credit: ITV Wales

Robin and Julia sought legal help to get their daughter back.

There's a whole list of things that went horribly wrong but the main admissions we got from the local authority were that none of their staff had managed to established effective communication with Carina, though they claimed otherwise.

They should never have relied on facilitated communication as a way of communicating with Carina about any important issues.

The supposed messages created by facilitate communication didn't come from Carina, never came from carina, they came from the care workers who were facilitating her communication.

– Kate Whittaker, solicitor

Carmarthenshire County Council admitted in an apology to Julia and Robin that Carina's human rights had been breached.

An investigation was undertaken in 2010/11 by the Council working with Dyfed Powys Police in response to allegations against Mr and Mrs Burn.

This was a complex matter for all parties involved. Following an Ombudsman’s investigation, the Council acknowledged that there were shortfalls and lessons were learned. The council remains willing to work with the family.

– Avril Bracey, Carmarthenshire County Council head of mental health and learning disabilities

Police say they are re-examining what happened. In a statement, Dyfed Powys Police said "it had received and was examining Mr and Mrs Burn’s written request to re-open the case."