This case, decided by Ms Justice Russell, involved a 15 year old, an 11 year old and a 4 year old, all who had become involved in a private law contact dispute between their parents.
FY v MY 2016
Readers may recall that Reggie Perrin had a brother-in-law, called Jimmy. Like all characters in Reggie Perrin, Jimmy had a catch-phrase and his was “There’s been a bit of a c( ) ck-up on the old catering front” – meaning that he needed to borrow a bit of money from Reggie to tide him over. [I’ve written the letter “o” here as brackets, to stop it being devoured by over-eager spam filters]
Jimmy also had plans to build his own (fairly) secret army, which was to be opposed to just about everything, including long haired weirdos, short haired weirdos, keg bitter, namby pamby probation officers and glue sniffers – I think Jimmy might do rather well in modern politics, as it goes. I think he might acquire a significant number of followers.
In this case, here are the reasons that the father might have needed anger management
- On the 1st February 2014 K and M went to spend time with their father at 11 am; L followed later at noon having completed his homework. At 9:30 that night L arrived at home saying that their father had hit K so L had run away. MY tried to call K’s phone, FY’s apartment and FY’s mobile phone and when the phone was answered she could hear K who was very distressed and crying. When K got home at about 10:15 pm he was clearly very distressed.
- The boys told their mother that FY had taken them to a restaurant and had made reference to a solicitor’s letter; a comment or response of L’s angered their father and L tried to explain to FY that he was not taking sides, at which point FY started to swear at them and call them abusive names. When K responded FY kicked at him under the table as a result of which K sustained abrasions and marks to his legs (which were seen the next day by his doctor and the court has seen the doctor’s report). They told their mother that their father kicked at L and punched his side. They left the restaurant and both boys sat in the back of the car as K did not want to sit in the front with his father. When K tried to phone his mother and his father saw this he told K not to call and tell her what had happened, but K continued to try to make the call. FY then attempted to take the phone away from his son whilst driving the car, by reaching around the car seats grabbing at K. L tried to intervene and became caught up in the altercation and said that he had been hit on the side of his face near his eye twice, he thought by his father’s elbow. From the pictures taken after the event it is apparent that L’s face was bruised and swollen on one side (the court has seen the doctor’s report about the injuries sustained by L).
- When they arrived outside their father’s apartment building, as the boys later told their mother, the struggle between K and his father continued with FY pushing K into the building leaving K with red marks to his the left hand side of his face. About five minutes later at 9:35 pm L arrived at home in a distressed state. MY immediately tried to call K on his mobile and, as he did not reply, called the land line to FY’s apartment. She says that FY answered and she could hear her son crying and asked to speak to him but FY did not allow her to and put the phone down. About 50 minutes later FY returned K to his mother’s home. K was flushed and very upset, he and L sit close to their mother with their heads on her lap, crying. Both boys did not want to see or speak to their father. They were seen and checked over by their doctor on the 4th February, who provided their mother with a short report which sets out their injuries and confirms they are consistent with the assaults as reported. I have seen the documents and accompanying photographs.
- The day after, on 2nd February 2014, according to their mother, K and L refused to speak to or see their father. FY phoned and asked to speak to L who did not want to speak to him. At about mid-afternoon FY called again and asked to see M, and for L to go to see him as well. L told his mother that he was scared that if he did not go his father will be angry with him. FY then started to call MY’s mobile phone, the landline and the nanny, repeatedly, to demand that L and M came immediately. MY told him, on the nanny’s phone, that M was on his way but that L would not be coming as he did not want to go. FY was abusive to MY and continued to make repeated phone calls which caused distress to the boys, their mother and the nanny. FY left the country that day and did not return until the 20th March 2014. He chose not to attend court on the 13th March 2014; a hearing which was to listed to review the contact agreed in December 2013.
- The boys have continued to be affected by the events of the 1st February. K has spoken to the teachers at his school about what happened and, entirely appropriately the school was concerned about what he had said and the events have been noted on his school records. It is their mother’s recollection that FY did not contact the boys until about 15th February when L spoke to him briefly but K refused to speak to him. On 19th February FY’s sister contacted K to try get him to contact his father but K was clear in his response to his aunt that he would not do so.
