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Tag Archives: ABE

Social worker on the naughty step


 

 

 

This is a decision of a Circuit Judge, so not binding, but illuminating as heck.

M and N (Children : Local authority gathering, preserving and disclosing evidence) [2018] EWFC 40 (1 June 2018)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2018/40.html

 

It revolves around an investigation into a child who was two months old and how they sustained bruising to the neck and a fracture to the clavicle.

The social worker interviewed the parents, took handwritten notes and later produced a typed note. The LA case was that neither of the explanations for the injury offered by a parent (a trip and fall whilst carrying the child, or a bump in a car) accounted for the injuries, and the experts agreed.

 

On later enquiry within the care proceedings it emerged that the handwritten notes were used to produce that typed note two weeks later

 

 

  1. Social worker, (SW1), was charged with investigating the matter on behalf of the local authority. SW1 spoke with the mother on 22nd September when she was given the seatbelt explanation. On 25th September, the Monday, SW1 visited the parents’ home and met with the mother and the maternal grandmother. At this meeting, she was given specific details of the fall explanation. On 26th September, the following day, SW1 visited M at her school. Each of these meetings need further expansion but before doing so, I must comment on the way the meetings were recorded.

 

  1. During her evidence SW1 referred to her formal recording of the meetings which was set out in case notes and notes prepared for the purpose of the local authority section 47 report. Both sets are very similar as there was clearly a lot of copying and pasting from one to the other. Significantly, the formal notes were largely made up on 9th October, some two weeks after the meetings took place. When questioned by Miss Mallon about the potential for these notes being inaccurate because of the delay, the social worker was adamant that they were accurate as she relied on her memory, supported by her handwritten notes taken at the time. The cross-examination was highly relevant as there was a material dispute as to what was said during the meeting on the 25th.

 

The handwritten notes were duly requested and produced. Were they good? My good friends, they were not. Did they show an accurate record mapping clearly onto the typed version? My good friends, they did not.

 

 

  1. The handwritten notes had not previously been disclosed by the local authority and did not form part of the bundle. At the conclusion of SW1’s evidence, the court asked her if the notes existed and if they could be produced. It transpired the notes did exist and they were produced the following day and circulated. The contemporaneous notes comprised seven pages of handwritten material. It is difficult to overstate how unprofessionally prepared these notes were. They were largely undated, they failed accurately to recall who was present, much of the handwriting is illegible, they were in large part disjointed and had to be translated by SW1 who gave further evidence but despite their unsatisfactory condition, the notes were illuminating.

 

  1. Until the notes appeared, no plan of the living room of the family home had been prepared. The notes, however, contained a sketch plan of the room with a faint line which the social worker confirmed denoted the path M was taking when it was alleged that she had tripped falling on to N. The path is clearly towards N’s head and right shoulder. It is entirely consistent with the evidence given by the mother and the grandmother and suggests a graphic explanation for how M could have placed her knee on N’s right shoulder causing bruising to her neck but not to the remainder of her torso.

 

  1. The significance of this is twofold. Firstly, the fact that the mother was denied this crucial contemporaneous recording of what she said four days after the event was to deny her the opportunity of supporting her version of events with crucial evidence and left her to rely on her memory many weeks after the event. Secondly, it deprived the experts of corroborative evidence to explain how the neck could have been bruised but not the body.

 

  1. 16.             The handwritten notes contained a record of SW1’s meeting with M. They are as illegible and disjointed as the other notes but start with the words, “Naughty step”. SW1 was unable to explain why these words appear and could only speculate. The note contains a record of the child saying something and then correcting herself and concludes with the words, “Said never tripped/fell on to N/mat”.

 

  1. 17.             As a result of this meeting, it is claimed there is formal record supporting the local authority’s case that M has denied falling on to N. This has been taken up by the experts who have used this in support of their opinion that the event did not happen. This is not a criticism of the experts as they are entitled to assume M was interviewed in a professional manner. Unfortunately, she was not. During the social worker’s evidence she said that she had been ABE trained. If this is the case, I have grave reservations as to the quality and effectiveness of that training.

 

Ticket for one to the Burns unit please. Oh, that’s a deep burn.

 

 

Two tickets to the gun show

 

 

 

  1. On the third day of the five day hearing the local authority took stock of the evidence and, quite rightly, concluded that there was an unrealistic prospect of establishing threshold and asked the court for permission to withdraw its application. The court ordered the local authority to make its application formally by way of C2, supported by a child-in-need care plan. These have been filed and the children’s guardian has had the opportunity to consider the way forward.

 

 

 

  1. My analysis is as follows. If N had been injured by her seatbelt, she would have woken up and cried. She did not. It is medically implausible that this event caused the injury and, in my judgment, it did not.

 

  1. There is unanimity between the experts who attended court that N could have been injured in the way she was by M’s knee landing on her clavicle. I accept the evidence of the mother and the grandmother that this event occurred precisely as they say it did, that M was walking back to N who was lying on her changing mat, that M tripped, that M’s knee was the first part of her body to make contact with N and it did so directly on to her right clavicle. The break was caused by this mechanism. I am entirely satisfied that this was an unfortunate accident and that neither parent was in any way responsible for its occurrence.

 

  1. The local authority was right to apply for leave to withdraw its application but we now have a dreadful situation where both children have been separated from their mother and in N’s case her father’s unsupervised care for over six months. The parents have separated and it is unknown how much the stress of these proceedings has contributed to that. M, who we are told cannot understand why she has to live with her great grandmother, must now be told at some point and in the most sensitive way possible that the reason was because her parents had been accused of harming her sister when, in fact, the injury was actually caused by M herself. There is a significant amount of work to do to put this family back together again.

 

  1. The local authority has prepared a care plan and I am content that the care plan meets the children’s needs. Having considered the children’s welfare and in doing so having had regard to the welfare checklist, I am satisfied that it is in the best interests of both children for the proceedings to be withdrawn and give leave accordingly.

 

That’s all desperately sad – what a cost this family has paid for the failure of the social worker to properly record her notes, transcribe them accurately and grasp the importance of what was in them.

 

Judicial comment on gathering, preserving and disclosing evidence

 

  1. I cannot leave this case without making comment on the manner in which the local authority has conducted itself. I have three main areas of concern. Firstly, the gathering and recording of evidence by the social worker was, in my view, wholly inappropriate. The local authority was investigating an allegation of serious child abuse where it was thought possible that an 8-week-old baby had been seriously injured by one or other of the parents.

 

  1. 34.             In discharging its duties, the local authority could and should, in my view, have kept proper notes in a professional way which would have served as a coherent, contemporaneous record and this did not happen. To compound the problem, the notes were not made up into formal case notes until several weeks after the event, leaving much room for error caused by the inadequate contemporaneous notes and failing memory. If the local authority thought it appropriate to obtain evidence from a 4-year-old child, and it clearly did, it should have followed the ABE guidelines. Failure to do so renders any evidence obtained from the child to be of no value.

 

  1. Secondly, I have concerns over the failure of the local authority to present a full picture to the experts. If Dr. Elias-Jones had known the explanation given by the parents days after the event in the manner that it was given to the social worker, this would have changed his opinion. This is clear because when he did understand it, his opinion changed but unfortunately this was four and a half months after he filed his report. Dr. De Soysa in his report dated 27th September, which will have been read by the other experts, reports:

 

“SW1 had interviewed M with regard to this incident. SW1 informed me that M had no recollection of this event.”

 

  1. There is reasonable scepticism as to whether a 4-year-old should have been interviewed at all. However, if she had been interviewed appropriately, and by that I mean in accordance with the ABE guidelines, the outcome may have been very different. It may be that she would have given an accurate account of events which would have meant this whole case could have lasted days rather than six months. One can only speculate. In any event, to have given an account of events of what M said was, in my judgment, irresponsible as the experts could not be expected to question the basis upon which this information had been obtained.

 

  1. My third and final area of concern is on the matter as to whether the parents and the children have had the benefit of natural justice in this case and thereby whether their Article 6 rights have been breached by a local authority which is, of course, an instrument of the State. These proceedings are borne out of a serious allegation of child abuse which, if found, would have had a profound effect upon the parents and the way they would be able to care for their children in the future.

 

  1. 38.             I have already given my comment upon my interpretation of the local authority’s duty of care on gathering evidence but I feel obliged to comment on the local authority’s failure to disclose material evidence in advance of being required to do so during the final hearing. It is clear that the content of the social worker’s contemporaneous notes was material in securing the sea‑change in the professional opinion of Dr. Elias-Jones. The parents should not be expected to have to go on a search to obtain such important evidence which supports their case.

 

  1. 39.             The local authority should have made this evidence available to the parents and their advisors at the earliest opportunity. It is again speculation as to what effect this would have had on the length these proceedings have taken but it is, in my judgment, worth speculating. For the future, the comments I have made highlight, in my view, that there may be significant areas for improvement in the training the local authority gives to its social workers, particularly in the areas of gathering, preserving and disclosing evidence in care proceedings

 

If you’re a social worker, now would be a very good time to find your handwritten notes, and have a serious hard look at whether the typed ones capture everything.  If you’re a local authority lawyer, ask your social worker on any NAI/CSA case to let you have their handwritten notes. If you’re a parent solicitor or representing a Guardian, ask for those notes.

 

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Well, up against quite a lot of competition, here is the worst case of the year (breach of fair trail, HRA damages, scandal)

 

Oh this is a BAD one.  LA social worker, lawyer, and to an extent counsel take a kicking, as do the police.  If you work for Wakefield, I’d skip this one.   Everyone else, I’m afraid this is a must read.

 

GD and BD (Children) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/3312.html

 

 

  • There are before the court two linked applications brought under the Human Rights Act 1998. The first application in time (10 December 2015) was filed by two children, namely GD, a girl now aged 9, and BD, a boy now aged 4. The second application (18 December 2015) was filed by their mother (MD). In each case the Claimants seek awards of damages and declarations. The claims arise from the conduct of two public authorities, Wakefield Metropolitan District Council (hereafter “the Local Authority”) and West Yorkshire Police, in the context of public law proceedings under Part IV of the Children Act 1989 between February and November 2015. In each case the claims for damages have been agreed – with the public authorities each agreeing to pay one-half of the agreed sum: £10,000 for the mother, and (subject to the court’s approval) £5,000 for each child. Significant concessions have been made by both authorities since the proceedings began, and these in large measure establish the grounds for the declarations.
  • I have attached to this judgment, as Annex A and Annex B, a composite schedule of the concessions by the respondent authorities.
  • Annex C contains an Executive Summary of this judgment.
  • Additional to the formal concessions, the Local Authority has also sent a full letter of apology to the mother (dated 28 June 2016). In that letter, the Local Authority acknowledges that the allegations which it made in the proceedings against the mother, namely that she was a sexual risk to her children as a result of having perpetrated gross sexual act on her daughter, were “horrendous”; the authority confirms that it accepts “without reservation” that MD did not abuse her daughter or allow her daughter to be abused by the father. I do not regard it as appropriate to annex this letter to the judgment, but note its contents. The Chief Constable of the West Yorkshire Police has openly apologised to the Claimants (see Annex B [11] below).

 

This whole debacle sprang from the police, as part of a wider child pornography investigation, discovered 5000 indecent images of children on the father’s computer in April 2015  and the father was arrested.  One of those images was a 30 second video clip of a woman abusing a child.

The police formed a suspicion that the woman was the mother, and that the child was one of the two children of those two parents. T  Obviously, there were legitimate grounds to believe that the children were at risk from the father (though his arrest removed him from the home).   He later pleaded guilty and was imprisoned. The suspicion that the woman in the video was the mother and that the victim was one of the children was something that had to be properly investigated.

DS Hudson, leading the investigation on behalf of the Child Sexual Exploitation and Abusive Image Unit of the West Yorkshire Police, considered that Woman X bore a striking resemblance to MD, and that Girl Y a remarkable likeness to GD. DS Hudson in liaison with his colleagues in the imaging unit commissioned the creation of a superimposition montage which allowed the picture of Girl Y to be overlaid on a picture of GD; this appeared to confirm their lay view.

 

  • Some ten months later, on 25 February 2015, DS Hudson shared the information which the police had gathered with representatives of children’s services at Wakefield MDC. The social worker who attended the relevant strategy meeting noted that DS Hudson declared himself to be “90%” sure that the woman in the video was MD; he was later to say (same source) that he considered that the child in the still image was GD “to a 99% probability”. This evidence (involving the percentages) infiltrated other discussions, and were attributed to DS Hudson. DS Hudson was later to deny having used percentages as recorded, but having heard from SW1 and DS Hudson, I reject his denial; I am satisfied that this statement, and the percentages referred to, reflected his actual view of the probability of MD and GD being captured in the images, and that he expressed himself in this way. Later that afternoon, DS Hudson and SW1 (social worker) attended the family home; DS Hudson arrested MD and FD on suspicion of assaulting a girl under the age of 13, and of possession of multiple indecent images of children. The West Yorkshire Police exercised powers of protection and the children, GD and BD, were placed in foster care; on the following day, the Local Authority commenced care proceedings under Part IV of the Children Act 1989.
  • The children were to remain in foster care until 13 December 2015.

 

Skipping ahead, at the final hearing, the police officer gave evidence over a 3 day period, and in the course of this evidence, counsel instructed by the Local Authority decided that he had to withdraw from the case.

 

  • On 20 November 2015 DS Hudson concluded his evidence, which had been taken over three days, having been questioned by all of the advocates about his pivotal role in the investigation and his account of who knew what and when. At the conclusion of the second day, Mr. Shiels had invited the judge to allow the officer to be treated as a hostile witness; it was increasingly apparent that DS Hudson directly contradicted Mr. Shiels’ personal recollection of events, and was casting blame for the lack of disclosure on others. When the hearing resumed on 23 November, Mr. Shiels indicated his intention to withdraw from the case. He explained his position to HHJ Anderson thus:

 

“I have reflected upon my position as advocate for the Local Authority and taken into account any potential conflict between my duty to present the Local Authority’s case as it ought to be presented and my interesting reflections upon my own professional standing. The way in which DS Hudson gave his evidence created a conflict between those two matters, and it also raises implications which I have thought through and taken consultation on with a senior colleague as of the further presentation of the Local Authority’s case and, in particular, the social worker’s evidence… The Local Authority must be represented by someone who does not face that particular conflict.”

Substitute counsel was instructed and two days later, the Local Authority indicated to the court its intention to undertake a “wholesale amendment” of its threshold Schedule of Facts. On the same day it confirmed its plan for the children to be returned home to the mother’s care, a position endorsed by the Children’s Guardian.

The children returned home on 13 December 2015.

