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Category Archives: fact finding

Cross-examining alleged victim without a lawyer

 

Readers may remember a long-running issue about the fact that in crime, an alleged perpetrator of rape is banned from cross-examining the alleged victim whereas we have ended up in private family law of that being something that is not only not banned but cropping up more and more as an issue, because the Government cut legal aid.  Readers might also remember that following a campaign in the Guardian, the Lord Chancellor at that time declared that legislation would be introduced to fix that problem. The draft legislation was drawn up, and then the Government decided to embark on the Greatest Political Idea of All Time TM, in which in order to increase their working majority, they held an election years early and converted said working majority into a hung Parliament.

I’m afraid that I can’t see the draft legislation now for all of the long grass that it is hiding within. Anyone in the Press want to remind the Government that they promised to fix this mess and haven’t?

 

Apologies in advance for pedants – the law report uses McKenzie Friend and MacKenzie Friend completely interchangeably and nobody in the Court of Appeal seems to have corrected this.  It should be Mc, NOT Mac.  /Furiously checks document

This is an appeal where the father in a set of private law proceedings was accused of having raped the mother and he denied it. He did not have a lawyer, but did have a McKenzie Friend. Should the McKenzie Friend have been given rights of audience and allowed to cross-examine the mother?

 

 

Panini McKenzie Friend stickers album – “Got, got, need, got, oh NEEED”

 

(actually, the sticker should have been one of Duncan’s friends, not Mr McKenzie himself….)

 

Re J (Children) 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/115.html

  1. There was no objection to the father having the assistance of a Mackenzie Friend and no objection to the identity of the particular Mackenzie Friend involved who, indeed, the judge described as “obviously a very experienced Mackenzie Friend”. The issue related to what, if any, rights of audience the Mackenzie Friend might be afforded.
  2. It is now well known that difficulties exist where challenge is made by a litigant in person, who is identified as the perpetrator of serious abuse, and that challenge falls to be put in cross-examination to the key witnesses who support those allegations. The case law on this topic was developing during the currency of the present proceedings and, by July 2015, this court had given judgment in the case of Re K and H (Children) [2015] EWCA Civ 543 which rejected the suggestion that there was jurisdiction in the court to direct that HMCTS, or indeed any other agency, should provide public funding for limited legal representation. HHJ Allweis noted that decision and rehearsed the key details of it in his short judgment. He noted that ‘the case is a difficult one in which, in extremely broad terms, the parents make serious allegations against each other’. He focused upon the application for rights of audience for his McKenzie Friend made by this father in these proceedings at paragraph 15 of that judgment in these terms:
    1. “15. The idea of a McKenzie Friend, however articulate and experienced, either cross-examining a parent accusing a partner of serious sexual violence or indeed serious physical violence, or even of cross-examining the parties’ 16 year old child if in due course X gives evidence against his father, is highly unpalatable and this court would be very disturbed by that prospect. [The McKenzie Friend] has suggested that he has been given rights of audience frequently by judges and I pressed him as to whether this had ever happened in Greater Manchester. In effect he said that it had not and that there may be geographical differences. I told him in no uncertain terms that I have never come across it in Greater Manchester and this court, of course, is one of the busiest, if not the busiest, family court in the country.”
  3. The judge then reminded himself of the relevant practice guidance on McKenzie Friends ([2010] 2 FLR 962), in which the President, at paragraph 4, states that McKenzie Friends may not, inter alia, “address the court, make oral submissions or examine witnesses”.
  4. The judge refused the application saying:
    1. “19. At the end of the day, for the reasons I have given, the application is refused. I contemplate with profound disquiet, and that is putting it pretty mildly if I may say so, the prospect of a McKenzie Friend, in effect with rights of audience, cross-examining a mother in relation to serious and complex allegations, let alone a teenage child of the parties if and when X gives evidence so the application is refused.”

 

 

What ended up happening in the case is that the finding of fact hearing never took place, because of the anxieties the Court had about how the mother could be questioned about these events. By the conclusion of the private law proceedings, the children were expressing very strong views about their father

 

  1. The judge provided an extensive summary of the NYAS worker’s report which recorded that the children were “extremely loyal to their mother” and adamantly against contact. So far as A is concerned the judge said:
    1. ‘A gave [NYAS worker] a statement he had prepared and said no-one had read. He would be delighted to give evidence against his father. Despite what he said, it appeared later in the report that the children, which really means A and B, had written at the suggestion of their mother acting on advice from her solicitor. … What I do note is that A’s statement … even assuming that what A was saying factually was true, is a very disturbing document to read. It has the imprint of his mother’ accusations. However, even allowing for the possibility of him imbibing unquestioningly all his mother had said, he nevertheless presents as an intelligent and fiercely independent young man’.

The judgment continues by describing the content of the statement the force of A’s negative opinion of the father that is expressed within it, before recording the judge’s overall opinion that the statement

‘is an extremely distressing read – I am not sure I have seen such a vitriolic condemnation of a parent by a teenager for many a long year.’

  1. The judge’s detailed summary of the children’s wishes and feelings, as described by the NYAS worker, continued by setting out B’s wishes, which were in line with his older brother. The youngest child, C, was also ‘clear that she did not want to see’ her father. The judge’s account of her wishes includes the following:
    1. ‘She wrote that she wanted all the bad things dad had caused to go away. She wished they had never gone to the refuge and she wished she did not have nightmares about dad. She did not want to see him EVER (ever in capital letters). No-one could drag her kicking and screaming to see her father. On the second visit she was even more emotional and angry.’

 

At the Court of Appeal, the father had the assistance of his McKenzie Friend and the Court of Appeal were complimentary about the help that the McKenzie Friend had given to the Court.

 

  1. For some time now the Court of Appeal has normally granted rights of audience to a bona fide McKenzie Friend. The experience of doing so has been very largely positive in that those McKenzie Friends who have taken on the role of advocate have done so in a manner which has assisted both the court and the individual litigant, as, indeed, was the case in the present appeal. Although it may have become the norm at this appellate level to grant rights of audience, that should not greatly impact upon the altogether different issue of rights of audience at first instance, particularly in a fully contested hearing. Assisting a litigant to marshal and present arguments on appeal is a wholly different task from acting in the role of counsel in a trial.

 

The Court of Appeal recognised the vexed issues that this case threw up.

 

  1. Direct questioning of an alleged victim by the alleged perpetrator has long been considered to be a highly undesirable prospect by family judges. It was contemplation of that process which led Roderic Wood J to flag the problem up in the first place in H v L & R. In Q v Q and in Re K and H, the need to look for alternative acceptable means for cross examination led to the court sanctioning orders against HMCTS. It is clear that the experience of those judges who have felt forced to permit direct questioning from an alleged abuser is extremely negative. In very recent times Hayden J, in Re A (above) has concluded that, following his experience in that case, he is not prepared to contemplate repeating the process in any subsequent case. Hayden J’s clear and eloquent observations deserve wide publication:
    1. ’57. As I have made clear above it was necessary, in this case, to permit F to conduct cross examination of M directly. A number of points need to be highlighted. Firstly, F was not present in the Courtroom but cross examined by video link. Secondly, M requested and I granted permission for her to have her back to the video screen in order that she did not have to engage face to face with F. Thirdly, F barely engaged with M’s allegations of violence, choosing to conduct a case which concentrated on undermining M’s credibility (which as emerges above was largely unsuccessful).

58. Despite these features of the case, I have found it extremely disturbing to have been required to watch this woman cross examined about a period of her life that has been so obviously unhappy and by a man who was the direct cause of her unhappiness. M is articulate, educated and highly motivated to provide a decent life for herself and her son. She was represented at this hearing by leading and junior counsel and was prepared to submit to cross examination by her husband in order that the case could be concluded. She was faced with an invidious choice.

59. Nothing of what I have said above has masked the impact that this ordeal has had on her. She has at times looked both exhausted and extremely distressed. M was desperate to have the case concluded in order that she and A could effect some closure on this period of their lives and leave behind the anxiety of what has been protracted litigation.

60. It is a stain on the reputation of our Family Justice system that a Judge can still not prevent a victim being cross examined by an alleged perpetrator. This may not have been the worst or most extreme example but it serves only to underscore that the process is inherently and profoundly unfair. I would go further it is, in itself, abusive. For my part, I am simply not prepared to hear a case in this way again. I cannot regard it as consistent with my judicial oath and my responsibility to ensure fairness between the parties.’

  1. Hayden J’s words demand respect, both because they come for a highly experienced family lawyer and judge, but also because of the force with which they were expressed following immediately upon first-hand experience of observing an alleged victim being directly cross examined by her alleged perpetrator and despite the significant degree of protection the court had sought to provide for her.

 

 

In deciding whether the Judge was wrong to refuse the McKenzie Friend rights of audience to conduct the cross-examination of the mother, the Court of Appeal decided that he was not

 

  1. In between the option of direct questioning from the alleged abuser and the alternative of questioning by the judge sits the possibility of affording rights of audience to an alleged abuser’s McKenzie Friend so that he or she may conduct the necessary cross examination. The possibility of a McKenzie Friend acting as an advocate is not referred to in PD12J and, as has already been noted, the guidance on McKenzie Friends advises that, generally, courts should be slow to afford rights of audience. For my part, in terms of the spectrum of tasks that may be undertaken by an advocate, cross examination of a witness in the circumstances upon which this judgment is focussed must be at the top end in terms of sensitivity and importance; it is a forensic process which requires both skill and experience of a high order. Whilst it will be a matter for individual judges in particular cases to determine an application by a McKenzie Friend for rights of audience in order to cross examine in these circumstances, I anticipate that it will be extremely rare for such an application to be granted.

  1. For the reasons that were given earlier, if the complaint in Ground ‘B’ is that the McKenzie Friend should have been permitted rights of audience in order to cross examine the mother and A, I do not consider that the judge’s decision is open to challenge on any basis. Such an application should rarely, if ever, be granted. The material before us falls short of establishing that there was a blanket policy in place in Manchester prohibiting the grant of rights of audience to McKenzie Friends to cross examine key witnesses. If the judge’s observations are no more than a report that, from his knowledge, such an application had never been granted in Manchester, then, on the basis of the view that I have expressed, that would not be surprising.
  2. If, on the other hand, the judge can be taken to have refused any rights of audience to the McKenzie Friend, on the basis that the local practice was never to grant any form of rights of audience, then, again for the reasons that I have given, the judge was in error. Each application for rights of audience should be determined on the basis of the specific factors that are in play in the individual case. Rights of audience may be granted for a particular hearing, or for a discrete part of a particular hearing, and a blanket policy of never granting such rights is not supported by the Practice Guidance or generally. Whilst it will be rare for full advocacy rights to be granted at a sensitive fact-finding trial, it may be an altogether different matter to permit a McKenzie Friend to address the court at a directions hearing.

 

The Court of Appeal did, however, find that the Court was wrong not to have resolved the factual dispute between the parties at a finding of fact hearing.  The appeal succeeded on that basis.

 

However, it was a pyrrhic victory, because the Court of Appeal ruled that because the children were still of the same strong views about contact as they had been 18 months earlier they saw no prospect of father re-establishing any contact (the children were now 16 and 11) and did not order a re-hearing.

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Words fail me. (But I spend a long time telling you, via words, why) #verywellthenIcontradictmyself

Apply the handkerchief or scarf as directed by these fine gentlemen

Before you start this piece, could you briefly find some cloth? A scarf, or a clean tea-towel or anything of that ilk will do. Please tie it so that the bottom rests under your jaw and there is a knot at the top of your head – much like a cartoon character who is suffering from a toothache.

 

 

 

Why?

 

Because this case is so jaw-dropping I want to be sure that your jaw bone doesn’t actually leave your head.

 

Ready?

 

Here we go.

 

It is the original judgment from the case that went to the Court of Appeal because the social worker and police officer involved considered that the findings made against them by the Judge were career-threatening and that the process of making those findings was unfair.

 

The Court of Appeal said that the social worker and police officer needed to have been placed on notice that such strong findings were going to be made and have the chance to make representations about them beforehand, so THOSE findings were overturned. The social worker later made an application to sue the Lord Chancellor for judicial failings on the basis of vicarious liability.

 

On that basis, and in short, the complaint relates to the judge’s finding that SW and PO, together with other professionals and the foster carer, were involved in a joint enterprise to obtain evidence to prove the sexual abuse allegations irrespective of any underlying truth and irrespective of the relevant professional guidelines. The judge found that SW was the principal instigator of this joint enterprise and that SW had drawn the other professionals in. The judge found that both SW and PO had lied to the court with respect to an important aspect of the child sexual abuse investigation. The judge found that the local authority and the police generally, but SW and PO in particular, had subjected C to a high level of emotional abuse over a sustained period as a result of their professional interaction with her

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/11/20/judge-making-findings-about-a-witness-fair-trial/

 

 

This is the judgment, with the most dreadful findings about the social worker and police officer snipped out. Do not for one second think that this makes the judgment dull or removed of any controversy. There’s so much in it, it makes the mind boggle as to what was taken out.

Re W (fact-finding) [2014] EWHC 4347 (Fam) (17 October 2014)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/4347.html

 

(I’m not sure why it has taken 3 years to publish this – it was certainly held up until 2016 pending the appeal – I do understand that the Judge has passed away, which probably caused difficulties in editing the previous judgment, since normally the Judge who wrote it would do that)

 

 I thus hope that no court ever again has to see and hear what this court has seen and heard during the past weeks.

 

This was a care case involving five children, the main subject was C, who was a teenager. C had made serious sexual abuse allegations against three of the adults in the family.

 

There was a finding of fact hearing, and the evidence in the finding of fact hearing lasted 19 days. There were ten parties to that hearing, nine of whom were represented by silk and junior counsel.

 

 

 

 

  1. From a conventional beginning in front of HHJ Davies at the Luton County Court, the case has taken unprecedented twists and turns with the intervention of the Court of Appeal, a re-hearing in front of myself, and the collapse of that re-hearing after three days in the most dramatic manner. This occurred when a key social worker in the case contacted me directly by email through the court office to allege ‘corruption and malpractice’ within the local authority in relation to this particular case as well as other cases.

 

Is your jaw bandage still in place? I worry about you all, you know.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Following what was effectively a whistle-blower email sent to myself, the local authority sought to abandon the fact finding hearing and withdraw all allegations, saying that it could no longer rely on the key social worker as a witness of truth. The local authority’s counsel, Mr. Bain, withdrew from the case for professional reasons. Fresh counsel were then instructed; they withdrew the application by the local authority to abandon the proceedings, and thus these have continued ever since.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. The proceedings have been surrounded by suspicion and mistrust, for reasons which have become obvious. These emotions have been shared, it must be said, at times by the court, and have been exacerbated by serious problems about disclosure. Despite strict orders made by the court for full disclosure by the local authority, these have not been complied with in full. Indeed, more than 1,300 pages of important material were disclosed to the court during the current hearing, and 1,000 pages of these were disclosed only in the second week of this hearing, after Mr Geekie for the local authority organised a search of its premises following a social work assistant’s evidence. This failure to disclose added some three days to the case. Disclosure continued even into the fourth week of this hearing. Furthermore, many important documents have been shredded or are still missing.

