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Rhubarb* and custody

 

(*Story contains no rhubarb, but was prepared in an environment where there is a risk that rhubarb, rhubarb pollen (?) or rhubarb dust may have inadvertently contaminated the contents )

 

 

A committal hearing in relation to a grandmother who was using electronic media, including Facebook to protest against the adoption of her granddaughter.

 

 

Staffordshire CC and Beech 2014

 

There are two judgments, one being the committal hearing itself, and the second being the sentencing

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B81.html

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B80.html

 

 

Probably the most important thing is said at the very end

 

I conclude the Judgment by making clear to Mrs. Beech that there is no objection to her criticising the court, criticising the judge, the Social Services Department or the family justice system. She has an entitlement to campaign about these matters. What the court will not tolerate is the use of the name of her grandchild or the photograph of her grandchild in connection with this campaign.

 

 

The Court did find that the grandmother had breached the orders preventing her from naming her grandchild and using photographs of her grandchild within the campaign. Part of that had been to ask a wide network on Facebook to circulate the photograph of her grandchild with a view to tracking her down in the adoptive placement and find out where she was.

 

Allegation number 1. Mrs. Beech has a group Facebook page entitled “Stop social services” which has about 7,000 members. This page was compiled before my Injunction Order was granted. The page has photographs of the child and a slogan including her name. The page contains the assertion that the child has been stolen by Staffordshire County Council Social Services. On 24th January 2014 the Injunction Order was served on Mrs. Beech. On that very day she posted additional words on her group Facebook page in terms which represent a flagrant breach of the court order. I read from the relevant posting which is exhibit 5 in my papers: “I have just had court papers handed me. I have been gagged until (the child’s name) is 18 years old. How can this be? They steal my granddaughter, then gag me. Fuck off. You have no chance. I am still fighting for her, you idiots. You cannot bully this nana. The truth hurts and no one will shut me up. I will go to war for my family, you idiots. Please spread the word”. These words were posted alongside photographs of the child and other words and slogans which had been posted long before the Injunction Order was granted. However, I find that by posting these additional words on 24th January 2014 alongside the photograph Mrs. Beech was republishing the old photograph and slogans and so her breach extends not only to the new words but to the old words and the old photograph.

 

Allegation number 2. On 28th January 2014 the B.B.C. website reported my Injunction Order in an article carefully drawn to avoid breaching the terms of the order itself. However, Mrs. Beech on her Facebook page posted a link to the B.B.C. report together with a short extract from it. She accompanied this posting with additional words of her own which constituted a flagrant breach of the Injunction Order. She posted “Just to let you know this is me, Amanda Jane Beech. It’s about my granddaughter (named). Staffordshire Social Services think they can bully me. The truth will be heard.”

 

Allegation number 3. On her Facebook page Mrs. Beech posted more words of flagrant breach, this time accompanied by a photograph. Mrs. Beech claims that the photograph could have been put up by someone else. She says that the photograph was already present on her Facebook page. She says that if another person clicked on the Facebook page to indicate they liked the contents the consequence would be that the photograph came up on this profile page automatically without any intervention on her part. The Facebook page does show that people had clicked the page to show that they liked it. Mrs. Beech raised the same point in relation to allegations 5, 9 and 11, saying in relation to these other allegations that the intervention of others explains the entire posting, not just the posting of the photograph, as she says it does for allegation 3. I have looked closely at these pages. No other name appears. On each occasion the posting appears under Mrs. Beech’s own name. With the exception of allegation number 5 each photograph follows a different form of words for which it is obvious to me that the grandmother, Mrs. Beech, is responsible.

 

She gave me rather inconsistent evidence about these allegations. She said that she did from time to time re-post material on the Facebook page in order to encourage her campaign. In this context she accepted that some of the postings might be her responsibility but some might be the responsibility of supporters. In the course of her evidence she said that the accompanying words appeared automatically from what she had already recorded herself on other parts of the page. However, on analysis the form of words is different for each of these postings, so I reject this explanation from Mrs. Beech. One of these allegations, allegation number 5, has no accompanying words and comprises just a photograph. However, this posting appears under Mrs. Beech’s name, just like the rest. I have heard her account. I am sure that she posted this and the other postings to encourage others to support her continuing campaign.

 

Allegation number 4. This allegation comprises clear words of breach which Mrs. Beech accepts that she posted on her Facebook page. There was no photograph with this posting.

 

Allegation number 5. I have dealt with allegation number 5 above.

 

Allegation number 6. This allegation comprises clear words of breach which Mrs. Beech accepts she posted on her Facebook page. Again, there is no photograph involved in this breach,

 

Allegation number 7 caused me a moment’s hesitation. This is Mrs. Beech’s Facebook group page. She accepts that she posted on this page a link to a YouTube recording. The new words do not constitute a breach of the terms of the injunction. However, these new words must be considered with the existing words to which they were linked so the effect is a re-publication of the words previously posted. Read together the words refer to the removal of Mrs. Beech’s grandchild into care which constitutes a breach of the injunction.

 

Allegation number 8. Mrs. Beech accepts that she posted the words and photograph which constitute this breach. She makes the point that the photograph was already on the web as part of an online petition that she started long before the Injunction Order was imposed. The local authority accept that the photograph is not new, but on this occasion by posting the link Mrs. Beech brought the old picture back onto her Facebook page again which constitutes a re-publication of the old picture in breach of the Injunction Order.

 

Allegation number 9. I have dealt with allegation 9 above when dealing with allegation number 3.

 

Allegation 10. Mrs. Beech accepts that she posted these words which clearly breached the terms of the Injunction Order. The reference to her partner, Mr. Rogers, is accepted by Mrs. Beech as a mistake. This was a publication to a closed group without a photograph.

 

Allegation number 11 has already been dealt with above when I was dealing with allegation number 3.

 

Overall then, all 11 allegations made by the local authority have been proved so that I am sure of the truth of the allegation and the fact that it infringes the terms of the injunction

 

 

It then adjourned, to give the grandmother the chance to reflect on this, and to get legal advice before the sentencing hearing.

 

At that sentencing hearing the grandmother accepted that she would comply with the injunction, take down those postings and not put up things of that sort in the future.

 

As a result, the Judge gave her a suspended sentence of 56 days, meaning that Ms Beech would not go to prison for her breaches unless she were to breach the order again (in which case the sentence of 56 days would take effect)

 

 

It does raise difficult questions, which I raised in part at the original report of the injunction. If a person campaigns on Facebook without naming their granddaughter, the step to indirect identification is a very short one. It is likely that within the rest of the grandmother’s facebook page are pictures and names of her family, and one could deduce fairly swiftly by the appearance of say “Rebecca” on those photos up until a year ago and then no more photos that it is “Rebecca” who was the child who was removed.

 

The provisions about directly identifying and indirectly identifying a child make decent sense for mainstream press – a newspaper reporting about a child and calling them “Child X” doesn’t identify the child.

 

Moreover, newspapers have editors, and lawyers. They can pause and consider whether they might be in breach of the law by any element of their story.

 

But we are now in a world where anyone with a mobile telephone can become their own publisher, and put things on the internet for all to see. It’s a whole new ball-game, and the law hasn’t quite caught up yet.

 

 

Ms Beech putting on Facebook “My granddaughter, who I can’t name, was stolen by social services” doesn’t directly identify the child, but it must be arguable that it indirectly identifies the child, because you can see that that the author of the post (who is named) is related to the child in question, and probably find on that page other photographs of the child. In a situation like that, proving whether someone made that indirect identification deliberately or by accident or lack of thought is very difficult, especially to the criminal standard of proof required.

 

 

 

 

[The original injunction judgment is here

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCC/Fam/2014/B1.html

 

and my post at the time about it is here

 

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/01/24/transparency-and-facebook/   ]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three months imprisonment for seeing your grand-daughter

 

Apologies for the Tabloid-esque heading, but it is a fairly succinct way of expressing the outcome of Derbyshire County Council v Kathleen Danby 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/B22.html

 

I know that for many of my regular contributors, the issue of commitals to prison for breaches of Court order are an emotive topic, and one can’t help but compare this sort of sentence with the sheets of criminal antecedents I regularly see where repeat offenders have convictions for burglary, theft, assaults, breaches of the peace, etc stretching to seven pages without spending any time at HerMajesty’s Pleasure.  On the other hand, if a Court makes an order to safeguard a vulnerable person and that order is breached, something has to happen to the person who breached the order, otherwise why bother making it.

I don’t have a solution here, but I have to wonder whether the sentences that are given for breaches of Court orders are somewhat out of kilter with sentences given for criminal  offences against children  (the grandmother in this case received a 3 month sentence for breaching a court order not to contact her granddaughter, and if she had instead been convicted of neglecting her the sentence would have been similar, when the latter would appear to most people to be the more serious issue)

 

I am mindful also that this is a sentence for an illicit contact in breach of a Court order, and the sentence is 3 months, in comparison to the six months that Mr Quasim Shah got for what seems to me to have been a much more serious (and possibly abusive) situation.  http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/03/14/contempt-adult-breaching-a-recovery-order/    I would think that the general public, thinking about these two cases would have expected Mr Shah to have got a sentence much greater than twice what Ms Danby got for their relative transgressions.

 

Anyway, on with the case

 

The young person B, is 18 and has a learning disability. She had been the subject of care proceedings and is now the subject of Court of Protection proceedings. Within the latter set of proceedings, an order was made setting out things that her grandmother, Ms Danby, is prohibited from doing

 

“The Second Respondent Kathleen Danby is forbidden to do any of the following, either by herself or by instructing or encouraging another person to do so.

“(a) From approaching or attempting to approach B personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person so to do.

“(b) from communicating with B in any way whatsoever, whether in writing or by post, telephone, fax, text messaging, e-mail or any other form of telecommunication or information technology, including internet, video calling (i.e. Skype), whether directly or indirectly through another, save that she may receive a single telecommunication call from B on a loudspeaker and supervised by the local authority their servants and/or agents to take place on the first Wednesday of each calendar month between the hours seven o’clock p.m. and eight o’clock p.m. only in strict compliance with the declarations on the face and the schedule of the order of Her Honour Judge …” (it says “Taylor”) that should be “… Thomas of even date (annexed hereto).