 

 

There then followed this Human Rights Act claim, which is what the judgment chiefly deals with. The case really turns on the point at which the suspicion that the woman in the video was the mother and the victim was the child became not a suspicion that had to be properly investigated, but a ‘hunch’ which the evidence was contradicting, and whether the evidence that undermined that claim was properly shared with the Court and the parents.  The importance of that, of course, is that a case where father was downloading indecent material is a case that could be managed by the mother separating from him, whereas an addition that mother had been abusing one of the children would rule that out as an option. It was an extremely grave and important allegation.

 

Here are the Court findings in relation to that (I’ll come back to some of the important, and shocking detail)

 

Findings: Local Authority:

 

  • In my judgment, this Local Authority has rightly conceded that it unlawfully interfered with the Article 6 and Article 8 rights of the Claimants in a number of material respects. The Local Authority was not swift in acknowledging its faults; the Defence filed in February 2016 makes minimal concessions. However, I have noted and recorded the concessions which are now made, and insofar as is necessary deal with the particulars in the paragraphs which follow.
  • Suspension of contact: For a period of time, all contact between the children and their parents was suspended, and when restored, it was heavily circumscribed. The temporary but total severance of the relationship between the children and their parents was a serious step at the point at which the children were removed from their parents’ care; while there may have been sound reasons for this initially, while the police investigation was at an early stage, the Local Authority is right to concede that it should have done more to test the necessity of this suspension continuing for more than a day or so. The CA 1989 imposes duties on them which were not observed (see section 34(1) and section 22(4) CA 1989; there was limited facility to the authority to refuse contact and only for a time-limited period (7 days) where “they [were] satisfied that it is necessary to do so in order to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare” (section 34(6))). The police were in my judgment slow-paced in deciding whether to conduct ABE interviews of the children, before deciding not to do so. The Local Authority should have been proactive in testing the police’s decision-making at an earlier stage.
  • Disclosure: There were, regrettably, repeated failures on behalf of both public authorities to effect disclosure of relevant documents and information in this case. It is well known that it is the duty of the parties and their legal advisers to give full and frank disclosure of all relevant material unless one of the well-established principles of privilege or public interest immunity apply. It is incumbent on a Local Authority to present its case properly, fairly and with due regard to the principles of Article 6 of the ECHR.
  • My view is that the failures of disclosure in this case largely derive from the conduct of the West Yorkshire Police (see below). However, I am satisfied that the Local Authority solicitor, Ms McMullan failed:

 

i) To disclose to the respondent parents and Guardian the information which she learned in conference on 21 August 2015 namely that the short video was (or was likely to be) of American origin; although I am satisfied that this information was conveyed to the Local Authority team by DS Hudson only in passing, this was nonetheless crucial evidence and its existence had registered sufficiently with Ms McMullan for her to write to Mr. Shiels many weeks later, in November, to ask his view about it;

ii) To respond to the mother’s solicitors’ request for “any other relevant information about the police evidence that would assist me in putting my client’s case” (9 September 2016), with the information that the video had a US provenance (even if she had expressed this only as a possibility);

iii) To ensure that the likely American provenance of the short video was referred to in the Local Authority Opening Note; it is clear that Ms McMullan was conscious of this fact as she had e-mailed Mr. Shiels about it only shortly (10 November) before the hearing;

iv) To respond more fully and generally to the questions (concerning police disclosure) from the mother’s solicitor in September 2015;

v) To disclose the superimposition montage to the respondent parents and children on or shortly after 17 September. This omission is particularly serious given that:

a) There was a court hearing on the day after it had been shown (18 September) and it was not mentioned;

b) Ms McMullan had not responded to the mother’s solicitors’ letter requesting disclosure made only days earlier.

Opportunity was thereby lost for the parties to assess this evidence, and to seek Ms Pestell’s view of the montage. The mother’s case is that the failure to disclose this evidence was “secretive, tactical, and unfair”; I do not accept those particular criticisms. I find that the failure to disclose this information was symptomatic of a lack of coordinated, structured, organised approach to the preparation of the case. It is rightly conceded that this contributed to the breaches of the Claimants’ Article 6 rights (Annex A[1](d) below).

 

  • I find that the failure to make prompt and/or complete disclosure materially compromised the ability of the legal teams for the Claimants to prepare their cases. It seems to me that if a more conscientious approach had been taken and had disclosure been made in a timely and appropriate way, the Claimants’ solicitors would have been able to press for the Local Authority to re-evaluate its case, potentially by restoring the matter before the court for early determination of the appropriateness of continued interim care orders.
  • Evidence: The Local Authority was under a duty to place clear and impartial/balanced evidence before the Court. Two witness statements fell under scrutiny in this hearing: those of DS Hudson and SW1. The preparation of the witness statement of DS Hudson was wholly unbecoming of a serious investigation such as this, fell well below ordinary standards of professionalism in its compilation, and the end result was a document which was neither fair nor balanced. There is no or no material evidence that either Ms McMullan or Mr Shiels really addressed themselves to that issue. The Local Authority cannot escape the fact that the written request of DS Hudson to provide only evidence in his statement which was incriminating of the mother caused his contribution to be distorted and partial. I understand and accept that Mr Shiels had addressed his mind only to reminding Ms McMullan of certain matters which ought to be included in the statement, and that his e-mail was

 

“… intended simply to be a helpful reminder to my instructing solicitor that DS Hudson should include those particular matters when preparing his statement. I was not advising or purporting to advise on the overall content of the statement and I did not advise that anything should be omitted.”

But, as I say, the predictable consequence was that the statement was neither comprehensive nor was it fair to the mother (and children). This materially contributed to the biased picture created by the public authorities, which reinforced and aggravated their other failings. It does not require me to spell out to these experienced lawyers what the statement of DS Hudson should have looked like. Charles J in Re R (Care: Disclosure: Nature of Proceedings) [2002] 1 FLR 755 at p.772 commented on the importance of:

“… a proper discussion with the relevant witnesses to ensure, so far as possible, that their statements contain a full and proper account of the relevant matters, which include the central matters seen or heard by that witness, the sources of hearsay being recorded by that witness, and the relevant background to and the circumstances in which the matters set out took place; and … a proper consideration of what further information or material should be obtained.”

 

 

With this in mind, the Judge had to consider whether there was bad faith on the part of the Local Authority – in layman’s terms, had they been careless or had they been actively trying to ‘fit up’ this mother?

 

 

  • Generally: The Claimants do not specifically assert that the Local Authority set out to mislead the court, or create a false case against the parents. They pleaded a case based on bias; they assert that the Local Authority was partisan and conducted itself in a way which was incompatible with its role in dispassionately analysing evidence and adopting a child-focused stance in line with the evidence. They have maintained that the Local Authority legal team, Ms McMullan and Mr. Shiels, lost objectivity in their professional conduct in this case, and as a consequence focused on only those aspects of the case which were adverse to, or implicated, the parents, and not those parts which might serve to exonerate them.
  • While I accept that the Local Authority representatives failed dispassionately to analyse the evidence, and tended to focus on those parts which were adverse to the mother, I don’t accept entirely the other criticisms. It seems to me that other factors were in play:

 

i) The Local Authority could only work with the information which they themselves received from the police; this disclosure was made piecemeal, late, and often in an incomplete form; this hampered the proper evaluation and presentation of the case;

ii) The Local Authority solicitor, Ms McMullan failed to take a co-ordinating role in relation to the evidence and/or the structure of the case; I sensed that she reacted to the requirements of the timetable and the demands of her client and never proactively managed the case; she ended up as a fire-fighter and appeared to rely heavily on Mr. Shiels for all decision-making. I do not believe that her conduct fell below an ordinary professional standard (and she did not lose ‘objectivity’ as was alleged), she simply did not rise to the demands of running a complex case, did not challenge decisions, and did not develop a sense of what the case was and where it was going. Had she undertaken her role with more attention to the detail of the case, I am sure that the US provenance of the video would have received greater prominence in her thinking. Her “oversight” in failing to disclose the montage may have been the result of a demanding caseload.

iii) For a complex case, it was regrettable that the key social worker (SW1) was so inexperienced; indeed, she had not dealt with a sexual abuse case before. She gave the appearance (in her evidence to me, which chimed with the transcript of her evidence before HHJ Anderson) of someone who was struggling with the case. I felt that she was probably rather impressionable, and could possibly be (or at least feel) pressurised by her seniors or others; she told HHJ Anderson that she was advised by her manager and the legal department that the Local Authority was going to take a particular line in the case, albeit that it did not accord with her view (see the quote from the e-mail at [33] above). She described herself in that earlier hearing as “just part …I am the social worker part of the process”, and disputed that she had instructed the department “to seek findings”. She said that she had not been party to any conversation about the obtaining of expert evidence to counter the LGC Forensics paper, although would have expected to be so. The Guardian picked up this dynamic; he felt that SW1 had been “instructed” by her legal team to take the line she did in relation to the case, perhaps against her better judgment. I concur with the Guardian’s analysis.

 

  • I do not believe that there was any evidence of professional misconduct or negligence on the part of the Local Authority lawyer or social worker; nor do I consider that there was a loss of objectivity, as alleged. Regrettably I sensed that the Local Authority’s case management was rudderless, lacking in supervision, hampered by a lack of clear information, overly influenced by DS Hudson’s misguided perception of the case, at times incoherent, and (as I indicated above: [91](ii)) almost always reactive rather than proactive.

 

 

 

I said that I would come back to some of the detail, and it is important.

 

Bear in mind that the care proceedings began on 27th February 2015 and the investigation was ongoing.  A key part of that would obviously be the forensic analysis of the video – since whether or not the perpetrator and victim looked like mother and child wasn’t sufficient, there needed to be closer analysis.

On 31 March 2015 Ms Jacqueline Pestell of LGC Forensics contacted DS Hudson, and gave him an oral report of the results of the facial mapping exercise; it is a little unclear precisely what was said. Ms Pestell maintains that she advised DS Hudson over the phone that MD could be “eliminated” as the woman in the video; this indeed was the account given by DS Hudson in his first statement in these proceedings. LGC’s internal note refers to the differences observed in the images, making them “unreconcilable” (sic). DS Hudson was advised in the same call that MD’s sister was a better match. In a later written statement in these proceedings DS Hudson doubted that the word ‘eliminated’ had in fact been used but confirmed that he was advised that the sister was a better suspect, and that in the circumstances there was little if any prospect of pursuing charges against MD. It is in fact formally conceded now that the police treated MD as being ‘eliminated’ from this the time (see Defence filed on behalf of West Yorkshire Police, and see Annex B [2] below)). Interestingly, in oral evidence, DS Hudson repeatedly used the word ‘eliminated’ to describe the effect of the information he had been given at this stage, and on the balance of probabilities I am satisfied that this is indeed what he was told by LGC.

 

Obviously if the Forensic Analysis ‘eliminated’ the mother as the perpetrator in the video, that was a vital piece of information.  (As the Judge says later, these cases are trial by Judge, not trial by expert, but it was a vital piece of information, even if the LA case was ‘the forensic analysis is wrong and we want the Court to test that evidence’)

The police had not properly communicated that to the LA.

 

  • On 7 May 2015, at the next court hearing listed before Moylan J, the Local Authority informed the court (per position statement) that facial mapping analysis “may have led” the police to believe that the images on the short video were not of the mother. West Yorkshire Police concede that by this time, the Local Authority were still not aware that the mother had been ‘eliminated’ on expert analysis, and nor was Moylan J when he made his further order for disclosure.

 

 

The case moved further forward, when the police obtained evidence to show that the video was in fact created in America, and was thus not a video of this child, nor the perpetrator anyone in this family.  Important to keep in mind that it was still a video of child abuse, which had been on father’s computer, so the concerns about father remained very live ones. But realistically, the risk of the mother as a perpetrator had disappeared, but the allegations had not been dropped.

 

  • By 4 June 2015, LGC Forensics had also excluded MD’s sister as Woman X. West Yorkshire Police informed the Local Authority of this. However, when the social worker (SW1) spoke with an officer of the West Yorkshire Police on 8 June, she was advised that the police were still in some doubt about the evidence and could not confirm that no criminal charges would arise as a result of these images; on the following day, DS Hudson wrote to the social worker in these terms: “the results back from the Forensic Company has not been able to confirm the identity of [MD] or [her sister]” as Woman X (this phrase did not in my view faithfully reflect what DS Hudson had been told), adding that the mapping work in relation to GD/Girl Y had not yet concluded. MD recalls that at this point she was simply advised that the facial mapping exercise had proved “inconclusive”, not that she had been eliminated.
  • On 10 June, there was a major development in the police investigation. DFI, one of the experts in the Digital Forensic Department working on an unrelated investigation, located a video recording of approximately eight minutes’ duration, of which the short video of Woman X (which had been the focus of enquiry in this investigation, identified in [12](i) above) was clearly an extract; the longer (eight minute) video showed clearly the identities of those participating in the recorded activity, and revealed beyond question that MD was not Woman X. It was further clear (from incidental detail in the footage) that the video had been recorded in the United States of America, not in West Yorkshire. DFI e-mailed DS Hudson asking him to call, as he has “information about [Woman X]”. DS Hudson was (it is agreed) on leave on that day and it appears that he did not in fact make the call on that day; it is not clear when DS Hudson returned the telephone call to DFI, but I am satisfied (on DS Hudson’s own evidence) that it was not long after DS Hudson’s return from leave on 22 June. In that call, I find that DFI gave DS Hudson sufficient detail about the longer video for him to know that MD was definitively not Woman X. From that point on, he told me that it was “cast iron” that MD was exonerated and he was then fixed with this knowledge.

 

 

This then becomes very difficult reading. I’m squirming even as I cut and paste this in.  This is exactly the sort of stuff that staunch critics of Local Authorities believe happens all the time, and it is genuinely sickening to see it play out for real.  It is awful to read this.   The underlining here is the Judge’s.  I would underline more, for emphasis, but I don’t want to lose those portions.  It is just awful, I’m afraid.

 

 

  • At a further court hearing on the following day (11 June 2015), counsel for the local authority, Mr Ian Shiels, reports (and I accept) that when the police representative was asked whether the facial mapping report (not yet disclosed) was required for interviews of the parents, the reply was “probably yes”; this is, as it now transpires, a surprising response given what is now known of the conclusions of the report. On 15 June 2015 the West Yorkshire Police received the written report from LGC Forensics which confirmed beyond question that MD was not Woman X. The report further confirmed that GD was not Girl Y, the child in the still image ([12](ii) above).
  • On 24 June 2015, on his return from leave, DS Hudson e-mailed the Local Authority social worker SW1 confirming that GD had been “eliminated” as Girl Y (the girl captured on the still image); DS Hudson confirmed that he told the social worker that the only active line of enquiry was in relation to the other images captured on the family computer. The contents of the LGC report were not shared with the mother for more than two more weeks (9 July) – see [27] below). On the following day (25 June), DS Hudson sent this important e-mail to the Local Authority solicitor, Ms McMullan:

 

“At this time there is no plan to interview [GD]. Even though the facial mapping has not identified [GD] I would still like to put the image [i.e. the still image] to the parents in interview should one of them id [identify] [GD] then she will need to be interviewed to see if she can recall the incident. I do not want this information giving (sic.) to the parents as stated I am looking to bring them in early next week.” (emphasis by underlining added).

