Yet another alleged radicalisation case, this time private law.
Amongst the many allegations, that the father had wanted to give the child a name which in Arabic meant “War”
Re A and B (Children : Restrictions on Parental Responsibility : Extremism and Radicalisation in private law) 2016
There were two children, aged 3 1/2 and 2. The parents are separated. The mother alleged in private law proceedings that the father was showing signs of extremist behaviour and that he presented a risk to the children as a result.
Outwith the extremism allegations, there were some very serious domestic violence episodes, and as a result the father was imprisoned and there was an order for his deportation
- On the 13th June 2014, in breach of the order made the preceding November, F came within the area of M’s address in Cheltenham, he was carrying mobile phones and various other items and wearing protective motorcycle-wear (he had driven there by car). F was found by a police officer in M’s garden behind the shed and he was arrested, charged and remanded in custody. This incident, which ultimately led to F’s conviction, resulted in a multi-agency risk assessment (MARAC) collating evidence about what the local authority and police considered to be a high risk case of domestic abuse. M said in her statement, and I accept, that she was regularly warned by the police and other professionals that they were worried about her safety and that of the children. She and the children were moved from Cheltenham, to a location which remains confidential. M has become highly anxious, has had counselling (to which I have already referred) and CBT. She describes herself as on a constant state of high alert and is frightened to let the children out of her sight; even to the extent that she is too fearful to allow them to go to nursery school.
- Following the June incident on 14th October 2014, M applied for a further non-molestation order without-notice; a further injunction order was made forbidding F from using or threatening violence against M or from going near her property; the order made expires on 14th October 2016. On 15th December 2014, while on remand, F applied for CA orders including, somewhat unrealistically, a child arrangements order that A and B live with him and a prohibited steps order. Meanwhile, as arranged by the authorities, M had moved to another address in a different area of the country to stop F attempting to get to her and the children again.
- F’s criminal trial took place at Bristol Crown Court on 26th February 2015 and 2nd March 2015; he was convicted on two counts of a breach of a non-molestation order and was sentenced by His Honour Judge Tabor QC, on 9th March 2015, to consecutive sentences of 3 years’ imprisonment. The judge made a 10 year restraining order. The court also made a recommendation for deportation as F is a foreign national who had received a sentence of more than 12 months.
In case you want to know what the ‘various other items’ were:-
- On 13th June 2014 F was in breach of a non-molestation order when he was found by police hiding in the rear garden of M’s home with various items concealed about his person, including a black face covering, a torch, an aerosol spray can, camouflage gloves, a black cutting tool and holder, an eye mask, safety glasses, iPhone and Samsung phone. Another bag containing a hammer and screwdriver was discovered in F’s hiding place behind the garden shed (later found to have traces of F’s DNA) and a search of F’s car revealed two further mobile telephones.
In the criminal trial, father denied everything
- F denied having been in M’s garden at all and said that the police had made up all the evidence and that he was the victim of a big conspiracy. As His Honour Judge Tabor said F had, since the moment of arrest, sought to cast the blame on everyone but himself. F had accused practically every person concerned with the case of lying, including M, M’s family, the two arresting officers, the interviewing officers, the social worker who interviewed F on behalf of the court, and the psychologist who F had seen. F accused his family case solicitors of incompetence and his wife’s solicitors of incompetence. This mirrors F’s evidence in the case before me where, when he is not denying everything he is accused of, he systematically seeks to accuse everyone else of lying about him.
- In his sentencing remarks, the judge went on to say that the fact was “that no-one really knows who you are. You claim to be Syrian but you came to this country with no passport. You are a man who is a stranger to the truth. It is difficult to believe a word that you say. More concerning is the fact that you appear to be completely unconcerned about the terror that you have inflicted upon your wife, who naturally now fears for her life and that of her children. You are so consumed yourself that you totally ignore the pain that you inflict on others.”
- His Honour Judge Tabor made reference to the fact that F had chosen to sack his counsel during the criminal trial (he has done so during these proceedings too); he said “when this case started you were represented by a highly able member of the Bar. He would not have allowed this case to start if it had not been ready. On the second day after your wife had been cross-examined, you chose to dispense with his services. I have no doubt that this was your plan all along as you wished to control proceedings. I believe you are a dangerous man, particularly dangerous to your wife and children. You are devious and self-obsessed. There is no mitigation in this case at all other than the fact that you do not have a criminal record.”
