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child abduction and child abuse

The case of Neustadt v Neustadt (child abduction) 2014 is an interesting and desperately sad one

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/4307.html

 

The bare bones of it are that there were two boys, Daniel aged 8 and Jakob aged 6. Their father, who was Russian, took them to Russia on Christmas Day 2012 and it took 2 1/2 years for the mother to get them back, including having had to litigate in the Russian Courts.

 

The wider aspect of the case is probably in the name of it – although the case relates to child abduction and a state of affairs by the father which the Judge described as child abuse and brainwashing, the family’s real name is published.

That is unusual, and many readers might well be wondering why it is okay to do that in this case, but children’s names have to be anonymised in other court cases.

  1. The above judgment was handed down to the parties on 26 November, with a request for submissions on the question of publication. The response of the mother and the Children’s Guardian, represented by CAFCASS Legal, is to support publication in un-anonymised form. The father does not oppose publication in all circumstances, but suggests that the issue should be deferred until welfare decisions about the children have been made. He argues that there is a high likelihood of an adverse impact of publication on the fairness of the proceedings and on the children’s welfare and that the issue would be easier to judge at the end of the proceedings.
  2. I agree with the submission for the mother and the Guardian that there is a public interest in the true circumstances of this case being known, for these reasons: (i) The parties’ accounts of events have already been widely published in England and in Russia. The true facts should be known, particularly where misinformation has been published by one party.

    (ii) This is apparently the first case under the 1996 Hague Convention. It shows the importance of the Convention, the willingness and ability of the courts of the Russian Federation to apply it, and the results that can be achieved when lawyers work together across jurisdictions.

    (iii) Knowledge of the outcome in this case may encourage the adult victims of other child abductions and deter potential child abductors, especially if the latter know that they might be publicly named.

  3. Like the Children’s Guardian, I do not consider that any serious or lasting disadvantage will come to the children from further publication. The existing publicity does not seem to have had any adverse effect on them.
  4. It is clear that an anonymised judgment cannot be published as the identity of the family would immediately be obvious.
  5. The only remaining question is whether publication should be delayed, as the father suggests. I understand the general argument that in some situations publicity could put pressure on professional assessors, or even on the court, but I do not accept it on the facts of this case. The welfare assessment that will now take place will be carried out by experienced professionals. The court’s welfare decision will not be influenced by publicity. The British media has reported the case responsibly and in my view nothing is to be gained from postponement. On the contrary it is in the interests of the family that its time in the public eye begins, and thus ends, as soon as possible.
  6. Accordingly, this judgment can be published as it stands.

 

There were some dreadful details in this. One theme which kept emerging was the father taunting the mother in a very literary way.

On 22 January, the father e-mailed a poem by Nietzsche to the mother. It is entitled “Vereinsampt” [“Alone”]. The mother correctly interpreted this as the father crowing

 

and

On 7 March, the father ordered a book online that was delivered to the mother a few days later. This was “Glory” by Nabokov, which describes a Russian émigré who re-enters Russia secretly and succeeds in keeping his whereabouts unknown from family and friends.

 

I don’t think I have come across a case before where the menacing communication was by way of literary allusion, and a set of Cliff study guides would have been of assistance

The father had gone to extraordinary lengths with these children

The children lived in these bizarre and unlawful circumstances between November 2013 and June 2014. The only reliable source of information about how they were treated comes from their later accounts to their mother. They have told her that there were many rules of life. They were told that they were being hunted by violent “bandits” who were trying to kidnap them and that she was in the gang. They could only go outdoors one at a time so that no one would see both boys together. They were not allowed to go out on the same day. They were not allowed to look out of windows. On one occasion they had to crouch down in a car. They were given different names. They could not go to school. They were coached to say why they did not want to live with their mother.

 

 

 

  • 90The mother says that the protracted collection was “horrific”, despite what she describes as the very professional approach of the authorities. The father was out and the grandmother, who had stayed with the children, did everything she could to obstruct the process. Her behaviour included:
    • Refusing to open the door until the bailiff started to drill off the locks.
    • Grabbing the children and inciting them to panic by shouting phrases that the children repeated in a monotonous drone: “No, no, no! Mummy is bad!” “They don’t want to go to England, they want to stay in Russia!” The children later told their mother that they were doing what they had practised.
    • Refusing to release the children and smacking the mother’s hand when she tried to touch and reassure them.
  • Refusing to hand over the children’s passports.

 

and

On 4 July, the father wrote an article in a Russian online newspaper, describing the children’s “forcible seizure” and saying that:

“There are about 15 people in plainclothes who took part in the taking away of the children, among them were foreigners dressed as members of a US-centric religious organisation, as well as a bailiff brought by them, who refused to produce any documents for the removal of children, but explained that he was contacted by the USA Embassy and ordered to use force. … The persons who broke into the flat used force towards the children and dragged them away by force, parting them from their father and grandmother against the children’s will. The children resisted in every possible way, cried, screamed that they wanted to live in Russia with their father and would never agree to leave for the USA or England. The children, who think of Russia as their Motherland, were irremediably traumatised by such fascist punitive squad’s methods.

