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Tag Archives: committal application

Suspended sentence for woman who saw her son “too often”

 

I read this story on ITV news way back in December 2015, and it took 20 seconds of googling to suggest that there might be more to it than the headline suggested.

http://www.itv.com/news/2015-12-15/suspended-sentence-for-woman-who-saw-her-son-too-often/

 

Because the woman in question had a previous history in the family Courts, that history being that she turned up with a report from a psychologist that she had in fact forged, by writing it herself and the named psychologist knew nothing about it. And that she went to prison for perverting the course of justice. That’s pretty unusual, even in the circles of contentious private law proceedings.

 

This matter has a very long and very sad history with continual court proceedings stretching over almost the entirety of X’s life. The mother was made the subject of a previous s.91(14) order at the conclusion of proceedings before Mrs. Justice Macur, as she then was. After that order had been made, the mother sought permission from Mrs. Justice Macur to make an application in respect of X. In support of that application, she filed what purported to be a report from a psychologist. When it was checked, it was discovered that that document was a forgery and the psychologist named denied any knowledge of ever writing any such report. Criminal proceedings were instituted against the mother for perverting the course of justice, during the course of which she was convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of nine months. That was in or about October 2012. The mother was still serving that sentence when the matter came before me in May 2013.

 

That of course doesn’t mean that she wasn’t the victim of injustice THIS time around, but it does mean that you might be somewhat cautious about taking her word for it.

Anyway, the committal judgment is now finally up.

Y v Najmudin 2015

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/3924.html

 

The contact order provided for supervised contact, seven times a year.

Having heard evidence over a number of days both from the parties, from the children’s guardian and expert evidence, I concluded that it was in the welfare best interests of X that his contact with his mother was very restricted, that it should take place, as I have set out, seven times per year in a contact centre, and it had to be professionally supervised. That was because I was satisfied that the mother had lied to me throughout the course of the hearing in 2013 and that she had and would, if permitted to have unsupervised contact, cause emotional and psychological damage to her son.  

 

The mother breached that order by making her own arrangements to see her son, clandestinely and without the knowledge of the father. She was not taking up her sessions at the contact centre, because she was making her own arrangements.

Evidence

  1. The mother in her evidence asserts matters have changed. X is more mature and he is older and he is old enough to make decisions for himself. That may be the case, but the fact that this mother chose to tell this child about this hearing and talked in detail about the evidence, in my judgment amply demonstrates that the circumstances that I found in my judgment in 2013 have changed not one jot.
  2. She may no doubt love her son, but it appears, in my judgment, that she remains incapable of assessing and putting his welfare best interest first. In addition, she did not at any time, despite regular email communication with the father, either (a) tell him that she was meeting X; or (b) ask his permission to see X. At no time, the mother concedes, did the father in fact agree to change the contact arrangements as set out in the order of 3 May. In her evidence, the mother tells me that she could not remember the terms of the order made in May 2013; that she did not know that by seeing X as she did in the street that she was acting in breach of my order. I, without any hesitation, entirely reject that account from the mother. I am satisfied so that I am sure that she knew full well what I had ordered and what were the restrictions on her contact, but she has chosen, in my judgment, deliberately once more to flout the court’s order and to ignore it.
  3. She takes the view that X is old enough to make his decisions and if he asks to see her, then whatever there may be in a court order is completely irrelevant. Well, she is wrong. She, by taking the actions that she has, has put X in an immensely difficult position. The father tells me, and I accept that X has said to him that he loves his mother and he would like to see his mother, but he would like to see her in the supervised contact centre. The mother tells me that when she sees X he is pleased to see her. I have no doubt being a loving child that he would do that. But the father tells me that by the time he gets home, it is plain that X feels uncomfortable, worried and concerned about these chance meetings, knowing that they are not taking place as the court has ordered; knowing that they have not taken place as he would wish. The mother, in my judgment, has put X in an extremely difficult position. She has quite deliberately chosen not to tell Mr. Y about these meetings, nor to seek his permission. All of those facts demonstrate to me that the mother knew precisely what it was that she could and could not do by the court order, but she chose to breach it.
  4. Furthermore, I am reinforced in coming to that view in terms of the adverse effect on X because I accept the evidence from Mr. Y that X has taken now to taking different routes home from school in order that he may try and avoid seeing his mother in those haphazard meetings in public. I accept that evidence. I am also concerned to hear it because it demonstrates very eloquently the conflict that this young man feels about the circumstances that his mother has caused him to be in.
  5. On the totality of all the evidence that I have heard, I am satisfied so that I am sure that the mother has breached the order of 3 May 2013 and, in particular, para.6, on each of the occasions set out in the schedule of findings sought by Mr. Y. In respect of those matters, where the mother was either not sure whether she had seen X on a particular date, or said that it was in fact her partner, Mr. Z, for example, who went to the father’s home on Wednesday, 15 April, I unhesitatingly reject those explanations and I find as a fact that the mother has met with X as set out in that schedule.
  6. Accordingly, I am entirely satisfied that the mother is in breach of that order and she is in contempt of court and she now falls to be punished for that contempt. I will consider what punishment I should impose at 2 o’clock after I have heard anything Dr. Najmudin may want to say in mitigation of her breaches of the order as I have found.

