I have talked about the 350 page bundle limit before, and how a “one-size fits all” regardless of the nature of the case is a blunt instrument which does not always work.
This is a case in point.
Local Authority A v N and others 2015
Very sadly, the father in the case was displaying pronounced symptoms of mental health difficulties but would not engage in any assessment process, which might have enabled him to get a diagnosi and treatment. He had placed 3 supplemental bundles of his own construction before the Court, consisting of around 1,400 pages, and insisted on those documents being read. These matters related notionally to the father’s deep-seated belief that there was a secret conspiracy at the highest levels and permeating almost every strata of society about fostering and adoption. Whilst even national newspapers routinely publish articles hinting or claiming such a thing, here the father’s beliefs had taken a complete hold of him and almost any fact or newspaper article no matter how tangential, was woven into his belief system.
[This is not an attack on those who believe and espouse their views about corruption and bad practice in the family justice system – this man was going far far beyond that sort of thing. For example, the critics of the family justice system that I spend time in discussions with would be unlikely to perceive that seeing a social worker in MacDonalds with some children unconnected to the case would warrant writing to MacDonalds about social workers ‘infiltrating’ MacDonalds or to accuse the children of being child-actors; nor would they be anything like so fixated on Ringo Starr’s role in the forced adoption industry – given that he doesn’t have one. This is not a man being penalised for exposing corruption or challenging a flawed system, this is a man with considerable mental health problems.
No doubt it would be possible for an unscrupulous journalist to turn the story into “Man loses children for daring to speak out about corruption in secret family Courts’, but there’s no such thing as an unscrupulous journalist, so that will never happen.]
- After considering everything I have read, heard and seen during this hearing I make the following findings. They are additional to the findings that I have already made whilst going through some of the issues above.
(a) I accept, as I said at the outset, that when D was living at home and when she lived with her mother at her grandparents home in 2012, she was much loved and well cared for. I also accept that C was much loved when she was living at home, although I cannot comment meaningfully on the quality of her care, because in the nature of things it has not been examined at this hearing. D was physically well and attended all her immunisations and health visiting appointments. She attended the nursery properly and the parents would phone in to say if she was ill. I repeat that the numerous photographs which the mother has asked me to look at and the eighteen DVDs (which includes the two about the European Parliament) put in by the father show both girls interacting happily within their family. I accept that the father and the mother are non-drinkers and non-smokers. There are no criminal convictions in the family. The grandparents too are decent people who love their grandchildren, who brought up their own children, who worked hard until retirement and who would never have expected to become involved with Social Services; nor for that matter to be contemplating the care of two children when in their seventies.(b) Unhappily, however, I am satisfied on the expert evidence and on everything I have seen, heard and read, that the father has been and is now mentally unwell. He does not recognise this, nor does the mother, nor do the grandparents. There is, however, abundant and solid evidence for that conclusion. Specifically I refer to the opinions of Dr. Mumford, Dr. Pilgrim, Dr. McGeown and Professor Mortimer. I also refer to the contents of Supplemental Bundles 1, 2 and 3. Initially the contents of those three lever-arch files seem sometimes completely incomprehensible. This is partly because of the father’s idiosyncratic writing style and partly, as I have said, because many of the attachments are missing. However, I have come to realise as the case has gone on, particularly on hearing the father, that there is underlying his tortured logic a just about intelligible reason for why he fires off most of the complaints and demands which he does. Most emails, with some exceptions, can be seen to relate essentially to his sense of grievance about the loss of the children and his obsessive but unsupported beliefs that this is based on multiple conspiracies, malpractices, lies and hidden agendas. Unfortunately, these paranoid and distorted beliefs have led him to overreact beyond the bounds of reason with cross-references in his mind to other people, organisations and events having in reality nothing to do with his children. They, the children, become joined into his whistleblowing-type campaigns, because his mental ill-health distorts his ability to see things in proportion and to distinguish as regards the children the relevant from the irrelevant. Through his distorted thinking, much of his time must have been taken up with researching supposed culpabilities and pursuing them, often in a grandiose manner, without apparent empathy for those on the receiving end, nor for the inconvenience which he may have been causing to third parties. These suspicions and beliefs have unhappily been fuelled by the coincidence of Local Authority B having been placed by the government into a form of trust and by [certain] scandals emerging locally in places like [named], as extensively reported in the media.
