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Words fail me. (But I spend a long time telling you, via words, why) #verywellthenIcontradictmyself

Apply the handkerchief or scarf as directed by these fine gentlemen

Before you start this piece, could you briefly find some cloth? A scarf, or a clean tea-towel or anything of that ilk will do. Please tie it so that the bottom rests under your jaw and there is a knot at the top of your head – much like a cartoon character who is suffering from a toothache.

 

 

 

Why?

 

Because this case is so jaw-dropping I want to be sure that your jaw bone doesn’t actually leave your head.

 

Ready?

 

Here we go.

 

It is the original judgment from the case that went to the Court of Appeal because the social worker and police officer involved considered that the findings made against them by the Judge were career-threatening and that the process of making those findings was unfair.

 

The Court of Appeal said that the social worker and police officer needed to have been placed on notice that such strong findings were going to be made and have the chance to make representations about them beforehand, so THOSE findings were overturned. The social worker later made an application to sue the Lord Chancellor for judicial failings on the basis of vicarious liability.

 

On that basis, and in short, the complaint relates to the judge’s finding that SW and PO, together with other professionals and the foster carer, were involved in a joint enterprise to obtain evidence to prove the sexual abuse allegations irrespective of any underlying truth and irrespective of the relevant professional guidelines. The judge found that SW was the principal instigator of this joint enterprise and that SW had drawn the other professionals in. The judge found that both SW and PO had lied to the court with respect to an important aspect of the child sexual abuse investigation. The judge found that the local authority and the police generally, but SW and PO in particular, had subjected C to a high level of emotional abuse over a sustained period as a result of their professional interaction with her

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/11/20/judge-making-findings-about-a-witness-fair-trial/

 

 

This is the judgment, with the most dreadful findings about the social worker and police officer snipped out. Do not for one second think that this makes the judgment dull or removed of any controversy. There’s so much in it, it makes the mind boggle as to what was taken out.

Re W (fact-finding) [2014] EWHC 4347 (Fam) (17 October 2014)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/4347.html

 

(I’m not sure why it has taken 3 years to publish this – it was certainly held up until 2016 pending the appeal – I do understand that the Judge has passed away, which probably caused difficulties in editing the previous judgment, since normally the Judge who wrote it would do that)

 

 I thus hope that no court ever again has to see and hear what this court has seen and heard during the past weeks.

 

This was a care case involving five children, the main subject was C, who was a teenager. C had made serious sexual abuse allegations against three of the adults in the family.

 

There was a finding of fact hearing, and the evidence in the finding of fact hearing lasted 19 days. There were ten parties to that hearing, nine of whom were represented by silk and junior counsel.

 

 

 

 

  1. From a conventional beginning in front of HHJ Davies at the Luton County Court, the case has taken unprecedented twists and turns with the intervention of the Court of Appeal, a re-hearing in front of myself, and the collapse of that re-hearing after three days in the most dramatic manner. This occurred when a key social worker in the case contacted me directly by email through the court office to allege ‘corruption and malpractice’ within the local authority in relation to this particular case as well as other cases.

 

Is your jaw bandage still in place? I worry about you all, you know.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Following what was effectively a whistle-blower email sent to myself, the local authority sought to abandon the fact finding hearing and withdraw all allegations, saying that it could no longer rely on the key social worker as a witness of truth. The local authority’s counsel, Mr. Bain, withdrew from the case for professional reasons. Fresh counsel were then instructed; they withdrew the application by the local authority to abandon the proceedings, and thus these have continued ever since.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. The proceedings have been surrounded by suspicion and mistrust, for reasons which have become obvious. These emotions have been shared, it must be said, at times by the court, and have been exacerbated by serious problems about disclosure. Despite strict orders made by the court for full disclosure by the local authority, these have not been complied with in full. Indeed, more than 1,300 pages of important material were disclosed to the court during the current hearing, and 1,000 pages of these were disclosed only in the second week of this hearing, after Mr Geekie for the local authority organised a search of its premises following a social work assistant’s evidence. This failure to disclose added some three days to the case. Disclosure continued even into the fourth week of this hearing. Furthermore, many important documents have been shredded or are still missing.