 

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Three months imprisonment for seeing your grand-daughter

 

Apologies for the Tabloid-esque heading, but it is a fairly succinct way of expressing the outcome of Derbyshire County Council v Kathleen Danby 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/B22.html

 

I know that for many of my regular contributors, the issue of commitals to prison for breaches of Court order are an emotive topic, and one can’t help but compare this sort of sentence with the sheets of criminal antecedents I regularly see where repeat offenders have convictions for burglary, theft, assaults, breaches of the peace, etc stretching to seven pages without spending any time at HerMajesty’s Pleasure.  On the other hand, if a Court makes an order to safeguard a vulnerable person and that order is breached, something has to happen to the person who breached the order, otherwise why bother making it.

I don’t have a solution here, but I have to wonder whether the sentences that are given for breaches of Court orders are somewhat out of kilter with sentences given for criminal  offences against children  (the grandmother in this case received a 3 month sentence for breaching a court order not to contact her granddaughter, and if she had instead been convicted of neglecting her the sentence would have been similar, when the latter would appear to most people to be the more serious issue)

 

I am mindful also that this is a sentence for an illicit contact in breach of a Court order, and the sentence is 3 months, in comparison to the six months that Mr Quasim Shah got for what seems to me to have been a much more serious (and possibly abusive) situation.  https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/03/14/contempt-adult-breaching-a-recovery-order/    I would think that the general public, thinking about these two cases would have expected Mr Shah to have got a sentence much greater than twice what Ms Danby got for their relative transgressions.

 

Anyway, on with the case

 

The young person B, is 18 and has a learning disability. She had been the subject of care proceedings and is now the subject of Court of Protection proceedings. Within the latter set of proceedings, an order was made setting out things that her grandmother, Ms Danby, is prohibited from doing

 

“The Second Respondent Kathleen Danby is forbidden to do any of the following, either by herself or by instructing or encouraging another person to do so.

“(a) From approaching or attempting to approach B personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person so to do.

“(b) from communicating with B in any way whatsoever, whether in writing or by post, telephone, fax, text messaging, e-mail or any other form of telecommunication or information technology, including internet, video calling (i.e. Skype), whether directly or indirectly through another, save that she may receive a single telecommunication call from B on a loudspeaker and supervised by the local authority their servants and/or agents to take place on the first Wednesday of each calendar month between the hours seven o’clock p.m. and eight o’clock p.m. only in strict compliance with the declarations on the face and the schedule of the order of Her Honour Judge …” (it says “Taylor”) that should be “… Thomas of even date (annexed hereto).

“(c) For attending at, entering or attempting to enter or go within J town (the town in which B’s placement is situated) either personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person to do so.

“(d) From attending at, entering or attempting to enter or go within 100 metres of XCollege, either personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person to do so.

“(e) From loitering within a radius of 100 metres of Y placementeither personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person to do so.

“(f) From loitering within a radius of 100 metres X College, either personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person to do so.”

