Once in a while, even in family law, you read a case where the circumstances are brand-new (I think of the Port Harcourt fertility clinic undertaking fake labours, the case where the District Judge took the whole court on an uninvited excursion to a grandparents home to check it out, the peculiar case of whether a child was concieved by artificial insemination or biological insemination) and this is another of those.
SA v BN 2013
The case began as private law proceedings, about a 3 year old girl named JN. JN’s father sought parental responsibility and contact with her, following his separation from JN’s mother. The mother initially responded by saying that J was not the biological child of the father and DNA tests were directed. It then came to light that JN’s mother had had previous children who were the subject of care proceedings. The Court asked the Local Authority to look into this.
- On 10 February 2012 the section 37 report, was filed, it recorded the mother’s failure to cooperate with the preparation of the report and concluded: “At this stage it is not clear if J is at risk of significant harm; due to Miss N’s lack of engagement, J has not been seen and historical information that has come to light has not been discussed with Miss N“. It went on “The local authority will be considering initiating child protection proceedings in respect of J. The local authority will also be making a referral to the First Response Team so that an assessment can be carried out in respect of J and GN to assess the risk in the light of information received from Children’s Services.”
- When the matter came on again before District Judge Dowding on 15 February 2012, the mother did not attend but she was represented. District Judge Dowding extended the period for the DNA testing to 9 March 2012 and required the mother to attend with J in order to provide mouth swabs a penal notice was attached to her order.
- On 1 March 2012 the mother, without any prior notice took J to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), allegedly for the funeral of her mother, the paternal grandmother
The next hearing is where things started to get properly weird. The maternal grandfather and later, the mother began to assert that whilst in the Democratic Republic of Congo, J had been involved in a car accident and had died.
- On 5 April 2012 when seen by RC a social worker the grandfather said the mother was in the Congo and had died following a road traffic accident On 10 April 2012 the maternal grandfather sent a text and two photographs to RC a social worker, saying that J had died in a road traffic accident in the Congo on Saturday, 3 of March 2012. The two unidentified photographs show a coffin with people sitting around it and a second photograph of a body of an old woman in a coffin.
- Four days later on 16 of April 2012 the maternal grandfather sent three further photographs. Subsequently, the maternal grandfather e-mailed what purported to be J’s Congolese death certificate. It was in this context that RC duly prepared the section 37 report, (dated 4 March 2012) attaching to it the photographs and the purported death certificate,.
This hearing then, as a prelude to whether the Court could make any orders about the return of J to the country, had to firstly establish as a fact whether J was in fact, deceased. As the mother was the person asserting this, the burden of proof was on her. Prima facie, she produced quite a lot of evidence.
i) the death certificate of JN, 700/N008080;
ii) medical report of cause of death, 603 2012;
iii) burial permit, number 012/2012;
iv) pro-justice official police report, 0403 2013;
v) expert request form, 007/201204032012;
vi) death certificate of Sisika Masamba; [the grandmother]
vii) hospital transfer ticket for JN.
However, on forensic examination, this evidence rather crumbled
(i) Death certificate.
“I am familiar with this case and I have seen your colleague here. The girl you are talking about did not die here. The number on the documents bears the name of another person. Thank you for raising this problem because we have now discovered that there is a Mafia network in trafficking in documents. We have just had a second case in death certificate from our department but it is a fraudulent document. Briefly, J did not die here, not a trace has been found and I don’t know what to tell you. What we can do is ask you to help us. If the woman in London could give us the contact details of the person who presented her with these documents, after that we could retrace the networks this document is trafficking. I have no further comment.”
- Subsequently, on 26t July 2013, Dr. N signed a witness statement in which he dealt with the authenticity of the “cause of death report“, but not the death certificate. It follows therefore that there is no official written record emanating from the Congo confirming that the death certificate, (as opposed to the cause of death report), is a fake. Taken, however, with the information in relation to the report in relation to the “cause of death” form set out below in this judgment, I find on the balance of probabilities that the death certificate filed herein is a fake.