The children are Russian citizens; they are fully integrated in Russia, their only native language is Russian … My children and I are Russian citizens, who legally returned to Russia in 2012. … There were numerous offers of amicable settlement suggested to the foreign party, but they were fully ignored under the pressure of Russophobe milieu of the children’s mother. The father is the only legal representative of the children in Russia, and children love Russia and the Russian culture very much.

I am requesting that all mass media, Russian authorities and human rights activists should assist in the immediate search for and discovery of children’s whereabouts … in prevention of children’s isolation from their father and their removal to the USA via England. In case of such removal and full isolation from their father in the foreign-speaking environment, the children will suffer another psychological trauma which will haunt them their entire life.”

 

The Judge’s findings were powerful and moving

 

  1. My findings
  2. These three children have been habitually resident in England and Wales since January 2011. After their parents’ separation, the arrangements for them to live with their mother and spend time with their father were carefully negotiated by the parents and approved by the court.
  3. The father’s removal of the children was an abduction, not a retention. I reject his evidence that he only decided to keep them after they arrived in Russia. When he took the children from London, he had no intention of returning them. He had planned it for months, lulling the mother into a false sense of security so that she would agree to the holiday he proposed.
  4. The father’s characterisation of Daniel Jakob and Jonathan as Russian children is a self-indulgent delusion. Of course they have a Russian parent, albeit he himself has lived most of his adult life elsewhere. But until December 2012, when they were aged 6½ and 4½, the boys had always lived in Switzerland and England. They had never even visited Russia. Their Russian heritage is important, but it has been played upon by the father because it is the one thing that he can offer that the mother cannot.
  5. Having successfully got hold of the children, the father set about strengthening his position by engaging in a series of cynical manoeuvres, delaying tactics and deceptions that he knew the mother would be powerless to oppose. He was only willing to accommodate her in the children’s lives if she came to live in Russia, where she would be under his control. When she would not agree, her access to the children was strictly limited, and then stopped altogether. In doing this, the father counted on his legal position in Russia being secure. I find that he intended to keep the children indefinitely, and was only frustrated by the determined actions of the Russian authorities.
  6. The father claims that his actions were influenced by Russian legal advice. I do not accept that he ever genuinely considered his position to be legitimate. He is a man who relies on advice that suits him and ignores advice that does not. He flouted every order of this court and when faced with orders of the Russian courts, he went underground. His excuse for this (danger from unidentified persons) is a bogus invention, but the children were not to know that. They were brainwashed into believing that they were being pursued by dangerous bandits, including their mother. The seriousness of this is not only measured by the length of the separation created by the father, but also by his willingness to root the mother out of the children’s lives. This was not just child abduction, it was child abuse.
  7. One of the father’s strategies has been to politicise the children’s situation for his own ends. He took to the Russian media in an attempt to whip up domestic political sentiment by means of deliberate lies, and he delayed the children’s return by obtaining a travel ban. He pursued his goal of keeping control of the children in every legal and illegal way he could devise.
  8. The children and their mother have been profoundly affected by these events. For a year and a half, their lives were turned upside down. The boys were separated from their mother and brother. They were forced to live a bizarre clandestine life, surrounded by lies and cut off from normal existence. It will take a long time for them to come to terms with these experiences.
  9. At this hearing, the father had the opportunity to show regret and insight. Unfortunately, by his written and oral evidence, his questioning of the mother, his submissions, and his decision not to attend the hearing in person, he showed that he has little appreciation of the impact of his actions on anyone else, including the children. The only person he seemed to be really sorry for was his mother. Throughout his evidence he was pedantic, unreliable and untruthful. When confronted methodically with the clearest evidence, his reaction was to misrepresent, prevaricate, minimise, extenuate and contest. There was no sign of any real remorse. So far, his apologies are no more than a means to an end, motivated by disadvantage and the failure of his grand plan. The mother’s perception of him, recorded above at paragraph 112, is in my view justified.
  10. Anyone meeting these parents without knowing the family history is liable to be misled – misled into underestimating past events by the mother’s extraordinary serenity and dignity, and misled into underestimating future risks by the father’s outward appearance of intelligence and courtesy. Given the sustained ruthlessness of his conduct, the risk of further alienation or abduction is high.
  11. The collusion by the father’s family increases those risks. The children’s uncle could have used his influence for good, but instead has chosen to support the father throughout. The grandmother’s conduct can only be described as unworthy of a grandparent.
  12. The next stage of these proceedings concerns the children’s future welfare. However harmful their father’s behaviour has been, he is an important figure for them. Unfortunately, he set about teaching them that they do not need two parents. It will take them time to unlearn that lesson.

 

Happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way

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About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

3 responses

  1. This father was obviously taught by UK social services as the similarities of persecution of those children are too similar to be coincidence.

  2. This man obviously has considerable talents for planning and action. How sad that he wastes them on damaging his family.

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