Ms Danby did not attend the committal hearing. She would have been entitled to do so, and entitled to free legal representation. I do not know why she did not attend and it would be wrong to speculate.

The Court heard evidence about three alleged breaches of that order

 

 

“In breach of paragraph 1(b) of the injunction order on or before 28th February 2014 Kathleen Danby through herself and/or instructed or encouraged another person contacted and/or communicated with B to arrange to meet her 28th February 2014 at or about 17.27 hours outside the Z public house, next door to Y Placement (the placement). 

“2. In breach of paragraph 1(a) of the injunction order on or about 28th February 2014 at or about 17.27 hours Kathleen Danby met with B at or about 17.27 hours outside the Z public house, which is adjacent to the driveway of B’s placement, and passed to B a package, who immediately concealed it about her person.

“3. In breach of paragraph 1(e) on or about 28th February 2014 at or about 17.23 hours loitered within 100 metres of Y placement with the intention of meeting of B.”

 

The Court heard, in relation to those matters, evidence that B had effectively given her carers the slip on 28th February and that CCTV footage showed her meeting with and talking to an elderly lady, identified by people who know her as being Kathleen Danby.  B returned to her carers very animated and talking about having seen her grandmother, and her behaviour was later adversely affected, including attempts to self-harm.

 

 

  • on 28th of February. On that day I am persuaded, not on a balance of probabilities but because I am certain, that B had a meeting with her grandmother. P.C. Hamilton has seized CCTV footage from the X public house which shows the road from the pub which is next to the driveway to Y Placement where B lives and he sets out what can be seen very clearly in his written evidence. He says this:

 

 

“I viewed the footage in a private office inside the pub. The footage shows a lady, who I can describe as being white, approximately sixty-five-years, approximately five foot four inches in height and had prominent white hair that is collar length. She enters the pub by the front door at 17.21 and camera 13. The footage then shows the lady walked to the rear of the pub and going to the toilets. The lady is then seen leave the pub by the front entrance at 17.23 and stand towards the edge of the camera footage close to the pub car park. At 17.27 B is then seen running towards the lady with arms open wide and immediately hugs the lady who is seen reciprocating. They then stand in the same position for a few minutes during which a car parks, pulling up, parking across the road. The lady and B then walk back up towards the pub entrance and some items are passed between the two.” [In fact I think it is one item that I saw]. “The lady is lastly seen handing something to B. The pair split up with B walking over to the car and the lady walked past the entrance to the pub, past the entrance to Y placement.”

 

  • He himself says he never had seen the original picture of Mrs. Danby, so he cannot personally identify her, but for reasons I shall come to it is clear that it is she.

 

 

 

  • What is also clear from that CCTV footage alone is that the lady concerned was loitering, as is complained of by the local authority, in the area nearby to the Y placement, so that of itself is of course partly a breach of the injunction.

 

 

 

  • I have said that this lady is the grandmother of B is absolutely clear. It is clear not just from the intimate way in which the two greeted each other and the passing of items, but because it is clear that B went on to describe the meeting to Mr A as being with her grandmother. For that night she was due to go out to another care home. She had been having difficulties with her co-resident and Mr. A was taking her to a different home for the evening to have time to cool down. He was waiting for a taxi to take them and at 5.30, approximately, he saw B speaking to an elderly woman. When the taxi came he called to her, but she did not initially come. He got in the taxi, it moved slightly along the road, then he shouted for her to come over and eventually she did and she came over to the taxi and got in.

 

 

 

  • He noted that for the rest of the evening that B was “hyper”, to use his word, but she said this to him: “I bet you’d like to know who that is.” And he said he didn’t. “No, that was my grandmother.” “Which grandmother?” “The one from Scotland.” “She’s come all that way?” “She came to see me.” It was thereafter for the rest of the night that B kept discussing both her grandmother and her father in considerable detail. Indeed, she had with her that night a DVD that her grandmother had previously supplied to her of her life going to school when she was a young girl.

 

 

 

  • So it would seem that B knew whom she was going to meet and knew precisely what was going to happen and so it is clear, in my judgment, that there had been a pre-arranged meeting. It is beyond mere coincidence that B should be in the street at the very same time as her grandmother from Scotland was in the area waiting too as if there was an appointment to meet. It must have been pre-arranged; it could not be a mere accident.