On receipt of this e-mail, Ms McMullan, the Local Authority Solicitor, e-mailed the social work team manager as follows:

“…I’m not confident in what [DS Hudson] is saying is entirely accurate. It may be that they want to trick the parents in interview? I really don’t want to speculate …” (emphasis by underlining added).

 

  • On 9 July, the parents were interviewed by the West Yorkshire Police for the second time; both denied possession of the indecent images, and the mother denied recently destroying the computer hard-drive (per the Kodak photograph). As planned, the still image of Girl Y was put to the parents, who each in turn disputed that it was GD. Following the interview, the mother (MD) was eliminated from the investigation (a point which was confirmed in an e-mail of the same date to the social workers: “[MD] has now been eliminated from the investigation”), whereas the father (FD) was charged with six sample counts of making indecent images of children. On the same day, the West Yorkshire Police provided the 40-page and detailed LGC Forensic report to all parties; this confirmed that there was “no support” for the contention that MD was Woman X, nor that GD was Girl Y. The West Yorkshire Police further disclosed the image of MD allegedly destroying the computer hard drive. At court on the following day, Andrew Garthwaite, solicitor for the West Yorkshire Police recounted that “the Police position that the female in the video was not [MD] was clearly stated…”; he says that he spoke with Ian Shiels at court, who in turn indicated his wish to view the short video. This arose because Mr. Shiels detected some lack of confidence in the expert report among those who had commissioned it; Mr Garthwaite acknowledges that at that time he may well have said to Mr Shiels that he recognised the similarities between Woman X and MD and “couldn’t preclude the possibility that another facial mapping exercise might generate different findings”. Ms McMullan told me that Mr Shiels had reported to her an air of scepticism among the advocates about the reliability of the facial mapping report. In that regard, Mr Shiels followed up the discussions at court with an e-mail to Ms McMullan the following day in these terms:

 

“When I read the facial mapping experts report yesterday my thoughts were that this scuppered any case that the mother had been abusing a child or that [GD] had been abused… But I would like to think about it further…”

Mr. Shiels went on to describe the mother’s account of the dating of the Kodak photograph (i.e. that it was an old photo) as “plainly rubbish” (a view derived I believe from the fact that it had been assumed that all of the images on the computers had been captured when the computers were seized in 2014, and this one had only appeared since that time). His e-mail further alluded to the difference in standard of proof between the criminal and civil processes, and the need to look at the primary evidence and not be “led entirely by expert opinion, which need not necessarily be right”. He acknowledged that the conclusion of the LGC Forensics report was “a problem” but not “necessarily an insuperable one”.

 

  • On 10 July, at court, SW1 recorded that the parents told her that they were separating “out of necessity, not because they want to”, a view which they confirmed on 13 July at a social work home visit. This is relevant to the issue of continuing potential risk posed by the mother to the children, irrespective of her role as possible perpetrator.
  • On or about 14 July, Ms McMullan and Mr Garthwaite spoke by telephone. They plainly discussed the content of LGC Forensics facial mapping report, and the Local Authority’s willingness to consider a second expert opinion; the cost of obtaining such a report (c.£40k) was alluded to. Following this call, Mr Garthwaite sent an e-mail to DS Hudson (21 July) which included the following:

 

“I had a request from the local authority solicitor Annie McMullan last week as to whether or not you would be prepared for the local authority barrister, Ian Shiels, to be allowed to watch the indecent video(s) involving alleged mother and alleged [GD]? The reason for the request is that the local authority are keen to do all they can to secure the children in this case and are prepared to spend £40k+ in order to have the video analysed themselves to try and pin a case against the parents“. (emphasis by underlining added)

Mr Garthwaite apologised at this hearing for his choice of language in this e-mail; he could not be sure that Ms McMullan had not used the phrase ‘pin a case’, and in fairness, she could not rule out the possibility either, although thought it unlikely. Mr Garthwaite wished to emphasise that the language was not designed to give any indication that the Local Authority were in any way engaged in any impropriety by manufacturing a case against the parents.

 

  • On 23 July, DS Hudson replied to Mr. Garthwaite informing him that he was intending to view the second (longer) video which had been located by DFI, the Digital Forensic Investigator, and would be doing so “this morning” (records show that DFI had made a copy of it on 22 July in preparation). DS Hudson told me in evidence that he did not in fact go to the forensics laboratory to view it on that day on account of “operational commitments”, but only viewed the longer video a month later on 24 August. DS Hudson told the court in November 2015 that he believed he had viewed the longer video in or around June or soon after 23 July 2015. The evidence of DFI was that DS Hudson viewed the longer video “around” June/July, but at the latest “the first part of August”. Later, within the evidence filed in these proceedings, DFI went some way to confirming DS Hudson’s account that he did not view the longer video until 24 August (linking it with recalling having e-mailed him in relation to a ‘personal matter’), though acknowledged that he only “vaguely remembers” the events. It is not material to establish precisely when DS Hudson viewed the longer video; I cannot find on the evidence that he did in fact view it before 24 August. As I have said earlier (see [24] above), he was fixed with the knowledge of the mother’s certain innocence by the end of June 2015. On my reading of the e-mail traffic, this is the only e-mail passing between DS Hudson and Mr Garthwaite about the second (longer) video (see also [99] below). Mr. Garthwaite reports that he did not appreciate the significance of the second (longer) video at this time.
  • On the same day (23 July), Mr Shiels sent Ms McMullan, his instructing solicitor, a draft schedule of the findings which he proposed that the Local Authority should seek within the care proceedings. Specifically, at paragraph 7 and 8, the schedule reads as follows:

 

“[GD] is the child in the indecent still image recovered from the [family] computer tower. She has therefore been sexually abused by being involved in the creation of images of child abuse.

[MD] is the woman shown in the video recovered from the [family] computer tower sexually abusing a female child … it is likely that the person taking the video is [FD] and the child is [GD].”

In the e-mail, Mr. Shiels records himself as “unconvinced” by the analysis of the facial mapping expert: “to me, it just looks like mother and [GD]. I think the original instinct of the police that they were 90% sure is correct.” At the foot of the e-mail attaching the schedule, Mr Shiels states: “If you and [SW1] are okay with it, it can be served (which we are supposed to do tomorrow)”.

 

  • On 29 July, Ms McMullan chased a response from Mr. Garthwaite by e-mail persisting in her request for disclosure; on 17 August Mr. Shiels chased again (also by e-mail) for the police’s disclosure. This disclosure was said to have been delivered by the police to the Local Authority on or about 20 August.
  • On 31 July, SW1 met with her team manager, and explained to her that she would be concerned about giving evidence in the case as she did not believe that MD was Woman X nor that GD was Girl Y; the expert evidence had, she thought, made this “abundantly clear”. To recap, the Local Authority knew of the conclusions of the LGC Forensics report by this stage, but not of the existence (let alone the significance) of the longer video. The note of the manager reflects inaccurately that “The woman [on the video] is believed to be mum (90% certainty following facial recognition)”; it is not clear to me whether that information had been incorrectly understood by the social work team or whether the note of the conversation is inaccurate. On that day the team manager wrote to the solicitor as follows:

 

“I am just in supervision with [SW1], having an update regarding this case. On consulting the attached schedule, we are not in agreement with the sections numbered 6 & 7. [SW1] is certain that the child in the images concerned is NOT [GD]. Furthermore, she is doubtful that the adult female is mother. Consequently, it would not be appropriate to give evidence to state otherwise… I am aware that the police are not intending to conduct an ABE interview of [GD], so do we need to make a decision at this point as to whether we pursue our own by an ABE trained social worker?” (emphasis in capitals in the original: emphasis by underlining added. Note also that reference to “6 & 7” is an erroneous reference to paragraphs 7 and 8 of the schedule: see above).

Later that day, Ms McMullan telephoned the team manager to seek to reassure her that the Local Authority had proper grounds to proceed on the basis of the video and still image, given that the standard of proof was different in the family court and the criminal court. It appears that a conference was then arranged with counsel in order to discuss the social worker’s concerns. This took place on 13 August. Strangely, none of the notes of the conference record any conversation about the social worker’s concerns. Mr Shiels told me that he recalled no specific conversation about these concerns.

 

 

That schedule of findings is worth going back to :-

 

  • On the same day (23 July), Mr Shiels sent Ms McMullan, his instructing solicitor, a draft schedule of the findings which he proposed that the Local Authority should seek within the care proceedings. Specifically, at paragraph 7 and 8, the schedule reads as follows:

“[GD] is the child in the indecent still image recovered from the [family] computer tower. She has therefore been sexually abused by being involved in the creation of images of child abuse.

[MD] is the woman shown in the video recovered from the [family] computer tower sexually abusing a female child … it is likely that the person taking the video is [FD] and the child is [GD].”

In the e-mail, Mr. Shiels records himself as “unconvinced” by the analysis of the facial mapping expert: “to me, it just looks like mother and [GD]. I think the original instinct of the police that they were 90% sure is correct.” At the foot of the e-mail attaching the schedule, Mr Shiels states: “If you and [SW1] are okay with it, it can be served (which we are supposed to do tomorrow)”.

 

Clearly, if there had been full and transparent sharing of information, the fact that the forensic analysis had indicated that neither of the persons in the video were members of the family and that the footage emerged from America  (there was an 8 minute long video from America, of which this was a 30 second snippet, and the longer video obviously gave more material to work from) meant that the LA could not realistically pursue those findings. The question is, did they know that?

 

 

  • On 21 August, two important events occurred in the history of this case.

 

i) First, at a hearing before HHJ Lynch during the morning the West Yorkshire Police were ordered (for a further time) to disclose information to the parties about the Kodak photograph, including any information about the date of its creation, storage, and assessment. This direction had been anticipated by Mr. Shiels who earlier in the morning had e-mailed DS Hudson requesting information about the Kodak photograph and the date of the folders in which it was stored;

ii) Secondly, in the early afternoon, a conference took place at Mr Shiels’ Chambers; those in attendance were Mr Shiels, Ms McMullan, DS Hudson, and SW1, although SW1 was late in arriving. I deal with the conference in some detail (below).

There is some dispute about precisely what was said at this conference. DS Hudson’s evidence is that he told those present at the meeting that a second (longer) video had been found in a separate investigation and that its country of origin was America; he accepted in evidence before me that he may not have spelled out as clearly as he should that this video ruled MD out as a perpetrator of abuse beyond question. When questioned about this at the hearing before HHJ Anderson in November he accepted that he did not make this clear. On nobody’s account of the meeting was the American origin of the video “discussed” as DS Hudson (misleadingly in my view) told HHJ Anderson during his earlier evidence on no fewer than three occasions. The Local Authority maintains (and the contemporaneous notes of the conference support this) that DS Hudson had indicated in the meeting that there was a possibility that the (shorter) video may have originated from America (“origin might be US”); he was asked to clarify this and he agreed to make further enquiries of DFI.

 

  • During the viewing of the short video at the conference, DS Hudson (and this much is agreed by Ms McMullan and Mr. Shiels), pointed out that Woman X was wearing an unusual blue watch, and informed them that this had not been found during the searches of the family home. Self-evidently it would not have been found in MD’s home, as MD was not Woman X, as DS Hudson well knew. The officer also pointed out that Woman X was wearing a ring on the same finger as MD – again, ostensibly establishing a link between the two, which he knew was merely coincidental.
  • At the conference, DS Hudson apparently described the superimposition process which had been conducted in or about February 2015, and confirmed that the montage (of Girl Y and GD) was still in the possession of the police. DS Hudson’s evidence to me was that by the end of the conference he believed that the Local Authority was proposing:

 

i) to allege within the care proceedings that GD was Girl Y in the still image (and had therefore been directly involved in the abuse), but that

ii) the authority had no intention of seeking to argue that MD was Woman X.

As it happens, he gave different evidence before HHJ Anderson in November 2015, indicating that by the time he prepared his witness statement, he knew/believed that the Local Authority was pursuing a finding that MD was Woman X. He thought that the Local Authority was proposing to argue that MD had destroyed the hard drive and therefore evidence of indecent images. The account he gave before HHJ Anderson was, in my judgment, more plausible.

 

  • SW1 recalls no conversation about, or mention of, America during the conference, which, if she is right, suggests that any such mention may well have occurred before she arrived (which was later than the others), and indeed I so find. Ms McMullan now indicates that she regrets not writing to Mr Garthwaite after the conference to clarify the “throwaway remark” about the origin of the video, and specifically the reference to “America”. Significantly, she is clear that DS Hudson never mentioned then, or indeed at any time up to 18 November at court at the start of the final hearing, the existence of a second (longer) video. She believed that DS Hudson would obtain further information from DFI about the relevance of America, and revert to her. Ms McMullan maintains that had she known, or been advised, that the second video existed, that it originated in America and that MD was certainly not the woman in the short video: (a) the local authority would not have asked to view, let alone actually view, the short video, and (b) the course of the case would have been radically altered.
  • Mr Shiels shares Ms McMullan’s recollection that DS Hudson did not mention the existence of any other or longer video in the conference, and that he only mentioned, as a possibility, that the video which they had watched may have originated in America, though (says Mr. Shiels) DS Hudson did not appear clear about this and laid no great emphasis upon it. Mr Shiels believes that it would have been perfectly plain to DS Hudson from the discussion at the conference that the Local Authority was going to maintain its case (set out in the schedule – see [31] above) that MD was Woman X; accordingly, Mr. Shiels felt that the video was pivotal in being able to prove that fact, notwithstanding the expert report from LGC Forensics. Mr Shiels did not understand from DS Hudson’s comments that the video had actually been filmed in America (as in fact is proven to be the case) but wondered whether the reference to America was to a shared computer file with an American partner. He recalls the reference to the watch, and to DS Hudson confirming that the police search of the family home had not produced the item. At his request, all existing records relating to police searches of the family’s home was sought as disclosure, and were indeed disclosed. At the conclusion of the conference, Mr Shiels asked DS Hudson if he could prepare a witness statement for the CA 1989 proceedings. Mr. Shiels describes the “focus” of the meeting as:

 

“… assessing the strength of the local authority’s case and therefore the focus was on obtaining from DS Hudson information which would or could support and strengthen that case.”.

I underline the passage in the quote above to highlight that it appears that the “focus” was not on collating relevant evidence which went either way.