“(c) For attending at, entering or attempting to enter or go within J town (the town in which B’s placement is situated) either personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person to do so.

“(d) From attending at, entering or attempting to enter or go within 100 metres of XCollege, either personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person to do so.

“(e) From loitering within a radius of 100 metres of Y placementeither personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person to do so.

“(f) From loitering within a radius of 100 metres X College, either personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person to do so.”

Ms Danby did not attend the committal hearing. She would have been entitled to do so, and entitled to free legal representation. I do not know why she did not attend and it would be wrong to speculate.

The Court heard evidence about three alleged breaches of that order

 

 

“In breach of paragraph 1(b) of the injunction order on or before 28th February 2014 Kathleen Danby through herself and/or instructed or encouraged another person contacted and/or communicated with B to arrange to meet her 28th February 2014 at or about 17.27 hours outside the Z public house, next door to Y Placement (the placement). 

“2. In breach of paragraph 1(a) of the injunction order on or about 28th February 2014 at or about 17.27 hours Kathleen Danby met with B at or about 17.27 hours outside the Z public house, which is adjacent to the driveway of B’s placement, and passed to B a package, who immediately concealed it about her person.

“3. In breach of paragraph 1(e) on or about 28th February 2014 at or about 17.23 hours loitered within 100 metres of Y placement with the intention of meeting of B.”

 

The Court heard, in relation to those matters, evidence that B had effectively given her carers the slip on 28th February and that CCTV footage showed her meeting with and talking to an elderly lady, identified by people who know her as being Kathleen Danby.  B returned to her carers very animated and talking about having seen her grandmother, and her behaviour was later adversely affected, including attempts to self-harm.

 

 

  • on 28th of February. On that day I am persuaded, not on a balance of probabilities but because I am certain, that B had a meeting with her grandmother. P.C. Hamilton has seized CCTV footage from the X public house which shows the road from the pub which is next to the driveway to Y Placement where B lives and he sets out what can be seen very clearly in his written evidence. He says this:

 

 

“I viewed the footage in a private office inside the pub. The footage shows a lady, who I can describe as being white, approximately sixty-five-years, approximately five foot four inches in height and had prominent white hair that is collar length. She enters the pub by the front door at 17.21 and camera 13. The footage then shows the lady walked to the rear of the pub and going to the toilets. The lady is then seen leave the pub by the front entrance at 17.23 and stand towards the edge of the camera footage close to the pub car park. At 17.27 B is then seen running towards the lady with arms open wide and immediately hugs the lady who is seen reciprocating. They then stand in the same position for a few minutes during which a car parks, pulling up, parking across the road. The lady and B then walk back up towards the pub entrance and some items are passed between the two.” [In fact I think it is one item that I saw]. “The lady is lastly seen handing something to B. The pair split up with B walking over to the car and the lady walked past the entrance to the pub, past the entrance to Y placement.”

 

  • He himself says he never had seen the original picture of Mrs. Danby, so he cannot personally identify her, but for reasons I shall come to it is clear that it is she.

 

 

 

  • What is also clear from that CCTV footage alone is that the lady concerned was loitering, as is complained of by the local authority, in the area nearby to the Y placement, so that of itself is of course partly a breach of the injunction.

 

 

 

  • I have said that this lady is the grandmother of B is absolutely clear. It is clear not just from the intimate way in which the two greeted each other and the passing of items, but because it is clear that B went on to describe the meeting to Mr A as being with her grandmother. For that night she was due to go out to another care home. She had been having difficulties with her co-resident and Mr. A was taking her to a different home for the evening to have time to cool down. He was waiting for a taxi to take them and at 5.30, approximately, he saw B speaking to an elderly woman. When the taxi came he called to her, but she did not initially come. He got in the taxi, it moved slightly along the road, then he shouted for her to come over and eventually she did and she came over to the taxi and got in.

 

 

 

  • He noted that for the rest of the evening that B was “hyper”, to use his word, but she said this to him: “I bet you’d like to know who that is.” And he said he didn’t. “No, that was my grandmother.” “Which grandmother?” “The one from Scotland.” “She’s come all that way?” “She came to see me.” It was thereafter for the rest of the night that B kept discussing both her grandmother and her father in considerable detail. Indeed, she had with her that night a DVD that her grandmother had previously supplied to her of her life going to school when she was a young girl.

 

 

 

  • So it would seem that B knew whom she was going to meet and knew precisely what was going to happen and so it is clear, in my judgment, that there had been a pre-arranged meeting. It is beyond mere coincidence that B should be in the street at the very same time as her grandmother from Scotland was in the area waiting too as if there was an appointment to meet. It must have been pre-arranged; it could not be a mere accident.

 

 

 

  • There is further corroboration for it being the grandmother in the evidence of Mr H for he says this on discussing matters with B on 4th of March.

 

 

“I then asked B about her meeting on 28th of February with her grandmother. B said her grandmother had come to see if she was okay and safe as F had told her grandmother she had previously absconded and been missing. I asked her if her grandmother had given her anything. She said she had not. I said the police had CCTV footage of the meeting and the police have stated that Mrs. Danby handed B an envelope/package which B then concealed in her top/jacket. She said the police were lying about this. She then became agitated and appears to be low in mood. She stated she did not want to talk further.”

 

  • P.C. Hamilton spoke to B on 1st of March. She denied seeing her grandmother then, though it is plain from what she said both the evening before and to Mr. H that she did. He noted that B’s behaviour has been deteriorating, even though, as the local beat bobby, he has noticed that she has become more settled generally whilst at Y Placement– in other words, it was the events of late February of this year that have made her more volatile and unpredictable.

 

 

 

  • Ms C tells me of further events on 2nd of March. B absconded again on that date and on 6th of March she absconded from a holiday in Rhyl in North Wales. She describes the recent behaviour of B as deteriorating and out of character. Evidence that is corroborated further by Mr. H and by Ms B.

 

 

 

  • So it is that in my view I can be satisfied beyond doubt, I am satisfied to the criminal standard of proof, that the breaches of injunction complained of by the local authority are all made out.

 

 

 

The Court satisfied itself to the criminal standard of proof that there had been a breach of the Court order, and went on to consider sentence

 

 

  • The evidence, as I observed at the final hearing of her future residence and care plans, pointed unequivocally for the need for her to have a period of peace from intervention in her life from her grandmother and her father, hence the final orders that I made.

 

 

 

  • I am sure, too, that the deterioration in her behaviour results from these meetings with her grandmother. Her behaviour has deteriorated; she has self-harmed; she has assaulted staff; she has threatened her co-resident and she has run away. Not in a sense that she disappears by being an hour late, which she does from time to time as is perhaps typical late teenage behaviour, but because she literally runs away and has to be found with the help of the police.

 

 

 

  • Accordingly, I take a serious view of the behaviour of Kathleen Danby and it is plain to me that unless restrained by serious punishment she will simply continue to behave the way she has.

 

 

 

  • I remind myself that the case of Hale v. Tanner sets out that punishment is not the aim of the court, but rather to express its concern at breaches of its orders and the need to effect protection. In those circumstances, in my judgment, there should be a suitable punishment.

 

 

 

  • Miss Cavanagh has reminded me of the options available to me – although of course the local authority has not had the temerity to tell me what to do. I could impose a custodial sentence and then order the case to be listed before me for review. So, I could issue a warrant and then if this lady is arrested or on the review date, as the case maybe, the sentence can be reviewed and it can be reviewed downwards if I have a wrong impression of this lady’s attitude and approach.

 

 

 

  • In the circumstances for each and every one of these breaches of the injunction I shall sentence this lady to three months’ imprisonment concurrently.

 

Ms Danby would have the opportunity to come before the Court to ‘purge her contempt’  that is, to give an apology for her behaviour and an explanation for it, in the hope of the Court ending her sentence or reducing it. That may be more likely in this case because she did not attend.

 

What’s app Doc Crippen?

 

This is going to be a bit of a meander, I’m afraid.

What’s App, if you don’t know, is a communication device – it basically allows a subscriber to send many many messages to other users for a small annual fee (much much cheaper than text messaging). It has become very popular very fast, and as is traditional, Facebook has now swooped in to buy it for an obscene amount of money (even though the money they are willing to pay to own it would not be recouped on the current business model until the year 2525).  

The case of London Borough of Tower Hamlets v Alli and Others  

 http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/845.html&query=whatsapp&method=boolean

turns on the evidence having been obtained through Whatsapp.

That in turn, reminded me of the role that Dr Crippen played in the development of wireless telegraphy, hence the meander.

Marconi was the driving force behind the popularity of wireless telegraphy, although many said that his role in inventing it was rather less than his publicity would have you believe, that he had stolen significant elements from other inventors. That was what led Marconi to be the first example of hacking, well before Anonymous and Lulz-Sec and even well before Matthew Broderick in Wargames.

Marconi was holding a lecture at the Royal Institution in London, a centrepiece of which would be his receipt of a wireless telegraphy message from the Marconi station in Cornwall. Things didn’t go quite to plan, as the message that actually came through was a rude couplet about Marconi

There was a young fellow from Italy

Who diddled the public quite prettily

 

Sent by a magician named Maskelyne, who had been hired by the cable telegraphy companies (who obviously had a vested interest in embarassing or discrediting Marconi’s rival model) and he had set up a radio mast nearby and found the wave length that Marconi would be using.

What really popularised wireless telegraphy was the famous murder case, where Dr Crippen murdered his wife and before the body was found had fled on a transatlantic boat to Canada, with his mistress Ethel Le Neve ( a name which manages to be simultaneously glamourous and dowdy, but was at the time probably just purely glamorous). The Captain of the ship suspected that two of his passengers (Ethel dressed as a boy) were the suspects in the murder case and managed to send wireless telegraphs to that effect.