 

 

 

  • There is further corroboration for it being the grandmother in the evidence of Mr H for he says this on discussing matters with B on 4th of March.

 

 

“I then asked B about her meeting on 28th of February with her grandmother. B said her grandmother had come to see if she was okay and safe as F had told her grandmother she had previously absconded and been missing. I asked her if her grandmother had given her anything. She said she had not. I said the police had CCTV footage of the meeting and the police have stated that Mrs. Danby handed B an envelope/package which B then concealed in her top/jacket. She said the police were lying about this. She then became agitated and appears to be low in mood. She stated she did not want to talk further.”

 

  • P.C. Hamilton spoke to B on 1st of March. She denied seeing her grandmother then, though it is plain from what she said both the evening before and to Mr. H that she did. He noted that B’s behaviour has been deteriorating, even though, as the local beat bobby, he has noticed that she has become more settled generally whilst at Y Placement– in other words, it was the events of late February of this year that have made her more volatile and unpredictable.

 

 

 

  • Ms C tells me of further events on 2nd of March. B absconded again on that date and on 6th of March she absconded from a holiday in Rhyl in North Wales. She describes the recent behaviour of B as deteriorating and out of character. Evidence that is corroborated further by Mr. H and by Ms B.

 

 

 

  • So it is that in my view I can be satisfied beyond doubt, I am satisfied to the criminal standard of proof, that the breaches of injunction complained of by the local authority are all made out.

 

 

 

The Court satisfied itself to the criminal standard of proof that there had been a breach of the Court order, and went on to consider sentence

 

 

  • The evidence, as I observed at the final hearing of her future residence and care plans, pointed unequivocally for the need for her to have a period of peace from intervention in her life from her grandmother and her father, hence the final orders that I made.

 

 

 

  • I am sure, too, that the deterioration in her behaviour results from these meetings with her grandmother. Her behaviour has deteriorated; she has self-harmed; she has assaulted staff; she has threatened her co-resident and she has run away. Not in a sense that she disappears by being an hour late, which she does from time to time as is perhaps typical late teenage behaviour, but because she literally runs away and has to be found with the help of the police.

 

 

 

  • Accordingly, I take a serious view of the behaviour of Kathleen Danby and it is plain to me that unless restrained by serious punishment she will simply continue to behave the way she has.

 

 

 

  • I remind myself that the case of Hale v. Tanner sets out that punishment is not the aim of the court, but rather to express its concern at breaches of its orders and the need to effect protection. In those circumstances, in my judgment, there should be a suitable punishment.

 

 

 

  • Miss Cavanagh has reminded me of the options available to me – although of course the local authority has not had the temerity to tell me what to do. I could impose a custodial sentence and then order the case to be listed before me for review. So, I could issue a warrant and then if this lady is arrested or on the review date, as the case maybe, the sentence can be reviewed and it can be reviewed downwards if I have a wrong impression of this lady’s attitude and approach.

 

 

 

  • In the circumstances for each and every one of these breaches of the injunction I shall sentence this lady to three months’ imprisonment concurrently.

 

Ms Danby would have the opportunity to come before the Court to ‘purge her contempt’  that is, to give an apology for her behaviour and an explanation for it, in the hope of the Court ending her sentence or reducing it. That may be more likely in this case because she did not attend.

 

The Commital-ments

Two recent cases on committals – one resulting in a suspended sentence, one resulting in the commital being dismissed on some interesting techicalities.

The first :-  Re Roberts 2013

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCC/Fam/2013/1.html

A warning shot across the bows, in relation to parents publishing material on the internet that would identify their child as being the subject of care proceedings.

In this case, Mr Roberts undertook some filming at Derby County Court, and also published on the internet documents which identified that his child was the subject of care proceedings, which is unlawful.  He had also given an undertaking not to do this sort of thing and breached that undertaking.