- On the 23rd February there is an exchange of text messages between father and son; K said that he did not want speak to or see FY “I already know the whole truth because you are a liar and mama is not.” In his response FY, again, raised the court case and texted “Didn’t u want to live in dubai?” K responds, “I don’t want to live with you you said you will never hit me again and you did …I wanted to live in Dubai but not with you.” His father responded “I did not hit u. I love u very much and I miss you.” K texted “You kicked me which is even worse”. FY went on in his text to say that K had hit him and that he had forgiven K, to which K responded “After you kicked me, and pulled my hair and scratched my face.” FY again made reference to the court proceedings and says that he was “fighting for” K and K replies “I don’t care about you and I don’t forgive you for kicking me.” When his father responded by texting that he forgave K and changed the subject to football but K texted; “Well I don’t and because you haven’t even apologised to me.” FY texted “I am sorry baba. I love u” and K texted back; “Fine I will give you one more warning but please don’t kick me again.” FY then asked K to apologise and promise that he will never talk like that to his father again. He was insistent that K posted (on social media) “something nice about ur baba in ur status message” and despite K’s responding three times that he wanted to sleep FY kept texting him. It was well after 10 o’clock at night when all this took place.
It must therefore have been momentarily pleasing to the Judge to learn that father was engaging in anger-management work. Momentarily pleasing.
- On the 26th September 2014 FY applied for interim contact. The case was listed before me on the 3rd October 2014 and by that time the case came FY had undertaken an anger management course with a Dr A-M in Dubai. Doubts were raised about the efficacy of this course and it is a fact, as FY told me in his oral evidence, that Dr A-M is a friend of his of many years standing and that Dr A-M is now married to a member of FY’s family.
- I have not heard evidence during this hearing regarding the suitability or otherwise of the course that FY undertook but I question the wisdom of undertaking a course run by someone who a reasonable and independent observer would consider to be unlikely to be able to maintain the requisite objectivity to lead successfully. On the face of it a longstanding friendship would be more likely than not to compromise the ability of any professional to challenge the behaviour, mind-set and prejudices of the participant, and it must be the case that any anger management course must rigorously challenge aggressive behaviour and personal misconceptions of a participant in order to be effective.
I don’t think that Dr A-M was quite a brother in law to FY, but certainly related to him by marriage, which is what put Jimmy in my mind. Well, that, and the fact that the father also brought sit-coms into the mix, by peculiarly comparing his son to Del-boy from Only fools and horses (?) (I know…) Of course, whilst Del-Boy’s catch phrase was “this time next year, we’ll be millionaires”, it is suggested elsewhere in the judgment that this might be a step-down in fortunes for FY rather than a pipe-dream.
FY told AFC [Anna Freud Centre – the experts instructed] that he wanted his children to be respectful towards him but that K had been brainwashed by his mother and Cafcass had added to it; he had not spoken to him for two weeks. He said that her family were using the children as hostages. He described L as like Del-Boy in Only Fools and Horses and said L “is a commercial guy you can bargain with him“. FY said he was angry with K that is why he did not call him – “culturally in this case he needs to apologise…I tell L if K wants to call me then he knows how to get hold of me…this conflict is a cultural conflict, they turn the British system against me – she is bringing them up to have disrespect for me.” When talking of the incidence of physical chastisement FY said “I regret nothing regarding the children – the only thing was I was an idiot to let her come back to London.” When asked if the anger management course had proved helpful he said that he had “never had an anger problem.” These comments of FY are illuminating and reveal the basis of his case, his approach to these proceedings and his attitude towards his ex-wife and children.
I suppose if you absolutely had to, on pain of death, describe one of your children as a character from Only Fools and Horses, that it would probably be better to go for the Del-Boy comparison than using Trigger, but that’s a small crumb of comfort. In all other circumstances though, don’t compare your children to Only Fools and Horses characters.