 

Because of the slow journey time in crossing the Atlantic, the public were able, on both sides of the Atlantic, to follow the story in the press, and knew that on disembarkation the lovers would be arrested, due to the wonders of wireless telegraphy.

 

Okay, back to the case

 

This was a committal application (we seem to be getting a lot of them) arising from the mother in care proceedings disappearing with two children, who were the subjects of Interim Supervision Orders and living at home with her. There was to be a five day final hearing in the case, and the parents were both legally represented.

 

 

  • A final hearing of the local authority’s application for orders in relation to the children has been listed for a date in May 2014 with a time estimate of five court days. I wish to emphasise that at that hearing both parents will have, or have had, the fullest opportunity to contest the local authority’s application and call evidence of their own. They are entitled to public funding so as to ensure that they are represented by family lawyers. Indeed, I note from the court bundle before me that they are so represented. I should also indicate that at the parents’ request within those proceedings a number of family members have been assessed as potential future carers for the children in the event that the court concludes that the parents cannot continue to care safely for the children.

 

 

 

 

  • I do not propose to rehearse the background history of the public law case. It is sufficient for me to record in this judgment that the local authority has significant concerns about the safety and wellbeing of these two children in the care of these parents or either of them individually. The mother is said to be, or have been, a heroin addict; the father has also been dependent on non-prescribed drugs. That said, the social workers have been attempting to work with the parents in order to maximise the prospects of the children being raised within their own family.

 

The Court made orders under the inherent jurisdiction for the location of the children. Part of that order was that anyone who knew of their whereabouts was to provide the information.

By the terms of that order any person served with the order – and I pause here to observe that the mother and the father were both named specifically in the order – must (a) inform the tipstaff of the whereabouts of the children if such are known to him or her, and (b) also in any event inform the tipstaff of all matters within his or her knowledge or understanding which might reasonably assist him in locating the children. Later on the 11th March the father telephoned Social Services to say that he had received a telephone call from, he believed, the mother, and had heard one of the children in the background.

 

On the 12th March, in the morning, two Police officers acting on the instructions, and as agents, of the High Court tipstaff, attended at the parents’ address. After a short delay the father answered the door, indeed on their account only opening the door when they announced that they were Police officers. The officers asked where the mother was. The father claimed not to know. He told the Police officers that the children were “with their mother“. He told the officers that he had last seen the children and the mother on Sunday, the 9th March, and that his wife had taken them to school on the morning of the 10th March, though he had not in fact seen them leave. There is a discrepancy between the Police officers as to whether the father had actually said that he had seen his wife and the children on Monday, the 10th. I do not find it necessary to make a determination on that discrepancy. When challenged by the officers with the fact that the children were missing he said, “They are not missing, they are with their mother“. He told the officers that he had been separated from the mother for two weeks. He said that although he had known that they were missing for, by now, 48 hours, he had not reported them missing to the Police. He said that he had telephoned family members to inquire specifically naming two brothers, but could not provide the relevant phone numbers of those brothers. I interpolate here to say that the father’s brother told me this morning on sworn oral evidence that he had not in fact spoken with the father on the telephone in this period. There was evidence of the children being in the flat, coats on coat hooks in the hallway, children’s toothbrushes in the bathroom. The father handed the Police officers his mobile phone. It is reported by the officers that the father generally appeared evasive. The officers contend that they had reasonable cause to believe that the father was in fact withholding information about the mother’s and children’s whereabouts. After a telephone call to the High Court tipstaff they arrested the father. The property was searched but the children’s passports were nowhere to be seen. The father said that he did not know where they were (this was of course different from the information he had given the social worker). When the father was arrested he is reported to have asked how long he would be in custody, “because I am supposed to be going on holiday“.

 

Now the What’s App stuff

 

 

  • he father was brought to court on the 13th March, the following day, and at that hearing Russell J remanded the father in custody to today’s hearing. She made further orders requiring the attendance at court today of other family members. Pursuant to her order, the notice of committal was issued later that day and served on the father, as I have said, on the following day. This notice contains the following alleged breach of the location order:

 

 

 

“That the Respondent father has knowledge or information pertaining to the whereabouts of the children. He has given differing accounts to the local authority and tipstaff.”

 

 

  • At the outset of the hearing today I was advised that the father’s mobile telephone, seized by the Police on the 12th March, as indicated above, contained a number of ‘whatsapp’ or text messages in Bangladeshi or Sylheti and in English, and a recently sent photograph of Samira. The dates of the text messages appear to span a number of weeks. I put the case back so that an interpreter could be located to translate the text messages for the court.

 

 

 

 

  • In the meantime I heard brief sworn oral evidence from the father’s brother. He told me that he had a “feeling” that the mother and children were in Bangladesh but advised me that this was not because he had been told this but simply that the mother had travelled there in the past.

 

 

 

 

  • The evidence laid before the court by the local authority now reveals the following, that mobile telephone text messages or ‘whatsapps’ had passed between the father and his nephew, a man called Shahed, in Bangladesh in a period which spans about six weeks. It now transpires that the father believes that the mother is having a relationship with Shahed. In that period it appears that on one occasion the father had sought to send Shahed some information or documents by email or text but had not been able to do so. On the 18th February a number of pictures with typed text on them, possibly court orders, were exchanged by text. On the 8th March, that is Saturday of last weekend, the father received a ‘whatsapp’ message from Shahed which reads:

 

 

 

 

“On the way Dacca … need more 6 hour.” 

 

There is then a selection of photographs one of which is of Shahed in a car. On the following day, the 9th March, the father sent a message to his nephew, Shahed, which includes this phrase, “Anyway, tell my sister-in-law [the word in Sylhet was Babi, and the father told me that he could not say that it was not a reference to his wife] to enjoy the sex I could not give“.

 

 

  • The father on the 11th March at 0736 received three photographs from the mobile telephone of Shahed in Bangladesh. Two of those photographs are photographs of Samira. The local authority asserts, with considerable justification, that these text messages very strongly indicate that by the morning of Tuesday, the 11th March, not only was Samira in Bangladesh but the father must have known that.

 

 

 

 

  • The father gave evidence before me this afternoon. He told me that he could not now recall when he had last seen the children. Possibly it was Saturday 8th, or possibly Sunday 9th March. He ascribed his loss of memory either to a 2008 head operation or alternatively the after-effects of a tooth operation which had been conducted some time on the 4th March. He was now confused, he told me, whether the mother had taken the children to school on the Monday morning. If she had done so it would, on his case, have been during a time when he and the mother were in fact separated and she was living away from the home (though he did not know where). He believed that his wife and Shahed, his nephew living in Sylhet, Bangladesh, are engaged in a relationship. He had in the past seen messages from Shahed to his wife and had confronted Shahed and his wife about this in the past. She, Mrs. Khatun, had denied it, but the father went on to tell me that the mother had been to Bangladesh twice on her own to stay with Shahed, once in April 2012 and again in September 2012. Significantly, he told me that he first suspected that the mother and children had in fact fled abroad to Bangladesh sometime on Tuesday, the 11th. He told me because he was calling her and when he called her mobile phone he heard a different ring tone. He told me that when she did not pick up the phone he sent her texts. These texts have been read to the court. In the early hours of the 11th March he sent a text to the mother which includes these terms:

 

 

 

 

I’m so stupid and naïve that everything was happening in front of my eyes but did not see. Anyway, I hope you are getting enough now because you have a lot of load to offload if you get my drift. Anyway, enjoy the passionate making out and don’t worry you get pregnant because I’ve taken the long-term precaution … Love you still. 

 

He goes on:

 

 

Good luck with your new good looking husband and please don’t bullshit me that it was just a phase because I know that you got married to this guy. 

 

In the early hours of the following morning, the 12th March, about eight or nine hours or so before the Police went to the father’s property, the father texted the mother again.

 

 

I can’t believe you forgot. I went out begging for money because we didn’t have any after doing all this for you. You still deceive me. I hope it was worth it … 

 

And then two minutes later:

 

 

Sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused you so forgive me, my love.” 

 

 

  • As is apparent from my earlier account of the history, the father did not tell the Police on the 12th March that he knew or suspected that the mother was with Shahed in Bangladesh. He told me that he did not tell anyone, he does not know why he did tell anyone, but he thought he may be able to sort it out. In relation to the text from his nephew, “On the way to Dacca“, the father unconvincingly told me that, “I thought he was on a trip or something“. The father told me that he did not see the 11th March message from his nephew with the photographs of Samira even though these had been received by his phone for 24 hours or more before the Police went to his property and I know, as the father has accepted, that he used his phone and the ‘whatsapp’ facility on it to communicate with his wife at least twice since the arrival of those photographs.

 

 

With all that in mind, the evidence against father was damning. The Judge made his decision

 

 

  • Having regard to the totality of the evidence, I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that when served with the location order on the 12th March the father had knowledge which might reasonably assist the tipstaff in locating the children. I so find for the following reasons:

 

 

 

 

(a) first, that the father has himself admitted to believing that the children and the mother were abroad in Bangladesh as early as Tuesday, the 11th March. His text messages to the mother are clear evidence of this. 

(b) In fact I find that the father, beyond reasonable doubt, suspected that they were in Bangladesh before that time.

(c) I further find that the father had received and seen the photograph of Samira (taken in Bangladesh) on the 11th March shortly after it had arrived, certainly well before the Police attended at his home.

(d) I find that the father deliberately misled the Police in declining to assist in disclosing what was a high probability in his own mind that the children and the mother were in Bangladesh at the time that they questioned him about it.

 

The only issue that remained was what sentence would be passed

 

  • Mr. Ali, will you stand, please. Mr. Ali, it appears almost certain that your wife has left this country with your two children who are the subject of court proceedings. I suspect, but do not find, that if she has done so it has been to frustrate the due process of the law and specifically to avoid participation in the court hearing at which the Family Court would be considering the local authority’s concerns about the wellbeing of the children. You have said yourself you believe that the mother is a heroin addict yet you have failed, as I have found, to assist the court in attempting to locate these children, allowing the children to remain in the care of their heroin addict mother without supervision by authority.