He was given a sentence of 6 weeks custody, suspended on the basis of him undertaking not to do this again.  (if he does it again, he will serve 6 weeks, plus whatever additional sentence is imposed for the later offence)

Of course, there is a lively and spirited debate at present as to whether parents should be able to do that, but unless and until the law is changed, doing this sort of thing presents a very serious risk to the parent of committal proceedings.  It is particularly worth noting the judicial comment here that breaches of this kind are bound to attract a prison term.

I’m not going to get into the merits of whether the law should change to allow Mr Roberts to do this, to publicise his case and speak out about whatever injustice he considers has been done to his family – the judgment is a cautionary tale that the law STILL applies to people even where they consider it to be unfair or foolish, and that there are serious risks attached to breaching the law.

I would add that as more and more litigants in person come into the family law system, the more vital it is to have clear and easy to follow rules about what can and cannot be said by a parent about the ongoing court case. The President’s direction of travel towards more openness is going to make it even more important that parents know exactly what the rules are.

It is such a short judgment, I can publish it in full. Note in particular, my underlined passages for emphasis.

RE MR PAUL ROBERTS

1.     On the 19 June 2013, Mr Paul Roberts appeared before His Honour Judge Orrell at the Derby Combined Court Centre; Mr Roberts was assisted by Mrs Jacque Courtnage, acting as a McKenzie friend.

2.     Mr Roberts admitted breaches of an order made by Mr Justice Hedley on the 14 June 2012 and breaches of an undertaking given by Mr Roberts on the 12 April 2013, namely:

3.     He allowed himself to be filmed in the Derby Combined Court Centre and in the film he identified W by name as a child who had been removed from her parents’ care and been subject of proceedings under the Children Act 1989.

4.     He published on the Internet images and letters from the local authority which identify W by name as a child who had been removed from her parents’ care and been made the subject of proceedings under the Children Act 1989.

5.     On the 1 May 2013, he allowed himself to be filmed in the Derby Combined Court Centre and in the film he identified J by name as a child who had been removed from his parents’ care and had been the subject of proceedings under the Children Act 1989.

6.     The above matters were breaches of the order made by Mr Justice Hedley.

7.     In breach of his undertaking, on the 1 May 2013, Mr Roberts disclosed information about the proceedings under the Children Act 1989 concerning J to a third party whilst allowing himself to be filmed including filming in the court building before the hearing in these proceedings on that day.

8.     In respect of the breaches, Mr Roberts was committed to 6 weeks custody to run concurrently in respect of each breach; the term of committal was suspended on condition that he complied with the terms of each of the following: [i] the order made by Mr Justice Hedley on the 14 June 2012, [ii] the order made by His Honour Judge Orrell on the 1 May 2013 within these proceedings and [iii] the undertaking given by Mr Roberts on the 12 April 2013.

9.     The sentencing remarks were as follows. The order and the undertaking were to protect a child in care. Any breach of that sort of undertaking is bound to attract a prison term. Breaches by talking to the sort of people you did was extremely reckless. On this occasion I will suspend the inevitable sentence in the hope you will not again risk going to prison.

His Honour Judge Orrell

And now, the second

In the Matter of an application by Her Majesty’s Solicitor General for the committal to prison of Jennifer Marie Jones for alleged contempt of court 2013

http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Judgments/application-matter-of-jennifer-jones-21082013.pdf

And this involved a mother who defied orders of the High Court that the children should be handed over to the father, who proposed to live with them in Spain.  She not only did not hand them over, she in effect went on the lam, and was finally found hiding out in a guesthouse in Gwent.

The two older children refused to go to their father, and even though the order transferring residence remained in force, they continued to live with their mother in Wales.

An application to commit the mother for contempt was brought, the trial Judge having asked the Attorney General to consider the case.

An issue arose as to whether there had in fact, been a breach of the order made by Hedley J, that underpinned the committal application. That order was as follows :-

“It is ordered that:

1 Jessica … Tomas … Eva … and David … shall be returned forthwith to the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of Spain pursuant to the provisions of the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

2 Paragraph 1 above shall be given effect as follows

(a) The children shall return to Spain accompanied by the father on a flight scheduled to depart from England and Wales no later than 24.00 hours on 12 October 2012 (00.00 hours on 13 October 2013); and

(b) The mother shall deliver up the children into the care of the father, or cause the children so to be delivered up, at Cardiff Railway Station at no later than 4pm on 12 October 2012”

Paragraph 1 does not place any obligation on the mother to do this, para 2 (a) relates only to the father, leaving only para 2 (b).  It is clear that the mother DID NOT deliver up the children.