 

 

 

  1. According to the lead social worker there were six, not four, ABE interviews of the child, C, as contended by the police and the local authority. Indeed, there is even the suggestion that an alleged meeting on the 30th September 2013, reported by social workers to have happened, may not have taken place at all. The court therefore has the unenviable task – unparalleled in the history of this particular tribunal – of deciding how many ABE interviews there were, and whether one meeting ever occurred.

 

I’ve seen many cases where Courts had to decide whether an ABE interview was conducted properly, where they had to decide whether leading questions were asked, whether it is reliable. I’ve never before heard of a Court having to decide HOW MANY ABE’s there were.

 

So much has gone wrong in this case. In fact, almost everything that could have gone wrong has, almost to the point of defying credulity. In consequence the court has no choice but to undertake the arduous task of scrutinising all aspects of the case very carefully. This judgment will therefore be longer than would normally be the case. This is for several reasons:

 

 

 

  1. a) Reaching the complex truth requires a detailed analysis of all that happened;

 

  1. b) In view of what they have suffered, those accused of serious abuse deserve nothing less;

 

  1. c) The consequences for individuals beyond the parties in the case, for example within the local authority and the police, may be profound;

 

  1. d) It is unlikely that any other will have the time or resources to trawl through the immense body of papers in the way the court has done, and thus what has been uncovered must be recorded fully;

 

  1. e) Lessons need to be learned so that what happened in this case never happens again.

 

  1. I am most grateful for the assistance given by all counsel in the case, both leading and junior, who have ably assisted the court in its unenviable task. I include in this commendation not only all those who appeared in front of me during the current hearing but also Mr. Giles Bain, who appeared for the local authority during the earlier part of these proceedings.

 

 

C had made allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Findings of fact were made by HH J Davies and those were overturned on appeal.

 

The Judge notes, dryly

 

 

 

  1. The reasons for the successful appeal are not relevant in this hearing save in one respect which I shall address shortly. Suffice it to say that the learned judge had before her four ring binders of documents when she heard the case. I have 18 ring binders. More importantly, relevant evidence was not placed before the learned judge and such evidence as was placed in front of her, as I shall determine in due course in this judgment, was highly incomplete and wholly inadequate.

 

So there was then a re-hearing, before His Honour Judge Arthur, sitting in the High Court. Here’s where it begins to go spectacularly wrong (as opposed to merely disastrously wrong)

 

 

33……On 31st January 2014 SW left the local authority employment. In the four months that followed I, who was now seized with the case, was asked by the local authority to give various directions, including directions for SW to provide a statement.

 

 

 

  1. By April, 2014 it became obvious to all that SW was reluctant to give a statement. On 14th May the court asked Mr. Bain, counsel for the local authority, to take instructions as to why that was, and in particular to inform the court whether there was anything in the circumstances in which she had left the local authority employment which had a bearing on the proceedings, and which might affect her credibility. Counsel faithfully relayed his instructions from the social work assistant sitting behind him, namely that SW had left in entirely amicable circumstances. ‘They were all sad to see her go, and asked her to stay working for the local authority.’

 

 

 

  1. In April 2014 the court permitted fresh matters to be included in the schedule of allegations to be proved. These related to evidence not before the court in June 2013. The first was that the mother had hit C with a rolling pin. The second listed general allegations of neglect by the parents of the younger children.

 

 

 

  1. On 27th May 2014 the final hearing began. On the third day of that hearing, on 29th May, the court suddenly received a ‘whistle-blower’ email from SW, directed to myself personally, in which she alleged corruption, malpractice and bad work practices by the local authority in respect of both C and T, and in respect of other matters too.

 

 

 

  1. On 30th May, having taken instructions, counsel for the local authority confirmed that the local authority no longer relied on SW as a witness of truth. It would robustly challenge some of her assertions in her email, and in the circumstances was no longer seeking further findings. It sought leave to withdraw their application for such findings to be determined. Unsurprisingly, the parents consented to this course of action, but the guardian for the younger children, who was absent from court, was not able to give instructions himself. In due course the guardian objected to the course proposed by the local authority.

 

 

The hearing collapsed on day 3 with LA counsel having to withdraw for professional reasons.

Something peculiar happened late (in week four) into the second attempt at it (this actually being the third attempt at the fact finding overall, as HH J Davies had already done one, overturned on appeal)

 

 

 

 

 

  1. In September 2014, in the fourth week of the hearing, to the surprise of all, counsel for the local authority suddenly put two very serious, entirely new allegations to the father in cross-examination. The first was that the father had been grooming “another child” A for sex, and secondly that C had conceived two babies while living at home. As the determination of these allegations would add little or no extra time to the proceedings, because they were so serious, and because the court believed they might assist in the assessment of the credibility of the witnesses, the court insisted the allegations should be articulated in the correct form and added formally to the schedule of allegations to be proved.

 

 

 

  1. At the conclusion of the evidence I invited all parties to set out, prior to written submissions, any concessions made by any party in relation to the evidence. In respect of the local authority, I asked them to set out any concessions about whether allegations were being pursued or not. The local authority was the only party to respond and did so with the following concessions:

 

 

 

  1. a) The local authority no longer sought to rely on any statement made by C in the three ABE interviews held in January 2014. This was subsequently clarified to include anything she said at the police station before or after the interviews, or in breaks, save, astonishingly, for comments about pregnancies and babies she may have made during a break in, or after, the interview on the 31st January, 2014.

 

  1. b) The local authority no longer pursued the allegations that the mother was aware of the abuse of T and chose to ignore it, and that the mother remonstrated with T on the 13th March, 2013. The local authority also abandoned the allegations of neglect of the three younger children.

 

  1. c) The local authority had already put in train preparations for a Serious Case Review of their conduct of the case. This would take place regardless of what findings were made.

 

I have not seen that Serious Case Review. I imagine that Luton are going to be receiving many many telephone calls from the Press wanting to see it.

 

There had been retractions from another child, T about the allegations. A LOT of retractions. Ten in all.

 

The Court of Appeal (in the appeal from HH J Davies) had given this advice about retractions

 

Re W (Fact-Finding Hearing: Hearsay Evidence) (2013) EWCA Civ 1374, (2014) 2FLR 703 at paragraph 25.

 

  1. Furthermore:

“The retraction of a complaint normally requires careful and specific consideration and this case was no exception. Obviously the fact that a complaint is subsequently retracted does not prevent a judge from accepting that it is in fact true but it gives rise to questions which must be addressed sufficiently fully and directly in the judge’s reasons so that one can be confident that the fact of the retraction has been given proper weight in the judge’s conclusions about the subject matter of the retracted allegation” [para 28].

 

 

The Judge comments on the SW evidence about the retractions (including the retractions made by another child, T)

 

 

 

  1. She was reminded that by 8th March T had retracted her supposed allegation. SW’s response was instant and dismissive, “It’s perfectly normal for victims to retract. We know it is common from victims”. Later she said, “I agree with the Court of Appeal that we should take retractions seriously”. From her demeanour, however, the court did not infer that she was in any way convinced by what she was saying. She further accepted that she had asked C whether she was worried about what had happened to T also happening to her. She saw nothing wrong with this question:

 

 

 

 

“It was in accordance with social worker practice… It is a practice all good social workers use… The fact that the court sometimes does not catch up with research is very unfortunate.”

 

 

The Court made these general comments about the SW evidence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Credibility of SW – court’s findings

 

  1. She was at times truculent and downright rude to counsel and to the court and sometimes quite threatening and menacing. She variously accused counsel for B of raising his eyebrows at her in an inappropriate manner (he was in fact doing no such thing), loudly demanded to know the names of all the counsel in court, said that she had ‘clocked what you lot are up to’, and accused the court and counsel of trying to prevent her having her say when, in fact, wholly proper efforts were being made to curtail seemingly unquenchable outpourings. She was dismissive and disdainful of correct social work practice and the way the court operated. She was liberal in blaming others for things that had gone wrong. Apart from blaming the court (by inference both HHJ Davies and the Court of Appeal), she blamed the police, other members of the local authority, teachers at C’s school, the school itself for obstructing her, (this was wholly unfounded), counsel for the parents and counsel for the guardian.

 

In the light of that, it is rather commendable that counsel for B was able to control his eyebrows. Mine would have been on the ceiling.

 

SW’s evidence – general matters

 

 

Her current memory of events

 

  1. She explained that she had been very reluctant to give evidence. In her tenth and last statement she had said that she could not trust the local authority case notes in view of the time lapse. She had resisted making that statement as she did not think she could usefully add anything, for now she could no longer recollect any details but, as the case had progressed, some matters had come back to her as she was questioned and shown documents, and so things had become more alive for her. Even so, she said that all the events with which the court was concerned took place over two years ago and she had not retained memories of the case in the same way she would have done if she was still the social worker. This is something she repeated many times during her evidence.

 

 

 

 

 

Disclosure of her own notes

 

  1. She was referred to the email of the local authority’s in-house counsel, Miss Manassi, on 28th February of this year which asked for her notes and said that a comprehensive statement would be needed from her. She was referred to the current President of the Family Division’s words twelve years ago, “Professionals should keep comprehensive notes. Social workers should routinely exhibit notes to statements”. SW said that, contrary to this, she had shredded all her notes. In fact, she had tried to shred all her notes on a daily basis when she worked for the local authority. She could not keep them because they might be stolen from her car or lost and she had no desk in the office where they could be kept. “I shredded notes because I did not need them”.

 

 

 

  1. Furthermore, in February 2014, Dawn Smith, her supervisor at Luton Borough Council, had told her to delete all her own records including all texts and emails from T. She deleted, she thought in all, about 500 texts to and from T. She was ordered to delete or shred all this material. She did so, she accepted, knowing that the proceedings were still underway and that a retrial of the sexual abuse allegation for C had been ordered, and that in relation to these T’s own allegations of sexual abuse against the father were relevant.

 

 

 

  1. She was reminded of one text in particular. T had alleged that SW had sent her a text telling her not to be in denial. Ms Lynne Jackson, the psychologist, had reported that this text had, in fact, been read out to her by T. SW said this:

 

 

 

 

“I knew all about this allegation of unprofessionalism and that T was saying this and other things too. I remember thinking whether I should delete this trail but I was told to”.

 

  1. In any event, she said she had never sent T this text.

 

 

 

  1. We have not heard from Dawn Smith. So whether or not SW was generally ordered to delete all her records, texts and emails still remains to be decided. Further investigation is needed. But the court notes that it seems very surprising that SW should have deleted a trail of texts which would have exculpated her from this particular accusation. (For the avoidance of doubt, I make no findings that any member of staff obstructed the Local Authority.)

 

[So I should make it clear that SW was alleging that she had destroyed all her emails and texts because the manager had told her to, but the Court didn’t hear evidence from the manager about this and didn’t make any findings. I have a little bit of sympathy about the handwritten notes- social workers don’t have paper files any more, and most of them don’t have their own desks any longer. Everything is on computer and workers hot-desk. Whilst the President did say 12 years ago that handwritten notes should routinely be exhibited to SW statements, there are not many Judges who would thank social workers for doing that. There’s no way that one can do that and comply with the 350 page limit. I would suggest that handwritten notes, particularly of conversations with children or adults about allegations ought to be scanned and kept, if they are not contemporaneously typed up]

 

Interviewing a child

 

  1. She was aware that, with a child who has learning difficulties, the interviewer has to be very careful of suggestibility. She said she herself would have been outraged if anyone had asked C leading questions, “One should be sensitive of this” she said emphatically. She was reminded that, according to Miss G, she had hundreds of conversations with C, some of which referred to sexual abuse or abuse allegations. SW assumed that Miss G would have had the appropriate training about how to talk to children who had made allegations. The school should have given her advice about this. The social workers were quite disappointed with the school about a lack of training and had to discuss giving general training to the staff at the school or arranging for that to take place.

 

 

 

  1. SW was very strident when giving evidence about how allegations of child abuse should be dealt with. She said, “Research shows that we must be more direct with children in abuse cases”. This was accepted in her social work team at the local authority. Dr. Van Rooyen, a psychiatrist in the instant case, too had said they have to be ‘more direct’ with the child. She said, “I suspected that she meant we had to talk to C and perhaps initiate conversations”. She then seemed to contradict this by saying, “We had to wait for C to speak, we know”.

 

 

 

  1. She repeatedly referred to research by Keir Starmer, a former Director of Public Prosecutions. “His work should be accepted by the court”, she said. Her tone and demeanour made it clear that she was very critical of the courts. Later she said the social worker should keep an open mind in investigations like this. She hoped that she herself had kept an open mind. When asked whether it was her working hypothesis that C and T were sexually abused, she said that C’s behaviour especially was indicative of abuse but she repeated, she hoped she had kept an open mind. Her actual words which follow are important. Her tone was distinctly barbed as she uttered them:

 

 

 

 

“I do not know whether C was abused or not. As her voice in social care I am directed by our research at the local authority even though the court may not be… C’s behaviour led to a very strong correlation with sexual abuse. The first time she presented as a victim of sexual abuse was on 17th December.”

 

  1. When asked what was indicative of sexual abuse on that occasion she answered:

 

 

 

 

“C’s behaviour. I was hearing all sorts of things from the school and what she had done… It’s the skill of a social worker to ascertain what is the likely cause of her behaviours.’

 

 

 

Use of the word “disclosure”

 

  1. She said:

 

 

 

 

“I was told this judge doesn’t like the use of the word ‘disclosure’ for allegations by children. I understand that courts in general don’t like the use of the word ‘disclosure’.” She had not read the Cleveland report of 1987 and did not know if it criticised the use of the word “disclosure” by professionals.

 

(It does disappoint me that a social worker dealing with a sexual abuse investigation would never have read the Cleveland report, but I can’t say hand on heart that I’m astounded by it. I do think there’s a general lack of understanding that ‘allegation’ should be used instead of ‘disclosure’ and why that is – broadly that disclosure as a word is perjorative – it implies truth. I can disclose that I ate your Jaffa Cakes (because it is true), I can’t disclose that I walked on the surface of Mars. So if I say that Mr X punched me, you don’t know whether it is true until the Court have decided it – it is an allegation at that point, not a disclosure. )

 

There was a very peculiar exchange about SW’s first meeting with C.