- F denied all the evidence against him in the criminal trial, indeed he continues to do so. In respect of all the items found in M’s garden, F said that PC Rogers had lied to the court and made up his evidence about having found F in the back garden, he was never there. He claimed that the glass cutter found in the bag at the scene had come from his car and was in an emergency bag; that the camouflage gloves were his driving gloves for use when he adjusted his tyre pressures; that the black cutting tool was part of an emergency kit from America to cut his seatbelt. He told the jury that the black face covering was a pollution mask which he used because he was very conscious about his health and that the safety glasses were to protect his eyes when driving because he could not use the air conditioning. His DNA had been found on the handle of the screwdriver, but he denied it and would not accept the evidence. Similarly, F denied that the foot spray found at the scene belonged to him and said that the police had made up this evidence to “spice the case up”. Unsurprisingly the jury did not believe F and found him guilty.
- The judge passed a total sentence of three years which reflected the seriousness of his offences. These were not minor breaches of a properly imposed injunction but serious and pre-planned breaches which involved another person and F travelling from London having located M and the children. He came fully armed and prepared; as His Honour Judge Tabor said on the 12th of June 2014, having been foiled in his attempt to use his friend to gain access, “you made a far more sinister plan. You went and hid in the garden of your wife’s home in the late afternoon. You had with you: glasses to protect your eyes; a face mask, which would also prevent you from inhaling noxious fumes; a large pair of gloves – it was June; a glass cutting tool; a sharp-bladed tool; a hammer, screw-driver and torch. I have no doubt that you sat in the garden and waited for an opportune moment to break into the house. Furthermore, I infer from your activity, and with what you had brought with you, you were not only going to force your way into your wife’s house but also to do her harm or abduct the children, or both. You were caught in the act of hiding behind a shed in the garden by a police officer who chased you across several gardens before you were finally apprehended. You were to complain that you suffered from a slipped disc, but as the officer pointed out, you appear to have cleared large fences in your bid to escape. This was one of several maladies that you complain of.”
- This feature of F’s evidence, remarked on by the judge in the Crown Court, was replayed in this court. There was no medical evidence in support supplied by the prison doctors despite F’s attempts to get it. In addition to the three-year term of imprisonment there is a ten year restraining order in place until 9th March 2025. F is forbidden to contact M or the children directly or indirectly (except through a solicitor). He cannot go to any address where she is resident. He cannot enter Gloucestershire except to attend the family court or for pre-arranged visits to see the children. He is not to instruct anyone or encourage in any way any person to contact M or the children (except through his instructing solicitor). On 5th July 2016 my clerk was sent an email purporting to be from F’s father, from whom the court has heard nothing and who had filed no statement within the proceedings. It had had attached an email to M which, on the face of it, was an apparent attempt at breaching paragraph 4 (set out above) of the restraining order by contacting M through the court.
The radicalisation evidence begins here
M claims that A has been caused emotional harm by F’s behaviour towards him; that while still an infant F exposed A to violent films which he watched and told A of his expectation of how A should fight; F had purchased a replica AK47 with laser as a present for A’s first birthday in October 2013 which was unsuitable for his age, and had then posed with his infant son in a ‘Freedom Fighter’ pose.
- It was said by Miss Isaacs, in the schedule prepared by her on M’s behalf, that the evidence in support of this included F’s expressed beliefs that non-Muslims are inferior to Muslims, that homosexuals are unnatural and should be killed and that women are subservient to men; and specifically that F “expressed acceptance of the use of violence as a means of ensuring compliance with his views and beliefs”. That it was F’s “expressed beliefs [sic] that it is acceptable to kill those who have left the Muslim religion”; that F had “expressed admiration and respect for Syrian ‘Freedom Fighters’ and [that it was] his expressed view that he would like to go there and fight with them”.