 

18.  The Solicitor General does not base any allegation of contempt on a breach of paragraph 1 of Hedley J’s order. He was right to adopt that stance, for paragraph 1 was not an injunction, whether in form or in effect. First, paragraph 1 was not addressed to anyone in particular. It directed, in the abstract as it were, that something was to be done. But it did not order the mother, or anybody else for that matter, to do something: see the analysis in Re HM (Vulnerable Adult: Abduction) (No 2) [2010] EWHC 1579 (Fam), [2011] 1 FLR 97. Secondly, paragraph 1 did not specify any time for compliance, and that omission is fatal: Temporal v Temporal [1990] 2 FLR 98.

 

19        In relation to paragraph 2 of Hedley J’s order, the Solicitor General, as we have seen, puts his case on two different footings. First, he says that the mother was in breach in failing to deliver up the children by 4pm on 12 October 2012. Secondly, he says that she continued to breach the order by failing to deliver up the children after 4pm on 12 October 2012, which breach, he alleges, continued until 17 October 2012

That seems, on the face of it, to be a legitimate argument. The mother was aware that she had to deliver the children into the father’s care at Cardiff Railway station, no later than 4pm on 12 October 2012. And she didn’t do that. That looks and smells like a breach. But wait.

20    There is, in my judgment, simply no basis in law upon which the Solicitor General can found an allegation of contempt for anything done or omitted to be done by the mother at any time after 4pm on 12 October 2012. Paragraph 2(b) of the order was quite specific. It required the mother to do something by 4pm on 12 October 2012. It did not, as a matter of express language, require her to do anything at any time thereafter, nor did it spell out what was to be done if, for any reason, there had not been compliance by the specified time. In these circumstances there can be no question of any further breach, as alleged in the Solicitor General’s notice of application, by the mother’s failure to deliver up the children after 4pm on 12 October 2012 or, as alleged in the application, any continuing breach thereafter until 17 October 2012 when she and the children were found.

 

 

The President ruling therefore that mother could not have been in breach for not surrendering up the children AFTER 4pm on 12th October, as the order did not require her to do so.  So she was NOT in continued breach, and her actions in going on the run with the children wasn’t any part of the breach for which she could be committed. And she couldn’t be breaching the order by not delivering up the children BEFORE the deadline. That meant that the only possible breach was her not delivering the children to father’s care AT 4pm.

(So, she was possibly only in breach of the order for a minute, as by 4.01pm, the requirement on her had lapsed.)

22. The present case is a particularly striking example of the impossibility of reading in some implied term. What the order required the mother to do was to:

“deliver up the children into the care of the father … at Cardiff

Railway Station at no later than 4pm on 12 October 2012.”

Suppose that for some reason she failed to do that. What then did the order require her to do? Deliver the children to the father at Cardiff Railway Station or at some other (and if so what) place? And assuming it was to be at Cardiff Railway Station by what time and on what day? Or was she (to adopt the language of a subsequent proposed order) to return, or cause the return of, the children to the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of Spain by no later than a specified date and time? It is simply impossible to say. Speculation founded on uncertainty is no basis upon which anyone can be committed for contempt.

23.I do not want to be misunderstood. If someone has been found to be in breach of a mandatory order by failing to do the prescribed act by the specified time, then it is perfectly appropriate to talk of the contemnor as remaining in breach thereafter until such time as the breach has been remedied. But that pre-supposes that there has in fact been a breach and is relevant only to the question of whether, while he remains in breach, the contemnor should be allowed to purge his contempt. It does not justify the making of a (further) committal order on the basis of a further breach, because there has in such a case been no further breach. When a mandatory order is not complied with there is but a single breach: Kumari v Jalal [1997] 1 WLR 97. If in such circumstances it is desired to make a further committal order – for example if the sentence for the original breach has expired without compliance on the part of the contemnor – then it is necessary first to make another order specifying another date for compliance, followed, in the event of non-compliance, by an application for committal for breach not of the original but of the further order: see Re W (Abduction: Committal) [2011] EWCA Civ 1196, [2012] 2 FLR 133.