17th December 2012

 

  1. I must examine the events of this day very carefully, for they set the tone for what was to follow and go to heart of the case. This was the day of SW’s first meeting with C. The case had been closed by the local authority a couple of weeks before following earlier complaints by C. On the 14th December, as we know, the school told the local authority that C was still unhappy and did not want to go home. When she was allocated the case, probably on Friday 14th, SW skimmed through the electronic file provided to her by the local authority. She would have done this as quickly as possible, she said. (The court notes that this file was in fact just seven pages – a very short file indeed, and would not have taken long to read fully.) Part of this short file comprised the handover notes of Fiona Johnson, the previous social worker. These were reported as follows:

 

 

 

 

  1. a) C had alleged being hit, though the school believed there were no marks ever left on her. According to her, everyone seemed to cause her upset. The family upset her and all the family hurt her, except for D. Her brothers, especially B, beat her up.

 

  1. b) Other children had all been spoken to and all had said that they had never been hit by the parents.

 

  1. c) C had reported no major health issues.

 

  1. d) There were no concerns about A.

 

  1. e) All the other children were happy at home.

 

  1. SW appears not to have accepted this. ‘I wondered if C was unhappy, did it mean that the other children were unhappy.’ On skim-reading the notes, ‘I wondered if something was going on.’ Although, she accepted that there was nothing in the notes to this effect, it was her impression on reading them that this was Mrs Johnson’s impression too. So she had gone to the meeting believing that there was more she needed to understand about C’s self-harm, and about the pictures and drawings which she had drawn and made at the school. She had no idea of what this might be. She was asked whether she had any suspicions and there was a noticeable pause before she answered, “No” but she then added, “But we can partner certain behaviours with certain types of abuse”.

 

 

 

  1. On the second page of the seven pages of files notes handed on from Mrs Johnson, there is mention that, “The child has a bit of a fixation with Miss G”. The note also referred to Facebook entries which needed to be dealt with. SW said she did not recall this entry or how she had dealt with it. At any rate she had not known whether the fixation comment was correct or not. She was quite dismissive in giving evidence about this topic, the court noted from her demeanour. It is obvious that she did not think, and has never thought, it to be of any relevance whatsoever.

 

 

 

  1. SW duly met C at school in the presence of Miss Z on the 17th December, 2012. The child was anxious and ‘difficult to engage in so many ways”, she elaborated. She found the meeting very difficult. Sometimes her head was down, she was kicking the chair, her head was behind her ‘hoodie’, she was challenging and unwilling to talk about anything. Most of the time she was ‘a shrinking violet’. She seemed frightened and anxious and unwilling to talk and engage. There were very long silences. Nonetheless SW that she wanted to engage. In spite of this, the meeting took what the court considers a quite extraordinarily long time. According to SW, it started at 12 noon and ended at 3:30 or 4 p.m. (The note she wrote in her car afterwards was timed at 3:30 p.m.) During those 3½ hours she had left the room to contact the child abuse unit at Luton Borough Council and in particular Mr Graham Cole, the head of legal services there. And of course a lot of time, she repeated, there was, silence. As her evidence progressed, the court’s impression was that she trying to row back from her original time estimate. Eventually she said that the interview was perhaps ‘1½ hours, maybe shorter, maybe longer’. C had been given the chance to leave the meeting several times. Once she did leave but returned of her own volition. In this meeting it was difficult to understand what C said. Miss Z would say what C had said and C would either nod or shake her head. She soon realised that C hated to be asked to repeat what she had said. Neither she nor Miss Z took a note during the meeting, “It would be an abnormal thing for a social worker to take notes when interviewing a child other than during an ABE interview.’

 

 

 

  1. At 3.30pm, in her car, she made notes of the meeting. It was her practice to note down as soon as possible the important points of an interview note, which appears to two pages, is one of the few handwritten notes by her before the court:

 

 

 

 

“Very difficult meeting”, “Comes in when no one is there”, “Does stuff, bad stuff”, “Really bad things”, “Secrets”, “Where’s mum? Downstairs, out”, “Have you tried to talk to her about it? No point”, “Not allowed to talk about it”, “Couldn’t expand”, “Hits me. Kicks”, “Notice leg was sore, limping a little. Said dad had kicked/hit her last Sunday”, “Wouldn’t show me”, “Appeared very frightened/frozen”, “Didn’t want anyone to know what she’d said”, “Wanted to go into foster care”, “Hate family, hate mum, hate him”, “Gets beaten up at home – brothers, dad”, “Doesn’t feel safe at home”, “Does not feel there is anyone she could turn/talk to at home”, “Said she wanted to die”, “Does stuff he shouldn’t”, “Happened more than once”.

 

  1. A crucial element in this case revolves around what SW said in her statement of 20th December, 2012 about the interview three days before. The relevant part of the statement reads as follows:

 

 

 

 

“[C] disclosed sexual abuse by her father during this meeting. She told me that her father comes up to her room and does really bad things. Through discussion it was established that she clearly understood that there were areas of her body that no one should touch and this is where her father touched her. [C] found it extremely hard to expand on this although did manage to share that her father told her that she must not tell anyone and that the bad things would happen if she did. It was also established that [C] knew about her body, her sexual organs and other people’s. After ensuring I was confident [C] knew what sexual abuse was, she confirmed that this is what had been happening to her.”

 

  1. When it was pointed out to her that the handwritten notes make no mention of sexual abuse, SW caused, it must be said, considerable consternation in court in all quarters by asserting that there was a page missing from her notes. There was definitely a third page, she remembered. She remembered the Local Authority solicitor, Ms Abana Sarma’s collecting this document. She was most concerned that this page was missing because this page dealt with the sexual abuse allegations made by C on 17th December. Furthermore, this page had been before HHJ Davies at her fact finding hearing in June, 2013.

 

 

 

  1. She was referred to a number of documents from the court bundle. First was a police note of 17th December which states, ” [C] did not disclose sexual abuse”. Then she was referred to the transcript of HHJ Davies’s judgment at the end of the 13th June, 2013 hearing, which made mention of the content of the two pages long since disclosed, but none of the contents of the apparently now missing third page. Furthermore, the transcript of that hearing shows that the father’s counsel cross-examined SW on the discrepancy between the note of 17th December interview which did not record sexual abuse being mentioned and her later assertion that C had alleged sexual abuse at the interview. Indeed, when SW was specifically questioned about the fact that her notes did not include any mention of sexual abuse, she did not refer to any missing page. She was again referred to the transcript of evidence given at the earlier hearing when she was specifically herself asked under oath whether in the discussion of 17th December C had elaborated on “bad things” and she had answered, “No, not at this point”. Nonetheless, she said, she would not agree that C only went as far as saying “bad things”, although she did not recall what other words C had used. It was two years ago.

 

 

 

  1. Mr. Geekie, for the local authority now rose and said that the local authority was totally unaware of any missing third page of notes. Indeed, he said the whole of the fact finding trial was conducted on the basis of the two pages of notes only. This accorded with the memory of all those counsel for the other parties who had been present at that earlier hearing. If that was not enough, it was pointed out by the Local Authority’s solicitor, and agreed by counsel who had been present at the earlier hearing before HHJ Davies, that the bundles that the court was using at the current hearing were those used then, merely brought up to date by the addition of further documents. The court bundles then and now, did and do not include any third page of notes.

 

 

 

  1. In spite of being faced with what might have been thought an especially daunting body of evidence, SW was not to be budged. She repeated that she had given the third page of notes to Ms Abana Sarma of the local authority, that it was definitely referred to during HHJ Davies’s hearing, and that the missing page had stated that C had alleged sexual abuse. She could see the second page in her mind’s eye. There were several entries on it. Furthermore, it was shown to the police at the strategy meeting shortly after 17th December 2012, even though the police record of what happened on that date says that no sexual abuse was alleged by the child.

 

 

 

  1. When further questioned, she accepted that pages one and two of the notes before the court were consecutive, and were a complete document, so the third page could not have been the middle page of the three. The missing page was, she said, a second note written at a different time in the interview. This was despite her earlier evidence that she had not taken notes during the interview, and that it was her practice never to do so during interviews. She said she had discussed the contents of the third page with the police and her team manager. She then said belligerently, “I want to know why the second page is missing”.

 

 

 

  1. She then added that, apart from words, she relied on the non-verbal signals from C; the self-harm, the fact that she walked out of the interview, the hiding behind the hoodie, the fact that she started and stopped saying things and the fact that she wanted to go into care. She said this:

 

 

 

 

“Because of her words, in my professional opinion I felt she was the victim or at risk of sexual abuse. It is important that a social worker should be brave enough to say this.”

 

  1. She was then rude to counsel saying, “I’ve clocked where you’re going a long time ago” and then to me, “I hope this court does this case justice”.

 

 

The Judge had to make findings about this

 

Findings about the 17th December interview

 

  1. As for SW’s contention that C alleged sexual abuse to a total stranger on this occasion, this is plainly mistaken. The police note of the same date specifically records that no sexual abuse was alleged. The application for an Emergency Protection Order dated the 20th December and signed by the Local Authority’s Head of Legal services does not say that sexual abuse was actually alleged, only that C’s remarks ‘were suggestive of sexual abuse’. The notes made by SW after the conversation make no mention of sexual abuse. Her contention that a page of notes is missing, and that this page was before HHJ Davies in the earlier hearing, is simply ludicrous, for this would have meant that all counsel and solicitors, not to mention HHJ Davies, must have, unless through quite startling collective amnesia, willfully colluded in ignoring vital evidence during the hearing, and that the learned judge deliberately omitted mention of it in her judgment. It is also ludicrous to suppose that, when writing her notes in her car, SW wrote down relatively trivial allegations, but omitted to record the infinitely more serious accusation of sexual abuse.

 

 

 

  1. The reality is that when one stands back and looks at what happened, one can see just how serious this situation was and is. Based in part on, the Local Authority now sought and obtained the peremptory removal of C from her family on the 20th December 2012, and the following day sought and obtained an Interim Care Order. In each case the tribunal notes show that the decision was made, in part, on the basis that C had alleged sexual abuse. The removal of children from their parents, especially without notice, is one of the most draconian actions any court can take. It strikes right at the heart of basic human rights, on family life; it is frightening and traumatic for the children involved, and profoundly distressing for parents and other family. Sadly, the courts are required from time to time to sanction such removal, but only when safety and urgency requires it. In making such urgent orders, the courts must rely on the accuracy of Local Authority evidence. Whilst they cannot know whether any allegation is true or false, the courts are entitled to be told the truth by Local Authorities as to whether such an allegation has been made at all. The Family Court and the child-care justice system cannot function if Local Authorities do not tell the truth about this, for justice will inevitably be perverted.

 

 

 

  1. Responsibility for this cannot be laid wholly at the feet of one social worker. Others in the Local Authority must share responsibility, although, as I have said, on the evidence before it, the Court cannot and will not apportion this to particular individuals. The court freely acknowledges that all Local Authorities’ resources are over-stretched, and that social-work professionals are often alarmingly over-worked and under time pressures. Nonetheless, there should have been proper, efficient supervision of SW. Furthermore, the application for an EPO did not record an actual allegation of sexual abuse, whilst an application of the same date for an ICO did. With proper supervision and scrutiny this discrepancy should surely have been picked up by senior professionals at Luton Borough Council

 

 

After the first finding of fact hearing, and knowing that there was an appeal pending, the SW went to see the child to talk about the findings that had been made. It gets worse

 

Telling C about HHJ Davies’s findings of the 22nd June 2013

 

  1. SW visited C immediately afterwards to tell her of the findings. This was on the advice of CAMHS. C said that ‘he did it to A too’. SW had known then that there was going to be an appeal, but C was desperate to know what had happened and she was worried that C was at risk of suicide. The note of that meeting reads as follows:

 

 

 

 

“I then began by telling her that the local authority, us, had, as she knew, concerns about a number of things but we had asked the court to make a judgment/decision on these. I asked C whether she knew what those concerns were, she nodded but I decided to go through these. I said from what you have told me so far and from what I have learned from working with you and your family, I have been concerned that you are a victim and have suffered sexual abuse. C looked at me eyes moist but intently listening, she nodded. I said the concerns were also that the person who caused this to you was your father. C starred very intently at me nodding again and I carried on. I said the judge decided that after hearing all of the information that it was mostly likely to have been him. C remained staring at me, eyes a little more moist and said, ‘It was’. I then said the judge also found/decided that this had happened to T. I clarified this and said that the judge decided it was more likely than not that your father had also sexually abused T. C remained looking intently at me. C then said, ‘He did it to A too. She told me and I promised to keep it a secret, you need to talk to A. I said that we would and could she tell me a bit more. C said, ‘I promised I would keep it a secret'”.

 

 

  1. She herself has always been adamant that it never happened. The court is wholly satisfied that she was never abused by her father. It follows, therefore, that either C herself was making up the allegation to please SW in the light of the learned judge’s findings, or SW was making it up. On the balance of probabilities, the court is satisfied that SW was, as usual, putting words in the child’s mouth and then pretending they had come from the child.

 

That’s an incredibly damning finding, and one that clearly survived the Court of Appeal decision. The SW was, as usual, putting words in the child’s mouth and then pretending they had come from the child. Incredibly damning.

 

On the total number of ABEs

How many ABE interviews were there in January 2014?

 

  1. SW’s initial evidence was that there were six ABE interviews of C in all. One was on 4th October when “C said nothing” and another five in January 2014. When she returned to complete her evidence a few days later, she disclosed further documentation she said she had found at home, as well as her mobile phone she brought to court her 2014 diary and some loose sheets of paper she said she had found in the 2013 diary. She had not brought her 2013 diary with her to court as she did not think it was necessary.

 

 

 

  1. It was interesting that some of the loose pages of typed notes do not appear in or are cross-referenced to the documents previously disclosed by the local authority. She was asked how she had typed these notes. She said she would ‘audibly’ type notes on the local authority’s Care First system and sometimes this would go down and so she would type the notes on a standard word document format and transfer them later onto the system. Many times she was asked by the local authority to type up her documents on her own computer. She complained about being required to do this by the local authority to their legal department. When she did type documents at home, she never saved them. She would scan them and then ask someone else to scan them into the system back in the office. She would have expected all the loose pages found by her to be on the local authority’s Care First system. She typed up the notes of every substantial meeting with C and would expect them all to be on the system. She did not know why these notes were not on the system.

 

 

 

  1. She referred to her 2014 diary and to a number of entries in it. These contain the words, “C ABE on…” and then five dates …’ 23rd 27th, 28th, 29th and 31st January’. There are question marks next to the 27th, 28th and 29th January. She explained that the question marks were because the social workers were not sure whether C wanted to go through with the interviews. She still believed that C had done five ABE interviews in January, and six in all if the October ABE interview was counted, for that was what her records showed. She said, “My memory was that it went on for several days in January… I am ‘sure’ it was six interviews in all”. For the avoidance of doubt, there were no times when they took C to a police station and an interview did not take place.