(ii)Medical Report of Cause of Death.
Initially, CATSR were unable to verify the authenticity of the report as the signatory, a Dr. EKM had been on long-term sick leave. Subsequently, CATSR sent an e-mail to CFAB that Dr. K had been seen on 15 January 2013 and did not wish to discuss the matter. That was not the end of the matter as in a further e-mail AW was informed that Dr. N and Dr. T had told CATSR that Dr. K had been dismissed from the medical facility.
“I believe that this document is a forgery as this document does not relate to the death of JN, but to another person. The document is a false document. The child, JN, did not die in this hospital. Accordingly, I have no hesitation in concluding that this document was a fake.”
(iii) Burial Permit.
- On 14August 2012 Mr. M was interviewed Mr. M is the manager of a Cemetery where the mother says that J is buried and which it is said is shown in one of the photographs produced by the grandfather showing the mother and a young man standing next to a wooden cross upon which is written J’s name. Mr. M says (and he thereafter confirms in his statement) that until July 2012 he alone was the person authorised to produce a burial permit for the cemetery. Since July 2012 the system has changed and officials in the town hall now produce the permits. This burial certificate is however dated March 2012 and therefore he would have been responsible for issuing a permit.
a) Mr. M does not recognise the stamp, (which is not that of the cemetery), or of the signature of the person purporting to sign it.
b) The date of birth is not written in the usual way and the age of the child is simply written as one and a half, which Mr. M says, makes no sense.
c) The telephone number on the document is incorrect as there are ten digits in Congolese phone numbers and there are only eight written on the document.
(iv) The Official Police Report.
- Mr. MM (Commandant in the DRC police force in Kinshasa), was seen and confirmed that the report carrying his signature is accurate and that an accident indeed took place. There are, however, two matters of significant concern in relation to this document which would otherwise be the only document confirmed by its author to be genuine. The document which is entitled Official Police Report, gives the wrong date for the accident, referring to it as happening at 9 a.m. on 4 March, instead of the date universally referred to elsewhere and which the mother maintains, namely 3 March and not 9 am rather 16.27 was a date referred to in some of the documents.
(v) Expert Request Form, dated 4 March 2012.
The same observations apply to this document as the official police report, the provenance being the same.
(vi) Death Certificate of Sisika Masamba.
- A Dr. ZM, who certified this document, has filed a statement in these proceedings saying that this death certificate purporting to relate to the death of the grandmother is a fake. Dr. ZM was seen and said that the certificate was from his hospital, and the name on the document was his, but the writing and the signature were not his. Furthermore, and significantly, the number on the death certificate (700/NO06050) was produced on 7 October 2011 for an entirely different woman called D L and not for the grandmother.
(vii) Hospital Transfer Ticket.
- The mother gave evidence that J was initially admitted to one hospital and was then transferred to the hospital where she died. Officials from the original hospital, a Mr. CK and a Mr. KN, were seen at the hospital. They said that the document bore the name of their hospital but that it had not been produced by the hospital. When asked to clarify, they gave the following reasons for saying the document was a fake:
a) The transfer tickets produced at their hospital are booklets, whereas this was a full format A4 piece of paper.
b) They do not accept serious accident cases at the hospital.
c) They place the stamp at the bottom and not at the top of their documents and their stamp is small and not the same size as the stamp that appeared on the document.
d) On the transfer ticket in the place marked they always write: “CH” this had not been done.
e) For clinical information they always refer to the general condition of the person and write a comment such as “traumatisation” or “lesion” or “wound“, in the transfer ticket produced there is no reference at all to the general condition of the person.
f) For the destination, if it was a transfer ticket originating from their hospital they would have spelt the destination hospital differently
g) For the dates they always write …/…/20.. and the rest is written in by hand. On this transfer ticket the 2012 had been made by machine.
h) There was no-one in the hospital with the signature that appeared on the purported transfer document. Generally, when a transfer document is produced it mentions the name of the person who authorised the transfer and his signature is at the end, but this document did not bear the name of the person responsible for the transfer.
i) The document produced showed someone else had taken a page from a folder and scanned it in to increase the font for the typeface. In their tickets that the records are keyed in, but they do not much use either type face or the font on the purported transfer document.
j) Finally, the document does not even have a reference in hospital records which are kept at the so-called originating hospital.