(c) I find that the contents of Supplemental Bundles 1, 2 and 3 justify the use of the words ‘distorted’ and ‘grandiose’ in the last paragraph. Just to give a flavour of what I mean, they contain the following sorts of things: sent to Her Honour Judge L, a newspaper item about women with hourglass figures having brains to go with their curves; to Local Authority A, accusing Kerry Chafer of running paedophile activities and money laundering; to Local Authority A, declaring Kerry Chafer to be ‘linked to’ dwarfism and gross obesity; sent to the Children’s Guardian’s solicitors, various press cuttings including, ‘Commons to get in-house mental health clinic for MPs suffering from depression’ and ‘One in five struggle to have a baby’; complaints about Local Authority A Social Services running with an imbalance of female and male social workers, making it dysfunctional; complaining to the Royal Mail that it had illegally delivered to him a notice which had arrived late about a parenting education meeting; asserting that the children’s guardian’s solicitor has a ‘gross and autistic daughter’; to the European Parliament about Tesco’s selling a hi-fi system with some label or leaflet promoting adoption; to Professor Mortimer, threatening to report her to the police; to [named] University concerning Professor Mortimer and reminding them that ‘the case is listed at the International Criminal Court in the Hague’; reference to an article about prisoners in cages; to Zurich Insurance PLC concerning an ex-employee of theirs’ who was ‘linked to’ Local Authority B’s street window display promoting adoption; to Amazon concerning a former Mayor of Local Authority B, because they were selling a book which he had written; to the publishers of that book, telling them to end their contract with the author and saying that the subject matter of the book (a very prominent politician) would himself be served with court notice about it; to Ofsted about its former female chair five years previously who had recently made sexual disclosures about herself in the newspapers; to the college or academy where that woman now works, advising them to remove her from her Chair, with reference to ‘child trafficking, money laundering, forced adoption, birth parental suicide and genocide’ and with references to the Crown Prosecution Service and the European Parliament; to Local Authority A, complaining about a social worker having ‘infiltrated’ McDonald’s by having an interview with a child (not connected with this case) and the child’s mother there; to the website ‘Just Giving’ about the Mayor of [town named], who had posed for a nude charity calendar, requesting details of the publishers and distributors of that calendar; a complaint about a prominent cabinet member who had publically said something about people coming to London for sex, stating that he must step down or be removed; to Ofsted requesting the arrest of ‘named social workers’; to the Electoral Commission about its alleged link with a television programme on adoptions and with a particular trades union; to a sign manufacturer complaining of signs on a local roundabout encouraging fostering and adoption, referring to a claim for substantial compensation and mentioning the international criminal court; a ‘To Whom it May Concern’ about the ‘continual adverse, unnecessary abuse holocaust distribution of NHS medication to hundreds of thousands of UK civilians’; to the Archbishop of Canterbury about ‘a named social worker’ not taking Easter gifts to D; to two librarians at a local library, complaining about posters there encouraging people to foster or adopt, saying that he had given them several days to remove those posters and that they would be ‘challenged to the Press Complaints Commission and others’; to [the] Police requesting consideration of the arrest of the art therapist at the H Children’s Unit and H’s directors on the grounds of fraud and embezzling up to £300,000 from the public purse; to Sports Direct because it had announced that it had entered into a ‘put option agreement’ relating to Tesco PLC shares. I have noted more than fifty individuals and organisations (ignoring just copying in) to whom the father has sent correspondence, including by way of example [named] University, [named] University, [named] University, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, the International Criminal Court at the Hague, the police, the DPP, the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, the RSPCA, News Corporation, Zurich Insurance, the Criminal Cases Review Commission, Tesco, the British Humanist Association, and so on. By way of further example, one or two of the newspaper articles annexed to his communications have the following headlines: ‘Born junkies. Three babies hooked on heroin or crack are delivered every day’; ‘Children of obese Mums likely to die younger’; ‘Labour and NHS stitch-up’; ‘Council anger over naked town mayor’ (a charity calendar); ‘Cameron’s attempt to do God faces test of faith by electorate’; ‘Labour reforms fail to convince voters’; and ‘Ministers ask Charles: Can we take away your powers?’