 

 

 

  1. She later was referred in due course to her a file note of 12th December, 2013 which reads as follows, “C has now completed five ABE interviews, disclosed rape by father and V. She has also said she has been pregnant twice”. The date of 12th December 2013 does not make sense in the context of the timescale, the court notes. As to the substance of the note, SW commented that the reference here to five ABE interviews, “accords with my recollection. I recall five that week”. She then changed her evidence, something she did very frequently whenever she was in the witness box, saying that there had been, in fact, one attempted ABE interview that week in January and one aborted ABE interview. Added to those ABE interviews for which we have recordings and transcripts, that made six ABE interviews in all.

 

 

 

  1. It shows the extraordinary nature of this case that the court has had to consider whether C was ABE interviewed three or five times in January 2014. The evidence of the police officers, SWA ‘Y’ and Miss G collectively suggest that were but three. SW believes there were five. I prefer their collective memory. Accordingly I find that there were four ABE interviews only

 

It won’t surprise any reader to know that that the ABEs were very flawed – with leading questions, pressure, questions about things that weren’t alleged, the child being praised for giving answers that the questioners wanted to hear, disappointment from professionals where the child wasn’t making allegations (those being described as ‘failed ABEs)

 

And on the number of times C was interviewed about her allegations

Findings about the January ABE Interviews

 

  1. Save with one exception, the local authority does not rely on anything said in these interviews.

 

 

 

  1. It is submitted by Mr. Storey that C underwent literally hundreds of interviews. This is partly based on Miss G’s agreement that she had hundreds of interviews/discussions herself with C. The court is satisfied that this is, in fact, an exaggeration. The court must be cautious not to confuse spontaneous remarks made by a child or short informal chats with formal questioning. Nonetheless, doing its best, the court is satisfied that the child has had no fewer than 33 interviews about abuse with one or other social worker between 17th December 2012 and 31st January 2014. By “interviews” I mean either formal interviews or detailed question and answer discussions which went beyond the odd throwaway mark, or the odd question and reply. In addition, there appear to have been five similar discussions of a detailed nature with school teachers, seven with a foster carer and, of course, with Dr. van Rooyen and one with PO. On top of this, there were four ABE interviews. This makes, if the court’s mathematics is correct, an alarming total of 51. 12 of them were conducted wholly by untrained interlocutors in the form of the foster carer and the school teachers, and the rest were professionals whose ability to follow guidelines seems to have been non-existent. In addition, there can be no doubt that there were many, many other informal unreported conversations at school, in the foster home and when social workers brought C to and from school, which happened ’99 per cent of the time’.

 

 

 

  1. Furthermore, the court’s criticism is directed not only to those who conducted the interviews, but to those who sat outside and saw and listened to what happened: the social workers and teachers in the room next door. As professionals working in the field of childcare, they should have intervened to stop the 28th and 31st January interviews. They did not.

 

 

 

  1. Quite apart from the content of the interviews which were recorded, it is thoroughly reprehensible what was said before, during breaks and after the recorded parts was either inadequately noted, or not noted at all. The court is wholly satisfied that relevant matters were discussed at the police station at these times. All the professionals seemed to have operated on the false premise that what was said outside the interview room did not count.

 

 

As has been mentioned earlier, at around week four of the finding of fact hearing, an allegation was made that C had been pregnant twice. By the end of the hearing, the Local Authority were not relying on anything said by C in her ABE or other interviews other than this.

 

Findings about the 31st January pregnancy allegations

 

  1. It is incomprehensible to the court that the local authority, having conceded that no reliance should be placed on what was said by C during the three January ABE interviews, in the talks before it, in breaks or afterwards, should seek to rely on one short interchange about pregnancies, which took place during or immediately after the 31st January interview. How can a few words only, during or at the end of one of them, be exempted? It seems to the court illogical and perverse.

 

 

 

 

  1. The evidence about this episode is far from complete. Nonetheless, the court is satisfied that either during a break or at the end of the 31st January ABE interview, C made drawings and said things which led the police and the social workers to believe that she was alleging that she had been pregnant twice when she was much younger, and had either born two babies or lost them for one reason or another. Their names were Jack and Rose. She had also been given the morning-after pill. We do not know precisely what C said because the note-taking was hopelessly inadequate. The allegations were and have been taken seriously, for allegations that C conceived twice were added to the schedule of findings to be sought during the currency of the present hearing. Yet these allegations seemed, as was put to IO ‘W’, to have disappeared into the ether until they were unearthed late in the day.

 

 

 

  1. These allegations were very, very serious. So why was it that the first the court and the parties knew of this issue was during the hearing? Why did no social worker or police officer ever mention it? Why does it appear in no statements? The answer, regrettably, must be, not because the allegations were made outside a formal ABE interview, but because the local authority and the police realised only too well that they were ludicrous. They simply could not be true. They did not fit in with C’s medical records or the age when she attained puberty.

 

One of the other children, T, gave evidence

 

 

 

 

  1. T in her oral evidence disputed much of SW’s evidence about this meeting. She was particularly adamant that on 1st February 2013 she had never mentioned sexual abuse by the father. They had not really talked about this at all. Furthermore, she had never told SW that she had reported the abuse to her mother. “This was wrong!” Nor had she ever said that her mother had sent her off to live with her Aunt B, because of the abuse, nor was SW’s note accurate when it recorded that T had said that Aunt B had not believed her until she caught it out actually happening. “I did not say these things”.

 

 

 

  1. T then denied that she had ever told SW that the sexual abuse was the reason why she did not get on with her parents and why she would not leave her children with them. The reason she did not get on with her parents was, “because they always have a go at me’. She clarified this by explaining that her parents had not approved of her sleeping with a boyfriend from school. When she had left home she did it not because she was forced to and because she wanted to. Furthermore, she had, indeed, left her children in the mother and father’s care on many occasions. Indeed, she had not had a conversation with SW about her own children at all.

 

 

 

  1. During this part of her evidence, the court noted that T spoke with particular conviction. The court accepts her version of what was said, not least because the pattern here is similar to what happened on the 17th December.

 

 

 

  1. T did not like this. SW was aware of that. On 5th February 2013 she rang T, “To tell her that she did not have to do anything she did not want to”. This was in response to a telephone call from the mother to the Local Authority earlier that day. The next day, 6th February, the Local Authority received a typed letter signed by T. The key passage of that letter is as follows:

 

 

 

 

“SW from the children’s social services department in Luton keeps ringing me and keeps trying to contact me regarding me to make a statement about my dad, F, saying he had molested me at a young age to which of my knowledge none of this has happened. I am not willing to make a statement as it would be a false allegation. In my eye SW is dealing with my sister’s case, C, as she has no success in that one she is trying to manipulate and intimidate me to make a statement which I will not do. I would like SW to have no contact with me.”

 

  1. For reasons I shall give later, I am satisfied that this letter did genuinely reflect T’s feelings. Furthermore, I am wholly satisfied that T did not make any allegations of sexual abuse on the 1st February 2013.

 

 

 

I could do an entire post about the flaws in the ABEs, to be honest, but there’s just so much in this judgment. I will end with the concluding remarks

 

 

 

 

Concluding observations

 

  1. One can only pray that the adults, and children, may recover from their unimaginable ordeal, though I fear that they will carry the scars of their suffering for the rest of their lives. As for C, with her underlying problems, the damage may well be irreparable. So much now needs to be done to see what damage can be repaired and how family relationships can be restored.

 

 

 

  1. This court has no jurisdiction over C beyond this fact-finding. But that cannot prevent my emphasising how urgent it is that her case be re-opened. The existing care order was made on the basis of incomplete evidence. The parents’ approach in not opposing the order was adopted in ignorance of the true facts. This injustice must be rectified.

 

 

 

  1. The court cannot entrust the care of children to those who abuse or fail to protect them. That applies to local authorities as much as to family members. Parties must have faith in those who care for their children.

 

 

 

  1. The local authority have already undertaken to commence forthwith a Serious Case Review, and rightly so. But it must go further.

 

 

 

  1. This situation poses grave dangers for family justice. Valuable court time is taken up weighing such breaches against the evidence and of course, there is the risk that not only may false information be garnered in interview, but that genuine allegations may be so contaminated that they cannot be relied upon. Those who permit their employees to question children and vulnerable witness must therefore be certain that not only have they received the standard training but they understand what it means in practice.

 

 

 

  1. This case has taken up an inordinate amount of the court’s time, but rightly so in the circumstances. Yet the cost to the public purse in one form or another will be immense. There has been a significant disruption of court lists, with other cases being delayed. Family justice cannot perform the vital task it does in protecting children without honesty, objectivity, transparency and fairness. I thus hope that no court ever again has to see and hear what this court has seen and heard during the past weeks.

 

 

Guardian and Child’s Solicitor get strong (and justified) bashing from High Court

This is a Keehan J decision in the High Court.

It is pretty rare for a Judge to criticise a Guardian, and I can’t recall a case before where a Child’s Solicitor was criticised in a judgment. This is full on judicial dissection. And in my humble opinion, utterly warranted.

The case involved a child who was 13 and had learning difficulties. There was also a sibling, Y. There were serious allegations of abuse made by the child against the father. Achieving Best Evidence interviews had been conducted.

Most of the case is very fact specific, so I won’t go into it, (and the hearing lasted 20 days, so there was a LOT of it) but the part that has wider application is what happened towards the end of the case.

The father, understandably, made an application for the child X to give evidence. The Court set down a Re W hearing to decide whether the child should or should not give evidence. The Court directed the Guardian to meet with the child and to provide a report to the Court as to her view as to whether the child should or should not give evidence.

What actually happened was that the Guardian allowed the child’s solicitor to take the lead during that visit and that rather than exploring the Re W issues, the child’s solicitor actually cross examined the child AT LENGTH about the detail of the disclosures, leading her, challenging her, contradicting her. (In fact it also appears that some of the disclosures made were fresh disclosures not previously made, so it was not only emotionally abusive to the child but contaminated the evidence, and neither the Guardian nor the solicitor made referrals to the social work team about the fresh allegations)
(I’ve used ‘disclosures’ here as a synonym for ‘allegations’ and have rightly been corrected. We should all use allegations for things that are yet to be proved, and disclosures afterwards. Fixxored in edit)

None of this should have happened. Reading the case it appears that the Guardian is the subject of internal disciplinary proceedings through CAFCASS and that there is to be a hearing to decide whether this case should be referred to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority. It will be a very difficult thing for either of them to come back from, professionally. Readers can make up their own mind how sympathetic they are about that.

Wolverhampton City Council v JA and another 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2017/62.html

The Former Children’s Guardian and the Former Solicitor for the Children
172.On 30 August 2016 the then children’s guardian, AB, and the children’s solicitor, Ms Noel, visited X in her foster placement for the purpose of speaking with her, ostensibly to gain her wishes and feelings about giving evidence at this hearing.

173.During the course of this interview X is recorded as having made a number of disclosures relating to her having been sexually abused.

174.On 6 September 2016 AB and Ms Noel paid a similar visit to Y.

175.At an advocates’ meeting the disclosures made by X in her interview on 30 August were revealed. It became apparent that no referral in respect of those disclosures had been made to the local authority nor to the police. The advocates’ meeting was immediately terminated and an urgent directions hearing was sought before the then allocated judge.

I’ve done at least a thousand advocates meetings and they are universally very dull. This one, however, wasn’t. There must have been an utterly deathly silence as this information came to light.

176.The children’s guardian and the children’s solicitor were ordered to disclose their notes on both interviews with the children and to file and serve witness statements.


177.On 30 September 2016 the appointment of the children’s guardian and the children’s solicitor were terminated and a new guardian and solicitor were appointed for the children. I am, understandably, asked to make clear in this judgment that the current children’s guardian, the current children’s solicitor and counsel instructed by him at this hearing had no part and no involvement, whatsoever, in the events of 30 August or 6 September 2016.

So a whole new team was appointed to represent the child, and that new team were untainted by these failures.

178.The guardian and solicitor’s interview of Y on 6 September 2016 could be the subject of considerable criticism, however, for the purposes of this judgment I focus on the interview with X on 30 August where the most egregious errors occurred.

179.X was subjected to an almost two hour cross examination conducted principally, if not exclusively, by Ms Noel: I stop short of categorising it as an interrogation. I have never seen the like of it before and I hope never to see a repetition of it again. X was asked leading questions on innumerable occasion, she was contradicted repeatedly by Ms Noel and when X denied a particular treatment or abuse by her father the question was put again and again, effectively denying the child the opportunity of being heard.

180.A particularly egregious question was asked by Ms Noel when she asked ‘Did your dad ever push the sponge or his fingers inside your private?’ X replied ‘no I don’t think so but it was painful’. The question was repeated and the answer was the same save hurt replaced painful. Ms Noel then asked ‘did dad ever get into bed with you’. Answer no. Prior to this interview and prior to these questions X had never asserted that the father had inserted his fingers into her vagina nor that he got into bed with her.

When you have a High Court Judge driven to say “I have never seen the like of it before and I hope never to see a repetition of it again” things are really bad. This is painful to read.

181.Prior to this ‘interview’ X had not said that she had told her mother of the father’s alleged sexual abuse of her.

182.At the time of both X’s and Y’s interviews the children’s guardian and the children’s solicitor knew that there was an ongoing police investigation into these allegations of sexual abuse and ongoing enquiries by the local authority.

183.Both AB and Ms Noel accepted their respective contemporaneous notes of the two interviews were not a verbatim transcript of the interviews. As the lead questioner Ms Noel’s notes were more comprehensive than AB’s but neither recorded all questions asked nor all the answers given.

The impact on the Guardian of these failings was so pronounced that the Judge was actually very concerned about her well-being when giving evidence.

184.AB is a very experienced children’s guardian of longstanding. I was very concerned about her welfare and well being when she came to give evidence.

185.My order of 6 December 2016 was received by Cafcass. She was the subject of internal disciplinary procedures of which it is not necessary for the purposes of this judgment to say any more. She has since been reinstated.

186.The guardian had just returned from holiday. She knew the purpose of the visit was at my request to establish X’s views about giving evidence. She met Ms Noel outside the foster carer’s home and there was a limited discussion about how the interview should proceed. She told me, and I accept, she agreed Ms Noel should take the lead in asking questions as she had not been present at the last court hearing. It was she said, and I accept, the one and only time she had allowed a children’s solicitor to take the lead in asking questions of a child. She had not, at that time, viewed the children’s ABE interviews nor had Ms Noel.

187.When asked why she had not referred the disclosures made by X to the police, she said Ms Noel advised her that she needed to consult with counsel then instructed on behalf of the children.

188.AB conceded her note taking of the interview was not as thorough as it should have been. She readily acknowledged that she should have stopped the questioning as soon as disclosures had been made. She candidly told me that X wanted to talk and because AB believed the children had not been listened to she was open to let X, and then Y on 6 September, talk. She said she was uneasy at some of the questions the girls were asked by Ms Noel and now realised she should have stopped it.