 

 

 

 

  • On the 11th March, Mr. Ali, I made orders designed to trace and locate these children, and once located to restrict their movement while decisions were made about their immediate futures. As you will have just heard, I did not make orders at that time permitting their immediate removal into foster care. However, you, Mr. Ali, have deliberately withheld and, in my judgment, continue to withhold information which could lead to the whereabouts of the children. You have obstructed the Police, you have obstructed Social Services, and you have obstructed this court in our joint endeavour to trace your missing children. It is your obstruction of the court order which provokes this application for committal.

 

 

 

 

  • Mr. Ali, untold damage is done to children who are spirited away from one home to another, let alone from one continent to another, without warning or preparation. Disruption to their routines, the predictability of their lives, their family relationships and social relationships and to their schooling is inevitable. Parents who remove children from their home environments in this way cannot, and should not, go unpunished. Parents who seek to protect those who remove children in these circumstances, who deliberately obstruct the due administration of justice, and knowingly breach court orders should also expect to be punished appropriately by the court.

 

 

 

 

  • I accept, Mr. Ali, that there is no evidence of your involvement in any preplanning of this trip to Bangladesh, but you have, in my finding, deliberately obstructed the due administration of justice and, by your lies to the court today, continue to do so.

 

 

 

 

  • I have taken into account your home circumstances, that you presently assist in caring for your elderly mother, but the sentence which I impose has to be a custodial sentence to reflect the gravity of your breach.

 

 

 

 

  • The sentence I impose is one of four months imprisonment. You will serve one-half of that sentence.

 

 

Contempt – adult breaching a recovery order

This is the London Borough of Newham v CA 2013

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/4597.html

I note, wryly, the explanation at the start of the transcript as to why it took so long to produce  (an explanation which contains three misspellings and confuses ‘of a’ for the word ‘over’)

Note: this is a judgement from an oral judgement and sentence for contempt given in open court on 20th December 2013. The transcription was over very poor quality as a result it took some time to collate notes from those present and to produce this judgement

Anyway, in this case, there was an adolescent girl absconding from care and it was believed that she was being the victim of sexual exploitation. A recovery order was applied for by the Local Authority and obtained.

The child was located and was with an adult, Mr Quasim Shah, who was the subject then of this committal application. I pass little comment as to the circumstances in which this girl was with Mr Shah other than

1. Note the concern over what risk this girl was at

2. She was found attempting to leave his property at 5 Hartington Road on 27th November 2013. At the time he was found naked, or almost naked, and trying to stop police from gaining entry and by those actions he is in contempt of court, specifically the terms of the collection order.

3. The case has been referred to the CPS

Mr Shah had been served with the recovery order and denied knowing where this girl was – he is not  a relative or carer of hers (fill in the blanks yourself)

 

These are the breaches he admitted

(i) That he had text contact with the child throughout the 17th October 2013 from 00.21 up until 16.32 compromising of 152 text messages to the child from him and 117 text messages to him from the child which grew in frequency nearing one text per minute during the period 15.13 to 16.22. The child absconded from her placement at 17.20. The telephone contact completely stopped until 25th October 2013.

(ii) He it is accepted that he made plans with the child to abscond. It is not accepted that he physically collected her from her placement and thus aided her absconding, although he does not deny being involved in her absconding on that occasion.

(ii) He accepts that he had contact, every day, with the child from 17th October to 22nd October and on 25th October the calls and that the calls and texts stopped when the child stopped using her mobile.

(iii) He accepts that he provided his mobile telephone number ending 8840 to the child, which she used to call her mother on 1st November 2013; the child informed her mother that she was with a male in his 30 who was taking care of her.

(iv) He accepts that he telephoned the Mis-per Police Unit on 1st November 2013 and stated that he did not know the child except for the party on 17th October and that he did not associated with her.

(v) He accepts that he told the police that he had not seen the child since the party on 17th October when the police Mis-per telephoned him on the 2nd November 2013 trying to locate the child.

(vi) He accepts that he denied the child used his telephone on 1st November, that he had not seen her for a few weeks when police officers attended his home and spoke to him on 2nd November to try to locate the child.

(vii) He accepts that on 14th November 2013 police officers attended his home and spoke to him and he did not disclose his knowledge of the child or her whereabouts.

(viii) He also accepts that when the police officers attended his home he made some threats towards them. The exact nature of those threats as contained in the papers filed with the court is not accepted.

(ix) It is accepted that the child was found in his company at his property on 27th November.

(x) He accepts that he attempted to bar entry tried to impede entry to his property on 27th November 2013 by sitting on the floor naked, or almost naked, against the door and that he did not move from that position when asked by police officers three times.

(xi) Finally, he accepts that when service was attempted by the process server who came with the documents at his property dated 20th November, including the witness summons of the High Court he refused to open the door.

 

It is not a huge surprise that he received a prison sentence

In respect of the contempt in the face of this court I pass a sentence of six months.

In respect of the breaches of the collection order I pass a sentence of three months, to be served consecutively.

 

Many readers of the blog might be mentally comparing this sentence, for what happened here, with the sentences for grandparents who did not reveal where their daughter and grandchild had fled to, or the man who facing criminal charges declined to give a potentially incriminating statement in care proceedings on legal advice.

If you are ever served with  a Recovery Order, it is worth noting that if you breach it, and that is proved, Courts really do send people to prison for this.

London Borough of Ealing v Connors (committal hearing)

I wrote recently about a committal hearing arising from a breach of orders made in private law proceedings. This is one that relates to public law proceedings. The committal hearing was held in open court, thus it is possible to report the names of those involved.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/3493.html

 

The background which led to orders being made on these children is very worrying. The Court report it in this way

    1. This matter concerns two girls, A born on 12th October 1999, who will be 14 years of age tomorrow, and B, born on 22nd November 2001, who is now 11 years of age, nearly 12. The Respondent is the mother and the father has taken no part in the proceedings. The children have an older brother C who is now 16 years of age. There are seven half siblings as a result of the mother’s previous marriage, or relationship.

 

    1. Both of these young girls were made the subject of emergency protection orders on 23 September 2013 and interim care orders on 1 October 2013. Both of those orders were accompanied by recovery orders as the girls had gone missing and their location was unknown. Immediately prior to the emergency protection order on 23 September 2013 they had been living with their mother. Neither child has been seen since 23 September 2013. On the application of the Local Authority on 8th October 2013 I made a Collection Order to assist the Local Authority in seeking to locate the whereabouts of the children.

 

    1. There is a background to this matter which is carefully set out in the case summary provided by the Local Authority. In summary, there has been involvement between this family and the Local Authority since about October 2012, following A being admitted to hospital with suspected meningitis. Further investigations were undertaken in relation to her medical position. She is currently under treatment for rheumatic fever and requires monthly injections of penicillin. Since May of this year there has been inconsistency in relation to her attendance for these injections. She missed her August injection, was late for her September injection, and, as far as I am aware, has not had her October injection. So the medical position in relation to A is extremely worrying.

 

    1. The Local Authority have sought to engage with the mother around issues concerning lack of school attendance and A’s behaviour. Unfortunately, that has not been very fruitful. There have also been issues in relation to domestic violence within the home with the father. He is reported not to live at the home, but attended there in April when there was an incident and he was asked to leave by C. The father damaged the property and left before the police arrived. C has been arrested in relation to a criminal matter concerning a burglary, and has been bailed back to the home.

 

    1. The matters that precipitated the issue of these proceedings occurred on 19 September when it is alleged that A was assaulted by being kicked repeatedly and punched by C and her father in the family home. At the time of the incident those present were A, C, the father, the mother, and a five year old niece and young six month old nephew. A reported that the brother and father had called her a prostitute and accused her of sleeping with her uncle. It is alleged that during the argument C specifically put on steel toe capped boots to carry out the assault, and it is alleged that the father punched and kicked her, pulled her hair, and threatened to kill her.

 

    1. The mother was noted to be intoxicated by the London Ambulance Service when they attended, and A was observed to be shaking, crying and extremely distressed. There was swelling on her leg, redness to her face and ribs, and she was taken to hospital and kept overnight. It is clear from the examinations that subsequently took place there were a number of injuries on A’s body which are consistent with the account of assault that had been given, including bruising, grazing, and areas of redness in various parts of her body. A was discharged to the home of her cousin K on 20th September.

 

  1. The whereabouts of B are unknown. C has been bailed in relation to the assault back to the home address. The question of police protection was discussed. The Local Authority undertook home visits on 20 and 23 September. The mother was not at home, and it had not been possible to contact the mother. On 23 September the EPO and recovery orders were granted without notice.

 

Over and above the concern then that children whom the Court had determined there was reasonable grounds to believe had suffered significant harm, in the form of both assaults from adults and intoxication of their main carer, there were considerable health reasons why A needed to be found so that her treatment for meningitis could be resumed. It is no great surprise that the Court made what is called a Collection Order (this being one of the powers of the High Court, to authorise an officer of the Court known as the Tipstaff, to conduct investigations as to the whereabouts of a child and to recover them if possible. I like to think, personally, that the Tipstaff looks like the motorcycle cop robot from Terminator 2.   I note from a quick search for information on Tipstaffs/Tipstaves that they are the only people permitted to arrest a person within the precincts of the Royal Courts of Justice – which given that there are only two of them and it is a massive, massive building, is slightly unnerving)

In terms of that investigatory/recovery process, the Court said this

    1. This matter came back before me the following day, 9 October, because the Tipstaff had arrested the mother on the Tuesday evening for alleged breach of the Collection Order. The actual order required her to deliver the children into the charge of the Tipstaff, or inform the Tipstaff of the whereabouts of the children, or in any event inform the Tipstaff of all matters within her knowledge or understanding which might reasonably assist the Tipstaff in locating the children.

 

    1. The record in relation to the visit when the mother was arrested states that the police officers attended the address and spoke with the mother. She informed the police that the children were with Paddy and Mary in Manchester and she had no contact details for them. Further, she said that the children may now be with a different unknown family. The suggestion by the mother that she did not understand the terms of the order, and that she may be arrested, is not supported by that account because she must have clearly understood the terms of the order requiring her to give information otherwise she would not have given the information that she did. So as of Tuesday evening that was the information that the mother had given.