(d) It is not only the contents of the father’s Supplemental Bundles 1, 2 and 3 which demonstrate his abnormal thinking process and ability to see things in normal proportion, but almost more so his insistence that I should read those bundles as being supportive of his case in respect of his children. The reality is that they help to justify and support the conclusions of Professor Mortimer. Her Honour Judge P QC made the same point (at paragraph 72 above) in April 2009. Professor Mortimer told me in evidence that although she had not read all the father’s documents in the three bundles, she had read enough to recognise them as being ‘… typical of the sort of material produced by persons with this type of mental disorder.’ When it was put to her by Mr. Godfrey on instructions that she had given ‘totally false and biassed weight’ to the cases of the local authorities and had ignored the father’s case, she disagreed, saying that she had not ignored the father’s material, but on the contrary had ‘… used it in arriving at her professional diagnosis and conclusions.’
(e) Unhappily both the mother and the grandparents have been so influenced by the strength and persistence of the father’s beliefs about the targeting of the family, conspiracies and fabrications that they have come to absorb these beliefs which have become part of their own respective mindsets. This has been painfully but abundantly obvious (i) from everything which each of them has said to the social workers, (ii) from the questions which they have caused to be put in cross-examination (or in the grandparents’ case have put themselves) to the local authorities’ witnesses and (iii) from their evidence in the witness box. They have become embroiled with the father’s views and beliefs, however improbable and however lacking in evidential support.
(f) The father’s refusal to cooperate in an up-to-date psychiatric examination, as strongly advised by McFarlane LJ in October 2014 and repeated by myself in January 2015, and his refusal to speak to the Children’s Guardian, have greatly diminished his prospects within these proceedings. I doubt that this is a product of stubbornness, for I can see that he can be a pleasant and cooperative person. I suspect it is more a product of his mental ill-health and his complete inability to see that there would be a benefit to him (and thus to all the family, including the children) from an up-to-date psychiatric diagnosis, coupled with whatever medication or other help a consultant psychiatrist might offer. The mother too has diminished her prospects by refusing to have an up-to-date psychological assessment, or to meet with the children’s guardian. An up-to-date psychological assessment of her would have been invaluable as to whether she has fully and truly embraced the father’s beliefs, or whether she is simply unable to confront and challenge him. These refusals by both parents demonstrate a lack of insight into what materials a court needs to determine a difficult case like this in the best interests of the children.
(g) I accept the diagnosis by Professor Mortimer, albeit limited to being a paper exercise, that there does exist a ‘folie à deux’ between the mother and the father. I further accept the Professor’s view, as to which she is in agreement with the previous psychiatric and psychological experts, that the father will stay as he is without treatment. She gives the opinion that there is ‘… no hope at all of any spontaneous resolution’. I accept that opinion. She advises that the natural course of untreated schizophrenia is a gradual, slow cognitive decline, with the defects tending to be in reasoning, judgment, memory and concentration. This is a sad prognosis, but that is what it is.
(h) I am satisfied from everything I have seen and heard that those social workers, health visitor, nursery school workers, care home staff and contact supervisors who have made statements and/or whom I have heard in evidence have carried out their duties and functions with due professionalism, without dishonesty or fabrication and in pursuit of what they have considered would best serve the welfare of the respective children. The proposition only has to be stated that all these professionals have been drawn into a conspiracy involving dishonesty and perjury by a wish to get back at the parents for some complaint the parents made about C’s school in 2005, to realise how fantastic it actually is. Yet the family members have become blind to this and in the case of the mother and grandparents have become disabled from critically examining or challenging it. As Miss Stanistreet put in cross-examination, the father’s case involves professionals in every discipline involving three counties over ten years having actively lied and made things up in order to get the children into care: yet that is the case relied on by the family members.