- On 13 August 2013 Mr. M of CATSR returned to the hospital in order to obtain statements confirming all this information. He met with Mr. C again and on this occasion a Nursing Sister RK. They felt unable to produce a confirmatory statement or comment on the authenticity of the document without the original alleged hospital transfer ticket, which has not been produced by the family.
- Whilst a signed witness statement to confirm the contemporaneous note of the conversation Mr. C had with CATSR would be preferable, I conclude, on a balance of probability, that the hospital transfer ticket is a fake for the reasons listed by Mr. C and that it bears no resemblance to a genuine transfer document.
If you are thinking that right about now, none of this looks too good for the mother, and that faking your child’s death to avoid a contact order is somewhat extreme, you are not wrong
i) the grandmother, SM, died on or around 27th of February 2012 and was buried on 3rd of March, and ii) that J was killed in a road traffic accident on 3rd March 2012,
I consider also the photographs produced by the grandfather in April.
- In relation to the photographs of the woman in the coffin, there is absolutely no evidence that the woman in that photograph is the grandmother. Further doubt, if necessary, is cast on them by the fact that notwithstanding she was said to have died in February and the photograph was produced in April, the photographs have a Christmas border on them. I do not accept the grandfather’s evidence that it is traditional to put a border on such a photograph and to decorate them in such a way; neither do I accept that this border was other than specifically Christmas related. One glance at the photographs showed these are definitely Christmas decorations.
- In my judgment the documents are fake; there is no credible evidence that the grandmother died around 27 February 2012 or that J died on 3rd of March, whereas there is very considerable evidence that the family have set out to produce false documentation in order to try and deceive this court and, more importantly J’s father, into believing that she is dead.
- On 11 July 2012 the mother was ordered to hand her passport over to the guardian for safekeeping until further order. According to the mother, her father (the grandfather) wanted the mother to go to France to friends for Christmas. The grandfather contacted the mother’s solicitor to ask whether or not agreement could be reached for her to have her passport to enable her to obtain a visa and thereafter go to France. By consent, an order was made on 13 November 2012 granting leave for the passport to be released, on the basis that the passport would be returned to the guardian within three days of the mother’s return to England.
- The mother’s case is that she was unable to get the necessary visa and so the planned trip to France did not take place. She says in her statement that she forgot to return the passport and kept it in a handbag where she used it to enrol at college for the new term. In addition, she needed it, she said, in order to make arrangements in relation to her bank account.
- The court ordered the mother to produce evidence from both the college and the bank that she had used the passport for the purposes stated. She has failed to produce any such evidence. There must be a very strong suspicion that the mother travelled to the Congo or France to see J over Christmas 2012 and that far from losing her passport, she was unable to give it back to the guardian showing, as it would, that she had travelled to that country.
- Whilst the court may have strong suspicions that the mother’s account in relation to the passport is untrue, I do not feel able on the necessary standard of proof to find as a fact that the mother travelled to the Congo.
So, not only did JN not die in a road traffic accident whilst visiting the Congo with the mother to attend the grandmother’s funeral, the Court didn’t believe that the GRANDMOTHER was dead either.