189.It was immediately obvious from the moment AB stepped into the witness box that she was racked with guilt and remorse. Only a few minutes into her evidence she became distressed and I adjourned for a short period to enable her to compose herself. She readily acknowledged the grave and serious professional errors she had committed in allowing these interviews to progress as they did – most especially in respect of X – and for not terminating them at an early stage.

190.I accept the guardian’s errors and professional misjudgement in this case were grave and serious. Nevertheless I accept her regret and remorse at her actions and omission are entirely genuine and sincere.

It is obviously very dreadful that a children’s solicitor would cross-examine a child with learning difficulties about sexual abuse allegations for 2 hours – that’s made worse still when you realise that she had not even seen the ABE interviews – so effectively cross-examining without properly looking at the source material.

If you think things were bad for the Guardian, they are about to get very much worse

191.I only wish I could make the same observations in respect of Ms Noel: I regret I cannot.

192.Ms Noel has been a solicitor for 11 years. She has been on the Children’s Panel for 6 years but this was the first case of sexual abuse in which she had acted for the children. I do not understand why a solicitor so inexperienced in acting for children should have come to be appointed in as complex and serious case as this one.

193.I was moved to comment during the course of Ms Noel’s evidence that by her actions during the interview with X she had run a coach and horses through 20 years plus of child abuse inquiries and of the approach to interviewing children in cases of alleged sexual abuse. I see no reason, on reflection, to withdraw those comments.

194.At the conclusion of Ms Noel’s evidence, in very marked contrast to that of the former children’s guardian, I had no sense that Ms Noel had any real appreciation of what she had done or of the extremely serious professional errors she had committed. She appeared to be almost a naïve innocent who had little or no idea of what she had done.

That’s the stuff of anxiety nightmares, having that sort of thing said about you.

195.It is right that I set out with particularity her evidence, most especially to highlight those matters which cause me to make the foregoing observations.


196.Ms Noel told me that her visit to X was the first time she had met X.
She said that the language she used when asking questions of X and the length of the interview – some 2 hours – was “possibly” inappropriate for a child with learning difficulties. On repeated occasion Ms Noel had told X how brave she was being in answering the questions. On reflection, she said, such comments could have been seen by X as a clue as to what she was expected to say and to talk about. She said that ‘it may appear but was not my intention.’

197.Ms Noel had had no training in how to speak with children involved in court proceedings. She knew X had made disclosures to the police and to her foster carers. Why, therefore, she was asked did she embark on this lengthy questioning of X? She replied that at the time she wanted to clarify what X was saying. With the benefit of hindsight, she accepted she should not have done so and should have stopped asking questions. She said she did not know she had asked X directed or leading questions. When it was put to her that she was cross examining X, Ms Noel replied ‘I suppose so, yes’.

Now, perhaps it is an omission of Children Panel training that she did not have training in how to ask children questions, but as an ADVOCATE you really should know whether or not you are asking someone directed or leading questions – that’s a catastrophic failing to admit that you didn’t know whether you were or not. And note that this 2 hour cross-examination was the first time she had ever met the child.


198.She confirmed her notes were not a verbatim record and that she had not noted X’s demeanour during the course of the interview. She accepted she had probably got some questions and answers missing from her notes and in that sense her notes could be misleading.


199.Ms Noel asserted she had only seen the DVDs of the girls’ interviews after she had seen X on 30 August and Y on 6 September. She had not reported X’s disclosures to the local authority because counsel then instructed by her had advised her to wait until after counsel had met with her and the guardian in conference.

(The Judge doesn’t pass any comment as to whether counsel was right or wrong there. I might have my own view, but the Judge had all of the facts and was in a far better position to say so if there was fault)

200.Ms Noel accepted that in acting as she did she had badly let the children down. She accepted there was a risk of the children, especially X, being ‘set up’ to make fake allegations. She accepted there were not insignificant differences between her contemporaneous notes of her meetings with X and with Y and those set out in her statement which she had prepared and signed in December.


201.Ms Noel was specifically asked if she had approved and authorised the contents of a position statement provided to the court for hearing on 16 September 2016. She said she could not remember. When reminded that she had emailed the same to the court, she replied ‘I would have read it’. The position baldly states that in the interview with the guardian and the solicitor X had made disclosures of a sexual nature against her father and had made disclosures in relation to the state of knowledge of the mother and the maternal grandmother. At no point is any reference made to the circumstances in which X said these things, namely that she had been subjected to an intense and prolonged period of cross examination.


202.I am sorry to observe that Ms Noel’s many acknowledgments of error and of professional misjudgement were made, in my judgment, very begrudgingly.


203.In conclusion I find that in relation to interview undertaken with X on 30 August 2016:

a) she was inappropriately questioned by Ms Noel;

b) the interview lasted for a wholly excessive length of time;

c) the conduct of the interview took no account that X suffered from learning difficulties;

d) she was repeatedly asked leading questions;

e) frequently leading questions were repeated even after X had answered in the negative to the proposition implicit in the question;

f) there was absolutely no justification for embarking on this sustained questioning of X;

g) the exercise was wholly detrimental to X’s welfare and seriously imperilled a police investigation;

h) the conduct of the interview led to a real possibility that X would be led into making false allegations;

i) the conduct of the interview was wholly contrary to the intended purpose of the visit, namely to establish X’s wishes and feelings about giving evidence in this fact finding hearing; and

j) the record keeping of AB and Ms Noel was very poor. Not all questions and answers were recorded or accurately recorded. No reference is made to X’s demeanour during the interview or to any perceived change in her demeanour.

204.The breaches of good practice were so legion in the interview conducted with X that I have concluded that it would be unwise and unsafe for me to rely on any comments made by X
. I will have to consider later in this judgment the extent, if at all, to which this interview with X on 30 August tainted the subsequent ABE interview undertaken by the police with X on 30 September 2016.


205.One of the worst examples of these very poorly conducted interviews arose in Y’s interview on 6 September. She alleged for the very first time that she told her grandmother of the sexual abuse she had suffered. For the reasons I have given in relation to X’s interview, I pay no regard to this comment at all. To the extent that I find, if at all, that the grandmother knew about the sexual abuse of both girls, I shall rely on the other evidence before me.


206.The issues of whether I should name Ms Noel in this judgment and/or she should be referred to her professional disciplinary body is to be determined at separate hearing. None of the parties to these proceedings wish to be heard on these issues: the matter is left to the court. I will, however, hear submissions on behalf of Ms Noel at that hearing. At the hearing on 18 August I read and heard submissions from counsel on behalf of Ms Noel. I was asked to show compassion to Ms Noel and not name her in the judgment. A number of personal and professional reasons were advanced. I do not propose to set them out in this judgment. I took account of all those submissions but concluded that the public interest and the need for transparency overwhelmingly required me to name Ms Noel. Accordingly her name appears in the published version of this judgment.

Now wash your hands

 

The thing that makes family law worthwhile is that every time you think you’ve seen everything, a case comes along and makes you go “nope, not yet.”

This is one of those.

 

 

East Sussex v AG (Finding of Fact) 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/536.html

 

This involved an infant, now aged 13 months old, but only a couple of months old when the strange things occurred. He spent time at three different hospitals, and in each of these, he was observed to have very high levels of alcohol in his system – high enough to be potentially life-threatening, and also high levels of anti-histamine.

How did the alcohol get there?

Well, the defence deployed by the parents (chiefly the mother) is that it must have happened through the application of sterilising hand-wash, which contains alcohol. He was in a hospital, parents wanted to make sure he didn’t get any germs, so hand-wash was liberally applied. It must have been that.

 

Mother’s case ended up being that she was rubbing hand-sanitiser into the baby’s arms thirty or forty times per day. That sounds like a hell of a lot – could a baby end up with alcohol levels like these as a result?

Here’s what the expert had to say about it:-

 

  • Whilst considerable time was spent on the validity of Dr McKinnon’s calculations of the amount of alcohol by volume that would be required to cause the levels of alcohol that were found in AG’s system (he having undertaken such calculations in response to being requested to provide an opinion on the likely doses given to AG), the central point made by Dr McKinnon, both in his report and in his oral evidence, is that, absent any evidence to suggest that the analysis of AG’s samples was compromised (and Dr McKinnon was clear that he had no reason to believe that the tests had not been performed satisfactorily), the samples taken from AG showed that he had very high levels of alcohol in his system on three occasions and a level of antihistamine in his system on one occasion.
  • Within this context Dr McKinnon was at pains to emphasise that, with respect to alcohol, the actual readings from the samples taken from AG indicated clearly that AG had been administered significant amounts of alcohol independent of the calculations that attempted to work out the precise doses of alcohol in milligrams required to cause those readings. Dr McKinnon repeatedly emphasised that the alcohol readings obtained from the samples were “extremely” high and, on occasion, the highest he had ever seen, or heard of, in an infant. Indeed, he was aware of no reported cases in which the readings had been higher. Dr McKinnon was clear that this indicated AG had ingested a large amount of alcohol.
  • Dr McKinnon was pressed extensively on the mother’s contention that the explanation for the high levels of alcohol in AG’s system were the result of her alleged use of high levels of hand sanitiser on AG. Accepting that calculations can only be approximate in circumstances where the physiology of individuals varies and the physiology of adult skin is different to that of infant skin, Dr McKinnon was nonetheless very clear that even had the mother used the hand sanitiser at a higher level than she claims, this would still not have been enough to produce the levels of alcohol seen in AG, even assuming a generous level of absorption of alcohol through the skin of an infant of 10% (the level of absorption in adults being between 2.5% and 5%). Within this context, Dr McKinnon also emphasised that the mother states that she used the hand sanitiser over the course of a day and that, accordingly, any alcohol that was absorbed would have begun to be eliminated between applications, further negating the possibility of alcohol from the hand sanitiser accumulating in AG’s blood to the levels seen. Dr McKinnon further stated that for the blood alcohol levels to be caused by AG ingesting hand sanitiser he would have needed to have ingested the equivalent of 44 “squirts” of that substance to reach the highest blood alcohol concentrations seen, ruling out, in his view, accidental ingestion from hands or toys as cause of the levels seen.
  • With respect to the anti-histamine, whilst conceding that anti-histamine can be passed from mother to infant in breast milk, Dr McKinnon noted that the mother had not been breast feeding for a considerable period of time prior to the antihistamine being detected in AG’s system, negating as a possibility that route of administration.

 

 

 

Note the ‘ingested the equivalent of 44 squirts of the hand-sanitiser above” – that’s not had it put on him, that’s ingesting it – swallowing it or such.

 

The Judge considered that possibility very carefully

 

 

  • I am further satisfied that the alcohol and anti-histamine that I have concluded was present in AG’s system and that caused each of the then unexplained episodes was deliberately administered to AG on repeated occasions as opposed to entering his system by way of some species of accidental or inadvertent administration.

 

(i) Hand Sanitiser

 

  • By the conclusion of their oral evidence, both parents appeared to be moving towards accepting that the levels of alcohol found in AG could not have been caused by the application of hand sanitiser to his hands and arms, the father being, ultimately, perhaps more accepting of this than the mother. In any event, I am satisfied that the levels of alcohol found in AG’s system were not caused by the use of hand sanitiser containing alcohol. I have reached this conclusion for two reasons.
  • First, I am not satisfied that the mother is telling the truth in respect of the levels at which she used hand sanitiser on AG whilst he was an in-patient having regard to the following matters:

 

i) The use of hand sanitiser assumed no significance at all in either of the police interviews of the parents conducted immediately after their arrest in May 2016. The mother claims that this was because she was not aware at the time of the interview that the hand sanitiser contained alcohol.ii) The mother’s first statement, directed by the court specifically to address the question of hand sanitiser and dated 14 August 2016, details lower rates of application than those for which the mother now contends, she stating that she first used hand sanitiser on AG on 26 April 2016, using two doses. Specifically, the mother stated “I also put 2 pumps into my hand and wiped it over both of AG’s hands and arms” (my emphasis). She states that she did the same on 28 April 2016. At the Evelina Children’s hospital the mother states that she used hand sanitiser on AG 30 to 40 times per day “at the highest”. Dr McKinnon’s report ruling out the use of hand sanitiser as the cause of the levels of alcohol found in AG is dated 4 November 2016. The mother thereafter filed a second statement dated 25 January 2017 in which she said of her first statement “what I mean is that I used two pumps on the left hand and arm and two pumps on the right hand and arm”, amounting to between 120 and 160 pumps per day. The mother denied that she inflated her account in her second statement to match the emerging medical evidence. However, given the size of the discrepancy between the two descriptions and the fact that the second statement followed the report of Dr McKinnon, I am satisfied that this is evidence of the mother having changed her account of the level of use in response to the conclusions reached by Dr McKinnon.

iii) In circumstances where the mother contends that her use of hand sanitiser on AG continued in the PICU the local authority sought confirmation as to whether members of staff saw the mother use hand sanitiser at the levels she claims whilst AG was on the PICU. By an email dated 25 August 2016, Professor Ian Murdoch, Professor of Paediatric Intensive Care at the Evelina confirmed that medical staff had not witnessed the mother use hand sanitiser on AG. Whilst that confirmation is in the form of an email rather than a statement in the proper form, it is corroborated to an extent by the evidence of the father who stated in his written and oral evidence that he saw the mother use hand sanitiser on only two occasions, stating in cross examination by Mr Bennett that he did not see the mother apply it with the frequency she claimed and did not himself see excessive use. In the circumstances, no person who came regularly into contact with the mother and AG whilst at hospital appears to have seen her using hand sanitiser on AG at the levels she claims.

iv) The clarification contained in her second statement is to the effect that the mother was using high levels of sanitiser from the outset, commencing that use on 26 April 2016. However, this appears to be at odds with a text exchange between the parents in respect of “hand gel” on 28 April 2016. On that date the father texted the mother stating “The reason I told you to use the gel stuff is cos there’s at least four kids in here with pneumonia including rose (sic) in front of us and her mum gave you a cuddle”). The mother replied “Oh ok I’ll make sure I use it a lot then”. In my judgment this exchange is inconsistent with the mother’s evidence to the effect that she was using between 120 and 160 doses a day on AG from 26 April 2016.

 

  • In the circumstances, I am satisfied that the evidence before the court suggests strongly that the mother has sought to construct, after the fact, an account of excessive use of hand sanitiser to seek to explain the high levels of alcohol found in AG’s system. This conclusion is of course also relevant to the question of whether the court can identify who administered alcohol to AG and I deal with this further later in this judgment.
  • Second, and in any event, I accept the expert evidence of Dr McKinnon that even on the revised figures for dosage provided by the mother in her second statement, the level of use suggested by the mother would not result in the levels of alcohol found in AG even if administered all at once and assuming a generous figure for absorption of ten percent to account for an infant’s skin being more porous than the skin of an adult. More importantly, I note again that Dr McKinnon was clear that the manner in which the mother contends she in fact administered the hand sanitiser, namely repeatedly over the course of the day, would not have been able to result in the levels seen because AG would have begun eliminating each dose over time after it was applied, meaning it could not accumulate to the levels seen. On this basis, even assuming a greater absorption than in adults, the use of hand sanitiser at the level contended for by the mother could not result in very high concentrations of alcohol seen. Dr McKinnon was equally clear that the father’s contention that AG might have ingested alcohol by means of hand sanitiser on his (AG’s) hands and toys was not a plausible explanation for the levels of alcohol seen in AG.
  • In the foregoing circumstances, I am satisfied that the high levels of alcohol in AG were not caused by the use of hand sanitiser on him

 

 

 

The Court found that the alcohol and anti-histamine at high levels in the baby’s test results were as a result of him having been administered those substances by one of his parents.

