A committal hearing in relation to a grandfather
London Borough of Harrow v Afzal and Others 2014
I try to write on all committal hearings, not because each of them necessarily has a new key bit of law, but because I think that sending someone to prison for breaching a court order is a big deal, and that it is also important that people who might find themselves in this grandfather’s position can see what the consequences might be.
I try, when I can, not to argue in articles on committal whether the decision was right or wrong. I will leave that to others. The important thing, for me, is that people in this position know that breaching court orders can result in imprisonment, and that they make their decisions on an informed basis.
In this case, both parents had a long history of drug misuse, and the arrangement for the care of the baby was that the mother and baby would live at the home of the maternal grandparents, it being believed that the grandparents would act protectively and make sure that the baby was not exposed to harm.
On 16th January, the mother left the grandparents home. The father came to collect her in a car. The grandfather helped carry the baby buggy into the car. All of mother’s possessions were loaded into suitcases and taken in the car. This was all at 3.00am.
The grandfather’s evidence to the Court was that the mother had told him that she was going to a meeting with her social worker and that he had believed her.
The family Court made an order on 24th January 2014, containing these provisions :-
the grandparents should take all steps within their control to ensure that Farah is returned immediately to the jurisdiction of England and Wales.
- Further, that they must immediately on service of this order provide to the London Borough of Harrow Social Services Department all information relating to the whereabouts of the child, Farah, which is presently within his or her knowledge or control. Further, during the period that this order remains in force, each of them must provide all information relating to the whereabouts of the child to the Local Authority where it comes into his or her possession and control after service of this order as soon as is practicable after receipt of the information
After that hearing evidence came to light that later that day 24th January, the grandfather sent money to his daughter, £500, to Barcelona in Spain. On 30th January, the grandmother sent a further £500 to her daughter in Barcelona.
The idea that this grandfather would be told by his daughter that they were visiting social workers at three o’clock in the morning is utterly absurd and totally incredible, and I conclude that the grandfather is lying. I asked him why, when given that alleged explanation, he did not ask his daughter why they were taking the baby with them at three o’clock in the morning. He could not answer, despite being given repeated opportunities to do so.
I have found the grandfather to lie on many material aspects. He claims not to recall, or be confused about, the events of 16 January and other occasions. Again, I do not believe him. I do not believe that this grandfather would not clearly remember the events of 16 January. Given my findings in respect of the grandfather and his evidence, I consider him to be a totally unreliable witness and to be a dishonest one. He has lied to me repeatedly on serious matters. I ask myself rhetorically: what reasons might he have for lying? There is, in my judgment, only one reason why he is lying, and that is to protect his daughter and to prevent their whereabouts being discovered and, most importantly of all, the baby, Farah, being returned to this jurisdiction. I am satisfied so that I am sure that the grandfather is lying. I am satisfied so that I am sure that he knows the location of the mother, the father and the child. I am satisfied so that I am sure that he is withholding highly material evidence from this court. Accordingly, I have not the slightest hesitation in finding him to be in contempt of court. That is my judgment.
The sentence for contempt was 28 days imprisonment, with an indication that the grandfather would be likely to serve 14 days.