 

  • Having heard the various accounts of the conference on 21 August, I find that at the conference:

 

i) DS Hudson did not explicitly refer to the existence of a second (longer) video; while it is possible that he and the Local Authority were speaking at cross-purposes about ‘the video’, in fact I find this omission to be deliberate;

ii) DS Hudson did not make clear to the Local Authority representatives as he should have done that the police investigation had established beyond question that MD was not Woman X;

iii) DS Hudson’s observation that the “the video” had an American origin was made only in passing; it was not “discussed” as he told HHJ Anderson. The officer did not – as he should have done, in my view given the importance of the issue – make clear to the Local Authority representatives that the video originated in the USA, and that this therefore contributed to the view that the mother could be ruled out as the perpetrator of the video-recorded abuse;

iv) By stating that the police had not found the unusual watch worn by Woman X in the mother’s home, and by pointing out Woman X wearing the ring in a similar fashion to MD, DS Hudson caused or encouraged the Local Authority to believe that the police believed or suspected that MD was indeed Woman X, or that there was a case to make that MD was Woman X, when in fact (as we now know) they knew that she was not.

 

 

The Judge does not make any criticism of the LA inviting the police officer, who was clearly a witness of fact, to a conference with counsel.  I suppose there was so much else to criticise that this got missed.  It’s not something I would imagine doing.   You can see from the judicial findings that the Judge found that DS Hudson caused or encouraged the LA to believe that the police BELIEVED that the woman in the video was the mother when in fact they KNEW she was not.

 

The lawyers in the care proceedings asked to see the longer video, and this produced a flurry of email correspondence between DS Hudson and the force solicitor, Mr Garthwaite.

 

  • On 15 September, the solicitor for the mother notified Mr. Garthwaite by e-mail that it was her intention to apply to the court for permission to instruct an expert to date the Kodak photograph; she also indicated her intention to ask the court for permission to view the short video.
  • On 17 September, an e-mail ‘conversation’ took place between Mr Garthwaite, DS Hudson and DFI. Mr Garthwaite had passed on the request by the mother’s legal team to view the short video; DFI raised a concern about this to his colleagues, saying:

 

“We’d established from another recent case of mine that it’s neither [MD] nor [GD] in the video – albeit that the female in the video does have a resemblance to [MD]. We’d technically be showing them an indecent video, of which all parties would need to be aware of and its content…”

DS Hudson asked for legal advice about the position from Mr Garthwaite who told me at this hearing that he did not appreciate until 19 November the relevance of the second (longer) video. On the basis that an order would be sought by the parties for permission to view the video, and that disclaimers would be sought, arrangements were made for the mother and her legal team to view the short video. The mother and her legal team viewed the video on 12 October. There later followed a request by the Children’s Guardian to view the video; this provoked an e-mail from DS Hudson to Mr Garthwaite:

“I’m really not happy with this, we have shown the video to [MD] and her counsel… as discussed and arranged. Now we are being asked to show this video to [GD]’s solicitor and her Guardian; we are being asked to show a Level B Child Abuse video to her Guardian. Why? What protection is in place should her Guardian react in a negative way to this abuse video? It was agreed to show the video to [MD] and her counsel on the basis that counsel has dealt with these issues in the past and [MD] had seen the video in interview. Please confirm that the police and officers involved will have no repercussions in this matter.”

Mr Garthwaite sought to offer reassurance to DS Hudson.

 

Of course, what this means is that a set of lawyers ended up watching a video which must have been graphic and dreadful to watch, when in reality, none of them needed to see it at all, because the mother and the child had both been eliminated by police enquiries as being the people in the video.  The lawyers were only watching it because the allegation was that this was the child being abused by the mother.  If there had been honesty that the video had no connection to the mother and child OTHER than it being one of 5,000 indecent matters found on father’s computer, none of them would have had to do that.    {There’s a dreadful discussion in the next paragraph where someone puts their finger on it – the father had probably picked this particular clip BECAUSE the woman in it resembled the mother, his partner.  I’m sorry, that is just truly awful}

 

We’ve had cases reported before about things being added to social work statements, and that happened here too  (I’m not talking about cleaning up typos or polishing, or suggesting a better way to word something, but insertion of things that the social worker didn’t actually agree with. )

 

 

  • On 8 October, SW1 filed her final parenting assessment report on MD with the court. It is a lengthy document extending to over 50 pages. I learned a little of the evolution of the report at the hearing. It passed through at least two editorial hands (the team manager and the Local Authority lawyer) before being filed. Ms McMullan was the final editor and included in the report a number of new sentences. She said that she asked SW1 to check the statement before signing it, having earlier “knocked [it] around a bit”; SW1 told me that she did not check it carefully and only after its filing did she read it thoroughly, and then realised that words had been added with which she was not comfortable, importing views which she did not hold.

 

 

 

The fact that the LA findings sought against mother  – that she had abused the child in that video, were completely unsustainable,  and had not actually been sustainable for about six months by the time of the final hearing, yet this only actually emerged on day one of the final hearing.

 

 

  • The final hearing began before HHJ Anderson on 17 November; no evidence was called on the first day. Following discussions between the advocates, Mr. Shiels drafted questions for LGC Forensics to answer about the superimposition montage, namely (a) whether it had been seen before and (b) whether it caused the expert to alter her analysis. As I discuss later, I find that these questions could and indeed should have been asked much earlier. On 18 November, DS Hudson and DFI attended at court to give evidence. It appears that in the pre-hearing conference outside court, DFI informed Mr Shiels of information he had known since 10 June 2015, namely that the short video had originated in America, and was an extract of a longer video. Mr. Shiels’ account from his witness statement repays rehearsing in full:

 

“I was not told that there was any other version of the video, or a “longer” video … I was very surprised to be told that the origin was clearly in America, rather than merely a possibility. I then asked if they were saying that the woman in the video was in fact probably not [MD]. [DFI] said this was so. I cannot recall if DS Hudson contributed anything to this. If he did, he did not say much. He did not dissent from what [DFI] told me. I immediately communicated this information to the other advocates and then to the court, withdrawing the Local Authority’s case that the mother was the woman in the video…. At no time prior to the 18 November had I been told of the longer video, the origin clearly being in America, and the certainty that the woman was not the mother. If I had known this at an earlier stage, I would immediately have taken the same action that I took at court and withdrawn that allegation against the mother.”

 

  • Ms McMullan’s evidence is that she had a conversation with DS Hudson; she says that she told the officer that she did not know that the video had originated in America, to which DS Hudson replied that he thought that Mr Garthwaite had told them.

 

 

 

Just when you think that things can’t get worse, they do.  It emerges that at the ABE interview of the child (which was conducted by an inexperienced social worker), the child was shown a pixelated photograph of the child in the video  (who the police KNEW was not her)

 

 

  • ABE interview: ABE interviews should always be conducted with reference to the March 2011 Guidance: “Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures“. Although this guidance is advisory, and is not a legally enforceable code of conduct, as the Guide makes clear “practitioners should bear in mind that significant departures from the good practice advocated in it may have to be justified in the courts” (see §1.1). This is not the place for a detailed examination of the guidance, but it is essential reading for any professional conducting such an interview, and for those engaged in the preparation of a case which depends upon interview. It was not followed either explicitly in the work undertaken by SW1 and her colleague on 17 September 2015; the Local Authority properly concede the consequent breaches of the Claimants’ Article 6 and Article 8 rights in this regard (see Annex A[1](e)/[2](c)).
  • In this case, I question why an interview in the ABE format was taking place at all in September 2015, some seven months after the children were received into care; SW1 believed that GD “needed to tell her story”, but what story was it that she “needed” (or was being invited) to tell? Insofar as it was appropriate at all, it was not properly prepared, and the questions asked of GD reveal that the interviewers were at sea; it is to be noted that “[a] well-conducted interview will only occur if appropriate planning has taken place. The importance of planning cannot be overstated.” (§2.1). It is clear that there was minimal planning. Recent judicial commentary on ABE interviews is to be found in the Court of Appeal’s decision in Re E [2016] EWCA Civ 473 at [24]-[45], which in turn endorses in large measure what Sir Nicholas Wall P had said in the case of TW v A City Council [2011] EWCA Civ 17; [2011] 1 FLR 1597; the following observations are relevant to the facts of this case:

 

a) ABE interviews of children must always be conducted by professionals who have been trained to apply the ABE Guidance;

b) The fundamental principle which underlies the ABE Guidance is that those who elicit evidence from a child must conduct themselves in such a way that the child is given the maximum possible opportunity to recall freely, uninhibited by questions, what he/she is able to say.

c) The ABE Guidance emphasises (at para 3.108) that photographs (or drawings, pictures, symbols, dolls, figures and props) “should be used with caution and never combined with leading questions.”

 

  • The Local Authority is right to concede the inappropriateness of the ABE interview being conducted by inexperienced social workers, contrary to judicial and other guidance. It is further right for the Local Authority to concede that the photograph of Girl Y should never have been shown to GD. SW1 was wrong to mislead GD that the photographs were all from a “family album”; that was manifestly not so in relation to one of the pictures. One of the lowest points of this blighted history was the act of showing GD an edited version of an illegal download of a child abuse victim lying on her back with her legs apart exposing her genital area (albeit pixelated) under an entirely false pretext that the interviewers believed it was her and that the photograph had been located in a family album. I agree with the mother when she argues that it was “fundamentally wrong” for the Local Authority to interview GD in this way. Had the Children’s Guardian been aware that the interview was to be carried out in this way (and I am satisfied that he was not) he says that he would have “objected in the strongest terms”, and rightly so.
  • Showing the pixelated photograph to GD, and misleading her as to its provenance, were blatant breaches of GD’s right to be treated fairly by the Local Authority. There is no doubt that the interview itself would have been distressing to GD; the manner in which it was conducted was designed or intended, it seems to me, to produce evidence which falsely implicated the mother. If GD was “defensive” in interview (a point relied on by the Local Authority as part of its “wide canvas”) this is not entirely surprising. The Local Authority knew that GD was not Girl Y by this time and should never have proceeded in its investigation in this way. I accept the Claimants’ case that it was undignified and demeaning for this eight-year-old girl to be put through a formal interview process which was unnecessary and which sought to inveigle her into providing evidence to support a false allegation.

 

 

 

The Judge has made his findings that there was not bad faith on the part of the Local Authority, and that judicially speaking is that. I’ll keep quiet as to my own views on the matter.

 

 

The findings in relation to the police

 

Findings: West Yorkshire Police:

 

  • Disclosure: The failures of the West Yorkshire Police to comply with its duty of disclosure in this case were extensive; these failures regrettably pervaded the entire course of the case; I consider that it extended the litigation, and ultimately influenced its outcome.
  • I am satisfied that the West Yorkshire Police, and specifically (unless otherwise indicated) DS Hudson:

 

i) Repeatedly failed to comply with court orders for disclosure; those which are obvious from my review of the papers are orders made on the following dates:-

a) 27 February 2015 (this breach is acknowledged in the order of 19 March 2015);

b) 7 May 2015 (in relation to the facial mapping report; this is evident by the order of the 11 June);

c) 10 July 2015 (the order of 21 August 2015 makes clear that the Chief Constable had made only “partial disclosure” of the documents ordered to be disclosed by 17 July);

d) 21 August 2015 (the Police did not disclose by 28 August information relevant to the Kodak photograph);

e) 23 October 2015 (in relation to the Kodak photograph and the origin and date of the short video and the still image of Girl Y: this was not done until trial; although this order was directed to the Local Authority, it was contemplated by the order that the information would be provided by the police, who, indeed, were asked for it; the police e-mailed Ms McMullan indicating that it had no further evidence to submit);

ii) Failed to disclose to the Local Authority and to the mother, on or about 31 March 2015, that the mother had been “eliminated” from suspicion as Woman X, when LGC Forensics advised DS Hudson that this was so; the Police erroneously, in my judgment, initially contended that such non-disclosure was justified as it may “prejudice” the investigation and/or that “piecemeal” disclosure would have been inappropriate. That argument was subsequently abandoned. It surely cannot be justified to withhold evidence from a person accused of a crime which exonerates them. This was not ‘marginal’ evidence. The police engaged in piecemeal disclosure thereafter, thus undermining the very basis of their initial stance;

iii) Failed to make known this information (i.e. that the mother had been eliminated on the basis of the expert assessment) to the parties at court hearings which followed on 7 April, 7 May and 11 June, and which the West Yorkshire Police were legally represented (albeit not by Mr. Mallett who appeared at the hearings before me);

iv) Delayed for one month before they disclosed the LGC Forensics report to the mother and her legal team (the West Yorkshire Police received it on 12 June and only disclosed it after the interview of the mother on 9 July 2015); this report, of course, contained the clear and unequivocal conclusion that MD was not Woman X, and that GD was not Girl Y in the still image;

v) Failed to disclose (after the end of June, or by 23 July 2015 at the latest) that the second (longer) video existed, which indisputably proved that neither MD nor GD featured in the short video; (the mother and her legal team were first made aware of it on or about 18 November);

vi) Failed to disclose (after 17 September 2015, by which time the information was clear) the evidence supportive of the mother’s account that the Kodak photograph had in fact been taken in 2009; this failure was compounded by the fact that the police were in breach of disclosure orders variously made on 10 July and 21 August 2015;

vii) Failed to comply with court orders for disclosure more generally; the representation made by the West Yorkshire Police to the Local Authority after 23 October that it had no further evidence to disclose was false.

 

  • These failures derive from three essential shortcomings in the operations of the West Yorkshire Police in this case:

 

i) A failure to establish or maintain clear lines of accountability in relation to disclosure; Mr. Garthwaite has explained that he had passed on the requests for disclosure to DS Hudson and had received messages from the officer which tended to indicate that the requests had been complied with; DS Hudson believes that responsibility lay with Mr Garthwaite. There was no evidence of any audit of this process;

ii) An indifference which I detected in the evidence and in the conduct of DS Hudson to the importance of disclosure;

iii) An apparent lack of concern about compliance with Court Orders. I turn to this subject in the paragraph which follows.

 

  • Surely no party, or lawyer of any experience, in litigation of this (or any) kind still needs reminding of the importance of compliance with court orders: see what I myself have said in F v M [2015] EWHC 3259 (Fam) ([7] et seq.), and for the most recent example London Borough of Redbridge v A, B and E [2016] EWHC 2627 (Fam), published during this hearing. Case management orders are to be obeyed, to be complied with on time and to the letter, and any party finding themselves unable to comply must apply for an extension of time before the time for compliance has expired (see also Re W (Children) [2015] 1 FLR 1092). As is evident from my summary at [93](i)(a)-(e) above, this did not happen in this case. The burden of other work is not an excuse for non-compliance with the directions of the court; whatever the difficulties presented by resource issues, the court will not tolerate a failure to comply timeously with orders (see Bexley LBC v, W and D [2014] EWHC 2187). As Macdonald J in Redbridge went on to say at [12]: “Case management directions are not mere administrative pedantry”, adding:

 

“It is because a care case involves the State intervening in the family life of its citizens that it is so important that the local authority comply with the case management directions made by the court, directions that are designed to ensure the fairness of proceedings the outcome of which can be grave. Further, case management directions are the key tool by which the court maintains fidelity to the statutory principle, embodied s 1(2) of the Children Act 1989, that delay must be avoided. Within this context, local authorities are under a heavy duty to comply fully with orders of the court.” (emphasis by italics in the original).

