Contact handovers are often pretty fraught affairs. Getting through airport security and getting on a plan can also be a pretty fraught affair. If you combine the TWO, AND you have one person who is more than happy for the children not to get on the plane and who has got there as late as possible, that’s a toxic combination.
Re P (A child :Enforcement of contact order) 2015 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/B9.html
The reason for the airport is because the father lives in Sweden, and he comes to England to collect the children and then take them to Sweden for his contact. As the Judge remarked, the fact that he had made 37 flights to England in a year was illustrative that he was committed to spending time with his children.
- The events of 22nd May 2015
- The flight booked for the children and father to fly to Sweden left from Z Airport at around 6:30pm. Boarding closed at 6:10pm. The father was waiting at an agreed place at the airport and began sending texts enquiring as to the children’s late arrival from about 5:00pm. The father indicates, and the mother accepts, that she generally arrives at about 5:40pm. She insisted that a 5:40pm arrival was entirely realistic for a 6:30pm flight. In any event, the mother told me she could not be any earlier as she and her husband had to collect the children from school at 3:30pm, arrange for them to change and then to drive from school to Z Airport. She complained that the father should have booked a later flight. I accept his evidence that such a flight would involve changing planes, for example, at Copenhagen and this was the latest direct flight from Z Airport.
- However, on this occasion and contrary to her evidence to this effect, the mother did not even arrive at 5:40pm. It may be that she was in the vicinity of the airport at 5:40pm, but it is clear from the texts sent by the father at that point in time, which he was able to produce, asking where she was, that she was not at the agreed meeting point. I accept the father’s evidence that she arrived around 6:00pm. By this stage, the father was highly and rightly anxious about missing the flight since he and the children still had security and passport control to navigate in a large, busy airport. I find that this is the pattern for the handover at the airport with the children and father usually having to run so as to avoid missing their flight. I reject the mother’s insistence that, “They were not too late. They still had half an hour to board the plane.” My sense was that the mother was resentful as to the detail of the arrangements, was not troubled by her late arrival and was making no effort to facilitate the speedy handover of the children, saying they were “upset as usual.”
- I cannot be sure of all the precise details, but, in summary, the mother did not exhibit any sense of urgency. The father became increasingly frustrated. The mother’s husband saw fit to intervene. Eventually, the father took hold of both children by the hand and began to try to get them through the security barriers. The mother objected and began shouting and screaming. Airport staff intervened and called the police. The children were hugely distressed. When asked in the presence of their mother if they wanted to go with their father, they said no and the police left them with their mother. By that stage, of course, the children and father had missed their flight in any event.
- The mother in her written statement and in her oral evidence insisted that the children were made the subject of a police protection order:
“The police protection order was to last until 31st May, during which time E was to have no contact with the children.”
At this point, every single lawyer in the country is thinking that the mother is a liar.
The Judge explains why
The granting of a police protection order pursuant to s.46 of the Children Act is a formal process governed by detailed procedural requirements, none of which the mother was able to evidence. Of course, a police protection order can as matter of law only last for a maximum of 72 hours and not nine days. On the evidence currently before me, the “police protection order” was a fiction of the mother’s imagination. It is no coincidence that this supposed order covers the whole of the period during which the children were supposed to be with their father in Sweden. I note the mother’s complaint that, “Even during this time the father was trying to call and Skype the children.”
Obviously, the whole situation must have been horrible, and the Court acknowledge that, whilst understanding that the father had been sorely provoked.
I do not find the father entirely blameless for the distressing scene at the airport, but understand the pressures he found himself placed under with the flight closing. On balance, I find that this scene was largely instigated by the mother’s behaviour. I do not accept that the children were inherently unwilling to go to Sweden, more that they were understandably confused and terribly upset by the behaviour of their parents.
It doesn’t reflect terribly well on mother that the children are basically travelling with no possessions at all, not even a change of clothes.
I was, for example, astonished to learn, very much in passing when I enquired about collection arrangements, that on the father’s visits, whether in the UK or Sweden, the children are sent in, literally, the clothes in which they stand up and with their passports in their hand: no change of clothing, no favourite toys, nothing to cuddle, no books, not even a toothbrush. When the father visits the UK, he is obliged to bring those items with him on the plane from Sweden. The same situation applies even when the children stay with him for four weeks during summer holidays The message this sends to the children as to the totally separate existences they have with each parent is deeply unfortunate and unhealthy. It is compounded by the mother’s refusal to speak to the father at points of handover. The reason she gave was, “I cannot bear to be near him.”
The Judge doesn’t say this, and I don’t normally go further than the Judge, but this is SHABBY.
There are features of this case that suggest to me that mother is inching towards the Court losing patience and sanctioning a change of residence if she continues on this path of frustrating contact and not complying with Court orders.
- I simply do not accept the mother’s florid descriptions of the children complaining desperately that they do not want to go to see their father. That is a repetition of the evidence which was demonstrably and comprehensively undermined by the findings of the CAFCASS officer, Mr Power, in his report dated 24th May 2012. If, which I doubt, the children do express such views to her, the most probable explanation is their understanding of her hostility to the father and their desire to please her, their primary carer. I prefer the father’s evidence that the children are loving and affectionate with him, enjoy the time that they spend together and are happy and relaxed with him and his family.
- In July 2014, the mother made allegations of sexual abuse against two girls who are friends of B in Sweden. Those allegations were taken seriously by the Swedish police and social work authorities and both girls and their parents have been interviewed. The Swedish authorities found no basis upon which any action could or should be taken. I found the mother’s attempts to blacken the father’s character by insisting that he approved of sexual relationships between young children unconvincing, bearing in mind that such an allegation has never been made before. The evidence, such as it is, does not come close to persuading me that B has been sexually abused.
I thank my lucky stars that I no longer have to deal with private law contact cases and handovers. It always meant that I spent the whole of Friday afternoon on the phone with (a) clients who wanted to cancel weekend contact for really spurious reasons and telling them not to do it and (b) clients who had just had their weekend contact cancelled for really spurious reasons and having to ring the other side and get it back up and running.