(ii) Human Agency

 

  • There is no evidence before the court of any other accidental or inadvertent mechanism for the administration of alcohol to AG whilst he was an in-patient. There is no suggestion of an organic cause for the levels of alcohol found in AG. In the circumstances, and being satisfied that the levels were not the result of the use of hand sanitiser, I am satisfied that there is no explanation for the administration of alcohol to AG other than human agency.
  • Whilst the father posits the possibility of negligent administration by medical staff or the use of antihistamine as part of AG’s treatment regime that medical staff subsequently failed to record, neither parent seeks to suggest that antihistamine came to be in AG’s system other than by way of the same being administered to him by somebody. On the evidence of Dr McKinnon, it is clear that fact that the mother in the past took antihistamine does not explain its presence in AG in May 2016 in circumstances where the mother had not been breast feeding for a month prior to the antihistamine being detected. There is no explanation before the court for the levels of antihistamine found in AG on 17 May 2016 beyond administration by human agency. I accept the evidence of Dr Ward that the presence of antihistamine in AG’s system indicates that someone administered that substance to him.

 

Perpetrator(s)

 

  • Satisfied as I am for the reasons set out in the foregoing paragraphs that the alcohol and antihistamine found in AG’s system whilst he was in hospital was administered to him at that time by human agency, I turn now to consider the question of who administered those substances to AG. In summary, I am satisfied that the alcohol and antihistamine were deliberately and covertly administered to AG by one or other of his parents or both of them.
  • There is no evidence before the court that alcohol and antihistamine were administered to AG by one of his treating doctors or nurses. As I have already observed, neither parent has sought to suggest explicitly that the alcohol and antihistamine found in AG’s system was administered by a member of medical staff. Further, in my judgment, there is evidence before the court that positively points away from a conclusion that it was one of AG’s treating doctors or nurses who was responsible. Namely, that AG suffered unexplained episodes that I am satisfied were caused by the administration of alcohol and/or antihistamine in three different medical locations that do not share common staff. In my judgment this undisputed fact militates against the possibility that a member of staff was responsible. This conclusion is in my judgment reinforced by the fact that AG’s unexplained episodes ceased immediately upon the parents being arrested notwithstanding that AG remained an in-patient in hospital for a period of time thereafter. Neither parent has sought to allege it was another family member who administered alcohol and anti-histamine to AG and there is no evidence to that effect before the court.

 

 

 

The Judge carefully explained to the parents that it would be in their best interests now to be honest about what had happened.

 

parents who fail to be frank with the court regarding how their child came to suffer harm may often believe that they thereby put themselves at an advantage. In fact, the very opposite is true. The family courts are not concerned with punishment but with the welfare of the child. An early and frank admission by a parent who has harmed their child allows the court to establish accurately what occurred, to direct a fully informed assessment of risk and, in an appropriate case, to formulate and approve a plan for the safe return of the child to the parent, if necessary with a tailored package of support to address the deficits that first led to the harm. Conversely, where a parent or parents make a conscious decision to hide the truth, the court is much more likely to be left in a position where it will be unable to conclude that the parent can safely parent the child in the future. This is especially the case where the court is compelled to conclude (as it is entitled to do) that the harm was caused by one or other or both of the parents but that it is not possible to tell which. In such a situation, additionally, the parent who did not inflict the harm is materially prejudiced by the failure to be frank of the parent who did.

 

CONCLUSION

 

  • In conclusion, I make the findings set out in the Schedule appended to this judgment. I will allow a short period for the parents to consider the findings made by the court and to respond by way of a further statement to those findings. I will then give directions for the welfare stage of this hearing.
  • Finally, for the reasons I have set out, I am satisfied that neither of the parents has been entirely frank with the court. I am satisfied that they have each made a conscious choice to withhold certain matters rather than giving an account of all that they know about the circumstances in which AG came to have extremely high levels of alcohol and levels of antihistamine in his system. Within this context I have had to try and divine what happened to AG in circumstances where his parents have chosen not to assist the court fully with that task. This judgment represents my considered attempt to discharge the duty of the court in those circumstances on the evidence available to me at this hearing. In so far as the mother and the father consider that this judgment does not represent the full picture of what befell AG, the responsibility for that lies solely at their respective doors.
  • There now comes a very important decision for the parents. To adopt the words of Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead in Lancashire CC v B at 588, in the present case AG is proved to have sustained significant harm at the hands of one or other or both of his parents. Within this context, the parents have a choice. They can consider the findings of the court and choose now to provide the information that I am satisfied that they have thus far withheld from the court to ensure that the local authority assessment that will follow this hearing constitutes a fully informed assessment of risk and allows the court the best possible opportunity to determine whether AG can be safely returned to their care. Conversely, they can continue to withhold information from the court and from professionals and increase thereby the risk of the court of having ultimately to conclude that AG cannot be safely returned to their care.
  • That is my judgment.

 

SCHEDULE OF FINDINGS 

  • Whilst an in-patient at the local hospital and the Evelina Children’s Hospital in London, AG experienced repeated unexplained episodes of unusual limb movements, apnoea, unconsciousness and coma, some of which incidents were life threatening and required intubation and ventilation.
  • No medical explanation for AG’s episodes was found despite extensive testing being undertaken.
  • Specialist blood tests undertaken on 17 May 2016 identified high levels of alcohol in samples of AG’s blood taken on 27 April 2016, 10 May 2016 and 17 May 2016.
  • Specialist urine analysis undertaken on 17 May 2016 identified high levels of alcohol and levels of antihistamine in AG’s urine.
  • Analysis of a sample of AG’s gastric aspirate taken on 17 May 2016 identified high levels of alcohol and levels of antihistamine in his gastric aspirate on that date.
  • The levels of alcohol found in the samples taken from AG were extremely high and would have caused serious toxicity and could have been potentially fatal to him but for the emergency treatment he received as an in-patient.
  • Each of the unexplained episodes experienced by AG at the local hospital and the Evelina Children’s Hospital in London were caused by AG being administered alcohol and / or antihistamine, including those episodes in respect of which blood and urine testing was not undertaken.
  • Each of the unexplained episodes was caused by the mother or the father or both of them deliberately and covertly administering alcohol and /or antihistamine to AG.
  • In deliberately and covertly administering alcohol and /or antihistamine to AG, the mother or the father or both of them caused AG to be subjected to extensive, unnecessary, uncomfortable and painful invasive tests to try and ascertain the cause of the episodes (including but not limited to MRI imaging, electrophysiology, two lumbar punctures, genetic and metabolic testing and video telemetry) and extensive, unnecessary uncomfortable and painful treatments (including, but not limited to, extensive blood testing, catheterisation, intravenous and arterial cannulation, intubation, mechanical ventilation and the administration of antibiotic, anticonvulsant and anti-reflux medication).

 

 

 

 

Extraordinary case – I’ve never come across anything like it.  Luckily, when it comes to matters of hand-washing within a hospital setting, we have the Marx Brothers to give us a visual demonstration.   (In this scene, Groucho has been pretending to be a physician, Dr Hackenbush. He is about to be unmasked by a real doctor, Dr Steinberg. What follows is a masterclass in stalling for time)

 

 

“Blood on her hands”

 

Ben Butler convicted of the murder of his girlfriend’s daughter Ellie, in the criminal Court.

Ellie had been removed from the care of Ben and Ellie’s mother (who was convicted of child cruelty and perverting the course of justice) in 2007 by the family Courts with findings made that they had caused her a serious injury  and placed with Ellie’s grandparents.

In 2012, Mrs Justice Hogg overturned the previous findings and returned Ellie to the care of Ben and Jennie Gray. The Judge had said that fresh medical evidence showed that the previous findings were wrong, and that Ben and Jennie were exonerated and that it had been a miscarriage of justice and that it was a joy to be able to return Ellie to their care.

 

The case was widely reported as a miscarriage of justice in the family Courts, put right by Mrs Justice Hogg and the unusual step was taken to name the family in the judgment, so that everyone could see that their names were cleared.

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/10/12/a-tapestry-of-justice/

 

Eleven months later, Ellie was dead.

 

At the hearing before Mrs Justice Hogg, we now learn that Ellie’s grandfather warned Mrs Justice Hogg that she would have ‘blood on her hands’ if she returned Ellie to Jennie and Ben.

 

You can read about the murder trial here, and the guilty verdict. It was a vicious attack, cynically covered up by the couple, including arranging for Ellie’s sibling to find Ellie’s body 2 hours after the death.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jun/21/ben-butler-found-guilty-of-murdering-six-year-old-daughter-ellie

 

One shudders now in retrospect (knowing what we know about both parties) about the detail that Ben and Jennie employed Max Clifford to run a PR campaign for them in their fight to get Ellie back.

It is really important here not to be wise after the event. The judgment given by Mrs Justice Hogg (which sadly has been taken down from Bailii so as not to prejudice the criminal trial, but which ought in the public interest to go back up) was one that I read at the time, as so many others did, of a case involving very complex medical evidence in a field (shaking injury) which is very medically controversial and with fresh evidence emerging which showed an organic cause for the injury which meant Ben and Jennie were blameless.  The case involved multiple medical experts, whose evidence was pored over by extremely able Silks and lawyers, in front of a very experienced High Court Judge who has always been conscientious and dedicated.

The Local Authority fought very hard to stop Ellie being moved from her grandparents, and her grandparents also resisted it. That meant that all of the evidence was gathered and tested – as fiercely as everyone involved was able to. This was not a rubber-stamp, or a rushed decision. It was a judgment that had all of the safeguards and protections that our system can muster  (a range of experts, all the documents obtained, the evidence tested and tested hard, and a Judge who knew her stuff)

There was nothing within that judgment to make one feel AT THE TIME, that this was a terrible tragic mistake.

But it was.

Even with all the protections of the system, the Court system on this occasion got a decision wrong. And as a result, a child who was safe, is now dead.

That doesn’t mean that we get to apply hindsight and seek to pass blame. The persons responsible for Ellie’s death were Ben and Jennie. Not this Judge. Not the experts who thought there was an innocent explanation for the earlier injury. Not the lawyers who fought fearlessly and to the best of their ability for Ben and Jennie. Certainly not the Local Authority, who fought to prove that Ben and Jennie had hurt Ellie before and would do so again.

Even when you pore over every scrap of paper, hear every shred of evidence, hear all of the arguments and can be sure of your conclusions, predicting the future is an uncertain business. And from time to time, we need to be honest and acknowledge that.

The EVIDENCE that Mrs Justice Hogg heard pointed her to a conclusion that Ben and Jennie had been wrongly accused and had paid for it with the loss of their child, and the EVIDENCE drove her to wanting to put that right. The EVIDENCE that we now have is that this was the wrong decision. But how can a Court decide any other way than on the EVIDENCE that it has at the time?

The system got it wrong here, in deciding what had happened in the past and what would happen in the future, and with awful consequences. The system in the past has got it wrong the other way and removed children that could and should have stayed at home. The system will continue to make mistakes, no matter how hard we try, because human beings are not built to predict the future.  We make all efforts to ensure that we get it right, but we can’t always.

I am very sure how the Press would have handled this case if it had been a social worker who had taken the child away from grandparents and put her back with Ben and Jennie.  The headlines write themselves. The clamour for sackings and heads must roll, and this must never happen again.

Seeing that even a High Court Judge, seized with all of the evidence, with the luxury of seeing that evidence tested as hard as evidence ever can be, can make a mistake reminds us that human beings are beautifully and fearfully made, and all of us have fragility.

 

Mrs Justice Hogg has retired now, and I am sure that the consequences of her decision will weigh heavily on her.

Perhaps this story shows us that sometimes, in assessing the EVIDENCE that one has at the time decisions can be made by very bright, very capable, very conscientious people wanting nothing more than to get things right and to be fair, but still be wrong, and that our knee-jerk Witch-Hunt blame culture doesn’t take account of that, and the inherent difficulty that child protection involves.

Very tangled web and a very sad situation

 

This is a case in which a Judge had to consider very serious sexual abuse allegations and concluded that

The sad fact I have to record is that every female member of that extended family, with the exception of B, has, at some stage in their lifetime, been either sexually abused, or been the subject of inappropriate sexual behaviour, or been groomed for the purposes of sex.

 

The child B, had been placed with a man, Paul E, who was her uncle, but for five years she was brought up believing that he was her father and that Mary E (her aunt) was her mother.  In that household lived an older child A, who really was the daughter of Paul E and Mary E, and thus was B’s cousin, but A and B were told that they were siblings.

 

B’s actual mother Carol M, lived in the house with Paul E and Mary E, and B was brought up thinking that Carol (her real mother) was her sister.

As will be apparent from the description I have given of the relationships between the individuals involved, this is a large family with different familial connections. For reasons which I will deal with in due course, Mary E has, at all times, maintained a house full of children. There has in recent times at the heart of this household been a significant lie. B was led to believe by them that Mary E and Paul E were her parents. Her mother lived with her as her sister. The obviously difficulty created by a lie is that it encourages dishonesty from all affected by that lie. What is clear to me is that when Cafcass, and when Lancashire and Blackburn with Darwen Social Services have been involved in assessing this family in the past, they also have been lied to, as I will elaborate below. That has meant that the value of their assessments was completely undermined. There have been a number of investigations into this family, none of which have got close to the truth of what was going on.

 

The Judge raised that B had been placed there as a result of private law proceedings and that professionals had reported on the family circumstances, and had acquired a false sense of security about the family situation because of the previous involvement of the family Court and because reports and assessments had been written. That involvement gave what was a very risky and dangerous family set up a sense of legitimacy that was not warranted.