Macdonald J’s observations apply, in my judgment, with equal force to the responsibilities of the police.

 

  • Had orders been complied with faithfully and conscientiously, the flaws in this investigation are likely to have been avoided, or at least exposed at an earlier time. Moreover, MD was put to the trouble, and the State was put to the expense, of obtaining independent expert advice about the Kodak photograph showing her destroying a hard disk drive; her expert in due course confirmed the date of creation of the photograph as 11 March 2009 – a fact known to the police for several months (March 2015), but not disclosed by them. Had the police revealed its knowledge earlier an important plank of the Local Authority’s case would have been removed, for the authority had sought to use this evidence that the mother had been, or was likely to have been, recently engaged in the business of destroying evidence (i.e. in the period between the first search of the family home and the arrest of the parents in reliance on the photograph which (it maintained) was not visible on the computer system before 2014) as part of its “wide canvas” of evidence implicating her in the abuse (see [82] above).
  • Second (longer) video: I find that DS Hudson did not inform the Local Authority (or indeed any of the other parties) of the existence of the second (longer) video until 18 November. He had multiple opportunities to do so:

 

i) As soon as he was told by the Digital Forensic Investigator, DFI, about it, which was probably by the end of June, but certainly by no later than 23 July;

ii) At Court at the hearing on the morning of 21 August 2015;

iii) At the conference with Mr. Shiels, Ms McMullan and SW1 in the afternoon of 21 August 2015;

iv) As soon as he had seen the video himself, which was at the latest on 24 August.

It is apparent, and I so find, that as at 21 July 2015 when Mr. Garthwaite sent the e-mail referred to at [29], the West Yorkshire Police were aware that (in spite of the expert evidence from LGC Forensics) the Local Authority was continuing to pursue the allegation within the care proceedings that MD was in fact Woman X in the short video.

 

  • In his evidence before HHJ Anderson and before me DS Hudson sought to divert responsibility for the failure to disclose the second (longer) video onto Mr. Garthwaite, with whom, he said, he had corresponded on the subject. I have seen no correspondence from DS Hudson to Mr. Garthwaite in which he requests that the existence of the second (longer) video be disclosed to the Local Authority, let alone the respondent parents. I reject his case about this. Regrettably, as I mention elsewhere, Mr. Garthwaite knew of the existence of the second video, but did not appreciate its significance (see [30] above).
  • The short video / the superimposition montage: It is obvious from the internal e-mails passing within the West Yorkshire Police at the material time that serious misgivings were expressed by DFI, and separately indeed by DS Hudson, to Mr. Garthwaite about the appropriateness of facilitating the viewing by the lay parties and their lawyers of the short video; this was particularly in light of the fact that it was known that this had no relevance to the investigation of, or the public law proceedings concerning, this family. The situation which arose in relation to this highlights vividly the lack of strategic leadership in the management of the joint investigation and in its relationship with the Local Authority, and the failure of Mr. Garthwaite (as the solicitor for the force) to gain an understanding of the significance of the evidence.
  • Misled the Local Authority: I am satisfied that DS Hudson caused or encouraged the Local Authority to believe that Woman X could be the mother. This is evidenced by the fact that at the conference on 21 August 2015,

 

i) He showed the short video to the Local Authority representatives (inferentially he was holding out that it had probative value in the CA 1989 proceedings):

ii) He drew attention (during the showing of the video) to the existence of the ring on the same finger on Woman X as that worn by the mother;

iii) He pointed out (during the showing of the video) the watch worn by Woman X, which – he said – was not found in the search of the house.

At that time, he knew that the mother had been definitively excluded from consideration as Woman X. Of course the watch was not found in the search of MD’s house: the woman wearing the watch was not MD. There was no significance to be attached to the ring worn by Woman X. DS Hudson knew that.

 

  • DS Hudson showed the Local Authority lawyers the superimposition montage on 17 September; the only plausible explanation for the officer presenting this evidence to the Local Authority at that time is that he was encouraging the authority to pursue a case that Girl Y was indeed GD in the still image, even though he knew that this was, on the evidence of the expert not so (and when he knew also, on his viewing of the longer video, that GD was not the girl in the video either).
  • Witness statement of DS Hudson (dated 22 September 2015): The West Yorkshire Police rightly concede that the witness statement of DS Hudson (22.9.15) was seriously misleading in both what it contains and in what it does not contain (see the concession at Annex B [6] below). I was unconvinced by DS Hudson’s protestations that he did not realise that by providing such a limited statement, and indeed by providing only the material he did, a wholly distorted view would be given of the investigation and its outcomes. It is well-established now that by the time he provided the statement, he knew that MD was not Woman X, yet the statement tended to point to the contrary conclusion. For instance, his statement includes this paragraph:

 

“The footage of the images and videos recovered from the forensic examination identified a video containing footage of a women (sic.) with the facial appearance of [MD], the face of the women (sic.) in the footage can be seen, not a common factor as those abusing children do not want to be identified, also the woman wore a ring on her right hand finger which is the same hand [MD] wears a ring as seen in other family footage of her”.

The statement further referred to DS Hudson’s belief that Girl Y bore a striking resemblance to GD. This statement drew attention only to those pieces of evidence which implicated the mother; he failed to refer to the following crucial facts:

i) By the time he signed the statement, he had undoubtedly received information that the short video was an extract of a longer video which demonstrated beyond peradventure that Woman X was not MD;

ii) The video undoubtedly originated in the USA;

iii) No watch had been found in a search of the mother’s home which matched the watch in the video;

and

iv) The police had clear evidence from LGC Forensics, which they had accepted that MD and GD had been eliminated as a match for Woman X and Girl Y respectively.

 

  • DS Hudson told HHJ Anderson that he understood the purpose of the statement was “to outline my involvement with the family”, and separately “to provide a snapshot of my investigation into [MD]”. He conceded at that hearing that he had been in “error” in providing the statement which he did. He further told HHJ Anderson that he knew at the time of providing the statement that the Local Authority was continuing to pursue the finding that MD was Woman X, a contradiction from the evidence placed before me. There was the occasional sign in his oral evidence before HHJ Anderson (of which I have the transcript) of his confused thinking, for instance posing the rhetorical question (when probed about his knowledge of the video originating in the US): “who am I to know that she has not been on holiday to America?” (later dismissed by him as a “throwaway remark” for which he apologised). It was that confused thinking, coupled with an unworthy desire to see MD proven to be Woman X, which I believe permeated his dealings with the Local Authority. At this hearing he has acknowledged that:

 

“… in providing such a limited statement, without expressly confirming the use to which it would be put, I afforded the opportunity for the Local Authority case to be progressed in the way that it was… I can see now that I was overly-reliant on the Local Authority legal representatives in dictating the content and scope of my statement…”

 

  • Failure of recording: It has been important to my investigation to know when DS Hudson viewed the second (longer) video; although I am satisfied that from 23 July at the latest he was aware from DFI that MD was not Woman X, he had not seen this with his own eyes. It is therefore a source of forensic frustration, and not inconsiderable consternation, that the evidence adduced before me revealed such lax arrangements for the recording of viewing or distribution of such highly sensitive materials. DFI made no note of when he found or viewed the second (longer) video, nor when DS Hudson viewed the second (longer) video; yet more concerning is that DS Hudson was provided with a copy of the short video and/or the longer video, but no record was made of when he was provided with them, or their ultimate whereabouts. After his retirement, the second (longer) video was found in the secure safe of his office; no steps had been taken to return it to the Digital Forensic Unit.
  • Generally: DS Hudson appeared affronted that his investigation and his conduct of it was being called into question in this enquiry. DS Hudson had, I have found (see [13] above), declared himself at the strategy meeting in February 2015 to be 90% sure that MD was Woman X, and 99% sure that GD was Girl Y. In my judgment he struggled to shake off those beliefs; the social worker had the sense that he still thought it could be the mother when he met with the Local Authority representatives on 21 August 2015. The mother recorded in her written evidence that she felt that DS Hudson strongly believed throughout the investigation that she was Woman X. When Mr. Marshall gave his evidence to HHJ Anderson in November he described DS Hudson’s reaction to seeing the longer video in July/August thus:

 

“I’d given him clear proof that it wasn’t what he thought from the start but then from there, there was also… He was still convinced of the likeness that was there…” (my emphasis by underlining)

His evidence frankly gave me the same impression.

 

  • As I say, DS Hudson believed that the Local Authority was “looking to pursue” the allegation that MD was Woman X in the care proceedings even when he knew that she was not that woman; at no time did he challenge the Local Authority as to the appropriateness of this pursuit. This belief in the mother’s likely guilt (alternatively his wish to see her proven as the perpetrator of abuse) is consistent with, and provides a unifying explanation for, his conduct in:

 

i) Failing to make clear to the Local Authority and/or to the mother at once, following his conversation with LGC Forensics on 31 March, that MD had been “eliminated” as Woman X; I have found (see [20] above) that he was given this specific information on that date;

ii) Presenting the image of Girl Y to the parents in interview in an effort to trick them (as I find) into believing that it was GD (see [26]) in an attempt to see if an incriminating response may be given;

iii) Showing the Local Authority representatives, the short video of Woman X at the conference on 21 August 2015 when he knew that it did not feature MD, and that it was made in the USA;

iv) During that presentation, on 21 August pointing up the presence of the ring on the finger of Woman X as being similar to that worn by MD;

v) Informing the Local Authority representatives at the conference that a trawl of the family home had not revealed the presence of the unusual blue watch worn by Woman X;

vi) Signing and submitting a witness statement in September 2015 which was highly selective in content and unacceptably partisan;

vii) Failing to tell the Local Authority representatives of the existence of the longer video at that or any subsequent time prior to 18 November (second day of the hearing before HHJ Anderson);

viii) Volunteering in his evidence at the hearing before HHJ Anderson that he could not confirm that the mother “hasn’t been on holiday to America” (implying that she could have been involved in the creation of the video); his later apology and dismissal of the remark as “throwaway” does not expunge the record.

I find that by his conduct and words said and not said, DS Hudson allowed or encouraged the Local Authority to pursue the finding that MD was Woman X. I reject the explanation he gave for showing all parties the short video during the autumn of 2015 prior to the final hearing that he simply thought that “they should know what … the background to the case was”.

 

  • DS Hudson as officer in the case carried much sway with the Local Authority. In his sharing of information, he did not faithfully observe the ‘Golden Principles’ discussed at [71] above (viz. “Necessary, proportionate, relevant, adequate, accurate, timely and secure”). His less than professional approach regrettably contaminated the family proceedings. He was not, in my judgment, effectively supervised by DI Walker during the months under review. She concedes as much. This was a failing on her part, which I consider contributed to the unchecked mischief in this investigation.
  • I note that Head of Legal Services at West Yorkshire Police has made a referral to the Professional Standards Department of the police in relation to the conduct of DS Hudson; the Professional Standards Department has indicated that it intends to await the outcome of this hearing.
  • It was Mr. Garthwaite’s clear role as Legal Adviser to the force to take responsibility for the force’s compliance with the disclosure orders, to be proactive over the disclosure of material more generally, and to have a hand in (or oversight over) the preparation of DS Hudson’s witness statement. My impression was that he was rather detached from these processes, dipping in when unavoidably required to do so, and otherwise placing reliance and responsibility, to an unwarranted extent, on the actions and judgment of the investigating officer. His e-mail to DS Hudson of 21 July (see [29] above), shows a lack of discipline in communication; regrettably, the use of the vernacular (“pin a case”) may well have given a false impression to the officer about the intentions, the judgment and indeed the integrity, of the Local Authority in the prosecution of its case. His lack of appreciation of the significance of the second (longer) video (which would have been apparent on minimal enquiry) contributed to the failings of his department, and of the investigation.

 

 

 

Findings in relation to counsel instructed by the Local Authority

Findings: Intervener:

 

  • There is no doubt that the Local Authority legal team was under joint and several duties to observe essential principles of fairness, and comply with orders of the court; each owed a duty to the court in the administration of justice. Each had a duty not to mislead the court, knowingly or recklessly, and to provide a competent standard of work. In that regard, what I have said about the Local Authority team above in some respects applies to Mr. Shiels.
  • Mr Shiels, an experienced family practitioner, was instructed as counsel on 16 March 2015, receiving his instructions from time to time from a solicitor whom he regarded as “very able and experienced” and with whom he described enjoying a “good working relationship”. There was, apparently, no formal brief or instructions as such; Mr Shiels received his instructions relatively informally through e-mails and telephone conversations. He attended altogether seven directions hearings in the case prior to the final hearing listed in November 2015.
  • There are clear duties imposed on counsel to observe a duty to the court in the administration of justice, to act with honesty and integrity, and not to behave in a way which is likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in the individual barrister and/or in the profession (see the Bar Standards Board Handbook, Core Duties).
  • I have, in reviewing Mr. Shiels’ role, as I have with others, endeavoured not to apply too exacting a standard by viewing the conduct through the lens of hindsight. Mr. Shiels’ approach to the case he was instructed to present, reflected in his advice to his instructing solicitor, appears to me to have been more bullish than it was cautious; that is not a criticism as such, nor a mark of professional irregularity. He was of course evaluating the case in the context (to which I have alluded above) of serious criminal offending within the family home; I consider that this backdrop may have influenced (perhaps to a disproportionate extent) his intention to seek serious findings against the mother which on the evidence were, objectively viewed, likely to be beyond his reach. Central to Mr. Shiels’ advice was that the LGC Forensics report may be wrong, and that there was much extraneous evidence (including the superimposition montage) which could knit together to establish a finding that MD was Woman X and that GD was Girl Y on the preponderance of probabilities. While Mr. Shiels was entitled to the view that the expert evidence may indeed be wrong, and that it was in any event only part of the forensic picture, I discerned limited if any evidence on the papers before me that he had properly thought through how this might be presented to the court. I say so for the following reasons:

 

i) There is no indication in what I have seen that he conducted any detailed evaluation of the strength of the expert evidence of LGC Forensics; the report contained much technical and specialist information and assessment, even if ultimately based on a subjective view of the material; Mr. Shiels had no equivalent expert evidence to rebut it; I remind myself of his e-mail to Ms McMullan on 23 July (see [31] above): “to me, it just looks like mother and [GD]. I think the original instinct of the police that they were 90% sure is correct.”

ii) It seems that he had not appreciated the limitations of the superimposition montage; he described this montage as revealing a “remarkable match” in his opening note, yet had not taken the precaution of sending the montage to LGC Forensics and specifically to the expert for her comment. He has no expertise, or knowledge or skill in the area of facial mapping and I apprehend from his cross-examination of the expert at the hearing before HHJ Anderson, that he had limited understanding of the techniques used in compiling such a video (Ms Pestell describes a range of applicable tests including ‘the flicker test’, the ‘half-image’ approach, the ‘transparency overlay’). Ms Pestell was clear that the video superimposition montage compiled here was not just one which would be unsafe to place before a jury, it was in fact potentially misleading. (see [58] above);

iii) Mr. Shiels wrongly described to HHJ Anderson (and may well therefore have treated) the superimposition montage as expert evidence; it was not;

and

iv) It was at least questionable whether the other matters which he wished to bring onto the ‘wide canvas’ were truly probative of the principal contention that MD was Woman X (see [82]).