(i) I find that whilst, as seen on the DVDs, the father can be pleasant and charming, there is also a blustering and domineering side to him, when he can be insistent on getting his own way over things which he sees as important. On occasions I find that he has behaved in intimidating ways, as appears in places throughout the evidence, including with professionals such as social workers and at the nursery. This makes it extremely difficult to reason with him or to discuss things usefully with him: reference for example Rachel Payne’s efforts to discuss with him Dr. Melia’s psychological report, in respect of which she effectively had to give up. Further, the mother and the father have had a habit of simply not turning up on occasions for meetings about the children.
(j) I find that, although D did eventually have the various recommended and clearly necessary assessments (first advised by Dr. Knight-Jones in November 2010 and as mentioned in the contracts of expectation of February 2011 and February 2012), the mother and father were mainly oppositional to them. They did not think they were necessary. They refused to go along with social work and nursery advice about SEN funding for extra one to one help, on the illogical basis that this would ‘label’ D, when the whole idea of such extra help was that she would then keep up with her peers when moving on to her first school. It took the interim care order in mid-2012 before the extra funding could be obtained. When Mrs. Monks explained her observation of D’s delay at the nursery to the father, he called them ‘rubbish’. He said in cross-examination that the one to one help eventually obtained for D by the professionals had not helped her at all.
(k) I find that the situation when the mother and D lived with the grandparents was an increasingly difficult one and I accept that the grandparents admitted as much to Miss Chafer. It is quite understandable why this should have been so. I find, however, like Mrs. Recorder Q, that the tensions have (as happens) been minimised in the minds of the mother and the grandparents. It was not a situation which would indefinitely have continued to provide D with a calm and stress-free environment. I accept that the grandparents told Kerry Chafer that the father was overstaying his contact at times (not just being allowed to make up lost time when public transport made him late) and that they found it difficult to challenge him. It is clear that they were told by Social Services after the mother’s 999 call on 21st August 2012 not to leave the mother alone with D, but that they did so (ie did leave the mother alone with D) in the firm belief that this was justified, as there was no way the mother would harm D. This must raise serious concerns if D were to be in the grandparents’ care about their ability to protect D against the emotional pressure likely (as I find) to be imposed on them by the mother and father’s strong views about getting the children back to their home.
(l) It is a fact, and I so find, that all the family members have an antipathy to the Social Services with whom (along with other agencies) there would absolutely have to be cooperation if D lived within the family. Even putting the family’s case at its very highest, no outcome could reasonably be countenanced without at the very least a supervision order. The father stated in his most up-to-date statement (23rd February 2015): ‘… I do not like the local authorities and do not want their involvement in my family.’ The mother told me that she sees the children and the family members as ‘victims’ and that ‘… I want nothing to do with the Social Services any more. I want no involvement with them, because I hate them.’ The grandfather spoke in his evidence of anyone having dealings with the Social Services as being ‘in for a life of hell.’
(m) I find it to be extremely likely, indeed virtually unavoidable, that any child living with the father and mother would be exposed to their distorted views and beliefs across a wide range of areas. It would involve such a child being brought up in an ethos where those in positions of a sort of authority (schools, social workers, health visitors and so on) are seen as conspiring, lying and acting with motives of personal gain or promotion. There would be surrounding such a child a sense of the morality of ‘whistleblowing’ in respect of persons with whom one has no particular relationship or connection and of the appropriateness of setting oneself up as a sort of guardian of public probity. There would be an absence of inhibition in expressing hurtful views about others, for example that another person is an ‘obese dwarf’. (Both children incidentally have issues with eating). This lack of normal inhibition and of empathy for others would be harmful to an impressionable child, all the more so given Professor Mortimer’s prognosis that the likely prognosis of the father’s mental health is downhill.
Very sad situation. Towards the end of the judgment, the Judge provides a summary of the matters contained within the father’s Supplementary bundles, and they are a sad insight into how consumed he had become by these beliefs.