 

    1. When she attended court on 9 October and was asked by her legal team about the whereabouts of the children she said that they were with her sister-in-law, BC at an address in Edgware. She gave oral evidence on that day when she said she had not seen the girls since 23 September but had “heard” from others that they had been in Manchester with her cousins, Paddy and Mary. She said she had been told by one of her older daughters, called M, that the children had returned to London on Monday of this week and were staying with BC. Her daughter M told her she had seen them there; she had seen them playing outside BC’s home.

 

    1. When the police attended on the Tuesday evening the mother agreed she knew what the order required her to do, but she did not disclose this important information as to the whereabouts of the children to the police. I remanded the mother in custody on Wednesday until the following day so that the police could make enquiries at BC’s address to see if the children were there. They attended at BC’s property on three occasions; once at about 9 o’clock on the Wednesday evening, when BC was there but denied that she had the children; again in the early hours of the morning of 10 October, when there was no response to their knocks on the door; and, finally, yesterday afternoon when BC was arrested. BC was going to be brought before me this morning, but I have been told this morning that she had been taken ill overnight and is currently in hospital waiting to be seen by a consultant.

 

    1. Once it became apparent yesterday afternoon that the children were not at BC’s home I heard further oral evidence from the mother. She was adamant that the children were with BC. I remanded the mother in custody again to this morning as it was expected BC would be brought to court.

 

    1. In her oral evidence given on Wednesday and Thursday the mother accepted that there have been many opportunities when she could have produced the children, but did not do so as she did not want them to come into care. She accepted that at any time she could have got the children back. She maintained she had no address or phone number for Paddy or Mary, who allegedly had the children in Manchester. She further maintained that she did not have A’s mobile telephone number, although she did accept that A had a mobile phone. She revealed that when the police sought to execute the recovery order at BC’s home on about 23 or 24 September, after the EPO was granted, the children had in fact been there but they were hiding; and that is why they were sent to Manchester. The mother said in her oral evidence that she would now co-operate with the Local Authority and that she was concerned about A not receiving her injections.

 

    1. When the matter was listed before me this morning counsel for the mother, Mr. Nosworthy, who has been present at all the hearings made an application that I should adjourn this matter until the court could hear from BC. I rejected that application, for the reasons that I have given earlier. Importantly, on his instructions, he said that if the mother is given the opportunity to speak to K (who is the daughter of BC) and gives the instruction for the children to be brought to Social Services they will comply with her instructions. She believes K will be at BC’s accommodation looking after BC’s children. Mr. Nosworthy stated as follows:

 

“Once the mother relays her permission that the children are to be brought to Social Services whoever has them will do so.”

  1. That demonstrates to me that this mother has always known where these children are, she has always known that they would be able to be brought back at her command, but for reasons which are known only to her she has chosen not to do that.

 

The issue then was whether this conduct on the part of the mother amounted to a breach of the Collection Order punishable by committal for contempt.

    1. I remind myself, of course, that the test in this matter is that I have to be satisfied to the criminal standard, namely, that it is beyond reasonable doubt. I have to be satisfied so that I am sure. Having seen the mother it is quite clear there are strong emotions felt by her about the orders made by the court regarding the children and she opposes them. Her lack of co-operation with the court process to date in locating the children supports that view. I have made clear to the mother that any orders I make today are not final decisions about the children, those are for another court on another day. It is extremely regrettable that due to the circumstances of this application, and the mother’s behaviour, a hearing set in Willesden County Court for today to consider a contested interim care application cannot take place. The mother has failed to act in the children’s interests by denying them the opportunity to attend that hearing.

 

    1. I am satisfied so that I am sure that this mother knows perfectly well where these children are, or at least where they can be contacted or located and she knew that when she was arrested on Tuesday. She acknowledged as much in answer to questions from Ms Hall in her oral evidence yesterday, when she accepted that she could have got the children back any time prior to her arrest by the Tipstaff if she wanted to. Despite saying that she has refused to give any details about the whereabouts of the children other than them being at BC’s house when clearly they were not. She told the police on 8 October, just prior to her arrest, that they were in Manchester, which on her own account to the court the following day was a lie.

 

    1. I have reached the conclusion that it is inconceivable that as their mother who had their full time care prior to 23 September she has taken no active steps to find them or speak to them. Her evidence is inherently unreliable due to the inconsistencies in her accounts, coupled with her acknowledgment that she does not wish the children to be placed in care. In that context, her expressed intentions of future co-operation with the Local Authority rings very hollow. That is reinforced by the submission made by her counsel, on her express instructions this morning, that once she relays her permission to the family that the children should be produced at Social Services they will do so. That, in my judgment, makes it very clear it is within her control to ensure that these children are produced to the Local Authority and she has failed to do so.

 

  1. Therefore, I am satisfied so that I am sure she is clearly in breach of paragraphs 2 and 3 of the Collection Order that I made on 8th October, and she has failed in the continuing duty to provide information in relation to the whereabouts of the children.

 

There then followed a plea in mitigation (i.e mother’s lawyer setting out the reasons why this breach should not result in imprisonment, or if it did, that the sentence should be lenient.

    1. Mr. Nosworthy has very thoughtfully and eloquently made submissions on behalf of the mother in relation to the sentence that this court should impose in relation to the contempts that I have found. He has very properly referred me to the case of Hale v Tanner, reported at [2000] 2 FLR 879, and the guidance that is given in that case, in particular at paragraphs 26 and 29, and the summary in the head note in relation to the matters that the court should take into account, and I do take those matters into account.

 

    1. In mitigation he says that the mother has a clear sense of remorse, which of course I accept at face value, but I have to take into account that that remorse has not been coupled with any kind of direct action by her to assist in recovering the whereabouts of these children. He also says that the evidence is clear, she has failed to co-operate in the past but now wishes to co-operate. Again, I understand why that submission is made, but there has not been co-operation in relation to locating the whereabouts of these children.

 

    1. In relation to the cultural background, whilst of course that is an important consideration that the court has to bear in mind, in particular the concern by this mother that she may be ostracised by her community if she worked together with the Local Authority. Whilst it is a factor it does not give her an entitlement to be able to disobey orders of the court.

 

    1. I accept the difficult background this mother has had, as is clear from the papers that I have read, which have included unhappy relationships with her partners, and also difficulties with a number of her children. I also take into account that she has, I think, two other children living with her, C who is 16 years of age, and M, who is 24 years of age. But I look at that in the context of what has been clear in this case, there is a wider family that step in and support where necessary.

 

  1. I take into account the mother has spent three days in custody, and also that there may be difficulties in relation to her rental payments and practical matters as regards her living accommodation. However, I am very clear that the message needs to go out loud and clear in relation to court orders relating to the whereabouts of children. It is an extremely serious matter when the court is unable to trace the whereabouts of children, and it is particularly serious when the court is unable to do that because the person who can assist in that will not provide the help to locate the children.

 

The Court imposed a custodial sentence of 28 days, taking into account the 3 days that the mother had already spent in prison, but reminded her that if she remained in breach of the order (by not providing the details of where the children were) that a further application for committal could be made and that the maximum sentence would be 2 years. The Judge urged the mother to consider her situation, and that she could purge her contempt at any point (comply with the order, apologise, and be released/have her sentence reduced)

 

It is worth noting that however much you disagree with orders made by the Court, and however much you want to fight those orders, there are significant consequences and risks for taking that challenge or fight out of the Court room and taking things into your own hands.

 

I suspect the Tipstaff can't turn his arms into metal knives. he wouldn't get through the security checks at the RCJ entrance

I suspect the Tipstaff can’t turn his arms into metal knives. he wouldn’t get through the security checks at the RCJ entrance

From Russia, with love

 

The committal decision in Re Davies 2013

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/3294.html

 

This one is likely to rekindle the debate, both amongst professionals and the wider public, on the powers of the Court to deal with breaches of court orders and contempt of court.

 

There are some, John Hemming MP springs to mind, who consider that imprisoning people for family Court matters which fall far short of being criminal offences is not acceptable in a modern society and illustrative of the family Courts having too much sway and not enough accountability. The secrecy/confidentiality of the family Courts just exacerbates these concerns. They might well say that punishment and resolving family disputes don’t go together.

 

There are others,  I suspect many in the Father’s Rights movements, who would say that the family Courts are largely toothless when it comes to dealing with people who have no respect for orders and decisions and just take matters into their own hands to thwart contact. If you have spent two years of litigation and jumping through hoops and possibly thousands on legal costs to get your contact order and then it doesn’t happen because the parent with residence of the child just ignores the order, then you can see that you would WANT there to be consequences for breaking court orders and you would WANT those consequences to be dished out.

 

On the one hand here, we have grandparents who spent five days in prison because they did not want to tell the Court where their daughter had taken their granddaughter Alice too.

 

On the other, we have a mother who defies a Court order for contact, takes the child away to another country and leaves the father not knowing where his child is or how to find her, who then gets her family to lie in the witness box and breach Court orders that are designed to locate this mother and get her to bring the child back to the UK so that the arguments can properly be heard. 

 

 

This particular case made some of the national press, who took the understandable emotive line of how awful it is to lock up grandparents for not telling the Court where the child was.

 

One also has to look at it from the side of the father, and of the child who has been denied the lawful contact she should have been having with her father because the mother took the law into her own hands.  [i.e one could have written the story as a very emotive one about how the child had been whisked away from dad and he had no idea even which country she was in or whether she was safe]

 

Firstly, it is worth noting that although the grandparents and the aunt were locked up on 25th October, the Court adjourned sentencing until 30th October (the judgment on that is not yet reported) to allow them the chance to get some legal advice and do what is called “purging their contempt”   (in essence, apologising to the Court for breaching the orders and complying with the order now by giving what information they have about the child’s whereabouts).  

 

Secondly, it is worth noting that although the father was present in Court and represented, he was asking for the family members NOT to be imprisoned.