24.  It follows that the only question which properly arises on the present application is whether the mother was in breach of paragraph 2(b) of Hedley J’s order by reason of events down to 4pm on 12 October 2012.

At this point, one suspects that those bringing the committal application were beginning to quail. They probably considered that the mother was “bang to rights” but that sense of confidence was dissipating.

The next issue was then, whether the mother was actually flouting the order of Hedley J, or whether through forces beyond her control, she had been unable to comply with the order by getting to the train station at 4.00pm.

As luck would have it, before the mother had set off on the journey, the children had run away and the police were called and her departure was delayed, making it impossible for her to get to Cardiff train station by 4pm (or at worst, there being a reasonable doubt that it was impossible)

The Judge found therefore, that it was not proven to the criminal standard of proof that it had been physically possible for her to comply with the order to deliver up the children at 4pm, the mother had NOT breached that order, and that the order as drafted placed no obligation on her to do anything subsequent to 4pm (i.e she didn’t have to deliver the children to father’s care after that time), so the committal application had to fail.

It is therefore, a very important lesson in drafting terms in an order that might be enforced – one has to be clear what the mandatory obligation on the party is, and what the timescales for compliance are. Had the order been that mother must deliver the children to father’s care by 4pm on 12 October 2012 or in the event of that not being possible, that there was an obligation for her to deliver the children into his care at any time after and by the latest by 4pm on 19th October 2012, she might well have been in breach.

The events of 12 October 2012 – the facts

29. I turn at last to the central issue in the case: the close and careful scrutiny of the events of the crucial day, 12 October 2012. In fact, as I shall explain, the relevant inquiry focuses on an even narrower time-span: the period from 1.39pm to 2.56pm on the afternoon of 12 October 2012.

30. The unchallenged evidence of the mother, based on a Google printout, is that her home in Llanelli is 54.4 miles from Cardiff Railway Station, and that the journey by car along the M4 takes about 64 minutes. So, in order to get to Cardiff by 4pm they would have had to leave by 2.56pm at the latest. Also unchallenged was her evidence that she had arranged the loan of a friend’s 8-seater people carrier at 2.30pm to take herself and the four children to Cardiff and that, having herself packed the younger children’s luggage, at about 1pm she told the two older children to go upstairs to pack. At 1.37pm (the time is fixed by his mobile phone) Mr Williams received a telephone call from his daughter, who was driving past the house, to say that she could see Jessica on the flat roof outside her bedroom window and Thomas outside the house with his bag (apparently he had jumped down off the flat roof). Mr Williams went upstairs and pulled Jessica back into the house. She gave him the slip and ran out of the house and away with Thomas, Mr Williams in pursuit. He telephoned the police: the call was logged at 1.39pm. None of this is challenged by Ms Cumberland. So the crucial inquiry narrows down to the 77 minutes or so between 1.39pm and 2.56pm.

 

31. In relation to what happened during that period I am dependent in large part on the accounts given by the mother and Mr Williams. Both, as I have said, made witness statements and gave oral evidence. Their accounts can be summarised as follows: Mr Williams set off in pursuit, giving the police a running commentary on the phone: this is borne out by the police log. The children were found in the public library and collected by the police; the police log records them as being in the process of being taken back to the police station at 2.1pm. While they were being taken to the police station Mr Williams returned home and told the mother she was needed at the police station. Her friend Allyson Thomas took her there in her car. On her arrival – at about 2.30pm she thinks, perhaps a little earlier – she had to wait some time on her own. She then had a conversation with a police officer, who told her what the children had been saying. Only then was she able to see the children herself. Eventually they all returned home. A police log records at 4.59pm that they had left the police station “approx 1 hour ago” but the mother and Mr Williams think this is wrong and that they had in fact left somewhat earlier; the mother recalls her friend being anxious to get back in time to get her son to work by 4pm.