 

Legitimacy by court order

  1. One matter I should raise right at the outset. At the time these proceedings were commenced in 2015, A was living with Paul E, her father, and Mary E, his wife, pursuant to a court order made on 20th April 2012. B, at that time, was residing with Paul E and Mary E, neither of whom was her parent, as a result of a court order made on 26th September 2011.
  2. There have been previous proceedings in relation to A. Section J in the bundle was generated by proceedings in 2011 running into 2012, which include a Section 37 Report from Lancashire County Council, together with an addendum to that report, and a report from a Cafcass Officer appointed to assist the court in those proceedings.
  3. Documents relating to previous proceedings concerning B are in Section K in the bundle. Those include a Section 7 Report from Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council from September 2011, provided to the court immediately before the residence order was made to which I have already referred. There was a Cafcass report in addition, which was effectively a letter from the Early Intervention Team setting out what was known about the family.
  4. There have been Social Services and Police involvement with other members of the family in circumstances that I will set out in a little more detail in due course. None of those investigations, whether by the Police, by Cafcass, or by Lancashire, or Blackburn with Darwen Social Services had, in reality, got to the truth of what was going on in the lives of the children who were being cared for by Mary E and Paul E. The fact that there had been investigations and court orders made in favour of Mary E and Paul E gave them a false authority, false in the sense that it was based on a false premise, but authority in the sense that it gave them validation for the way they were bringing up the children, a validation made in ignorance of the truth. It has only been with the benefit of a full investigation into this family that what I am satisfied is the truth has, at last, emerged.

 

 

Paul E (father of A, and uncle of B but caring for her) was the subject of some very grave allegations and the Judge in due course made a series of very grave findings against him. After the Court had heard the evidence and submissions, concluding on a Friday, but before judgment could be given, Paul E took his own life. That must have been horrendous for everyone involved, and awful for the children  (no matter what he had done and what he had exposed them to )

 

The fact finding hearing began on 11th April 2016. By Friday of the second week, I had heard submissions from the advocates as they closed their cases. I had heard evidence from Paul E, and he had attended all of the hearings. On Sunday, 24th April, Paul E took his own life. He left a note maintaining his innocence, and I make it plain I had reached my conclusions on the factual matters in this case before his death. I do not regard his suicide as a tacit admission of his guilt of the matters alleged against him.

 

It emerged from the evidence, and the judgment, that Paul E had received a very serious head injury in 2005 having been assaulted in a pub and kicked in the head. The judgment reads as though this head injury had an impact on his personality, behaviour and possibly sexual functioning. That is not to excuse or condone the actions that the Judge found that he had undertaken, but it does to an extent provide a better understanding of it.

 

The Judge was also mindful of the effect of alcohol on Paul E

 

In fact the evidence I heard shows conclusively that throughout his adult life Paul E had drunk to excess and when under the influence of drink could be a very different man from the pleasant individual he could be when sober.

Child questioned on FORTY FOUR occasions about alleged abuse by father

Such abuse turning out to have never happened and having been fabricated by the mother.

 

This is an extraordinary case heard by MacDonald J

AS v TH (False Allegations of Abuse) [2016] EWHC 532 (Fam) (11 March 2016)    

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/532.html

It was a private law case, though one threaded through by involvement with social workers, police officers and therapists.  It began when the mother of two children N and S, left TH (the father of S) and moved from Scotland to England.

She then made a series of allegations of abuse by TH, both against her and against the children.

To turn to the paragraph that gave this post its headline

 

78. Namely, that between 11 August 2014 and 29 July 2015, and when account is taken of the intervention by CAMHS that I will detail later in this judgment, the children were questioned with respect to, or seen as a consequence of the allegations made in this case, often in the presence of each other and their mother, by no less than nineteen professionals on no less than twenty occasions for S and no less than forty-four occasions for N. Five different police officers were involved with interviewing the boys.

 

The Judge notes at the end of the judgment, the comments of the Guardian.

235. The Children’s Guardian attended each day of this fact finding hearing. Having listened to the evidence in this case the Children’s Guardian told the court that she considered this case to be “quite extraordinary“. Surveying the conduct of professionals in this case she concluded that “it is as if a sort of hysteria took over and prevented people from asking certain questions“. I cannot help but agree.

 

To be honest, the case is peppered with judicial despair/horror about what had happened, and I could pluck critical paragraphs from almost anywhere.

But the opening gives you a flavour of where things are going:-

 

  1. This is very troubling case. In Re E (A Minor)(Child Abuse: Evidence) [1991] 1 FLR 420 at 447H Scott- Baker J observed:
      1. “It is disappointing that, despite the passage of time since the Cleveland report, several witnesses had either not read the report at all or, if they had, they ignored its conclusions in many respects. Permeating the whole case is the underlying theme of ‘the child must be believed’. Of course what any child says must be listened to and taken seriously, but the professionals must be very careful not to prejudge the issue”.
  2. Seventeen years later Holman J felt compelled to make similar observations in the case of Leeds City Council v YX & ZX (Assessment of Sexual Abuse) [2008] 2 FLR 869 at [143] as follows:
      1. “I wish only to stress…the very great importance of including in any assessment every aspect of a case. Very important indeed is the account of the child, considered, of course, in an age appropriate way. An express denial is no less an account than is a positive account of abuse. It is also, in my opinion, very important to take fully into account the account and demeanour of the parents, and an assessment of the family circumstances and general quality of the parenting…Even 20 years after the Cleveland Inquiry, I wonder whether its lessons have fully been learned.”
  3. Eight years after the decision in Leeds City Council v YX & ZX and nearly 30 years after the Cleveland Inquiry I have found myself during the course of this hearing asking myself the self-same question as that posed by Holman J.

 

 

And the closing

 

  1. 230. I am satisfied that that N and S have been the subject of emotional abuse by their mother by reason of her conduct towards them as set out above. I am satisfied that as a result of the conduct of the mother detailed in this judgment both children have suffered significant emotional harm.
  2. As I stated at the outset of this judgment, this is a very concerning case. In August 2014 the mother manufactured alarm using a falsified version of past events in an attempt to avoid returning the children to Scotland. Using a combination of emotional pressure, inappropriate exposure to adult discussions and, on occasion, coaching, the mother proceeded to recruit the children to her cause. With the aid of repeated and persistent poor practice by a range of professionals the mother further succeeded in enclosing the narrative she had created within a hermetically sealed bubble, thereby succeeding in preventing professionals carrying out the checks that would have revealed that the allegations that were being made first by the mother, and then by the children required, at the very least, a critical and questioning appraisal. Indeed, by reason of their almost entirely unquestioning approach towards the mother, a number of professionals simply acquiesced to their confinement in that bubble. Had professionals adhered to well established guidance and procedure they would have discovered that the allegations lacked credibility.
  3. It is important to recognise that the professional failures I have set out have had consequences. By reason of the failure of the relevant agencies to follow the clear and well established guidance and procedure the children were not only left in a situation where a parent was permitted to persist in conduct that was harmful to their emotional welfare but, by their omissions, those agencies actively contributed to that harm.
  4. Child abuse, including child sexual abuse, exists as a terrible reality in society. Professionals charged with safeguarding the welfare of children must be constantly vigilant. As Ms Lot rightly pointed out to me, professionals are trained to adopt an approach by which they recognise that such abuse can happen anywhere. However, in circumstances where false allegations of abuse are also a reality in society, it is essential that this professional vigilance is allied firmly to the rigorous application of practice and procedure designed to ensure the proper investigation of allegations of abuse if injustices are to be avoided.
  5. Within this context, this case suggests that it is once again necessary to re-iterate the importance of the principles set out at Paragraphs 22 to 52 above. When investigating allegations of child abuse, including allegations of child sexual abuse, it is imperative that all professionals involved adhere to the law and guidance set out in those paragraphs so as to ensure the rigorous and fair investigation of allegations that is the foundation of ensuring the children concerned are safeguarded.
    In terms of detail, the Judge described one of the ABE interviews. Apologies that some of the questions are graphic, but I’m afraid that’s the nature of the allegations. Bear in mind that the ABE guidance is really clear and strong about the need for the account to emerge from the child and the need to avoid leading questions.
      1. 188….DC Hackworthy’s had concluded that S was not suitable for interview. S’s interview on 5 March 2015 took place in the context of him having little notice that it was going to take place, having been removed early from school for the interview, not having eaten and being given snacks prior to the interview, which he consumed during the interview. It is clear from watching the interview that this creates a distraction for S. The items he was given to snack on during the interview were given to him by his mother immediately before the interview commenced and were considered by S to be treats. As with N, at the outset of S’s interview at the outset of the interview DC Glendenning told S that “If you say something really, really interesting she is going to write it down“. DC Glendenning thus, once again, created a cue for S whereby he would know what the “interesting” answers were by watching the officer’s pen.
      2. During the course of his interview S stated that his father had hit him on the arm and had choked him. He said this happened when the mother went to “Nanny S’s” with N but his father said he could not go. S also alleged that his father gave him wine (a new allegation). Later S also alleged that TH punched him in the neck (also a new allegation). Thereafter S repeatedly made clear to DC Glendenning that that is the sum of what had happened he has nothing more to say. From watching the interview it is clear that S is very firm in this regard. Notwithstanding this, DC Glendenning continued to push S to reveal further matters. At this point the interview departed even further from the precepts of the guidance.
      3. After S has stated eight times that nothing else happened DC Glendenning embarked on the following exchange with S:
          1. Q: Right, what about when you are alone with your dad?

A: When I’m alone with my dad he’s been a, he’s been nice but when Grandma was, is here, he’s been nice when, when she isn’t here, she’ he hasn’t been nice.

Q: OK, has your dad ever done anything dirty to you? Dirty, that you didn’t like:

A: Mmm, nothing else.

Q: Nothing else, erm, also its very important today that we find out everything, erm and also we’ve been speaking to your brother and he said some things that your dad did that wasn’t very nice to him, and that were dirty. Had your brother told you about these?

A: No.

Q: As he ever told you anything that your dad did to him?

A: Mmm mmmm, hasn’t seen and I’ve forgot…nothing.

Q: Nothing, are you sure there’s nothing else that’s worrying ye and?

A: There’s nothing else.

Q: Nothing?

A: Mmmmm.

      1. Prior to this point S has not used the word “dirty” at any stage. In seeking to explain why she had introduced this DC Glendenning said in evidence that it was because it was “difficult to get him to open up” and she was trying to put “it” in S’s terms of something possibly sexual. DC Glendenning appeared initially to be unaware of the forensic difficulties created by the interviewer introducing the concept of “dirty” events in the context of S being alone with TH before S had raised the issue in any way. However, ultimately DC Glendenning accepted in cross examination it was wrong to introduce the word. DC Glendenning accepted that S may well have perceived this as her wanting him to say that his father had done something dirty to him.
      2. Notwithstanding that S had again made clear in response to the foregoing questions that nothing else had happened, DC Glendenning still persisted. She next informed S that she was aware that S had said things to Ms Khanom. DC Glendenning conceded in cross examination that she had no note of what it was that S was said to have said to Ms Khanom and, as set out above, that Ms Khanom had no clear recollection. Within this context the following exchange took place:
          1. Q: Can you remember what you told her?

A: I told her the same as I just told you.

Q: Nothing else?

A: I told her a little bit of it but not that much.

Q: I think she says you like to say it in its parts and its part 1 and part 2 when your talking about things.

A: Mmmm.

Q: And that you said that part 1 was dirty, can you, it’s really, really important if you could tell me what part 1 is today and then you don’t need to tell me again, can you tell me what part 1 is? What your dad did?

A: Mmmm, really don’t want to tell that bit.

Q: It’s just.

A: I really I really don’t like telling that bit.

Q: I know you really don’t like telling it but see, N’s been very very brave today and he’s told us part 1 and part 2, what happened to him. And obviously, we want to make sure that your safe and that you’re here safe with your mum so we need to know what [TH] did, so that we can make sure that your nice and safe and make sure if he’s a bad person that nothing else will happen to anybody else, do you understand that? And I know it’s, it’s scary telling strangers about things that happened but it’s very very important that we know, so that we can do the right thing and we can make sure that the bad man is dealt with, do you understand that? And Mihema (sic) told me that you told her, so just, if you just told me just that once, then I can sort, I can make it all sorted.

A: Well mummy told the nurse but I don’t want told her, the nurse parts1.

Q: I know.

A: Mum told that the bad, bad dirty man done it to me.

Q: I know, but it’s good that your mum told us, but we really need you to tell us, so that.

A: Mmmm

Q: So that we know exactly what happened, you only need to tell it once because that’s why the cameras are here cause one you tell it that’s it. And then you can go back and nobody will be annoying you again. Understand it is very very important. Could you just tell me it really, really quickly?

A: Mmm, Mmm, I couldn’t say it that quickly.

Q: Can’t say it that quickly, how about then, we go back, was it, was it in your dad’s house? In the flat?

That pain in your forehead is because you just banged your head on your desk or keyboard, or any solid object close at hand at how terribly leading that interview is. Oh. My. God.

    1. It is difficult to know where to start with respect to summarising what is wrong with the approach by DC Glendenning set out above. Indeed, the passage largely speaks for itself as an example of extremely poor interviewing practice. DC Glendenning’s questions start from the premise that something “dirty” has happened to S, that TH is the perpetrator (pre-cast by the questioning into the role of the “bad person” and the “bad man”), place emotional pressure on S by telling him that N and his mother are “brave” and “good” for telling what happened and that a statement by him is needed to keep others safe and make promises to S that are unjustified (i.e. if he tells it once he will not have to tell it again). In addition, certain of DC Glendenning’s questions were misleading in other respects. In particular, N had not in his interview made his allegations in terms of “part 1” and “part 2”. Finally, it is clear that S has plainly overheard his mother making allegations to a “nurse” that “the bad, bad dirty man done it to me“.
    2. Within this context, DC Glendenning’s was forced to concede during cross examination that she had during this phase of the interview placed grave pressure on a five year old child to make an allegation against his father. DC Glendenning further conceded that following this passage of questioning that S may well have felt he had little choice but to give DC Glendenning what she wanted.

 

And yet, we’re STILL not done with how bad this ABE could get.

    1. Following the exchange set out above DC Glendenning then proceeded to question S in detail starting, as can be seen, from the premise that something has happened. S told DC Glendenning that what occurred had occurred in Scotland, that he was wearing the pirate costume that he was wearing in the interview (which seems unlikely) and that N was not present. S said that his father did “a naughty thing“. When asked what this was S again limited his allegation to “He. He choked me and he hit me and, and he punched me, and and he, he made me drink that wine“.
    2. DC Glendenning tried yet again. Finally, after telling DC Glendenning that he only wanted to talk to one person, after it was proposed that the other officer leaves the room, and after DC Glendenning said “And you can quickly tell me what happened and then that’s it, would that be OK” S stated that TH “asked me to put his willy in my bum“. S went on to state that “he, he only asked though” and “He didn’t try he just asked“. When DC Glendenning asked “did he ever try and put his willy in your bum” S was adamant that he had not.
    3. Still DC Glendenning refused to accept that as the final position and re-introduces Ms Khanom, asking (again without having access to any recording of what S actually said to Ms Khanom) “Right, erm, when you speaking to Mihema (sic) earlier on, she says that your told her that your dad [TH] put his willy in your bum“. DC Glendenning did not seek to explore with S different versions he had given to Dr Haji and Ms Ille. When, at the end of this exchange, DC Glendenning askes S “Have you ever touched his willy?” S replies “Mmmm of course not“. Later in the interview S states that TH “didn’t do anything to mum“.
    4. Following the interview of S DC Glendenning completed an additional comments form. On that form DC Glendenning recorded her impression of S during the interview as being one of child who “appeared nervous, frightened and confused over what was right or wrong“. Within this context, during cross examination regarding the interviews of S and N on 5 March 2015 DC Glendenning conceded that she was concerned during the interviews that both the children had been coached and that that concern never fully left her during the course of those interviews.