 

Of course, with the media being the way it is, what we want is a simple good guy and a simple bad guy, and where the stories are more complex than that, the press coverage struggles to set out the nuances. So much easier to just side with either the grandparents or the father, and paint the other side as being wicked.  I don’t even know that you could paint the mother as the bad guy here – she was certainly foolish, but until she gets back and has her say, we don’t know what lies behind her decisions.

 

[The grandparents were released on 30th October. As I understand matters, the Aunt is due to appear in Court on Tuesday 5th November]

 

 

Anyway, by way of background

 

  1. In this matter I am concerned with one young child, Alice Gabrielle Davies, who was born on 18th September 2008 and is five years of age. Her mother is Jacqueline Davies. Her father is Julian Brown. Her maternal grandparents are Patricia Anne Davies and Brian Davies. Her maternal aunt is Melanie Williams. The parents’ relationship broke down and they had recourse to court proceedings. The father was unable to have contact with Alice. Those court proceedings resulted in an order being made on 29th June 2011 for the father to have contact with his daughter on a regular basis. In fact, subsequent to that order, he has not seen her since 18th December 2011.
  1. On 1st March 2012, the mother submitted an application for the cessation of contact because she was planning to leave the jurisdiction. In the reasons that she gave for applying for that order she said:

“Unfortunately, because of the constant need to take time off to prepare for and attend court, my job became untenable and my employment terminated. So due to the financial circumstances of not working and the implications of the continuing costs of solicitors’ fees etc, which has left me in debt and without the security of a job, and trying to sort out the finances of the here and now, I have had to make an uncomfortable decision. Therefore, because of the need to support my child and myself and the economic climate in the United Kingdom, after months of looking for work, I have had to take drastic action and have been forced to seek a position further afield, leaving my roots and family support.”

  1. Sometime after that application – the date is not at all clear – the mother did indeed leave this jurisdiction with Alice. From the enquiries made by the Tipstaff, it appears that she flew to Russia. There is no record of her returning from Russia to this jurisdiction, and it is unknown whether she remains living in Russia with Alice or in a country somewhere else.

 

So, the father had to go to Court to get an order for contact with his daughter, the contact wasn’t provided and mum intended to apply to discharge the existing contact order because she wanted to move abroad.  What she then did, in leaving the country with the child without the Court having granted permission, was unlawful.

 

In those circumstances, it is entirely understandable that the Court made orders that Alice should be returned to the UK, and that she should be in the UK whilst the Court considered the respective applications of the mother (to end dad’s contact order and move abroad) and the father (to continue his contact and presumably resist any move abroad unless his contact was going to be adhered to)

 

It is important to note that the Court had not made any decisions about who was right in the long-term on those applications, just that it was premature to move Alice abroad before both sides had their say and the Court reach a view.

 

Because of the difficulties in tracking down the mother and Alice, the Court used their powers to make orders that members of mother’s family provide any information they had about where mother and Alice were.

 

  1. Mrs. Davies, accompanied by her husband, Brian Davies, attended before me yesterday, and I made an order requiring her, on one last chance, to divulge the details of the whereabouts of Alice and the mother. During the course of that hearing the maternal grandmother, Mrs. Davies, gave evidence on oath before me. She told me repeatedly and in no uncertain terms that she had no means by which she could make contact with her daughter and that she was solely reliant upon her daughter making contact with her, which she did from time to time. She also told me repeatedly that she had no idea where her daughter or Alice were in the world. Mr. and Mrs. Davies then left court and travelled by car back to Cardiff.
  1. During the course of that hearing, at the request of the Tipstaff, I required Mrs. Davies to give him the name and address of her other daughter, Melanie Williams. The police attended upon Mrs. Williams last night and served her with the location order and explained that order to her, and the duty that she was therefore under to cooperate with this court and to give information that was available to her about the whereabouts of Alice and her sister Jacqueline.

 

The police, in serving those orders, asked some questions of the family, and it was their answers to these questions which got them into difficulty and eventually into cells  [underlining mine, for emphasis]

 

  1. I have statements from the two police officers who attended upon Mrs. Williams – a Police Constable and a Police Sergeant. The statements record the self-same evidence, namely that when they asked Mrs. Williams when she had last been in contact with her sister, Jacqueline, she replied, to start with that it was “about three years ago“. She insisted that since they were 18 and had left home they had gone their separate ways and they had not spoken for some time. She said that she had sent some emails to her sister. Those had not been returned undelivered, but she claimed that she had not received any reply. She continued to deny having any knowledge about where her sister lived. The police officer records as follows: “Whilst looking for the mobile number for Patricia Davies, I noticed a contact ‘Jacq’. I asked Melanie if this was her sister. She did not reply. I therefore noted down the mobile number”. Again, the police officers asked Mrs. Williams about when was the last time she had contact with her sister. The police officer says: “Melanie eventually stated that she had had a Skype text conversation in August 2013 but insisted she did not know where her sister had been when they had that conversation.”
  1. Because one of Mrs. Williams’ daughters was present at the home when the police were there, they advised her that they were minded to arrest her for breach of the order. They therefore contacted the maternal grandparents, who were still en route from this court, to look after their granddaughter. The police were still present when Mr. and Mrs. Davies arrived. The Police Sergeant explained to all three of them the reason they were there and urged them to provide any information in order to prevent the arrest of Mrs. Williams. The Police Sergeant then sets out in his statement the following: “Patricia Davies then said loudly, ‘I can’t, I can’t, I won’t. They’ll take the baby away’.” The Police Sergeant again urged the grandmother, Mrs. Davies, to provide any details she had of her daughter Jacqueline. She then told the police officer that she had a mobile number. She went out to her car and came back and gave the telephone number to the police officer. The Police Sergeant asked her to telephone that number. He records Mrs. Davis replying: “Jacqueline wouldn’t answer because it was the middle of the night where she was”. She was asked how she knew it was the middle of the night. She said: “I don’t know”. She was again asked: “How do you know it is the middle of the night?”, and she replied: “Because it’s thousands of miles away”. She was asked how she knew that, and she said that Jacqueline had told her. She finally said: “You’ll just have to arrest me. I don’t care what they do to me”.

 

 

The family were brought back to Court on 25th October and gave evidence to the Court about these matters. On the face of it, they had a contact telephone number for the mother, knew where she was and were refusing to provide the information “You’ll just have to arrest me. I don’t care what they do to me”.  The prospect of them being imprisoned for contempt was very high as a result of this.

 

  1. Over the course of this afternoon, Mrs. Davies, Mr. Davies and Mrs. Williams have given evidence on oath. Mrs. Davies gave evidence first and then her husband and then her daughter, Melanie. Having considered their evidence, I am in no doubt whatsoever that all three of them are lying to me. I find that Patricia Davies has lied and has admitted lying on oath when she told me yesterday that she had no mobile number for her daughter and had no means of contacting her. It is wholly remarkable then that on her journey back from this court she is sending texts to her daughter. Of note, she was asked by the police officers prior to them arresting her whether she had been in contact with Jacqueline today – that is yesterday. She replied: “Yes, but by text but I’ve deleted the texts now”. Mrs. Davis claimed that those texts were deleted because that is her normal practice. I regret to find I do not believe her. I find that she deleted those texts so that nobody would be able to see what she had sent to her daughter or what her daughter had sent to her. I am satisfied, so that I am sure, that Mrs. Davis did say to the police officers: “I can’t, I can’t, I won’t tell you”. That is entirely in keeping with her final comment to the police of: “You’ll just have to arrest me. I don’t care what they do to me”. She said in evidence to me that she knew it was the middle of the night where Jacqueline was because she said Jacqueline had told her. I find once again, so that I am sure, that Mrs. Davies is lying to me. She knew it was the middle of the night because she knows precisely where her daughter is, but she refuses to tell this court.
  1. In relation to Mr. Brian Davies, in my presence in court yesterday I heard him, and I am quite satisfied and sure I heard him, instruct the maternal grandmother when she was giving evidence “not to tell them”. He denied that in the witness box. Mr. Cheesley, the Tipstaff, told me at the start of this hearing that after I had risen from court yesterday Mr. Brian Davies had said: “I’m the head of the family. I told her to leave the country”. Initially, he appeared to accept that that is what he had said, but then he changed it and said that, no, he had not told his daughter Jacqueline to leave the country, he had told her to leave his house. However, he then claimed not to remember whether his daughter had left the house immediately after he had said that or how long a period it was after he had apparently told her to leave the house that she in fact did so with Alice. I note that it is significant that in her application of March 2012, giving her reasons for leaving this jurisdiction, the mother (a) does not assert that she had been thrown out of the home where she was living by her father and (b) quite the contrary, she states that she had a difficult decision to make which will result in her losing the support of her family.
  1. I regret to find so that I am sure that Mr. Brian Davies is lying when he denies saying in court yesterday that he told his daughter to leave the country. I regret to find that I am satisfied, so that I am sure, that he is lying when he claims he threw his daughter out of the house. He claims to have had no contact whatsoever with his daughter for about four years or thereabouts. I regret he gave me no satisfactory explanation whatsoever as to why he should take that course with his daughter or why he does not like her anymore and does not want to have any relationship with her. The best he could come up with was that it was because she had had sex before marriage with her then partner, which resulted in the conception of Alice. I am satisfied that Brian Davies is lying to the court, that he has information he could give but he refuses to give it.
  1. In relation to Melanie Williams, I regret to find that she has lied to this court. First, I note that she told the police that it was some three years since she had last communicated with her sister, Jacqueline. She then changed that in evidence to me, that it had been about two and a half years since she last spoke or had communication of any kind with her sister. When she was reminded of what she had told the police yesterday, that in fact it was August 2013 when she had last had a Skype text conversation, she was unable to be clear in her recollection that that took place, although she admitted that she had said that to the police. When I asked her about what conversation she had with her sister, she could not remember any details at all, and then told me that it was not a conversation at all, and she had not said to the police it was a conversation. She had sent a text to her sister, she said, but received no reply. She then accepted that she had said to the police it was a conversation that she had had with her sister in August 2013, but maintained that that conversation consisted of merely sending a text to her sister and receiving no reply. I regret to find, so that I am sure, that in giving those accounts to the police and to me, Mrs. Williams is lying.
  1. I am satisfied, when I consider the reasons why Mrs. Davies, Mr. Davies and Mrs. Williams are lying to this court, that it is for one reason and one reason only (because, although I have pondered the matter, I can think of no other reason for them lying) and it is this: they know full well where Jacqueline and Alice are but they refuse to tell this court or the Tipstaff where that is because they do not want to assist in any respect in the attempt to try and secure the return of Alice to the jurisdiction of this court. I am satisfied, so that I am sure, that they also have the means of communicating and contacting Jacqueline but they have sought, particularly Mrs. Davies, to obfuscate that position and they have not told me the truth about the communications that they have had with her not only over the last few years but in the last few months and in the last few days. Again, they are lying about those matters because they do not wish to assist this court in seeking to recover Alice back to this jurisdiction.
  1. On those findings, I am in no doubt that all three of them are in contempt of this court

 

 

 

Of course, on a completely human level, one can empathise with the family, they had been asked by their daughter / sister to keep her secrets and not tell the Court or the father where she was, and they ended up in an intolerable position of having to obey the Court order or keep their promise.  Without being in that intolerable position, it is really hard to know how you would react.