 

 

 

  1. According to the lead social worker there were six, not four, ABE interviews of the child, C, as contended by the police and the local authority. Indeed, there is even the suggestion that an alleged meeting on the 30th September 2013, reported by social workers to have happened, may not have taken place at all. The court therefore has the unenviable task – unparalleled in the history of this particular tribunal – of deciding how many ABE interviews there were, and whether one meeting ever occurred.

 

I’ve seen many cases where Courts had to decide whether an ABE interview was conducted properly, where they had to decide whether leading questions were asked, whether it is reliable. I’ve never before heard of a Court having to decide HOW MANY ABE’s there were.

 

So much has gone wrong in this case. In fact, almost everything that could have gone wrong has, almost to the point of defying credulity. In consequence the court has no choice but to undertake the arduous task of scrutinising all aspects of the case very carefully. This judgment will therefore be longer than would normally be the case. This is for several reasons:

 

 

 

  1. a) Reaching the complex truth requires a detailed analysis of all that happened;

 

  1. b) In view of what they have suffered, those accused of serious abuse deserve nothing less;

 

  1. c) The consequences for individuals beyond the parties in the case, for example within the local authority and the police, may be profound;

 

  1. d) It is unlikely that any other will have the time or resources to trawl through the immense body of papers in the way the court has done, and thus what has been uncovered must be recorded fully;

 

  1. e) Lessons need to be learned so that what happened in this case never happens again.

 

  1. I am most grateful for the assistance given by all counsel in the case, both leading and junior, who have ably assisted the court in its unenviable task. I include in this commendation not only all those who appeared in front of me during the current hearing but also Mr. Giles Bain, who appeared for the local authority during the earlier part of these proceedings.

 

 

C had made allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Findings of fact were made by HH J Davies and those were overturned on appeal.

 

The Judge notes, dryly

 

 

 

  1. The reasons for the successful appeal are not relevant in this hearing save in one respect which I shall address shortly. Suffice it to say that the learned judge had before her four ring binders of documents when she heard the case. I have 18 ring binders. More importantly, relevant evidence was not placed before the learned judge and such evidence as was placed in front of her, as I shall determine in due course in this judgment, was highly incomplete and wholly inadequate.

 

So there was then a re-hearing, before His Honour Judge Arthur, sitting in the High Court. Here’s where it begins to go spectacularly wrong (as opposed to merely disastrously wrong)

 

 

33……On 31st January 2014 SW left the local authority employment. In the four months that followed I, who was now seized with the case, was asked by the local authority to give various directions, including directions for SW to provide a statement.

 

 

 

  1. By April, 2014 it became obvious to all that SW was reluctant to give a statement. On 14th May the court asked Mr. Bain, counsel for the local authority, to take instructions as to why that was, and in particular to inform the court whether there was anything in the circumstances in which she had left the local authority employment which had a bearing on the proceedings, and which might affect her credibility. Counsel faithfully relayed his instructions from the social work assistant sitting behind him, namely that SW had left in entirely amicable circumstances. ‘They were all sad to see her go, and asked her to stay working for the local authority.’

 

 

 

  1. In April 2014 the court permitted fresh matters to be included in the schedule of allegations to be proved. These related to evidence not before the court in June 2013. The first was that the mother had hit C with a rolling pin. The second listed general allegations of neglect by the parents of the younger children.

 

 

 

  1. On 27th May 2014 the final hearing began. On the third day of that hearing, on 29th May, the court suddenly received a ‘whistle-blower’ email from SW, directed to myself personally, in which she alleged corruption, malpractice and bad work practices by the local authority in respect of both C and T, and in respect of other matters too.

 

 

 

  1. On 30th May, having taken instructions, counsel for the local authority confirmed that the local authority no longer relied on SW as a witness of truth. It would robustly challenge some of her assertions in her email, and in the circumstances was no longer seeking further findings. It sought leave to withdraw their application for such findings to be determined. Unsurprisingly, the parents consented to this course of action, but the guardian for the younger children, who was absent from court, was not able to give instructions himself. In due course the guardian objected to the course proposed by the local authority.

