Gibbs v Gibbs 2017
This was an application by the father of a child (who by 2017 had turned 18) to commit the mother to prison for breaching court orders, notably about publishing allegations that mother had made within the private law proceedings but had never been found to be proven.
The private law proceedings have a dreadful history, set out by Hayden J, going back to 2001 and only ending in 2004.
A Consent Order was placed before the Court which was scrutinised by the Judge in a short judgment which has been transcribed and filed in this application. The preface to the order records that it was acknowledged specifically by the mother ‘that she was afforded the opportunity to pursue the allegations but did not seek to do so’. Secondly, it was recorded that the mother:
“accepts that by not raising any allegations of emotional, physical or sexual abuse against Mr Gibbs the contact between [B] and her father should proceed on the basis that all the allegations are unfounded”
6.Thirdly, the Order recorded that the mother ‘should not seek to raise any allegations of emotional, physical or sexual abuse against the Reverend Gibbs in any other forum with any other person or body and specifically including Mr Gibb’s employers’, the Methodist Church. Finally, it was expressly acknowledged that ‘contact between the younger child B and her father should proceed on the basis of the concessions made by the mother that day’.
7.Though the case had in effect settled, by the agreement of the parties, Mr Justice Munby nonetheless delivered a short judgment. Aspects of that judgment require to be highlighted:
“The advice which mother has received and the decision which the mother has taken seem to me to be entirely appropriate in the circumstances. These matters must now once and for all finally be laid to rest. That, as I understand it, is the basis on which I am being invited to approve this order. I am sure that I do not have to say this, but it is important for the parties to appreciate that this is intended to be a final order which maps out into the foreseeable future the pattern of father’s contact with B and, equally importantly, B’s contact with her father.”
8.Later the Judge recorded that both the mother and father:
“have taken a brave decision, and a decision which in many respects and for different reasons must have been difficult for each of them, [they] are to be congratulated and thanked for agreeing to this order. I hope that each of them will join with me in thanking the lawyers collectively, and indeed the other professionals involved, whose input and assistance I have little doubt has done much to bring this about. ”
9.There was therefore no doubt that the mother had received clear advice, that it was identifiably, on the available evidence, correct, and that the understanding of the parties as to the significance of the order was investigated and established to the satisfaction of the Judge.
At the end of the proceedings in 2004, Ryder J (as he then was) made a Prohibited Steps Order that prevented the mother publishing her allegations about the father (she having had ample opportunity to present those allegations before the Court and seek findings and having always declined to do so – almost certainly because they had no substance or merit and were utterly incapable of being proved) and attached a penal notice to them.
It appears that in 2017, the mother realised that the Prohibited Steps Order and penal notice were no longer in force, as the child was now 18, and thus sent out thousands of emails making allegations about the father.
17.From early in 2017 and perhaps for a little time before that, the mother had begun to step up her campaign of vilification against the father. She issued a raft of emails to thousands of individuals all of which either accused the father directly of physical, sexual and emotional abuse or inferred in the most unsubtle of ways that he was an abuser. The father had undoubtedly become used to his character being traduced by the mother in this way but this bombardment against his reputation was, as the mother herself frankly acknowledges, beyond anything that she had undertaken before. She had, she told me, visited her lawyer ‘some time in approximately 2014’. She discovered that the prohibited steps order made in the Children Act proceedings was not life long, as she had understood it to be but in fact expired when B turned 18 years of age. This in part explains, in my view, the liberation she felt in being able to pursue her campaign more vigorously.
18.In contemporary society it is difficult to think of any allegation against a man or a woman which attracts greater public opprobrium than one of sexual abuse against a child. Where these allegations are proved that public censure is entirely understandable. Here allegations are not proved. The responsibility of mature adults is to take such complaints seriously, but to avoid rushing prematurely to judgement. The Reverend Gibbs believes that, faced with the onslaught of his ex wife’s allegations, his Church, his friends and his colleagues have done precisely that, moved ultimately to judgement against him. They have, he believes, succumbed to the openly malevolent objectives of his ex wife to discredit him publicly and to attack his position in the Church.
