A father has spoken out about nearly losing his children after making the decision to leave his two-year-old alone in the car for 10 minutes.

Tim Haines, a family law advocate, was arrested and prosecuted after he dashed into a nearby pharmacy to buy Calpol in 2004. The father faced a year-long battle to stop his five children being taken into care.

“We won, but we came within a hair’s breadth of losing our children,” said his wife Julie, 50, a teacher.

Mr Haines, 50, parked on Evesham High Street, Worcestershire, and left his daughter Iset in the car while he nipped into the pharmacy.

When he returned less than 10 minutes later, two policeman were waiting for him.

Mr Haines told The Sunday Times: “They gave me all sorts of grief about leaving my daughter alone in the car, said I had bald tyres and refused to let me drive it, so I walked home with Iset in my arms.

“I thought that was the end of it, but a few weeks later there was a knock at the door and there were two policemen there to arrest me.”

Mr Haines was prosecuted for “wilful exposure of a child to risk of significant harm” and the children were placed on the child protection register.

It took a “nightmare year” of fighting before his conviction was overturned on appeal in the summer of 2005 and his children’s names finally removed from the child protection register.

Mrs Haines said: “I was sick with anxiety the entire time the children’s names were on the register.

“Social services sent us five care plans for each of our kids. I ripped them up and pushed them back under the social services office door.

“We wrote our own plans and submitted them to the family courts. They weren’t used to dealing with articulate middle-class people.”

The family decided to speak out following the case of a mother in the West Midlands who was given a caution for leaving her six-year-old son home alone for 45 minutes.

The law currently states that parents should not leave children alone if they will be placed at risk, although it does not specify a minimum age.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) suggests that:

  • children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time
  • children under 16 shouldn’t be left alone overnight
  • babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone

The government is facing pressure to pass legislation that will make clearer when, and for how long, children can be left unattended.

A poll commissioned by The Times found that two thirds of parents want the government to set a legally binding age limit. The YouGov poll found that 12 is the age at which most parent feel comfortable leaving a child alone for an hour.

For more information visit The Telegraph or The Sunday Times.

When do you feel is the right age to leave a child alone? Should parents have the right to make this important decision based on the maturity of their individual children, or should the Government step in to safe-guard those that might be at risk? Please share your views by commenting in the box below.