A couple from Essex have claimed the secrecy of the family courts almost resulted in them losing their granddaughter to strangers.

Lee and Katrina Parker from Colchester said they were excluded from court proceedings and had an uphill struggle to eventually win custody.

Three months after India was born Lee and Katrina discovered by chance that Essex County Council had begun the process of having her put into care because of her mother’s mental health issues.

What angered them was that no one within the wider family had been approached first.

Katrina Parker, two-year-old India’s grandmother, said: “We were classed as not good enough and that it didn’t matter how many hoops we jumped through we were never going to be considered by the local authority as good enough to parent India.”

The couple applied for guardianship but it took three months before the local authority allowed them to be part of the court proceedings.

Lee Parker, India’s grandfather, said: “The whole time it’s felt like we’ve been fighting social services and the system when things really shouldn’t have been that way and it should have been what was best for India and where she needed to be.”

Katrina and Lee have seven children and six of them still live at home. Assessments by social workers raised concerns about their large family.

When India was 11 months old, they were told their application had been refused on the grounds of "chaotic and hectic living arrangements".

What they did not discover until 10 days later was that they had 14 days to appeal the decision.

They did not have long to put together their case and no longer had legal representation but they went ahead with their appeal and, after more months of meetings and court appearances, they were given custody of India.

In a statement Essex County Council said: “This case involved very complex and finely balanced decisions which took account of a range of professional advice.

"As the case progressed Essex County Council was able to change its position to support these grandparents but at all times the final decision was one to be taken by the courts.”