 

It is always important though, to have an eye on the other side of the case, which is that the father and child were kept apart and denied contact as a result of the mother acting unlawfully and asking her family to act unlawfully to help her, include them lying to the Court;  and the Court has to treat matters like this very seriously.

 

If there’s no consequence to breaking court orders or lying to the Court, then what’s the point of the Court at all?

 

I think that if I had been hearing the case, I  probably would not have imprisoned them pending the sentencing hearing, and allowed them to have a short opportunity (say two or three days)  to reconsider their actions knowing that a prison sentence was on the cards. But the Judge had been faced with lies in the witness box on two separate occasions,  even after they had been blatantly caught out, and of course the risk that wherever mother currently was, the family might have tipped her off to run away. It would not have been an easy decision to make.

 

Should the remedy or sanction be imprisonment? Should anyone really be imprisoned for something that isn’t a criminal offence?  There are those who think that imprisonment ought to be reserved for criminal matters, and that one ought not to be faced with it as a result of breaching orders in the family courts.

 

I suspect that there are also parents who have gone to Court and argued successfully for contact with their child, who see orders flouted or ignored or thwarted by the other parent, who are pulling out their hair at how toothless the law seems to be on dealing with a parent who has no intention of obeying Court orders, who would be devastated at the one sanction that the Court has being removed.

 

It depends entirely on which side of the fence you happen to be on, or which group of people are telling you the story. If you were sitting down talking with the grandparents in this case, you’d form a very different view of it than if you were sitting down with the father.

 

I think those are legitimate questions and I’m sure the debate will continue, but in the meantime whilst the law provides for imprisonment for contempt of court and failure to comply with court orders, those who are served with court orders need to bear in mind that this is a risk they take, even if they are pensioners trying to do what they think is right for their own daughter.  

 

 

The Commital-ments

Two recent cases on committals – one resulting in a suspended sentence, one resulting in the commital being dismissed on some interesting techicalities.

The first :-  Re Roberts 2013

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCC/Fam/2013/1.html

A warning shot across the bows, in relation to parents publishing material on the internet that would identify their child as being the subject of care proceedings.

In this case, Mr Roberts undertook some filming at Derby County Court, and also published on the internet documents which identified that his child was the subject of care proceedings, which is unlawful.  He had also given an undertaking not to do this sort of thing and breached that undertaking.

He was given a sentence of 6 weeks custody, suspended on the basis of him undertaking not to do this again.  (if he does it again, he will serve 6 weeks, plus whatever additional sentence is imposed for the later offence)

Of course, there is a lively and spirited debate at present as to whether parents should be able to do that, but unless and until the law is changed, doing this sort of thing presents a very serious risk to the parent of committal proceedings.  It is particularly worth noting the judicial comment here that breaches of this kind are bound to attract a prison term.

I’m not going to get into the merits of whether the law should change to allow Mr Roberts to do this, to publicise his case and speak out about whatever injustice he considers has been done to his family – the judgment is a cautionary tale that the law STILL applies to people even where they consider it to be unfair or foolish, and that there are serious risks attached to breaching the law.

I would add that as more and more litigants in person come into the family law system, the more vital it is to have clear and easy to follow rules about what can and cannot be said by a parent about the ongoing court case. The President’s direction of travel towards more openness is going to make it even more important that parents know exactly what the rules are.

It is such a short judgment, I can publish it in full. Note in particular, my underlined passages for emphasis.

RE MR PAUL ROBERTS

1.     On the 19 June 2013, Mr Paul Roberts appeared before His Honour Judge Orrell at the Derby Combined Court Centre; Mr Roberts was assisted by Mrs Jacque Courtnage, acting as a McKenzie friend.

2.     Mr Roberts admitted breaches of an order made by Mr Justice Hedley on the 14 June 2012 and breaches of an undertaking given by Mr Roberts on the 12 April 2013, namely:

3.     He allowed himself to be filmed in the Derby Combined Court Centre and in the film he identified W by name as a child who had been removed from her parents’ care and been subject of proceedings under the Children Act 1989.

4.     He published on the Internet images and letters from the local authority which identify W by name as a child who had been removed from her parents’ care and been made the subject of proceedings under the Children Act 1989.

5.     On the 1 May 2013, he allowed himself to be filmed in the Derby Combined Court Centre and in the film he identified J by name as a child who had been removed from his parents’ care and had been the subject of proceedings under the Children Act 1989.

6.     The above matters were breaches of the order made by Mr Justice Hedley.

7.     In breach of his undertaking, on the 1 May 2013, Mr Roberts disclosed information about the proceedings under the Children Act 1989 concerning J to a third party whilst allowing himself to be filmed including filming in the court building before the hearing in these proceedings on that day.

8.     In respect of the breaches, Mr Roberts was committed to 6 weeks custody to run concurrently in respect of each breach; the term of committal was suspended on condition that he complied with the terms of each of the following: [i] the order made by Mr Justice Hedley on the 14 June 2012, [ii] the order made by His Honour Judge Orrell on the 1 May 2013 within these proceedings and [iii] the undertaking given by Mr Roberts on the 12 April 2013.

9.     The sentencing remarks were as follows. The order and the undertaking were to protect a child in care. Any breach of that sort of undertaking is bound to attract a prison term. Breaches by talking to the sort of people you did was extremely reckless. On this occasion I will suspend the inevitable sentence in the hope you will not again risk going to prison.

His Honour Judge Orrell

And now, the second

In the Matter of an application by Her Majesty’s Solicitor General for the committal to prison of Jennifer Marie Jones for alleged contempt of court 2013

http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Judgments/application-matter-of-jennifer-jones-21082013.pdf

And this involved a mother who defied orders of the High Court that the children should be handed over to the father, who proposed to live with them in Spain.  She not only did not hand them over, she in effect went on the lam, and was finally found hiding out in a guesthouse in Gwent.

The two older children refused to go to their father, and even though the order transferring residence remained in force, they continued to live with their mother in Wales.

An application to commit the mother for contempt was brought, the trial Judge having asked the Attorney General to consider the case.

An issue arose as to whether there had in fact, been a breach of the order made by Hedley J, that underpinned the committal application. That order was as follows :-

“It is ordered that:

1 Jessica … Tomas … Eva … and David … shall be returned forthwith to the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of Spain pursuant to the provisions of the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

2 Paragraph 1 above shall be given effect as follows

(a) The children shall return to Spain accompanied by the father on a flight scheduled to depart from England and Wales no later than 24.00 hours on 12 October 2012 (00.00 hours on 13 October 2013); and

(b) The mother shall deliver up the children into the care of the father, or cause the children so to be delivered up, at Cardiff Railway Station at no later than 4pm on 12 October 2012”

Paragraph 1 does not place any obligation on the mother to do this, para 2 (a) relates only to the father, leaving only para 2 (b).  It is clear that the mother DID NOT deliver up the children.

 

18.  The Solicitor General does not base any allegation of contempt on a breach of paragraph 1 of Hedley J’s order. He was right to adopt that stance, for paragraph 1 was not an injunction, whether in form or in effect. First, paragraph 1 was not addressed to anyone in particular. It directed, in the abstract as it were, that something was to be done. But it did not order the mother, or anybody else for that matter, to do something: see the analysis in Re HM (Vulnerable Adult: Abduction) (No 2) [2010] EWHC 1579 (Fam), [2011] 1 FLR 97. Secondly, paragraph 1 did not specify any time for compliance, and that omission is fatal: Temporal v Temporal [1990] 2 FLR 98.

 

19        In relation to paragraph 2 of Hedley J’s order, the Solicitor General, as we have seen, puts his case on two different footings. First, he says that the mother was in breach in failing to deliver up the children by 4pm on 12 October 2012. Secondly, he says that she continued to breach the order by failing to deliver up the children after 4pm on 12 October 2012, which breach, he alleges, continued until 17 October 2012

That seems, on the face of it, to be a legitimate argument. The mother was aware that she had to deliver the children into the father’s care at Cardiff Railway station, no later than 4pm on 12 October 2012. And she didn’t do that. That looks and smells like a breach. But wait.

20    There is, in my judgment, simply no basis in law upon which the Solicitor General can found an allegation of contempt for anything done or omitted to be done by the mother at any time after 4pm on 12 October 2012. Paragraph 2(b) of the order was quite specific. It required the mother to do something by 4pm on 12 October 2012. It did not, as a matter of express language, require her to do anything at any time thereafter, nor did it spell out what was to be done if, for any reason, there had not been compliance by the specified time. In these circumstances there can be no question of any further breach, as alleged in the Solicitor General’s notice of application, by the mother’s failure to deliver up the children after 4pm on 12 October 2012 or, as alleged in the application, any continuing breach thereafter until 17 October 2012 when she and the children were found.