- It was further said that the risk of radicalisation could be found in “F’s expressed glorification of war including wanting his child or children to be called ‘War’ in Arabic and posing for provocative [sic] photographs”; and that F had purchased bullet proof clothing, gas masks, knives, night time goggles for the purpose of sending to friends in Syria, with similar items having been found and seized by police during an authorised search of F’s flat. This was neither confirmed or denied by the police. The email from the Andrew Fairbrother of the MPS Directorate of Legal Services said that M had not provided a witness statement from them and the MPS investigation “came about in consequence of information that [M] provided on or around the 28/01/14 to the Gloucestershire Police that was passed on to the MPS, and also in consequence of a letter the [M] sent to the Secretary of State for the Home Department dated 11/02/14 that was referred to the MPS on or around 21/02/14”.
There was also evidence presented to the Court about father’s controlling behaviour towards mother
- It was said by M that F has caused her emotional harm by the use of coercive and controlling behaviour, including financially abusive behaviour. M said that he did so by assuming control of the family finances and isolating M from family, friends and the wider community. In fact, F accepts that M was socially isolated when they lived in London and said in his statement dated 23rd February 2016 “she did not go out at all”. He then goes as far as to say they had arguments because she would not take her head scarf (hijab) off at all, claiming that he “could see no reason for her to be veiled at all times but she insisted on this.” Later in the same statement he says that the family “went out rarely but sometimes went on outings to shops, parks and museums…” At no point in his written evidence does he mention having friends at the home, but later after he had concluded his oral evidence he attempted to have the case adjourned to have further evidence filed or disclosed, including from some friends who, he claimed would give evidence that they visited F and M at home and that M and F had visited in return. Not only was this never mentioned previously, it contradicts his own evidence.
- To return to complaints made by M she said as part of his controlling behaviour F had forbidden her to speak to men without his permission; and that F forced M to walk on the inside of a pavement when in public to avoid attracting male attention; that F shut her in the bedroom to avoid males when they visited the family home. M said that F used the threat of taking A away from M to make her compliant with his wishes. M said that on several occasions F told M that he would kill her and/or her son if she contacted the police or tried to leave him; and that F made reference to the use of violence as an appropriate ‘tool’ to discipline women to ensure her compliance.
- F further undermined M both by repeatedly telling her that she was a bad mother and by making complaints to professionals which, in part, led to two investigations by social services departments (which uncovered no reason for concern). M said that his controlling behaviour included F following her to the local social services offices, on 6th November 2013, and that his presence caused her to feel intimidated and anxious. She complained that F was manipulative and that, specifically, he put her under pressure to agree to A being circumcised, disregarding her wishes and causing the baby pain and infection. His manipulative behaviour extended to his withholding information about his mental health, for which he received treatment and he forbade M from mentioning it; during these proceedings he has continuously made allegations that M is mentally ill or unstable.
- It is M’s case that she and the children are at risk of future serious physical and emotional harm from F because of his behaviour and the threats he made during the time they lived together. She places reliance on the occasion on the 14th October 2013, when F assaulted M while she was pregnant with B, he threatened to get rid of the thing she loved the most, implying that he would kill A if M reported his abusive behaviour to the police. M has said that F frequently implied that he would kill her or A or both of them if she left; he also threatened to take A away from M and to take him to Egypt.
- It is M’s case that the action taken by F on 13th June 2014 constitutes evidence of an advanced plan by F to abduct or cause serious harm or even death to M and the children. This concurs with the sentencing remarks of His Honour Judge Tabor made in February 2015.
- As evidence as to the extents that F would go, M relies on what she said that F did during their reconciliation between August and October 2013, when F covertly placed a tracking device in the baby’s pram in an attempt to monitor M’s movements; she says that she discovered by the device on 23rd October 2013.
The father did not redeem himself in the evidence he gave before the Family Court, deploying as his defence that his wife’s behaviour following pregnancy was so hormonal that it had led her to behave badly towards him but that he now forgave her. You will not be amazed that Ms Justice Russell was not persuaded by this novel defence.
- F has filed two statements in these proceedings, dated 23rd February and 23rd May 2016. To the first he exhibited certificates from various courses he attended in prison which, he said, meant that he was a changed man. His case remained that M was lying and had “started a conspiracy against me with the bad people to get rid of me completely.” The identities of the bad people remained unclear. According to F, M had abused him throughout their marriage; had behaved in an aggressive way and had racially abused people, in particular he claimed she was “severely anti-Semitic“, when she had ventured out from wherever they were living. His second statement, which he prepared himself, amounted to little more than a lengthy diatribe against M, the “British Justice System” and an exposition of his view of women based on what he said he had learned in prison. “These courses taught me there is no pregnant female in the world who is herself when she is pregnant. This can last for up to two years after she has given birth, she will recover slowly not only physically but psychologically and emotionally therefore I forgive [M] for what she did to me.”