32. Having heard both of them giving evidence and being cross-examined, I accept this account as given by the mother and Mr Williams. They were, I think, being honest and doing their best to be accurate in what they said. Partly, this is a conclusion I arrive at having seen the way in which they gave their evidence. This was not some glib rehearsed account. The mother in particular was thoughtful, giving every appearance of trying to recall – to visualise – what had been happening that afternoon. Nor did she seek to put any kind of ‘spin’ on her account. If anything, quite the reverse. She did not seek to use the entry in the police log as showing that she had left the police station later than the time she recalled. And, significantly, she made no bones about the fact that as soon as she was reunited with the children in the police station she made it clear to them that they were not going back to Spain, nor about the fact that she repeated this to all the children at or soon after 4pm once she and the two older children had returned from the police station.

33. It is clear, both from her own account and from the police logs, that the mother told the police that she had to get the children to Cardiff by 4pm, and that she explained why. The police logs show that she was told it was a matter for her, and not the police. The mother’s account is that, whilst she was at the police station talking to the officer before being reunited with the children, he gave her an account of what they had told him and expressed his own opinion as being that Jessica was a danger to herself and others on the plane.

34. Apart from the police logs I have no account from the police of events at the police station. None of the officers gave evidence.

            Mr Hames submits that in these circumstances there is a clear answer to the critical question, Was it within her power to comply with the order, could she do it, was she able to do it? She could not. Through no fault of her own, and having made every effort to arrange a timely departure that would get them all to Cardiff by 4pm, the mother’s plans were frustrated: two of the children ran away, and whenever precisely it was that she left the police station it was on any footing well after 3pm, and probably nearer to 3.30pm – too late to get to Cardiff in time. As a fallback position, Mr Hames points out that it is for the Solicitor General to prove the case, and, moreover, to the criminal standard of proof. He submits that I simply cannot be sure that it was within the mother’s power to comply.

             

36. Ms Cumberland points to the mother’s frank admission of what she said to the children, to the fact that the mother, on her own account, made no effort to get the two younger children to Cardiff, and to the fact that, again on the mother’s own account, by shortly after 4pm she had embarked on a course of conduct that, far from trying to make alternative arrangements with the father, led to them all going on the run.

37. I can see the force of what Ms Cumberland says, and cannot help thinking that the mother has, quite fortuitously, been able to take advantage of two things that are unlikely to re-occur: one the serendipitous happenstance that the children ran away; the other that nothing which happened after 4pm is capable of being a contempt of court. So I have to come back to the critical question: Was it within the mother’s power to get the children back home from the police station in time for them all to leave for Cardiff no later than 2.56pm? Ms Cumberland says that it was: no-one had been arrested, everyone was free to leave the police station whenever they wished, and in any event there was nothing going on in the police station that would have prevented the two younger children being taken to Cardiff.

38. At the end of the day I am concerned with what is essentially a question of fact arising in most unusual circumstances. I have to put myself in the mother’s shoes as she is in the police station during the half hour or so between her arriving there at about 2.30pm and the time – 2.56pm – by which she has to leave for Cardiff. Two of her children have run away and been taken by the police to the police station. She has to wait, before receiving worrying information from the officer and only then being able to see her children. However the lawyer might subsequently analyse what had happened, the reality is that the mother was, metaphorically if not literally, in the hands of the police and having to work to their timetable. It is far from clear on all the evidence that the mother had been reunited with the children by 2.56pm – perhaps, but then perhaps not – and on that fact alone, in my judgment, the Solicitor General fails to prove his case.

 

Standing back from the detail, it is for the Solicitor General to prove that, as events worked themselves out on the afternoon of 12 October 2012, it was within the mother’s power to leave Llanelli by 2.56pm so that she could get the children to Cardiff Railway Station by 4pm. In my judgment he has failed to do so. The application must accordingly be dismissed

[Postscript – this is yet another one of those cases where a hugely important point was being litigated and the party did not obtain public funding. The mother was represented by pro bono counsel, who probably kept her out of prison, and hence at least some of her children still with her. The President spoke out afterwards about how unacceptable it is that such important issues are litigated relying on good will of lawyers acting for free.  http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/family-judge-criticises-reliance-free-representation  ]