19.Mrs Gibbs does not deny any of this. She accepts that she sent the emails, she asserts, unequivocally that she does not think her husband should be part of the Church. She believes that there has been ‘perjury’ and ‘sexual abuse’ and she believe it is her bounden duty to expose that, notwithstanding the history of the litigation that I have taken time to set out.
20.Like DJ Hayes, now 16 years ago, I have no doubt that the mother has come to believe that what she asserts is true. Again, it requires to be said: neither of the party’s children, both well into adulthood, has ever made a complaint to the police or been subject to investigative ABE interview; neither has appeared before, or presented written evidence to a Court alleging abuse. There is no extraneous medical evidence pointing to abuse. Mrs Gibbs, when represented, as I have said, by experienced counsel before a judge of this division, readily accepted that the evidence before the court could not, even on the civil standard of proof, establish a finding. At risk of repeating myself: there has been no finding of sexual abuse; no finding of perjury against the father; no evidence produced either in 2003 or in the years that followed that would be likely to establish such findings.
The father made an application to the Family Court, both for permission for he himself to be able to produce material from the family Court proceedings to show that there had been no suspicion or findings that he had abused his children, and also to obtain an order to make the mother stop doing this.
Up to that point, the mother had cleverly exploited a loophole and could not be punished for her behaviour. But once the order was made, she had to then comply with it because the loophole had been closed. This is where mother made a dreadful error, because within 24 hours of Roberts J making an order to stop mother’s behaviour
On 19th June Mrs Gibbs appeared (in person) before Roberts J in response to the father’s application for permission to disclose material from the Children Act Proceeding into the public domain and to prohibit the mother from further defamatory publication. Paragraphs 10 and 11 of the Orders made that day, which were reinforced by penal notices, state:
10: Until further order, the Respondent must not disclose, disseminate, or publish any information about these proceedings concerning the Applicant, or any proceedings in the Family Court that have involved the parties, and any allegations made within the context of proceedings in the Family Court, whether by print, electronic form, or on the world wide web and should not instruct, encourage or in any way suggest that another person should do so.
11: Until further order, the Respondent shall not copy any third party into her correspondence with the Applicant’s solicitor, save her own legal advisor.
She had breached that order
22.These provisions make it clear that the respondent (mother) must not disclose or publish any information generated from any Family Court proceedings. The objective of the order was to disable Mrs Gibbs from further denigrating the father’s reputation. She is unapologetic about what happened thereafter. Within 24 hours of Roberts J’s order Mrs Gibbs was barraging rafts of individuals with her unsubstantiated allegations. There were, by 6.45am on 20th June, a hundred further recipients to her allegations. The schedule below sets out the breaches of the order, each of which is admitted by Mrs Gibbs.
In respect of paragraph 10
i) Email at 06:45 on 20.06.17 to circa 100 recipients (at C309-C310);
ii) Email at 07:08 on 20.06.17 to Rev Horton and copied to circa 100 others (at C311);
iii) Email at 20:11 on 20.06.17 to Mrs Poxon and copied to circa 100 others (at C332-C333);
iv) Email at 20:16 on 20.06.17 to President of Methodist Conference and copied to circa 100 others (at C334-C335);
v) Email at 06:56 on 21.06.17 to Prof Jay and copied to circa 100 others (at C324-C325);
vi) Email at 07:05 on 21.06.17 to George Freeman MP and copied to circa 100 others (at C326-C327);
vii) Email at 22:58 on 21.06.17 to President of the Methodist Conference and copied to circa 100 others (at C336-C337);
viii) Email at 08:43 on 22.06.17 to circa 100 recipients (at C338-C339);
ix) Email at 02:39 on 23.06.17to circa 100 recipients (at C340-C341);
x) Email at 03:00 on 23.06.17 to Mrs Poxon and copied to circa 100 others (at C342-C344);
xi) Email at 06:47 on 23.06.17 to Mrs Poxon and copied to circa 100 others (at C344-C345);
xii) Email at 11.23 on 24.06.17 to Rev Horton and copied to 100 others (at C346-C347);
xiii) Email at 16:45 on 24.06.17 to Mrs Poxon and copied to 100 others (at C348-C349);
xiv) Email at 05:57 PM on 24:06.17 to circa 100 recipients (at C329-C330);
xv) Email at 17:36 on 25.06.17 to circa 100 recipients (C355-C356);
xvi) Email at 17:43 on 25.06.17 to Mrs Poxon and circulated to circa 100 others (C357-C358);
xvii) Email at 18:42 on 25.06.17 to circa 100 recipients (C359-C360);
xviii) Email at 06:14 on 26.06.17 to circa 100 recipients (C352-C354).