- If this is indeed what F was taught in prison those courses are in need of serious and extensive revision and overhaul. His oral evidence was more of the same, an attempt to blame M for everything that happened and to exonerate himself, by applying the platitudinous, misogynistic stereotype of the mentally unstable and emotionally volatile woman, whose behaviour was such that it would have tried the patience of any man to breaking point.
The Judge made some powerful findings of fact
Findings of Fact
- I have considered the evidence of the applicant and respondent and for the reasons I have set out above, and below, I accept the evidence of M and reject that of F. I find that the applicant’s case is made out and that, apart from the allegations regarding radicalisation, to which I shall return, the specific complaints made by M about F’s violence and controlling behaviour I find to have been proved on the balance of probabilities. F has during their short relationship, which lasted little over two years, repeatedly threatened and used violence against M. The violence had not been slight, or at the lower end of any scale; on several occasions he has seized M by the head and neck and attempted to choke or strangle her; once while saying that he would be able to break her neck in one twist. He has slapped her, kicked her, shaken her and thrown her to the ground when she was pregnant. These are all serious assaults and the choking or attempted strangulation must have been terrifying to endure.
- These violent assaults took place when A was there and I find that F assaulted M on at least one occasion while she was tending to A which must have caused him distress and probably instinctive fear, even if he was too young to be aware exactly what was going on. I find that he bought the baby a replica assault rifle for his first birthday, which F later posed with himself; and that he watched violent films when the child was there. This behaviour would have caused M to fear for A and that his father was exposing him to, and encouraging him in, the use of violence. I do not accept that F is, as he has said, a peace loving man who would not even harm animals because he is a vegan; as his evidence about this was another example of self-serving evidence which suddenly appeared during his oral evidence without any previous mention of it.
- F behaved in a threatening and intimidating way towards M frequently throughout their relationship, this included him threatening to kill A on one occasion and, on numerous occasions, to carry out an “honour” killing on her if she ever left him. He was abusive and controlling of M. This abuse included financial abuse with F controlling the family’s finances. I accept that she only had access to the money in the joint account and that the amount of money available in that account was entirely controlled by F. Even on his own account M was isolated from friends and family, but I do not accept that this was her choice, rather I find that he set out to keep her isolated and refused to allow her to mix with other people. I find that he forbade her to speak to other men without his permission; he intimidated her when they were out by making her walk in the inside of the pavement and avoid contact with other men; he shut her in the bedroom when his friends visited him; he repeatedly threatened to take A away from her to get her to comply with his wishes; he threatened to kill her and A if she left or contacted the police; and, that he explicitly told her that violence was the appropriate way to discipline a woman.
- F made repeated claims to professionals that M was not fit to be a mother; this he continued to do throughout these proceedings and in his oral evidence. There have been two social service assessments of the family because of referrals due to domestic abuse. The first was by Kensington and Chelsea in August 2013 when M and A (then 9 months old) were referred by a senior care health advisor, to whom M had disclosed that F had grabbed her round the neck, causing bruising to her throat, amongst other physical abuse. This description corroborates the evidence in her statements. M was interviewed by a social worker and by the police; she was then taken by her mother from the police station to her mother’s home. As M and A were considered to be living in a “place of safety” outside the borough the case was not taken any further. When M and F reunited this triggered a further referral in September 2013; this time the referral was by the health visitor. M told the social worker that she was a practising Muslim, but not as strict as her husband, and that she had not been in agreement with circumcision, however F had gone ahead with it; M had felt it was cruel and painful for the baby and that it was not necessary (further corroboration of M’s evidence). The risk of further domestic abuse was considered to be raised by M’s being pregnant. The risk was assessed as High. These two s47 CA assessments corroborate M’s evidence.