 

 

The President ruling therefore that mother could not have been in breach for not surrendering up the children AFTER 4pm on 12th October, as the order did not require her to do so.  So she was NOT in continued breach, and her actions in going on the run with the children wasn’t any part of the breach for which she could be committed. And she couldn’t be breaching the order by not delivering up the children BEFORE the deadline. That meant that the only possible breach was her not delivering the children to father’s care AT 4pm.

(So, she was possibly only in breach of the order for a minute, as by 4.01pm, the requirement on her had lapsed.)

22. The present case is a particularly striking example of the impossibility of reading in some implied term. What the order required the mother to do was to:

“deliver up the children into the care of the father … at Cardiff

Railway Station at no later than 4pm on 12 October 2012.”

Suppose that for some reason she failed to do that. What then did the order require her to do? Deliver the children to the father at Cardiff Railway Station or at some other (and if so what) place? And assuming it was to be at Cardiff Railway Station by what time and on what day? Or was she (to adopt the language of a subsequent proposed order) to return, or cause the return of, the children to the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of Spain by no later than a specified date and time? It is simply impossible to say. Speculation founded on uncertainty is no basis upon which anyone can be committed for contempt.

23.I do not want to be misunderstood. If someone has been found to be in breach of a mandatory order by failing to do the prescribed act by the specified time, then it is perfectly appropriate to talk of the contemnor as remaining in breach thereafter until such time as the breach has been remedied. But that pre-supposes that there has in fact been a breach and is relevant only to the question of whether, while he remains in breach, the contemnor should be allowed to purge his contempt. It does not justify the making of a (further) committal order on the basis of a further breach, because there has in such a case been no further breach. When a mandatory order is not complied with there is but a single breach: Kumari v Jalal [1997] 1 WLR 97. If in such circumstances it is desired to make a further committal order – for example if the sentence for the original breach has expired without compliance on the part of the contemnor – then it is necessary first to make another order specifying another date for compliance, followed, in the event of non-compliance, by an application for committal for breach not of the original but of the further order: see Re W (Abduction: Committal) [2011] EWCA Civ 1196, [2012] 2 FLR 133.

24.  It follows that the only question which properly arises on the present application is whether the mother was in breach of paragraph 2(b) of Hedley J’s order by reason of events down to 4pm on 12 October 2012.

At this point, one suspects that those bringing the committal application were beginning to quail. They probably considered that the mother was “bang to rights” but that sense of confidence was dissipating.

The next issue was then, whether the mother was actually flouting the order of Hedley J, or whether through forces beyond her control, she had been unable to comply with the order by getting to the train station at 4.00pm.

As luck would have it, before the mother had set off on the journey, the children had run away and the police were called and her departure was delayed, making it impossible for her to get to Cardiff train station by 4pm (or at worst, there being a reasonable doubt that it was impossible)

The Judge found therefore, that it was not proven to the criminal standard of proof that it had been physically possible for her to comply with the order to deliver up the children at 4pm, the mother had NOT breached that order, and that the order as drafted placed no obligation on her to do anything subsequent to 4pm (i.e she didn’t have to deliver the children to father’s care after that time), so the committal application had to fail.

It is therefore, a very important lesson in drafting terms in an order that might be enforced – one has to be clear what the mandatory obligation on the party is, and what the timescales for compliance are. Had the order been that mother must deliver the children to father’s care by 4pm on 12 October 2012 or in the event of that not being possible, that there was an obligation for her to deliver the children into his care at any time after and by the latest by 4pm on 19th October 2012, she might well have been in breach.

The events of 12 October 2012 – the facts

29. I turn at last to the central issue in the case: the close and careful scrutiny of the events of the crucial day, 12 October 2012. In fact, as I shall explain, the relevant inquiry focuses on an even narrower time-span: the period from 1.39pm to 2.56pm on the afternoon of 12 October 2012.

30. The unchallenged evidence of the mother, based on a Google printout, is that her home in Llanelli is 54.4 miles from Cardiff Railway Station, and that the journey by car along the M4 takes about 64 minutes. So, in order to get to Cardiff by 4pm they would have had to leave by 2.56pm at the latest. Also unchallenged was her evidence that she had arranged the loan of a friend’s 8-seater people carrier at 2.30pm to take herself and the four children to Cardiff and that, having herself packed the younger children’s luggage, at about 1pm she told the two older children to go upstairs to pack. At 1.37pm (the time is fixed by his mobile phone) Mr Williams received a telephone call from his daughter, who was driving past the house, to say that she could see Jessica on the flat roof outside her bedroom window and Thomas outside the house with his bag (apparently he had jumped down off the flat roof). Mr Williams went upstairs and pulled Jessica back into the house. She gave him the slip and ran out of the house and away with Thomas, Mr Williams in pursuit. He telephoned the police: the call was logged at 1.39pm. None of this is challenged by Ms Cumberland. So the crucial inquiry narrows down to the 77 minutes or so between 1.39pm and 2.56pm.

 

31. In relation to what happened during that period I am dependent in large part on the accounts given by the mother and Mr Williams. Both, as I have said, made witness statements and gave oral evidence. Their accounts can be summarised as follows: Mr Williams set off in pursuit, giving the police a running commentary on the phone: this is borne out by the police log. The children were found in the public library and collected by the police; the police log records them as being in the process of being taken back to the police station at 2.1pm. While they were being taken to the police station Mr Williams returned home and told the mother she was needed at the police station. Her friend Allyson Thomas took her there in her car. On her arrival – at about 2.30pm she thinks, perhaps a little earlier – she had to wait some time on her own. She then had a conversation with a police officer, who told her what the children had been saying. Only then was she able to see the children herself. Eventually they all returned home. A police log records at 4.59pm that they had left the police station “approx 1 hour ago” but the mother and Mr Williams think this is wrong and that they had in fact left somewhat earlier; the mother recalls her friend being anxious to get back in time to get her son to work by 4pm.

32. Having heard both of them giving evidence and being cross-examined, I accept this account as given by the mother and Mr Williams. They were, I think, being honest and doing their best to be accurate in what they said. Partly, this is a conclusion I arrive at having seen the way in which they gave their evidence. This was not some glib rehearsed account. The mother in particular was thoughtful, giving every appearance of trying to recall – to visualise – what had been happening that afternoon. Nor did she seek to put any kind of ‘spin’ on her account. If anything, quite the reverse. She did not seek to use the entry in the police log as showing that she had left the police station later than the time she recalled. And, significantly, she made no bones about the fact that as soon as she was reunited with the children in the police station she made it clear to them that they were not going back to Spain, nor about the fact that she repeated this to all the children at or soon after 4pm once she and the two older children had returned from the police station.

33. It is clear, both from her own account and from the police logs, that the mother told the police that she had to get the children to Cardiff by 4pm, and that she explained why. The police logs show that she was told it was a matter for her, and not the police. The mother’s account is that, whilst she was at the police station talking to the officer before being reunited with the children, he gave her an account of what they had told him and expressed his own opinion as being that Jessica was a danger to herself and others on the plane.

34. Apart from the police logs I have no account from the police of events at the police station. None of the officers gave evidence.

            Mr Hames submits that in these circumstances there is a clear answer to the critical question, Was it within her power to comply with the order, could she do it, was she able to do it? She could not. Through no fault of her own, and having made every effort to arrange a timely departure that would get them all to Cardiff by 4pm, the mother’s plans were frustrated: two of the children ran away, and whenever precisely it was that she left the police station it was on any footing well after 3pm, and probably nearer to 3.30pm – too late to get to Cardiff in time. As a fallback position, Mr Hames points out that it is for the Solicitor General to prove the case, and, moreover, to the criminal standard of proof. He submits that I simply cannot be sure that it was within the mother’s power to comply.

             

36. Ms Cumberland points to the mother’s frank admission of what she said to the children, to the fact that the mother, on her own account, made no effort to get the two younger children to Cardiff, and to the fact that, again on the mother’s own account, by shortly after 4pm she had embarked on a course of conduct that, far from trying to make alternative arrangements with the father, led to them all going on the run.

37. I can see the force of what Ms Cumberland says, and cannot help thinking that the mother has, quite fortuitously, been able to take advantage of two things that are unlikely to re-occur: one the serendipitous happenstance that the children ran away; the other that nothing which happened after 4pm is capable of being a contempt of court. So I have to come back to the critical question: Was it within the mother’s power to get the children back home from the police station in time for them all to leave for Cardiff no later than 2.56pm? Ms Cumberland says that it was: no-one had been arrested, everyone was free to leave the police station whenever they wished, and in any event there was nothing going on in the police station that would have prevented the two younger children being taken to Cardiff.

38. At the end of the day I am concerned with what is essentially a question of fact arising in most unusual circumstances. I have to put myself in the mother’s shoes as she is in the police station during the half hour or so between her arriving there at about 2.30pm and the time – 2.56pm – by which she has to leave for Cardiff. Two of her children have run away and been taken by the police to the police station. She has to wait, before receiving worrying information from the officer and only then being able to see her children. However the lawyer might subsequently analyse what had happened, the reality is that the mother was, metaphorically if not literally, in the hands of the police and having to work to their timetable. It is far from clear on all the evidence that the mother had been reunited with the children by 2.56pm – perhaps, but then perhaps not – and on that fact alone, in my judgment, the Solicitor General fails to prove his case.

 

Standing back from the detail, it is for the Solicitor General to prove that, as events worked themselves out on the afternoon of 12 October 2012, it was within the mother’s power to leave Llanelli by 2.56pm so that she could get the children to Cardiff Railway Station by 4pm. In my judgment he has failed to do so. The application must accordingly be dismissed

[Postscript - this is yet another one of those cases where a hugely important point was being litigated and the party did not obtain public funding. The mother was represented by pro bono counsel, who probably kept her out of prison, and hence at least some of her children still with her. The President spoke out afterwards about how unacceptable it is that such important issues are litigated relying on good will of lawyers acting for free.  http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/family-judge-criticises-reliance-free-representation  ]

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