 

 

The social work interview with the children took place WHILST the mother was present and in front of EACH OTHER. I apologise if you now have another blinding pain in the head. Sorry.  Pause for a moment, and pop a pillow in front of you. You will still feel the head-desk urge, but you will now have a softer landing.

 

On 8 December 2014 both children were seen by a social worker from Westminster, a Ms Ille. The records demonstrate that the children were repeatedly questioned by the social worker together and in the presence of the mother and in a highly leading manner that paid no heed at all to proper practice.

 

Once again, I am entirely unclear why Ms Ille, a qualified social worker, saw fit to question the children in company of each other and in front of their mother and to allow the mother to participate in that questioning and to reveal her worries and concerns in the presence of the children. Efforts to secure the attendance of Ms Ille for cross examination proved unsuccessful.

 

Have you got that pillow or soft object handy? If not, get it now. Because we’re going back to a bit about the ABE interview that I didn’t dare tell you before.  DEPLOY your pillow now.  Actually, get a second pillow. Use that too. You are seriously not going to believe this.

 

  1. Further, DC Glendenning stated that she realised straight away that N had notes with him. She further stated that she was concerned that it was possible someone had helped him write those notes. In evidence the mother claimed that N compiled these the night before the interview by himself upstairs. She denied that she talked to him about what he should say in the interview. DC Glendenning was clear in her view that the mother had seen the notes prior to the interview and said as much. DC Glendenning was also certain that the mother had known N was writing the notes and had read the notes prior to the start of the interview. DC Glendenning said she was concerned that N had been prepared for the interview.
  2. Notwithstanding her concerns that N had been prepared for the interview, DC Glendenning proceeded to interview N with his notes available to him. DC Glendenning justified this course of action by reason of N being “desperate” to have access to the notes. N’s desperation to have the notes is clear from the DVD of the interview which I have seen. In particular, it is significant that when it became apparent to N that his notes may be removed, N became flustered and gave a confused answer which indicated that his recollection was not firm.

 

You say notes, I say script, let’s call the whole thing off. Yes, let’s…..

 

There’s another social work investigation, but the social worker doesn’t speak to anyone other than mum and the children, having been told by mum that it is too dangerous for the family for anyone who knows dad to be approached. The social worker had to accept that she had approached the case as though all of the allegations were true, and commended mum for taking protective action when closing the case.

 

  1. I have made reference above to the social worker, Ms Salamant. The refuge made a referral to Hackney Children’s Services on 8 September 2014. Hackney commenced a s 47 investigation on 9 September 2015, which assessment was concluded on 23 October 2014. Ms Salamant was the allocated social worker. There were patent deficiencies in her assessment.
  2. The assessment was completed solely based on information from the mother or information for which the mother was the only source and, latterly, on information gleaned from the children at a series of meetings and, in respect of N, an ABE interview. During her evidence Ms Salamant conceded that, in complete disregard of the principles of good practice that I have set out above, she at no point contacted either father of the children or any member of the children’s extended maternal or paternal families and at no point contacted the children’s previous schools or the health services previously engaged with the children. Ms Salamant further conceded that she did not speak to the mother’s new partner, ER, nor sought to carry out police checks with respect to him (notwithstanding that the refuge expressed concern regarding this relationship).[2] Indeed, until told in the witness box Ms Salamant did not know his address or that he too had children.
  3. Ms Salamant’s omissions were grounded in an apparent unquestioning acceptance of the mother’s claim that it was too dangerous to contact the fathers, the maternal and paternal extended families, the children’s former schools and doctors or the local authorities from whose area they had moved for fear that TH would locate the family. Ms Salamant accepted without question the allegations made by the mother that that TH and BC had “colluded” to find the mother’s address in England, that TH was linked to drug dealers, that “someone” may be sent to England to find the family, that TH was seeking to kidnap the children and that her own mother might accept money from TH to disclose the family’s whereabouts. Ms Salamant made no efforts to investigate whether these matters that the mother claimed prevented a full assessment were, in fact, credible. As I have already set out above, each of the assertions by the mother were, it transpires, entirely un-evidenced and, I am satisfied, untrue.
  4. Finally, and as a consequence perhaps of her one dimensional assessment, it was plain to me having heard her in the witness box that Ms Salamant had proceeded at all times on the basis that the allegations made by the mother and the children regarding domestic and sexual abuse were, without question, true. At no point did Ms Salamant interrogate this assumption.
  5. In light of the findings I set out in the Schedule at the conclusion of this judgment, it is sobering to note that when she closed the case on 23 October 2014 Ms Salamant stated that the mother:
      1. “…has taken all the necessary steps to ensure that N and S are safe from harm and has demonstrated a capacity to reflect on her experiences and provide the children with a sense of stability and safety during this uncertain time.”

On behalf of the mother, Ms Krish concedes, very properly, that Ms Salamant’s assessment, when viewed, as it must be, through the prism of the guidance set out in the Cleveland Report and Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015, was fundamentally flawed and lacked even the basic information upon which to base judgments regarding the welfare of the children or the credibility of their and their mother’s allegations.

 

There was a pre ABE meeting in October 2014, and unfortunately, the recollections of the social worker and police officer as to what happened at that meeting do not only fail to match but they are diametrically opposed.

 

  1. As a result of the mother’s report of what N and S had said on 11 September 2014 the children were seen at the refuge by two Police Officers, DC Card and DC Bishop, and Ms Salamant. The account of DC Bishop and that of Ms Salamant as to what N said on this occasion are diametrically opposed. Neither DC Bishop nor Ms Salamant took contemporaneous, or near contemporaneous notes of their conversation with the children. S refused to speak despite encouragement from his mother in the presence of the two Police Officers and Ms Salamant.
  2. Ms Salamant stated in evidence that upon arrival there was a brief discussion between the adults present in the presence of the children. Ms Salamant stated that this was a “general conversation” at which it was explained to the children that police officers present to ensure they were safe and well. Ms Salamant could not however recall the full conversation. DC Bishop said the mother was with the children for the whole of the introductory conversation during which DC Bishop was talking to the children. In contrast to Ms Salamant, DC Bishop estimated that that conversation lasted 15 to 20 minutes. No record of that conversation was made.
  3. With respect to the allegations said to have been made by N, Ms Salamant could not recall what N had actually said nor the context in which he said it. After returning to the office and nearly three hours after the meeting had begun Ms Salamant made an entry in her records, namely that (a) TH had played with S’s privates, (b) TH tried to drown me and gave me “Chinese” burns and (c) he witnessed TH hit his mother. Ms Salamant also recorded that “N made a disclosure stating that [the mother] is isolated and is not in touch with friend and family“. She conceded that N would not have used the form of language in the record she completed and accepted that her recording was wholly inadequate. She further recalled that the mother had made the same allegations as those she ascribed to N and appeared, ultimately, to be uncertain as to whether that which is recorded in her record came from N or from the mother.
  4. Within this context DC Bishop, having also participated in the conversation with N, recorded in her pocket book only that N “stated that his brother’s dad had hurt him when he dropped food on the floor.DC Bishop readily conceded that her notes were very poor. DC Bishop was however very clear in her oral evidence that N made only one allegation. DC Bishop said that she did not hear N say anything about the matters recorded by Ms Salamant in the social work records. In my assessment, DC Bishop was a more reliable historian that Ms Salamant

 

 

Interview by GP

 

(vii) Appointment with Dr Haji on 8 October 2014

  1. On 8 October 2014 N and S were taken to see Dr Haji, a general practitioner. It would appear that at the outset of the appointment the mother gave Dr Haji an account of the family’s background and of the allegations of sexual abuse in the presence of both N and S. The social work entry records that, in front of S, Dr Haji asked N to describe what he had seen TH doing to S and that (in another slightly different account) N is recorded stated that TH “touched S down below and entered him.”
  2. Dr Haji records that S was “unfortunately present” when N pointed to his penis and said he tried to put this into S’s back passage. Within this context, the social work record of this appointment states that at this point, and several times thereafter, S interjected forcefully and said “that’s a lie, that didn’t happen“. Dr Haji’s note records that S shouted that “this had not happened“. Within this context Dr Haji is recorded as having contacted children’s services to express his initial concern that S (given the context I suspect the recording is mistaken and Dr Haji in fact said N) may have been asked to disclose the sexual assault allegation.
  3. I am entirely unclear why Dr Haji saw fit to take a history from the mother of the family’s issues in front of the children. Notwithstanding that it produced several forceful, and forensically significant, denials from S, I am equally unclear why Dr Haji considered it to be proper to permit N recite his allegation concerning the sexual abuse of S in S’s presence

 

 

There were allegations at school, and the procedures there too were not followed

 

  1. The most recent safeguarding training at the school, a copy of which I have also seen, makes clear under that the ‘Cause for Concern Form’ must include exact information, the name of the child and the date. The training makes clear that the teacher receiving the allegation must not ask questions and should not tell carers of concerns unless part of an agreed strategy.
  2. Both Ms Lot and Ms Duggan appear to have failed comprehensively to follow their own school’s safeguarding guidance and training and the accepted good practice with regard to the recording of allegations made by children. In the case of Ms Lot, in addition to not making any written record, she proceeded to question N and informed the mother (apparently in N’s presence) of what he had said. These are in my judgment serious omissions on the part of a teacher fulfilling a child protection role. As a result, the court is left with no accurate record of what N said and no clear idea of when he said it.

 

 

The Judge was satisfied that the father had not abused the children and that the mother had fabricated the allegations. There’s a lot of detail in the judgment about this, if you are sceptical, I’d point you towards reading that. (Being fair, just because the investigative process was flawed does not mean that the allegations were untrue, so you would need to read those passages to be sure).

 

  1. Standing back to survey the broad canvas of the evidence, I am satisfied for the reasons I have given that not only were the allegations made by the mother and the children false, but further that the allegations made by the children were generated by the mother placing unwarranted emotional pressure on the children by herself making false allegations regarding TH and making them known to the children, by inappropriately involving the children in adult discussions and by, on occasion, actively coaching the children to make allegations against TH.
  2. In the case of Re W (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 772 Ryder LJ (as he then was) observed as follows with respect to the significance of parents who make or cause to be made false allegations of physical and sexual abuse:
      1. “Given the prevalence of false allegations made by parents against each other in private law proceedings, conduct at this level by a parent should be understood to be serious child abuse that will usually necessitate intervention by a court.”
  3. Within this context, and having regard to the extensive matters set out above, I am satisfied that that N and S have been the subject of emotional abuse by their mother by reason of her conduct towards them as set out above. I am satisfied that as a result of the conduct of the mother detailed in this judgment both children have suffered significant emotional harm.

 

The Judge also outlined that the failure of all of the professionals to follow proper procedures had harmed the children and compounded the emotional harm that the mother was causing them.

 

  1. I am further satisfied on the evidence that the actions of certain professionals in this case breached well-established principles of good practice, actively contributed to the difficulties that I have set out above and materially prejudiced the welfare of both children:
    1. i) Almost all the professionals and agencies involved with the children proceeded on the unquestioning basis that the mother was telling the truth and failed to interrogate that assumption by carrying out basic enquiries. The most acute example of this was the assessment of Ms Salamant. Ms Krish properly concedes that the social worker never really challenged the mother’s account and that the most basic independent professional enquiries were not undertaken. Ms Salamant’s failure to challenge the mother’s account and accept it at face value meant that she permitted the mother to dictate completely the frame of reference for the actions of the local authority and other agencies and meant that mother succeeded in portraying herself and the children as victims of serious physical and sexual abuse when in fact they were not. Ms Salamant’s failure to make enquiries of the fathers, the children’s extended families, the children’s schools, doctors and previous local authorities was particularly egregious in circumstances where such enquiries would have revealed a fundamentally different picture to that being painted by the mother.

ii) A number of professionals failed in their duty to keep accurate records of what the mother and the children were saying. This failure was particularly acute (a) on 12 September 2014 where neither DC Bishop nor Ms Salamant kept accurate records of their meeting with the family, resulting in accounts of what the children said that were diametrically opposed, (b) at N’s school in September and October 2014 where Ms Duggan and Ms Lot failed to make any record at all of the allegations made by N in breach of the schools own safeguarding policy, Ms Lot attempting to pass this failure off as a feature of the case being open to social services and (c) on 29 October 2014 when DS Hackworthy took no notes at all of his pre-ABE interview with N and S. Outside the interviews of the children, not one professional recorded a contemporaneous or near contemporaneous account of what the children said to them.

iii) A number of professionals took it upon themselves to question the children with respect to the allegations outside the regulated confines of an ABE interview. There was a particular failure to follow the guidelines by (a) Dr Haji on 8 October 2014 who proceeded to elicit an account from N in front of S, (b) Ms Lot at N’s school between September and October 2015, who took it upon herself to ask multiple questions of N, (b) Ms Ille on 8 December 2014 who repeatedly questioned both children in a highly leading manner (having never met the children) and (d) Ms Khanom who likewise proceeded to question the children in a leading manner.

iv) There was an apparent failure of agencies to co-ordinate their interventions in respect of the children. The most extreme symptom of this was the number of professionals the children were spoken to by in respect of the allegations. As set out above, between 11 August 2014 and 29 July 2015, and when account is taken of the intervention by CAMHS, the children were questioned with respect to, or seen as a consequence of the allegations made in this case, often in the presence of each other, by no less than nineteen professionals on no less than twenty occasions for S and no less than forty-four occasions for N with five different police officers were involved with interviewing the boys.

v) For the reasons I have set out above both DC Bishop and DC Glendenning failed to apply, in the case of DC Bishop, Achieving Best Evidence, and in the case of DC Glendenning, the Guidance on the Joint Investigative Interviewing of Child Witnesses in Scotland. The results of this failure are plain from the passages of the interviews set out above. DC Glendenning conceded that the sole purpose of the interviews on 5 March 2014 was “to get evidence of sexual abuse“. DC Glendenning’s conduct of the interviews on 5 March 2014 with N and S represent in my judgment particularly serious examples of poor interviewing practice.

vi) Finally, ahead of any findings of fact being made or criminal conviction in respect of the allegations, CAMHS intervention in this case extended to therapeutic intervention for N by three psychiatric and psychological specialists in addition to group therapy over 29 sessions and for S over six Play Therapy sessions on the basis that both children had been abused in the manner alleged by the mother.