After various attempts to get contact back up and running, the case came back to Court
- When the case came back to court there had been a breakdown in L’s relationship with his father. According to his mother’s written evidence (contained in her final statement dated 8th January 2016) FY had continued to contact the boys, particularly L outside of the times set down in the court order. He continued to make reference to, and discuss, these proceedings with the boys. He had also attempted (and sometimes succeeded) in engineering encounters with the boys, for example to contrive to see L pass by on the bus to or from school. In isolation this latter action on FY’s part would be innocuous but it was part of a pattern of behaviour designed to go behind court orders and to involve the children in flouting the orders of the court. FY had become angry with L when his son told him that he had to comply with the court timetable for telephone contact. In any event the order was a generous one for contact to take place every day.
- MY’ evidence was that it was sometime around the 16th of October 2015 that FY last spoke to L and told him to “listen…listen carefully”; and, whatever the content of the conversation his mother said both in her written and oral evidence that L ended up screaming at his father down the phone saying that his father was ruining his life. L had not spoken to his father since. Nor has his father spoken to him or even tried to; his father told me during the hearing in January 2016 that he was still waiting for an apology from L; he betrayed no sign of the hurt and confusion he must be causing his son and it was obvious that he not only considered himself to be in the right but that he also considered himself, a fully grown man, to be the wronged party at the hands of a distressed and unhappy young adolescent. From the evidence before me it was not possible to say exactly when this incident on the phone took place but it was certainly before the hearing on the 5th November 2015.
The father after the children met with Mr McGavin, the CAFCASS officer, tried to induce his son L to send him a text message that the father could produce in Court. The Judge was singularly unimpressed.
- It was Mr McGavin’s evidence that the boys had a good relationship with him and could say what they wanted to him and I accept his evidence. He is a most experienced guardian and there is absolutely nothing in the way of evidence before me which could support FY’s case that Mr McGavin had told, or even suggested to, the boys what they might say about seeing their father. On the contrary he has assisted them to get their views across by encouraging them to tell him what they wanted the judge to know. The questions that he asked were open and when he told them of his recommendations there was never any suggestion that they were expected to go along with him. Both he and the Cafcass Legal lawyer were aware of the need for separate representation should it arise and had discussed it and kept it under review.
- After this interview K had spoken to FY who, again, had discussed the case and the contents of Mr McGavin’s report with him. FY told me he had sent K the Cafcass report. He was entirely unrepentant his discussions with K in his oral evidence, he accepted it was in breach of the court order and was clearly of the opinion that he had not only done the right thing but that in doing so he had undermined any case that K did, in fact want contact supervised. He encouraged and prevailed upon K to send an email to FY, so that he could produce it in court, it read, “Hi baba, I am writing to say that. Yes I want to see you and hang out with you like I used to, I want to travel to Jeddah, Dubai, Middle East. And I just want to travel anywhere in the world with you. I know you have anger issues. So I will try not to be rude to you so you don’t end up hitting us. Thank you”
- In my all my experience as both advocate and judge I find it hard to think of a more blatant example of attempted manipulation. The email, however, does not support FY’s case. The final two sentences are a reference to the previous physical abuse inflicted by FY on his son and to the unpredictability of FY’s temper, along with the fact that he places the responsibility for his abusive behaviour on the children, rather than with himself as their parent and the adult. It is a further example of FY’s controlling and manipulative behaviour. There can be little wonder that L used the word “manipulative” in his text to his father when he complained to him about his behaviour.
- Mr McGavin concluded in his final analysis and in his oral evidence that the end of the road had been reached. This was based on repeated attempts to re-establish contact each of which had failed because of FY’s lack of co-operation and engagement with the professionals involved. In the end he withdrew from the process altogether. Neither boy had said wanted to see their father in the present circumstances, but the guardian was sure that they would both want to see FY if they knew they would be physically safe and emotionally safe. Mr McGavin asked that in view of K’s special needs a ‘no contact’ order should be made until he was eighteen, although this would be unusual and exceptional. He felt that K had his own vulnerabilities and that he needed the reassurance of the court order both for his own sense of security and to enable him to stand up to his father until he reached his majority.
