I know that I say a lot ‘this is an odd one’, but yep, this is an odd one.
Committal proceedings arising out of private law proceedings (where a mother and father are disputing arrangements for the children between themselves). There were allegations that the father was misusing drugs.
There were further allegations that the father was thwarting drug testing of his urine samples by
running the tap and placing the testing strip in hot water, stockpiling negative tests, or by carrying an orange squash solution which he would pour into the sample pot pretending it to be his urine.
Which reminds me both of Withnail’s cunning plan to procure a child’s urine so that he could drink drive and escape justice and of the Wire where Bubbles comes up with a similar plan to obtain a clean urine test from someone else for Johnny who was having to submit clean samples to escape prison, thwarted when Johnny reminds him ‘yo, Bubs, who the hell do we know who has clean urine?’
Anyway, within the proceedings, a hair strand test was directed. What happens next is a little odd.
13 As I indicated earlier, the father was due to file and serve the results of hair strand testing on 1 September 2019. That did not happen and there was a suspicion about that in terms of the lapse of time. Suspicions were heightened when father’s solicitor indicated in a telephone call that father himself was due to send him the report in short order.
14 It is unusual for a represented party to arrange the hair strand test themselves and, ordinarily, the results would be sent directly from the service, provided to the solicitor for onward circulation to the court and the parties. It came to be that the statement from Cellmark was eventually circulated by the father’s solicitors on 20 September 2019 and that statement was authorised by one Alistair Derrick, a forensic scientist employed by Cellmark. The statement is dated 10 September 2019 and outlined that the father provided a sample of hair on 6 September 2019 of 3.6cm in length. The result suggested that no substances were detected.
It’s a little odd, because normally the report comes TO the solicitor, who then sends it out to their client, rather than vice versa.
The mum, in full-on Wagatha Christie mode, spotted that the length of the hair sample was longer than dad’s hair….
15 There are a number of curious features about that report: namely indicating that the father’s hair samples were 3.6cm and that did not accord with observations by the mother in relation to his hair length at contact handovers. It was also odd that the father’s statement, circulated on 24 September 2019, made no reference whatsoever to the drug test results, which is a peculiar omission given that his progress of contact largely depended on whether he could provide evidence that he was drug-free.
16 Those suspicions, coupled with the mother’s knowledge of the father’s historical untruthfulness, led the mother to requesting that her solicitor contact Cellmark to establish whether the report they received was legitimate. To her dismay, and subsequently it became a substantial matter of concern to the Family Proceedings Court, the report circulated by the father was not the report prepared by them. The report they prepared, in fact dated 26 July 2019, related to a sample taken on 12 July 2019. The hair length was reported to be 1.5cm and the report confirmed that the result was positive for cocaine for the period covering the end of May 2019 to the end of June 2019.
In the words of Alexander O’Neal – you’re a fake baby, you can’t conceal it – know how I know? Cos I can feel it
It became apparent therefore, beyond doubt, that the father had resorted to the most extreme lengths by falsifying evidence for his own gain without any regard to the safety and welfare of Z. I observe, so far as the court is concerned, that this type of deception undermines the system and devalues and seriously undermines the court’s ability to protect children in these circumstances. It is a very serious issue.
18 There were a number of reports filed, and evidence filed subsequently, and it came to be that the father subsequently admitted that he did, in fact, change the witness statement of Alistair Derrick, and has described it as a serious error of judgment, and in these committal proceedings throughout has not tried to minimise his actions in any way and has been open in terms of what he has done and has shown true contrition and, furthermore, paid the mother’s legal costs throughout.
20 Matters came before the Family Proceedings Court on 1 October 2019 and there was an application to adjourn, and further directions were made for Cellmark to file their correct report of 26 July 2019, for a statement to be prepared by Alistair Derrick of Cellmark, and another statement from Cellmark in terms of the date of collection of the sample.
21 When the directions had been agreed in correspondence in advance of the hearing on 1 October 2019, the father subsequently admitted he had falsified the evidence and there was an attempt by him to retain the hearing as a final hearing, requesting that the lay justices consider this issue as part of their overall judgment. This application was, to all intents and purposes, a complete waste of time and the justices were sufficiently concerned about the matter to refer the matter to a Judge for the consideration of contempt proceedings.
22 So it came to be, as is made plain from the recitals of the Magistrates’ order of 1 October 2019, that the matter came before me, and father was directed to provide a statement. There was some difficulty, it was provided in manuscript; it should not have been. I put that to one side, it is a minor aggravation considering the serious issues in relation to this case.
23 Crucially, and this is the matter of public interest to which I alluded earlier; within his statement the father confirms that he amended the report using a programme called Adobe Acrobat Pro. He claims to have procrastinated for two months about what to do about the positive tests, yet he later suggested that he had acted suddenly. It matters not, because the fact of the matter is that he used this programme and altered the results.
The Judge found, and the father admitted, that he had committed contempt by falsifying these results. The Judge gave him a twelve month sentence, suspended for 12 months.
Z (A Child : committal proceeding)  EWFC B5 (24 January 2020)
Makes a change from the lab falsifying the results, anyway!