Findings and Conclusions
i) The mother left the United Kingdom on 1 March 2012 as a result of the section 37 report and in the knowledge that social services intended to launch child protection proceedings in relation not only to J, but significantly as far as the grandfather was concerned, to J and G, the children of his most recent marriage. I am unable to say to the requisite standard of proof whether concern about the outcome of the DNA test played any part on the decision. ii) That the application made by the mother for a visa allowing her to travel to the Congo made on 15 February was made as a direct response to that report.
iii) There was no telephone call to the effect that the maternal grandmother had died. I have no idea whether she is dead or alive. It maybe that the photographs produced by the grandfather are indeed photographs of the funeral of the grandmother. If so, that funeral took place, I am satisfied, near to Christmastime, some time before, and not in March 2012. The death certificate was a fake.
iv) The mother travelled to the Congo with J on 1 March. Thereafter the mother and J lived with the extended family and probably her uncle until such time as the grandfather obliged the mother to return to the UK in June of 2013. In my judgment it is a moot point as to whether or not she would have in fact returned to this country had not the grandfather travelled to the Congo and obliged her to return.
v) I find as a fact that J did not die whether in a road traffic accident or in any other way and the documentation produced is fake. It follows that I find that J is alive and that the mother and grandfather each know of her whereabouts whether it be the Congo, France or UK.
vi) I am satisfied that the grandfather’s relationship with his daughter is enmeshed and unhealthy at best and that the grandfather has shown on more than one occasion that he will not allow his daughter to move away from him and establish her own life. I am satisfied that he brought the mother’s relationship with the father to an end, wishing her to return to live him.
vii) Similarly, I am satisfied that he would not allow her to stay away in the Congo and that his relationship with her was more important to him than the fact that by bringing her back to England he was separating mother and child.
[I haven’t really gotten into the whole dynamic of the relationship between the mother and the grandfather, which is a whole other can of worms in the judgment – but the Judge had to look at whether this tissue of lies had been orchestrated by the mother alone…]
- The question then arises as to who masterminded this elaborate façade. In her assessment, prepared in the care proceedings and dated 29 July 2009, the social worker (J Cl) spoke to the mother on a number of occasions. She referred to the mother as appearing: “Distracted and disinterested in most of the questions and did not speak freely. Although she provided an answer to all of my questions, she provided short answers. I found it extremely difficult to draw her into free conversation. B was unable to maintain eye contact in the course of any of my sessions with her.”
- Those observations chimed with my own assessment of the mother during the course of her evidence. She was virtually monosyllabic. She was courteous and replied to the questions she was asked, but she was throughout completely flat, showing no emotion whatsoever, even when speaking of what, on her case, were the simply appalling events of 3 March 2012.
- In assessing this mother I bear in mind that whatever the truth of J’s death, she is a young woman who was abused and has been traumatised by her life experiences since she came to this foreign country at fourteen-years of age. In those circumstances it would not be right for me to use her demeanour as evidence against her assertion that J died as opposed to evidence of a deeply troubled young woman.
- It follows that I am satisfied that the grandfather has organised and manipulated events every step of the way. It should come as no surprise to the court that J was spirited away to the Congo. DN was sent back to the Congo to avoid the consequences of his having raped and impregnated his half-sister and I have no doubt that the mother would have been sent back to the Congo had the police not acted on the tip-off after the grandfather’s arrest for rape. Throughout the papers one can see the grandfather’s manipulative hand. He is there at each appointment, making arrangements, organising things and was, and I am satisfied remains, in complete control of every aspect of his daughter’s life.
- The grandfather as unrepresented Intervener has played a full part in the proceedings. He has been courteous and polite throughout. On one level he gave plausible evidence, although his self-centred approach was apparent at every turn. He was considerably more animated than the mother, particularly towards the end of his submissions when he was bordering on tears but tears of self-pity in relation to the effect the proceedings had had upon him. This was in contrast to the way in which he spoke of the death of J, in positively callous manner, saying that the hearing of her death had “spoilt my day, spoilt my shift at work” and saying, quite brutally, that once J was dead he had destroyed everything about her, including any photographs he may have had.
- I am satisfied that the grandfather knows of the whereabouts of J and that he could organise, if he so chose, to ensure her return to the UK, her country of habitual residence immediately. Accordingly, I find that J is alive and will make a raft of orders designed to ensure her return to this country as soon as practicable.
I know that private law proceedings can get vitriolic, and even have false allegations thrown around, but telling a father that his daughter is dead sets something of a new low.