- In October 2013 Kensington and Chelsea carried out a further assessment, by which time M had left and gone to Cheltenham, having obtained non-molestation orders against F with support from another agency, Advance. The assessment recorded that the domestic abuse she was experiencing was of the “controlling and intimidation nature [sic]”, such as putting a tracking device in A’s pram, following her when she was out on errands and checking her mobile phone each time she received a phone call or message. F was described as minimising the incidents and that he made out that his wife was “sensitive and over-reacts”. It was recorded that it was not possible to discuss the domestic abuse in detail with M who feared she would be placed at more risk of domestic abuse at home had she done so; as the assessment records the “the fact that [M] fears the consequence of this discussion is evident [sic] of the level of intimidation and worry that his behaviours have had upon his wife.”
- Again the assessment corroborates M’s evidence. I find that F did place a tracking device in A’s pram, and that he did follow M when she went out; specifically, I find that he followed her when she went to social services offices. As he had done so it was unsurprising that the assessor made the comment about the evidence of the level of intimidation experienced by M. To go to the extent of putting a tracking device in the baby’s pram is an example of the extreme lengths that F would go to try to control and monitor M’s movements; when this was coupled with following her she must have been left feeling terrified, undermined and powerless. I have no doubt that F intended that she should feel that way.
- It is behaviour such as this which then led to F’s planned, calculated and determined attempt to get to M and the children in Cheltenham. The breaches of the non-molestation order were very serious, as was reflected in the sentences handed down, and armed with a plethora of sinister implements F can only have been intending to cause harm to M and the children or intending to abduct them as the judge said in his sentencing remarks. F posed a considerable and a serious risk to M and to the children at that time and there is no evidence before me that would support a finding that the risk is in any way diminished. F continues to use all means at his disposal to try to circumvent the restraining orders, the fact that those means are very limited is only because he remains behind bars. Based on his past and current behaviour, his denial of his criminal convictions and the absence of any remorse the likelihood is that F would again attempt to track M and the children down and to harm M and abduct the children. Abduction causes lasting harm to children and the risk that it is likely to occur must be taken into account by this court when considering how safe it is to allow F’s involvement in the children’s lives now and in the future.
- The fear of being tracked down has directly affected the children as it has undoubtedly affected their mother; to live in fear and anxiety will have made her, as their guardian observed, less emotionally available to the children than she otherwise would be. This fear has led to her, and therefore the children, leading much more restricted lives than they otherwise would have done. She was, and is, frightened that F could track her down as he did when she was living down in Gloucestershire and is so fearful that he would manage to do so again that she cannot bring herself to let the children out of her sight. This fear is not ill-founded, it is all too easy to access information on the internet, and F has done this before. For that reason, she has not enrolled A or B in a nursery and it is for that reason that she seeks an order to allow her to change the children’s names.
Changing a child’s surname is not an easy thing to do, where one parent objects, but I am sure that most readers would be 100% satisfied that it was justified in this case, and so was the Judge.
The extremeism elements were more difficult – the police disclosure had not provided any evidence, and as a reader, I was left with the impression that this man was violent, controlling, manipulative and probably a fantasist who enjoyed leading his wife to be fearful of him. In terms of hard evidence that he was connected to Daesh or radicalised, the absence of any police or Counter Terrorism investigation into him made that difficult to prove.
Given the very strong evidence against him in almost every other regard, it wasn’t really necessary to prove those matters. Ms Justice Russell was critical of the attempt to include such matters in the schedule of findings sought.
- In private law proceedings where allegations of extremism or radicalisation are pursued as part of the case or findings sought against another party, then it must be based on the evidence. As Lord Justice Munby (as he then was) has said in Re A (A child) (Fact Finding Hearing: Speculation)  EWCA Civ 12: “It is an elementary proposition that findings of fact must be based on evidence, including inferences that can properly be drawn from the evidence and not on suspicion or speculation“.
- The President’s Guidance: Radicalisation cases in Family Courts issued by Sir James Munby P, on 8th October 2015 sets out a checklist of factors that the court is to be alert to, and emphasises the need for a co-ordinated strategy predicated on the co-operation between agencies. There was no lack of co-operation in this case, but there was a lamentable lack of a properly constructed and focussed preparation of M’s case, based on the evidence, particularly in respect of the allegations of radicalisation, and the way in which this was prosecuted on her behalf. When applications for disclosure were made by counsel it was not even clear which police service was being asked to disclose information about F; the Gloucestershire Constabulary or the MPS. Draft orders for disclosure were addressed simply to “the _ Police”; which can only indicate the lack of information on which those applications were based. No application was made to make use of the 2013 Protocol, and it is difficult to reach any other conclusion other than that the applications were a speculative attempt to bolster the case on behalf of M.