His e-mail to Ms McMullan on the 23 July (“to me, it just looks like mother and [GD]”: see (i) above, and [31]) does not, as I say, reveal any analysis or reasoning. Professional “instinct” is useful, but it is not a fool-proof or objective measure of evidential reliability. Mr. Shiels’ ready (and I may add appropriate) acknowledgement of the strength of the expert opinion once the author of the report (Ms Pestell) had completed her oral evidence before HHJ Anderson served to highlight the insecure basis on which his original view was formed.

 

  • Mr Shiels’s failure to mention in his detailed Opening Note the possible (as he knew it to be) US origin of the video recording, and/or the failure of the police to locate the watch worn by Woman X in the search of the family home, is harder to understand or explain. I am not satisfied that these omissions were deliberate (in the sense that he sought to paint a misleading picture), but I am concerned that he was “focused” (see [38]) rather too firmly on constructing a case against the mother, encouraged perhaps by the police, rather than in presenting a truly balanced account. Mr. Shiels’ failure to mention these facts contributed to the Article 6 breaches conceded by the Local Authority (see Annex A[1](a)/(b)/(h)).
  • I found Mr. Shiels to be a straightforward and honest witness. I do not view his conduct in this case as falling below the standards of a practising barrister. The opinions he formed were, I am satisfied, genuinely held and fashioned by the information he was given. He was unlikely to have been unaffected by DS Hudson’s zeal. It turns out that in a number of respects his judgment turned out to be wrong; but exercise of judgment is after all in the realms of art not science, and it is easy to view decisions in hindsight:

 

“Lawyers are often faced with finely balanced problems. Diametrically opposed views may [be] and not infrequently are taken by barristers and indeed by judges, each of whom has exercised reasonable, and sometimes far more than reasonable, care and competence. The fact that one of them turns out to be wrong certainly does not mean that he has been negligent” Saif Ali v Sidney Mitchell [1980] AC 198 at 231.

Finally, lessons to be learned

  • What follows is not a comprehensive guide to good practice, but some points which require specific attention as lessons to be learned from the experiences of this case:

Collaboration between agencies and inter-agency working:

i) I have set out the duties of joint working at [68-72] above. The courts expect a high level of co-operation and collaboration between the various agencies conducting joint investigations in relation to safeguarding cases; this was a point I recently made in Rotherham MDC v M & others [2016] EWHC 2660 (Fam) at [10] (“These bodies have a collective responsibility to work in partnership in the discharge of their respective duties, to share information conscientiously, and to maintain clear focus throughout their investigations about their common objectives”); there should be an ongoing dialogue in ‘real time’ between the agencies, and these should be properly recorded – (see below);

ii) Informal discussions (including e-mail ‘discussions’) between professionals conducting joint investigations should be avoided; proper records should be kept of discussions had, and information shared, when and how;

iii) E-mail or other written communications between operational professionals (the Officer in the case, and the social worker) should be copied in to, or pass through, lawyers for each of the agencies, so that there is a clear understanding and record of what information is being shared;

iv) Where meetings take place between the representatives of the safeguarding agencies, a written record should be made of the meeting; that written record should ideally be agreed between the participants.

Disclosure issues

v) Where issues arise as to disclosure of material or information between the police and social services, it is incumbent on the parties rigorously and faithfully to apply and comply with the Protocol and Good Practice Model (October 2013); this identifies as one of its principal Aims and Objectives the “timely and consistent disclosure of information and documents from the police, and the CPS, into the Family Justice System” (3.4).

vi) Where orders are made for disclosure affecting the Police, they must be complied with, or application made to have the order varied or set aside. Orders are Orders (per Re W [2013] EWCA Civ 1177, and specifically in this regard §7.4 of the 2013 Protocol and Good Practice Model). It is not for the Police to apply their own judgement as to the relevance or otherwise (in their eyes) of what they have been required to disclose; it is the plain and unqualified obligation of every person or body against, or in respect of whom, an order is made by a court of competent jurisdiction, to obey it unless and until that order is varied or discharged;

vii) If the Police consider that the material disclosed requires an explanation/clarification (for example, if the Police consider that it may be misunderstood or given a significance that it does not merit) the Police can make this clear, in the first instance, with a letter accompanying the disclosure and, if need be, by providing a written statement to that effect;

viii) Where information or documentation which is relevant to the public law proceedings is provided by the police to a local authority, that material shall be disclosed to the other parties unless the court, on application by either the local authority or the police, has granted permission for non-disclosure (see for instance Re B (Disclosure to Other Parties) [2001] 2 FLR 1017, and Durham County Council v Dunn [2012] EWCA Civ 1654, [2013] LGR 315);

ix) It is recognised that there may be occasions when the Police seek to delay disclosure on the grounds of prejudice to an ongoing criminal investigation, and this may indeed be merited for a limited period of time (see §6.4 of the 2013 Protocol and Good Practice Model). However, should the police wish to withhold material for this purpose, it should raise the matter with the Local Authority and/or the court (see §7.2); if presented to the court, it will be incumbent on the judge to balance the Police’s desire to delay disclosure against fairness to the parties within the care proceedings and the prejudicial effect of delay upon the children.

x) Furthermore, the Police must always be able to justify any claim of prejudice. Reasons should be provided to the Court. ‘Prejudice to the investigation’ is not to be used as a generic objection to disclosure. Any assertion of prejudice must be scrutinised rigorously and must be kept under constant review. It is to be expected that such analysis and review will involving meaningful input from the investigating officer, his/her supervising officer and/or Police Force Legal Services.

xi) If/when any claim to prejudice is withdrawn by the Police or no longer sanctioned by the Court, the Police and Local Authority should disclose to all parties any information which had previously been withheld as directed by court order.

xii) DI Walker advised me that procedures are now in place within West Yorkshire Police to ensure that disclosure to local authorities engaged in care proceedings is overseen by Information Management and that every disclosure is individually itemised, with page numbers, to ensure absolute clarity about the documentation/information provided and the timing of such disclosures. These logs will then be made available for reference by the Courts as and when required. It is important that this standard of record keeping is adhered to.

ABE Interviewing

xiii) ABE interviewing is a skilled exercise, which should only be conducted by trained professionals. It is not acceptable under any circumstances to provide false or misleading information to a child; after all, there is a high expectation that the child will be encouraged to provide accurate information to the interviewers.

Evidence

xiv) Witness statements:

a) A witness statement is the equivalent of the oral evidence which the maker would, if called, give in evidence (PD22A para.6 FPR 2010). It follows that all witnesses who provide written statements should therefore carefully check the contents of those witness statements before they are signed, and should only confirm the truth and accuracy of the same when they have undertaken that careful check. Local authority lawyers should be scrupulous in ensuring that social workers are aware of any editorial changes made to draft statements; the written statements have particular significance at interim hearings given that “the general rule is that evidence at hearings other than the final hearing is to be by witness statement unless the court, any other rule, a practice direction or any other enactment requires otherwise” (rule 22.7 FPR 2010) and in which a “fact which needs to be proved by the evidence of witnesses is to be proved … by their evidence in writing” (rule 22.2 FPR 2010); at a final hearing, of course, “The witness statement of a witness called to give oral evidence … is to stand as the evidence in chief of that witness unless the court directs otherwise” (rule 22.6(2) FPR 2010);

b) Where a statement of evidence is sought by a Local Authority from a police officer involved in a parallel investigation, such a request should be in the first instance to the District Safeguarding Inspector, and it should be made in writing. If contentious issues arise, then Legal Services of the Police should be involved. It should be clear in any request, and understood as a matter of common practice, that any statement of evidence must provide balanced and accurate information and not mislead by matters either included or omitted; any statement should include all matters which in the view of the District Safeguarding Inspector (and/or Legal Services, if involved) will assist the Family Court in reaching decisions in the best interests of a child, whether that is helpful or adverse to the particular case being advanced by the Local Authority; the statement should be prepared by the Local Authority solicitor. The current policy of the West Yorkshire Police provides for the officer to be interviewed by a Local Authority representative (I would propose that this be a lawyer) in the presence of an Inspector (or higher ranking officer). This makes good sense. It appears that DS Hudson was unaware of the policy at the time he prepared his statement; I understand that DI Walker has referred the matter to the Safeguarding Central Governance Unit in order that all officers involved in safeguarding work can be reminded of its contents;

xv) Different rules, procedures and expectations arise in the instruction of experts in criminal and family proceedings; there are material differences between Part 25 (and PD25) of the FPR 2010 and Part 19 of the Criminal Procedure Rules 2015. Where an expert has been instructed in the criminal process on whose evidence the Local Authority wishes to rely, the Local Authority should take steps to ensure that the evidence conforms to the requirements of Part 25 and the associated Practice Direction 25B. Any further approach to the expert should conform to the requirements of Part 25;

xvi) The procedure for submitting questions to experts should be used promptly and in accordance with Rule 25.10 FPR 2010.

Repeat medical examination

xvii) GD was subjected to two medical examinations within a few days of each other in March 2015; the first was an intimate medical examination. The repetition of investigation of this kind is highly regrettable, and I suggest was wholly avoidable. The Local Authority social work team manager explains that the police medical was undertaken by a police forensics surgeon “who would not have been able to undertake a LAC medical. The LAC medical was undertaken by LAC nurses”. This still does not explain why the exercise could not have been conducted collaboratively with the sharing of information and findings. I therefore recommend that:

a) There is a duty on the investigating authority to satisfy itself that there is a proper basis for an intimate medical examination – either, for example, a disclosure of abuse by the child, or a direct allegation of abuse which would be clarified by the intrusive examination;

b) The Police and Local Authority should co-ordinate their enquiries so that a child is not subjected to repeated medical examinations (required for different purposes), particularly within a short space of time;

c) By the time of the medical examination, the Local Authority had parental responsibility for the child under an ICO and gave consent. However, the parents (also with parental responsibility) should have been consulted; in the absence of agreement, a court order should have been sought authorising the medical examination;

d) A report of the examination should be made available to those with parental responsibility, and, where relevant, the court.

These observations coincide with the clear guidance offered in the ACPO Guidance at section 4.4, the College of Policing: Major Investigation and Public Protection; Child Abuse; Further Investigation (first published 21.01.14; last modified 16.11.15), section 3; and the ABE Guidance at para 2.41.

 

 

 

Achieving best evidence – a very critical examination

 

The Court of Appeal in Re E (A Child) 2016  were addressing an appeal from findings of fact that the father had sexually abused all of the children, including making them have sex with a dog, and of having taken them to hotels given them drugs and pills and allowed other men to abuse them or watch them. (I apologise for that graphic opening, I will try to keep the graphic content out of the rest of the post)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2016/473.html

 

Quick history lesson – ABE, or Achieving Best Evidence, is the guidelines that were drawn up (and occasionally refreshed and honed) as to the police interviewing of children where allegations of abuse are being investigated. They came about as a result of the Cleveland scandal, where many children were removed into care for allegations of sexual abuse and the investigation process was flawed and nearly all of those children had been wrongly removed. When you think of the “Show us on this dolly where daddy touched you?” style of interviewing, that’s what ABE was aimed to stamp out.  The interviews are video-recorded and can be used as evidence in criminal proceedings and care proceedings – with the idea being that if the guidance is followed in spirit and to the letter, the chance of the child’s evidence having been contaminated or influenced by the person asking questions is reduced to a minimum. It’s really important.  I’m glad that the Court of Appeal are looking at this.

 

Let us start with  the delay between the allegations being made and an ABE interview being conducted.

  1. On 20th May 2015 the youngest child, D, then aged 7 years, made allegations to her foster carer implicating both Mr E and young A as having sexually abused her and her brothers. Further allegations were made to the foster carer by D on 25th May and these were in part supported by allegations subsequently made by her older brothers.
  2. All three complainant children were ABE interviewed by police on 27th May 2015. The reason for the delay between the initial complaint and the ABE interview was that the foster carer took the children away on a pre-arranged holiday during the intervening days. The process adopted by the foster carer, social workers and police, together with the content of the ABE interviews themselves, have been the subject of sustained challenge by the Appellant and those supporting the appeal before this court.

 

I have scoured the remainder of the judgment, but it does not seem to me that the delay forms part of the Court of Appeal’s criticism – there are MANY many others. It might, as a practitioner, have been helpful for the Court of Appeal to have been firm about the passage of time that ABE’s are taking – this one, in my experience, proceeded at rocket-lightning pace compared to the average ABE.  Sometimes, that passage of time reduces the chances of an accurate and reliable account being obtained – sometimes that account would rightly exonerate a parent and remove restrictions that are impacting on their family life, sometimes it would point strongly that there’s a case to be answered.

 

When should the Judge in the case see the ABE interviews?

 

In this case, the Judge had not watched the ABE interviews prior to the trial beginning. That, the Court of Appeal suggest, made the decisions she made at the start of the trial less solid (whether police officers should be called, whether the children should be called etc)

Standing back from the details of this specific case, Mr Tyler submitted that in any case the question of children giving live evidence should only be considered once the judge has viewed the ABE material. He suggested that it may be good practice for a judge to identify at an early stage whether he or she would attach weight to the ABE interviews if they stood alone. He told the court that, in his experience, the culture of the Family Court with respect to oral evidence from children was really unchanged from the position that had existed prior to the Supreme Court decision in Re W. Mr Tyler readily accepted a suggestion made by Macur LJ to the effect that a child’s welfare may in fact require a determination in favour of them giving evidence, notwithstanding any immediate adverse impact on the child from the process of coming to court, where the future placement of the child could depend upon findings of fact to which his or her oral evidence might relate.

 

  1. It is apparent from the transcript and from the fact that the first day of the main hearing was spent in viewing the ABE material, that the judge had not viewed the videos prior to determining the Re W application on 3rd November. Although it may onerous to do so, it is necessary, before reaching a conclusion on an application for children to be called, for the court to gain a considered view as to the strength of the existing evidence. Sub-paragraphs 9(f) to (j) are plain on this point and require to the court to have regard to:
      1. ‘(f) whether the case depends on the child’s allegations alone;

(g) corroborative evidence;

(h) the quality and reliability of the existing evidence;

(i) the quality and reliability of any ABE interview.’

