Byline: by Frances Hubbard
PHIL and Amanda Peak prepared scrupulously for their two-hour interview with the social worker.
They expected this preliminary stage in the long, demanding adoption process to go well.
They were, after all, already proven as good, strong and loving parents. They passionately wanted to adopt children and they understood all the challenges involved.
But the verdict returned to them in the dry jargon of local government was brutal: Salford City Council did not consider them suitable candidates.
Disqualified on the grounds that their beloved sons, Arron and Ben, were killed in a car crash last June, they were told they would have to wait at least two years before they could even be considered.
It might then take another five years for them to complete the necessary checks and be matched with a child.
Their boys, aged ten and eight, died when footballer Luke McCormick, drunk and sleepdeprived at the wheel, ploughed into Phil's people carrier as he drove them to Silverstone for a 'dad's weekend treat'.
McCormick has never apologised. He is serving a seven-year sentence.
The Peaks hold hands in a room crowded with photographs of their smiling, handsome sons and say they are being 'scrutinised and punished' for the consequences of the footballer's terrible selfishness.
Amanda is passionately angry at the contorted logic behind the decision to refuse them the chance to be parents again.
'We were told that because our case had been in the public eye we might put children we adopted "at risk".
'The social worker also said that we were still grieving, but we lost our only two children: we'll be grieving for the rest of our lives. It may get easier as time goes on, but it's still there and it becomes a part of you. Does that mean we've lost the ability to love anyone else?
'We're not expected to be handed a gift-wrapped baby tomorrow because we asked for one. It takes a long time for these things to be approved. All we're asking is to be considered and to get into the system.
'We were told these children who come up for adoption may be grieving, too, for the families they've left. Wouldn't that make Phil and me a great pair to help and understand them?
It seems to me, they're busy ticking so many boxes about what is and isn't "suitable" that they don't see what's in front of them. We're not daft. We've got the sense to adapt to what children need.'
As for the charge about the Peaks' public profile, she and Phil shrug helplessly. Their tidy, too quiet council house in Partington, Manches-ter, hardly looks like the nerve centre for a sophisticated media operation.
THEY display none of the telltale signs of publicity junkies: there is no 'image' being presented, no attempt to seek money for interviews. They seem bemused, as well as wounded, by their rejection.
'It's hurtful,' admits Amanda. 'We want to give a loving home to a child, or children. When they turn round and say, "You could put this child at risk," you think, hang on a minute, we never put our own children at risk.
'We feel like we're being judged for something that wasn't our fault, when parents who are actually dangerous, like the ones who hurt Baby P, are not. It's like the authorities are being careful with the wrong people.
'The only reason anyone's ever heard of us is because Ben and Arron's deaths were caused by a famous man. We've done interviews to get the message across about drinkdriving.
We're not running off to Hello! magazine. We wouldn't dream of presenting any adopted children we might have to the papers.
'The only reason we're talking now is because we think this is unfair -- and it needs to be raised. How many other good parents are being turned down?
How many children who could be in a family home are being kept in care? …