The Judge was invited by mother to make orders that father have no face to face contact with the children (there would be telephone contact and Skype contact). The Judge analysed the father’s case and presentation in this way:-
- FY’s written and oral evidence was characterised by his inability or unwillingness to begin to see, never mind accept, his own responsibility for the boys’ reactions or feelings about him and how his behaviour had affected them. As Mr Verdan QC, counsel for MY, said in his closing submissions there are many examples but that two of the most obvious and closest in time to the hearing are his refusal to ring L on his birthday and his determination not to ring him unless L rings first to apologise, and, FY’s discussion with K about the proceedings on the eve of the hearing. Not only did he discuss the case he sent K the guardian’s report in order to use it in an attempt to undermine the guardian’s recommendations by pressurising K into to sending him an email confirming “his wishes” as his father wanted them to be presented. It was more than apparent from FY’s oral evidence that he is unwilling or unable to understand any of his children’s emotional needs and does not accept that he has caused them distress, upset or harm, despite the evidence before the court of their obvious distress. His own ability to take umbrage at the behaviour of his young teenaged son when L became angry with his father for the pressure he was putting on him speaks volumes for FY’s need to put his own feelings and amour-propre before the needs of his child, therefore, to suggest that he can safely have contact with M alone is nothing more than a further manifestation of this wilful or inherent deficiency in his parenting.
- I accept the submission on behalf of MY that it is nonsensical for him to assert that ‘he had no bad feelings for MY’ and wanted to speak to her in a constructive way. His actions and word to the court, in correspondence and, most seriously, to their sons over the last two years is evidence which is in stark contrast to his assertions. It was apparent from his oral evidence that FY is little short of obsessed about the maternal grandfather’s alleged role in these proceedings. I have found before, and there is no evidence to change my findings, that MY is an independent, sophisticated and intelligent woman who was not in 2013, and is not now in 2016, being controlled by her father in respect of these proceeding or, indeed, any other aspect of her life.
- In his oral evidence FY obfuscated, avoided answering questions and dissembled; at times he displayed an almost complete inability directly to answer a question put to him and would use the witness box to air his own feelings of hurt, despair and, at times, apparent bewilderment. Mr Hames’ submission that FY’s answers were a catalogue of grievances against the mother, her father, the professionals and even the children (as when he blamed L for not apologising to him) has some force. He claimed that he hadn’t seen or read critical documents or failed to recall important details about events or conversations put to him. He had no explanation of why he used phrases such as “so ashamed to have sons like you” to L and it was extraordinary that he claimed never to have read the L’s essay (set out above) before giving evidence. Where his evidence conflicts with other witnesses I must and I do reject it.
- Both MY and FY are dual-nationals; well-educated and cosmopolitan members of wealthy families who live an international life-style and to suggest anything else is dissonant with their own oral evidence and is not congruent with the totality of the evidence before this court.
- It is my conclusion that it is both in the children’s best interests and proportionate for there to be an order for there to be no direct (face-face) contact between the children and their father. There have been repeated incidents of violence directed against the boys and the need for them to be physically safe is no small matter to be weighed in the balance. When he was no longer able to punish them physically FY’s response was to make L’s upset and distress when directed at his father was to make his life as miserable as he possibly could by withdrawing any semblance of support, understanding or affection. Having regard to this behaviour and because of his special needs, for K’s protection and his need for certainty, the no contact order for him is extended in the exceptional circumstances of this case to his 18th birthday. All three children need to be given an opportunity to develop emotionally free from manipulation by their father and free from the oppressive and damaging effects of a background of continued litigation and conflict.
- I have, quite deliberately, used parenthesis in the term “indirect” contact and as a matter of fact and logic, as Dr Asen would agree Face-Time or Skype is direct face to face contact and the same risks apply in respect of emotional harm with the corresponding need for supervision. With that in mind I will order that contact is limited to telephone contact as recommended by Dr Asen; one hour, 15 minutes for each boy and 15 minutes at the end. I will hear the parties about frequency.
- The children need time out, time to recover and to grow. The changes which the father needs to make before reintroduction of contact will take at least 12 months on the best prediction and while Dr Asen plainly considers that the father may not be capable of making the required changes it is to be hoped that he does.