So the Judge needs to see the ABE interviews before the trial, in order to have a properly informed view as to whether the children should give evidence.

Fast-track interviews

Within this police investigation, the police officers went to see the children AFTER the ABE interviews were made, and conducted interviews with them to obtain more detail / to check their account. Those fast-track interviews were not recorded.

In early June the police log records that the officer in the case “has since the ABE-s in an attempt to get some clarity from the child[ren] about their disclosure, been to the home address and completed a series of fast track questions with the three children to assist in forming a chronology.”

  1. Although not formally part of the ABE interviews themselves, Mr Tyler also submits that the judge should have been extremely concerned that the same police officer had subsequently visited the three children to conduct a ‘fast-track’ interview with them. The concept of a ‘fast-track’ interview involving child complainants in a sexual abuse inquiry has not been encountered before by any of the very experienced counsel in this appeal or by any of the members of the court. Brief notes of the fast-track interviews are contained in the police computer log. B had compiled a handwritten note following his ABE interview and the officer ‘went through’ each point in the note with him, subsequently making a brief summary record on the computer log of what B may have said. Such a process is wholly at odds with the ABE guidance. The record contains the officer’s subjective summary of what the child may have said in response to direct questioning. There is no record of the questions that were asked or of the child’s actual responses. With C the officer ‘went through what C had disclosed to [the foster carer]’; again there is simply a short summary made by the officer of what C may have said.
  2. Mr Tyler’s case is that the fact that the ‘fast-track’ interview took place, without any apparent regard for due process or the potential effect on the ability of the evidence of any of these children to be relied upon in any subsequent criminal proceedings, indicates a need for great caution in placing any reliance on the validity of the earlier process conducted by the same officer(s).

 

(Whilst I haven’t come across “fast-track interviews” taking place AFTER the ABEs, it has become common and in my view sloppy practice, that they happen beforehand, often as a sifting or viability assessment to see if the child will make any disclosures at the ABE.  They are often labelled as Q and A’s. And I think that they are wrong, for all of the reasons above)

  1. However, Mr Tyler has succeeded in demonstrating the following significant departures from recognised good practice by those undertaking the ABE interviews:

c) The children were subsequently seen at their home by the interviewing officer for a process of fast-track questioning.

d) The short summary note of what each child may have said during the fast track process is wholly inadequate.

[We’ll come back to the many other flaws. Again, I wish that the Court of Appeal had condemned the process of police interviewing children either before OR after the ABE process, but one can read between the lines]

Phase one of the interview not being filmed

Phase one is of course a very critical part of the interview – it is where rapport is built, and any observer can see how it established that the child understands things and understands the difference between truth and lies.  I have never heard of this not being filmed before.

Mr William Tyler QC, leading Ms Jennifer Steele who appeared for the appellant before the judge, has identified a number of potential flaws in the ABE process. The first relates to “Phase 1” as described in the ABE guidance in each of the three interviews. “Phase 1” is the preliminary part of the interview in which the interviewer establishes a rapport with the child through the discussion of neutral, non-relevant topics after a preliminary description of the room and the identity of each of those present. Phase 1 should also include a discussion of the “ground rules” and an attempt to establish the degree to which the child understands the importance of telling the truth and the difference between truth and lies. It is apparent that, whatever process was undertaken with each of these three children with respect to the Phase 1 matters, it occurred off camera. The absence of recorded information as to this important early stage is compounded by the fact that no written record was kept of these interviews, as is normally required within the ABE scheme or, if any written record was maintained, it has not been disclosed into the family proceedings. It is therefore plain that the interviewer had some discussion with each child before entering the video suite, but there is no evidence of what was said. Mr Tyler submits that this gap in the evidence is important and can only reduce the potential for a judge to rely upon the answers given by the children in the subsequent stages of each interview which were recorded. 

The Court of Appeal add that to the list of findings about flaws in the ABE process.

a) The introduction and ‘truth and lies’ aspects of Phase One were not undertaken on camera. There is no note or other record of what was said to each child, and the circumstances in which it was said, prior to entering the video suite.

What came across as the purpose of the ABE

  1. Moving on, Mr Tyler submits that each of the three interviews is of a very poor quality in that the interviewing officer, with each child, uses blatantly leading questions during which elements of the narrative, not previously referred to by the child, are introduced. A most striking example of this is at the very start of the taped part of D’s interview, less than one page into the transcript where the officer says:
    1. ‘Okay I think that’s about it for me isn’t it we’ve done the intros. So obviously we know why you’re here today about what we’re going to talk to you about, yes, and I think it’s something you told [foster carer]. Okay can you just tell me, go from the start as much as you can about what’s been happening, do you remember what you told [foster carer], do you remember talking to her last week about something that had been happening with you and your brothers?’

D is unresponsive to this and similar requests, which then leads the interviewer to add:

‘[Foster carer] told us a little bit about what you said last week and it was to do with [Mr E’s first name given] and [incorrect name for A given], do you remember that now?’

This is but one example of the approach to questioning adopted by this interviewer throughout each of the three interviews.

  1. Mr Tyler took us to TW v A City Council [2011] EWCA Civ 17; [2011] 1 FLR 1597 in which this court was highly critical of the ABE process that had been undertaken in that case. At paragraph 52 Sir Nicholas Wall P said:
      1. ‘As we have already pointed out, the [ABE] Guidance makes it clear that the interviewer has to keep an open mind and that the object of the exercise is not simply to get the child to repeat on camera what she has said earlier to somebody else. We regret to say that we are left with the clear impression from the interview that the officer was using it purely for what she perceived to be an evidence gathering exercise and, in particular, to make LR repeat on camera what she had said to her mother. That emphatically is not what ABE interviews are about and we have come to the view that we can place no evidential weight on it.’ [Emphasis in original]

It is a very easy trap to fall into during an ABE interview, which is precisely why there is so much guidance in Achieving Best Evidence, and why it requires specific training to be able to do it properly, and why sloppiness and deviation from the Achieving Best Evidence guidelines is so important. This is classic Cleveland Enquiry stuff.

I am not attacking these individual officers, I think it is a national malaise that Achieving Best Evidence isn’t as integral to the process as it needs to be.  And of course, police officers are fundamentally trained to investigate a crime and get the evidence of it happening. In an ABE, the fact that there may have been no crime and there may be evidence from the children of that, is just as important.

 

The hour-long break in the interview

 

For one of the children, the interview paused in the middle for an hour. When it resumed, the child was substantially more forthcoming. The obvious question is, what EXACTLY happened in the interim?

 

As I have already indicated, the interview with D was interrupted at that point for approximately one hour during which time the child was elsewhere in the police station. On returning to the interview room her demeanour is markedly different from the unresponsive presentation previously demonstrated. Again, no written record has been provided of what transpired during this interval. Mr Tyler submits that the judge should have permitted the police officer to be called to explain events during the missing hour. The only evidence available came from the foster carer who claimed that she said no more to D than “you need to say all the things while you are here, D”.

 

The Court of Appeal accepted this as a significant flaw

b) No note was kept of what transpired with D in the police station during the hour that she was out of the interview room.

 

The Judge’s refusal to call the police officer

 

Given the identified flaws, the Court of Appeal felt that the Judge was wrong to have refused the application by the parents to have the police officer attend Court to give evidence. And of course she made that decision not having seen the ABE interviews themselves.

The absence of information as to the Phase One process, the need to understand from the police officers what, if anything, they had said to D during her one hour absence and the need to understand in greater detail than the computer log provided what occurred during the fast-track interviews, made it necessary, in my view, for the police officer to be called. In the context of an 8 day hearing, the judge’s refusal of the application to call the officer on the basis that it was too late was, on the information given to this court, wrong in the absence of clear evidence that it would not be possible to call the officer at some stage in the hearing (either in person or over a video or telephone link).

 

Judicial analysis of the ABE interviews

  1. The conclusion that I have reached to the effect that it was not open to the judge to hold that the ABE interview material was reliable in the absence of a full and thorough evaluation of the potential impact of the numerous breaches of procedure, renders it unnecessary to undertake a full description of the various criticisms that Mr Tyler makes of the judge’s evaluation of the children’s evidence. The key matters raised are, however, important and are as follows:
    1. a) The judgment opens, after four short introductory paragraphs, with the judge’s summary of the ABE interviews of each child. These summaries, which are not set into any context and are not preceded by any account of what the children are reported as having said when the allegations were initially made to the foster carer, elide description with selective evaluation and then findings.

b) No consideration is given to the potential for the manner in which the allegations were first made to impact upon the reliability of what was subsequently said by the children.

c) In the absence of any direct corroborating evidence, the judge failed to evaluate the various factors which militated against the truth of the allegations.

d) There is a failure to take account of the fact that C had twice made, and later withdrawn, false allegations of sexual abuse against other individuals.

e) The judge wrongly reached the conclusion that the evidence of each child corroborated that of the others. There was inadequate analysis of inconsistencies in the accounts, both internally for each child and between the three children.

  1. Although I consider that there is some validity in each of the grounds of challenge that Mr Tyler has raised, the most significant, in my view, is the first relating to the judge’s analysis of the content of the ABE interviews and the last relating to inconsistencies. I do not propose to say anything more as to the content of the ABE material and I will deal with the point about inconsistency very shortly.
  2. Mr Tyler’s skeleton argument plainly establishes the following propositions on the available evidence:
  1. i) each child gave a different account to that given by his or her siblings;

ii) each child made a number of significant factual allegations to the foster carer which were not repeated in their ABE interviews; and

iii) B effectively made no allegations of sexual abuse in his ABE interview.

  1. The judge’s approach to inconsistencies is seen at paragraph 16 of the judgment:
    1. ‘D’s account is different from her brothers. There are inconsistencies in the accounts between the three children which is said undermines the veracity of the accounts but the very same inconsistencies are also evidence that the children have not colluded or rehearsed their evidence. I am satisfied that this is not a prepared script.

Later, at paragraph 28, she states:

‘There is consistency from all three in the ABE interviews, which, although different, each corroborate different aspects of the primary disclosure.’

Finally, in response to a request for clarification after the draft judgment had been circulated, the judge added:

‘The inconsistencies in the children’s ABE interviews are addressed.’

  1. I am afraid that I consider that the judge’s approach to the many inconsistencies within the children’s accounts falls well short of the level of analysis that this evidence required. Without descending to detail, three short points can be made. Firstly, whilst it is correct that the inconsistencies did not demonstrate that the children were trotting out a script, that observation could not, at a stroke and without more, obviate the need for the judge to evaluate the inconsistencies in more detail. Secondly, it is simply not possible to hold that each child giving a different account in his or her ABE interview in some manner corroborates the account given by one or both of the others. As the judge observed, D’s account in her ABE interview was different to her brothers. B’s ABE interview was effectively devoid of any positive allegation being made at all by him. That is not corroboration. Thirdly, this broad brush and superficial approach to the inconsistencies was carried forward by the judge when making her detailed findings which include a number of specific allegations which were only made by one of the children on one occasion and neither repeated by them subsequently nor supported by a similar account from either of the other two children.

 

 

The children giving oral evidence – the Judge’s decision

 

  1. The question of whether or not any of the children should be called to give live evidence was considered by the judge at the IRH on 3rd November 2015. Prior to that hearing Ms Steele, on behalf of the Appellant, had filed a six page position statement in support of the formal Re W application that had been made on behalf of her client. In her document Ms Steele makes detailed submissions relating to the evidence in these proceedings under the various headings identified by Baroness Hale in Re W and supplemented by guidelines issued by the Family Justice Council Working Party on Children Giving Evidence (set out at [2012] Family Law 79).
  2. The transcript of the hearing on 3rd November 2015 did not become available to the court and the parties until the morning of the oral hearing of this appeal. Prior to that stage each party had referred to the judge giving a very brief judgment prior to dismissing the Re W application. The transcript, however, shows that, in fact, no judgment of any sort was given by the judge on that day. During the course of the ordinary business of the IRH the judge made the following references to the topic:
    1. “[the presence in court of the Guardians in the F Children’s case during the fact finding hearing would enable the Guardians/court]… to keep under review whether or not, for example, if I decided against hearing the evidence from the children, I do not know whether I will or not, I have not decided that, but that might be something which will need to be kept under review, because it is possible that the way the evidence comes out suddenly an issue becomes very, very clear which needs to be resolved factually and it would be therefore helpful to the Court, if the Guardians relevant to all the children were able to give guidance, help, recommendations in respect of whether or not I should for example revisit the decision that I made earlier.” (Transcript page 7).

“Well I think at some point a determination is going to have to be made in respect of the evidence of the children and it is probably better to do that in isolation at an earlier stage…”

Ms Steele relied upon the detailed submissions made in the context of Re W in her position statement. The transcript then continues:

“JUDGE WATSON: Well Ms Steele I am very pleased to see how you have set out it. You have set it out very clearly the concerns and the difficulties and indeed the contradiction in terms of the evidence. What I am struggling to see is how calling the children is actually going to improve his position. All of these matters can be dealt with in a written position statement as you have done, in oral submissions, because the one question that you cannot put to the child witnesses, is, ‘You’re lying aren’t you’.

MS STEELE: I accept that. However, the Local Authority are reliant on the evidence given to a number of different sources of the truthfulness of that.

JUDGE WATSON: Yes.

MS STEELE: My client or me on my client’s behalf have to be able to, in my submission, not put to them that they’re lying but be given the opportunity to put to them the contradictions in their evidence.

JUDGE WATSON: Well I would not allow you to put the contradictions. You have got to bear in mind the age of the children-

MS STEELE: I of course-

JUDGE WATSON: -and their ability to deal with that sort of complex questioning. It is, the type of questioning which the, I am sure you are very familiar with the advocates tool kits and the gateway rules that apply in criminal proceedings that would apply in a case like this, and they set it out very clearly. I have just, for my own benefit, just summarised them as no repetitive questions, short questioning, no need to put the case, no tag questions, no comments. So all of the matters which you have properly put out, set out in this [inaudible], could not be put to the child witnesses.

MS STEELE: What, my understanding is that of course I can try and clarify the evidence they have given. Yes, I can’t put certain things and I fully accept that but I can put to them certain inconsistencies or certainly ask them to clarify which they say is correct. That kind of thing. Excuse me.

JUDGE WATSON: Well and to what end that you have confused the witnesses, that is not going to help the Court in deciding where the veracity in truth is. The truth is by looking at the careful submissions that you have made and weighing those into the balance. I do not necessarily have to accept what a child says on an ABE interview.

MS STEELE: No.

JUDGE WATSON: I need to look robustly at what is said in the light of all the other evidence that I hear.

MS STEELE: My Lady I don’t think there’s very much else that I can add-

JUDGE WATSON: No.

MS STEELE: -with what I’ve already said in there and what I’ve said to you.

JUDGE WATSON: Yes.

MS STEELE: There’s really nothing else I can add.

JUDGE WATSON: No.