- In cases where there is accusation or allegation of extremism or radicalisation the party making those allegations cannot rely on them without evidence. Where there are current or past criminal investigations it is necessary to wait for disclosure before the schedule of findings is produced and finalised. In private law, as in public law, the party bringing the case carries the burden of proof; it is on them that the duty lies to adduce evidence in a timely fashion and in compliance with the FPR 2010. Any finding of fact in private law or public law family proceedings, and indeed in all civil cases, must be based on evidence. As Lord Justice Munby (as he then was) has said in Re A (A child) (Fact Finding Hearing: Speculation)  EWCA Civ 12: “It is an elementary proposition that findings of fact must be based on evidence, including inferences that can properly be drawn from the evidence and not on suspicion or speculation“.
- I am not, however, persuaded by any submission on behalf of F that M pursued the allegations of radicalisation to add to the gravity of the case against F “because someone for his background is an easy target.” M had converted to Islam herself before she met F, but from M’s point of view F is someone who has seriously assaulted, attacked and threatened her. He has tried to control and intimidate her even after she left him and I do not doubt that M felt that F had used his religion to justify his appalling behaviour towards her. She probably said so to the police. I did not hear any evidence about how the investigation of F originated in Gloucestershire and it is not possible to exclude the possibility that the police had seen in what M told them evidence of extremism and had escalated the case as a result. Certainly some of his behaviour was bizarre and had included posing in a museum and elsewhere in battle-dress and with weapons; he had purchased night-vision goggles, gas masks and bullet proof clothing and had shown an active interest in the conflict in Syria (but not in the actions of Daesh per se) so it would have been that behaviour about which M properly spoke to the police.
- F’s faith and his practice of Islam is a matter for him and his conscience. I was left with no clear idea of the extent and nature of his faith. At first he refused to swear on the Qur’an but when I asked him why he then did so. During his evidence he broke the Ramadan fast, and those, and other aspects of his behaviour, were inconsistent with strict religious observance. I do not doubt, therefore, that he, personally, chose to use his religion both as a means of justifying his violent and controlling behaviour and as a way of intimidating M; such as by saying that women who left the faith would be killed and that if M left him she would be killed.
The father wanted the children to be brought to see him in prison, but the Judge rejected that and made the unusual (but completely warranted) order that father should have no contact.
- There is no evidence before the court that would permit me to conclude that F would be able to promote the children’s interests if contact was allowed; or that he is capable of behaving in a manner that would produce a safe and nurturing environment for these two little boys whilst he remains in denial as to his actions and the impact of those actions. Moreover, he has continually been negative and hostile towards M and, even if he were able to have contact without harming M or attempting to take the children, the evidence is that he would use any and every opportunity to undermine her, as their mother, during contact.
- The impact of direct contact on M is something to which the court can properly have regard, and I take regard of the considerable impact F’s behaviour has had on M already. I have made findings that the extent of the fear he has induced in M has led to her curtailing the activities she and the children can, and do, participate in and has effectively limited their integration into the wider community in which they live. I have no doubt that any order for contact would have a profoundly negative affect on M and would seriously undermine the quality of care she is able to give the children. The guardian is “of the view that these are exceptional circumstances which would, sadly for the boys, merit there being no direct contact.” It is the conclusion of this court that there is no arrangement or available way in which contact can take place so that the children would be safe from the risk of significant harm from F; it remains a fact he has already harmed their mother and caused them to leave their home on more than one occasion.
- F says he wants to have contact with the children in prison, one can see the benefit for him, particularly in regard to his argument against deportation, but any such contact would be without benefit for the children. They have no relationship with F (because of his behaviour) and so these very young children would need to be brought to prison to be introduced to him; there is no-one to carry out this sensitive work with the children. It is highly unlikely, given their previous assessments, that any agency, local authority or child-care professional would undertake this work or consider it to be in the children’s best interests. Moreover, F is likely to be deported to Egypt in the short term so the likely distressing effects on the children and their mother would be for the short term gain for F alone. In any event, the court will not order contact to take place, even if F were to avoid deportation, because the risk he presents is overwhelming.