In respect of paragraph 11
xix) Email at 20:00 on 20.06.17 to Applicant’s Solicitor and copied to circa 100 others (at C321);
xx) Email at 06:41 on 21.06.17 to Applicant’s Solicitor and copied to circa 100 others (at C322-C323);
xxi) Email at 07:36 on 22.06.17 to Applicant’s Solicitor and copied to circa 100 others (at C328);
xxii) Email at 17:57 on 25.06.17 to Applicant’s solicitor and copied to 105 others (at C350-C351).
That put her at risk of a custodial sentence. Hayden J told her that she was entitled to free legal representation, and she declined it. He told her that he did not want to send her to prison and that an alternative would be for her to genuinely promise not to do this in the future and stick to it, she refused.
23.Mrs Gibbs appears before me today unrepresented. I have advised her at least twice that I have it within my power to order that criminal legal aid be provided so that she can be represented by counsel. She does not, she tells me, wish to be represented by counsel. She only wants to explain to me that it is her duty to stand up to what she perceives to be perjury. She has looked at the core material with me, she has been sent the bundle of documentation in advance, though she has not brought it with her to court. She tells me, she hardly needs it for she ‘has lived it’ and most of the documents relate to material drafted and sent by her.
24.This is an application to commit her to prison for breach of those orders. The breaches are not contested. Instinctively, the last thing I would want to do would be to send Mrs Gibbs to prison. I advised her of the options available to this court, one of which was to suspend a sentence of imprisonment on her undertaking that she would comply with Roberts J’s order. She declined to do so unless, as she put it, and I repeat verbatim, “This court could give assurance that it can require a judicial review of the background facts of the case.”
25.This case has been exhaustively litigated. Three senior judges have reviewed the scope of the protective framework, and Mrs Gibbs has flagrantly undermined or actively disobeyed Court Orders. She tells me that she has come to Court expecting to go to prison and is ‘happy, proud, and completely at peace to be in contempt of court’. In an email directed to the President of the Family Division she states ‘short of killing me or having me killed, you will not silence me…’
Even after sentencing her to prison for 9 months, Hayden J explained to her that she could apply to purge her contempt (i.e say sorry, promise not to do it again and go free) and she declined
this. Hayden J says “I do not find it necessary to repeat her defiant response”
[I know that I’m going to get comments about ‘gagging’ and ‘free speech’ and that she was sent to prison for speaking ‘the truth’ and for trying to protect her children. I would have no love for father if he had done what mother accused him of. But he obviously hasn’t. IF HE HAD, there’s no way that the mother would have agreed over and over again to drop the allegations against him. Please read the portions of the judgment that make it really clear that this mother had had many opportunities to place evidence of abuse before the Court and failed to do so time after time. And imagine for a moment being in the shoes of a father who has done nothing wrong, but is finding thousands of poison pen letters circulating to almost everyone he has ever met accusing him of the most dreadful things you can contemplate. You can accuse anyone of anything in a Court hearing and be free of libel – make your allegations and have the evidence for them tested. But don’t pass up that opportunity and write poison pen letters]