MS STEELE: Unless you would like me to attempt to-

JUDGE WATSON: No, I, you have set it out extremely fully and I have very much in mind the need for a fair hearing but unlike in criminal proceedings, where the, it is assumed that children will give evidence. They give their evidence in a very, very truncated way and for example the ABE interview only such elements as are agreed are put before the jury. Whereas I will see the entirety of the ABE, I will see it warts and all if I can use that expression. So I will be much more susceptible to any suggestion that there are contradictions that are unclear, that it is [inaudible], I do not need that to be put to a seven year old or a nine year old or indeed a 14 year old who has the difficulties that B has.”

 

I found the underlined exchange quite extraordinary. Of course a great deal of care needs to be taken in asking questions of a young child and of course a “gloves-off” attack on inconsistencies that just muddles and mixes up the child is going to be abusive and not advance the case, but the judicial suggestion here that this would be counsel’s agenda is extraordinary. Just my personal view.

 

The Court of Appeal’s view

  1. Having considered the transcript of the hearing of 3rd November, Mr Tyler made the following submissions:
    1. a) The judge had not viewed the ABE interviews prior to the IRH and she was therefore not in a position to form a concluded view upon the issue of oral evidence from the children;

b) Despite the detailed submissions made by Ms Steele referring specifically to the various elements identified by Baroness Hale, the judge made no reference to those submissions (save to acknowledge their existence) and did not refer to Re W at all during the hearing;

c) In the circumstances the judge’s consideration of the important question of the children giving evidence was wholly inadequate and could not be supported.

  1. Standing back from the details of this specific case, Mr Tyler submitted that in any case the question of children giving live evidence should only be considered once the judge has viewed the ABE material. He suggested that it may be good practice for a judge to identify at an early stage whether he or she would attach weight to the ABE interviews if they stood alone. He told the court that, in his experience, the culture of the Family Court with respect to oral evidence from children was really unchanged from the position that had existed prior to the Supreme Court decision in Re W. Mr Tyler readily accepted a suggestion made by Macur LJ to the effect that a child’s welfare may in fact require a determination in favour of them giving evidence, notwithstanding any immediate adverse impact on the child from the process of coming to court, where the future placement of the child could depend upon findings of fact to which his or her oral evidence might relate.

 

Note particularly this paragraph of the judgment

 

It is of note that, despite the passage of some six years since the Supreme Court decision in Re W, this court has been told that the previous culture and practice of the family courts remains largely unchanged with the previous presumption against children giving evidence remaining intact. That state of affairs is plainly contrary to the binding decision of the Supreme Court which was that such a presumption is contrary to Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

 

  1. In any case where the issue of children giving oral evidence is raised it is necessary for the court to engage with the factors identified by Baroness Hale in Re W, together with any other factors that are relevant to the particular child or the individual case, before coming to a reasoned and considered conclusion on the issue.
  2. It is crucial that any issue as to a child giving evidence is raised and determined at the earliest stage, and in any event well before the planned trial date. The court will not, however, be in a position to come to a conclusion on that issue unless it has undertaken an evaluation of the evidence which is otherwise available. Where there has been an ABE interview, and the quality and/or content of that interview are to be challenged, it is likely that the judge will have to view the DVD before being in a position to decide the Re W issue.
  3. The court should also have regard to the Working Party of the Family Justice Council Guidelines on the issue of Children Giving Evidence in Family Proceedings issued in December 2011 [2012] Fam Law 79. The Guidelines, which were specifically developed to assist courts following the decision in Re W, contain a list of no less than 21 factors to which the court should have regard when determining whether a child should give oral evidence in the context of the principal objective of achieving a fair trial [paragraph 9(a) to (v)]. The Guidelines require the court to carry out a balancing exercise ‘between the following primary considerations:
    1. i) the possible advantages that the child being called will bring to the determination of truth balanced against;

ii) the possible damage to the child’s welfare from giving evidence i.e. the risk of harm to the child from giving evidence.’

  1. Whilst not all of the elements described by Baroness Hale in Re W or in paragraph 9 of the Guidelines will be relevant in every case, it is plain that the court undertaking a Re W determination will need to engage in a relatively full and sophisticated evaluation of the relevant factors; simply paying lip-service to Re W is not acceptable. By ‘full’ I do not wish to suggest that a lengthy judgment is required, but simply that the judge must consider each of the relevant points with that process recorded in short-form in a judgment. Such a detailed process is in my view justified given the importance of the decision for the welfare of the child and for the fairness of hearing.
  2. It is plainly good practice for the court to be furnished with a written report from the children’s guardian and submissions on behalf of the child before deciding whether that child should be called as a witness. This court understands that it is, however, common-place for guardians to advise that the child should not be called to give evidence on the basis that they will or may suffer emotional harm as a result of doing so. Where such advice is based upon the consideration of harm alone, it is unlikely to be of great assistance to the court which is required to consider not only ‘harm’ but also the other side of the balance described in the Guidelines, namely the possible advantages that the child’s testimony will bring to the determination of truth.
  3. Part of any consideration of the overall welfare of a child must be that decisions as to his or her future, or the future of other children, are based, so far as is possible, upon a true understanding of important past events. Whilst the process of giving oral evidence in relation to allegations of past harmful experiences will almost always be an unwelcome one for any child, and for some that process itself may be positively harmful, those negative factors, to which full and proper weight should be given, are but one half of the balancing equation. In some cases, despite the negative factors, it may nevertheless be in accordance with the wider welfare interests of the child for him or her to be called to give evidence. Each case will be different, but even where the child may suffer some emotional harm from the process, if such harm is likely to be temporary and where the quality and potential reliability of the other evidence in the case is weak, it may (in addition to any fair trial issues) nevertheless be in the child’s best interests to give oral evidence. If the ABE interview process is poor, and there is little or no other evidence, then it may be that no findings of fact in accordance with allegations made by a child can properly be made unless the child is called to give evidence. The Re W exercise must plainly take account of such a situation.
  4. The observations made in the previous paragraph are intended only to make the point there made; they are not intended to establish any new test or template for decision making over and above what is said in Re W and the Guidelines to which recourse should be had as a matter of routine in every case where there is a Re W application.
  5. Turning to the present appeal, it is unfortunately plain that the consideration given to the Appellant’s Re W application by the judge fell well short of what was required. I have set out the relevant passages from the transcript in full (paragraph 50 above). No formal judgment was given. At no stage in the hearing did the judge even refer to the factors set out by Baroness Hale in Re W or to those listed in the Guidelines.
  6. It is of concern that the judge suggested, during submissions, that the court, assisted by the guardians, would keep the issue of oral evidence under review during the main hearing itself. The question of whether or not a child is to give oral evidence should be determined well in advance of the hearing at which she or he may be called. To contemplate deciding, at a later stage and once the hearing itself has started, to call them is likely to increase the potential for the process to impact upon the child in a harmful manner and would allow little or no time to prepare the child and those caring for them.

 

 

Child’s article 6 rights

 

In this case, one of the children, A was 15 although with some learning difficulties – he was not capable of instructing a solicitor and was so represented by the Guardian and the child’s solicitor. When the Guardian and solicitor met with him, the allegations were discussed. The Judge directed that a note of those discussions be filed and served.

  1. A has never made any allegation of sexual abuse against his father or of being incited or encouraged by his father to abuse others. He did not admit that he had himself committed any act of sexual abuse on others. On 29th May 2015 he was interviewed by the police. This was not an ABE interview, but an interview under caution which took place after he had been arrested on suspicion of having committed rape. The interview lasted for one hour. A engaged with the process throughout by answering factual questions. When sexual allegations were put to him he was clear and plain in his complete denial of being involved in any sexual behaviour. An audio recording of this interview is apparently available, but no party invited the judge to listen to it.
  2. On 27th October A’s social worker visited him in order to ascertain his ‘wishes and feelings in respect of the upcoming fact finding hearing’. The social worker’s statement records that A asked what a fact finding hearing was and that she explained that the allegations that had been made against him and his parents would be put to the judge, along with other matters that concerned the local authority. She states, ‘A nodded as I spoke, suggesting that he understood’. He was then told that the judge would consider the evidence and make a decision on the likelihood of the allegations being true or not. A’s question following this explanation was about the options for his placement in the event that the allegations were found proved or not proved. The social worker records that when she explained that if no facts were proved she would work with A and his parents to determine how best to move him back home at a pace that he was comfortable with, ‘again A acknowledged this and nodded as I spoke’.
  3. The social worker went on to record that she discussed the allegations that had been made against A and that throughout this discussion he maintained eye contact with her and had open body language. When she explained to A that, with regard to allegations made by D against him, there were only two people who are aware of what, if anything, took place, ‘A nodded at this statement, however did not offer any discussion around this.’ When the social worker asked if A had ever seen behaviour such as that which had been alleged, A’s body language was said to change in that he responded with short answers and began to fidget with his hands, he was, however, still engaging with the conversation. A worker from the unit then joined the conversation and, after trying to explain to A what ‘learned behaviour’ was, he asked A if ‘there was anything he wanted to share at this point’ to which A replied ‘not right now’. When asked whether he might do so later, A said ‘yes, I think so’.
  4. On the 2nd November 2015 A’s CAFCASS guardian and his solicitor visited him in the unit in which he is now accommodated. On the day following the visit HHJ Watson made an order requiring the guardian to file a statement setting out what had occurred during that visit. The guardian complied with that direction by filing a statement on 8th November in which she described meeting A (together with his solicitor and a worker from the unit, ‘G’). A was told by his solicitor that the purpose of the visit was to meet him in order to go through the evidence that had been filed against him. It is not clear whether or not A was told that the meeting was or was not confidential on the usual solicitor/client basis. The statement describes A being given a broad description of the material that had been filed with the court and it records that A either remained silent or gave monosyllabic answers to any questions put to him.
  5. The statement goes on to state that the solicitor explained to A that only A knew if anything sexual had happened involving him and that the solicitor and guardian needed a ‘steer’ from A as to whether there had been anything sexually inappropriate which had happened to him in the past or not. A did not respond to this request and the statement describes time passing with breaks for tea and others matters being discussed before continuing:
    1. “I then suggested that A had a further break and suggested a simple YES (indicating there had been sexually inappropriate behaviour involving A) or NO (there had not). I wrote the two words on a piece of A4 paper and left the room.

When I returned A and G had gone for a further break. They later returned with the A4 paper folded in half. On opening the paper, the word YES was ticked. …

G then explained that A sat with him on a bench outside during the break. G felt that A was so tense that he was physically unable to take the pen and make the mark himself. G held the pen above one answer and then the other and asked A which answer A wanted G to tick. A indicated YES and G ticked it.

[Solicitor] and I did not question A or G further. G stated he would inform A’s key worker when he took over at 3pm.

I was aware that A’s information would be disclosed to his parents on 3.11.15. A was due to have contact on 5.11.15. I agreed to phone the unit later to inform them that Mr and Mrs E will be aware of events following court on 3.11.15. …”

 

The Court of Appeal point out that A had legal professional privilege relating to that visit and had not been asked to waive it. His lawyer was present, rather than just the Guardian.

 

  1. The first relates to the professional responsibilities of A’s solicitor and guardian during the process of trying to obtain his instructions on the allegations that were to be made against him in the proceedings. A, as a party to the proceedings who is represented by his own solicitor, must be entitled to the same protection afforded to all other individuals who undertake communications with their lawyers. No suggestion was made in the hearing of this appeal that any different standard or approach should be taken to A either because he is a child or because he may lack the capacity to instruct his solicitor directly. The importance of legal professional privilege was plainly stated by Lord Taylor in the House of Lords decision of R v Derby Magistrates’ Court, ex parte B [1996] AC 487:
    1. ‘The principle which runs through all these cases, and the many other cases which were cited, is that a man must be able to consult his lawyer in confidence, since otherwise he might hold back half the truth. The client must be sure that what he tells his lawyer in confidence will never be revealed without his consent. Legal professional privilege is thus much more than an ordinary rule of evidence, limited in its application to the facts of a particular case. It is a fundamental condition on which the administration of justice as a whole rests.’
  2. The express purpose of A’s solicitor and guardian visiting him on 2nd November was to go through the evidence against him for the purposes of the forthcoming hearing. It is not apparent from the guardian’s statement or any other material that we have seen that the question of legal professional privilege was considered or discussed with A. The following day the fact that the visit had occurred was made known to the court and the judge directed the guardian to file a statement giving an account of it. There is no indication that that direction was contested or that the solicitor and guardian expressly purported to waive A’s legal professional privilege on his behalf. At the hearing of this appeal Miss Meyer did not argue that the issue had been addressed at all. The result was that the full details of A’s meeting with his solicitor to discuss these allegations, such as it was, became fully known to the court. In the event A had said very little of note during this meeting, but in another case the situation may be very different. It is obviously most important that, in the case of a vulnerable young person, those who are instructed to act on his behalf where he or she is facing serious factual allegations are utterly clear as to their professional responsibilities and astute to ensure that their young client’s rights are properly acknowledged and protected.

 

[This all VERY important for children’s solicitors]  The Court of Appeal actually found that A’s article 6 rights had been breached by this procedure.

 

Obviously with all of these flaws, the findings were overturned, and the case sent back for re-hearing.

  1. In conclusion, I am satisfied that this appeal must succeed on the following broad bases:
  1. i) The judgment wholly fails to acknowledge and then analyse the numerous and substantial deviations from good or acceptable practice which are evident at every stage of the police interaction with the three complainant children, both during the ABE interviews and by undertaking the ‘fast-track’ interviews thereafter.

ii) The application for the police officer to be called to give oral evidence should not have been refused (unless, on investigation, it was impossible to call the officer at any stage and on any basis during the hearing).

iii) The judge’s analysis of the children’s evidence is open to the valid criticisms made in support of the appeal. In particular the judge’s approach to, and use of, the inconsistencies within the evidence of the three children fell well short of what was required.

iv) The judicial analysis of the formal and properly presented Re W application made by the appellant was so wholly inadequate and, in effect, simply was not undertaken. This, of itself, is an error of sufficient materiality to justify setting the fact finding decision aside.

v) A’s right under ECHR, Article 6 to a fair trial and his right to the protection of legal professional privilege were breached to a substantial degree.

vi) The judge’s analysis of the evidence of what A had said, together with his presentation, when being invited to address sexual matters was both confused and inadequate. There is a real risk that every aspect of what is recorded by the social worker, guardian and key worker in October, November and December 2015 relates entirely to his complaint of abuse by two uncles five years earlier. The potential for that to be the case was not taken into account by the judge and, in any event, the judge wrongly conflated evidence about that past abuse with the entirely separate recent allegations at a number of stages in her judgment.

Given that all of the police investigations came up with no corroborative evidence and the case was based almost entirely on the children’s allegations and the ABE interviews, the LA will have an uphill struggle at that re-hearing.