 

 

The hearing collapsed on day 3 with LA counsel having to withdraw for professional reasons.

Something peculiar happened late (in week four) into the second attempt at it (this actually being the third attempt at the fact finding overall, as HH J Davies had already done one, overturned on appeal)

 

 

 

 

 

  1. In September 2014, in the fourth week of the hearing, to the surprise of all, counsel for the local authority suddenly put two very serious, entirely new allegations to the father in cross-examination. The first was that the father had been grooming “another child” A for sex, and secondly that C had conceived two babies while living at home. As the determination of these allegations would add little or no extra time to the proceedings, because they were so serious, and because the court believed they might assist in the assessment of the credibility of the witnesses, the court insisted the allegations should be articulated in the correct form and added formally to the schedule of allegations to be proved.

 

 

 

  1. At the conclusion of the evidence I invited all parties to set out, prior to written submissions, any concessions made by any party in relation to the evidence. In respect of the local authority, I asked them to set out any concessions about whether allegations were being pursued or not. The local authority was the only party to respond and did so with the following concessions:

 

 

 

  1. a) The local authority no longer sought to rely on any statement made by C in the three ABE interviews held in January 2014. This was subsequently clarified to include anything she said at the police station before or after the interviews, or in breaks, save, astonishingly, for comments about pregnancies and babies she may have made during a break in, or after, the interview on the 31st January, 2014.

 

  1. b) The local authority no longer pursued the allegations that the mother was aware of the abuse of T and chose to ignore it, and that the mother remonstrated with T on the 13th March, 2013. The local authority also abandoned the allegations of neglect of the three younger children.

 

  1. c) The local authority had already put in train preparations for a Serious Case Review of their conduct of the case. This would take place regardless of what findings were made.

 

I have not seen that Serious Case Review. I imagine that Luton are going to be receiving many many telephone calls from the Press wanting to see it.

 

There had been retractions from another child, T about the allegations. A LOT of retractions. Ten in all.

 

The Court of Appeal (in the appeal from HH J Davies) had given this advice about retractions

 

Re W (Fact-Finding Hearing: Hearsay Evidence) (2013) EWCA Civ 1374, (2014) 2FLR 703 at paragraph 25.

 

  1. Furthermore:

“The retraction of a complaint normally requires careful and specific consideration and this case was no exception. Obviously the fact that a complaint is subsequently retracted does not prevent a judge from accepting that it is in fact true but it gives rise to questions which must be addressed sufficiently fully and directly in the judge’s reasons so that one can be confident that the fact of the retraction has been given proper weight in the judge’s conclusions about the subject matter of the retracted allegation” [para 28].

 

 

The Judge comments on the SW evidence about the retractions (including the retractions made by another child, T)

 

 

 

  1. She was reminded that by 8th March T had retracted her supposed allegation. SW’s response was instant and dismissive, “It’s perfectly normal for victims to retract. We know it is common from victims”. Later she said, “I agree with the Court of Appeal that we should take retractions seriously”. From her demeanour, however, the court did not infer that she was in any way convinced by what she was saying. She further accepted that she had asked C whether she was worried about what had happened to T also happening to her. She saw nothing wrong with this question:

 

 

 

 

“It was in accordance with social worker practice… It is a practice all good social workers use… The fact that the court sometimes does not catch up with research is very unfortunate.”

 

 

The Court made these general comments about the SW evidence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Credibility of SW – court’s findings

 

  1. She was at times truculent and downright rude to counsel and to the court and sometimes quite threatening and menacing. She variously accused counsel for B of raising his eyebrows at her in an inappropriate manner (he was in fact doing no such thing), loudly demanded to know the names of all the counsel in court, said that she had ‘clocked what you lot are up to’, and accused the court and counsel of trying to prevent her having her say when, in fact, wholly proper efforts were being made to curtail seemingly unquenchable outpourings. She was dismissive and disdainful of correct social work practice and the way the court operated. She was liberal in blaming others for things that had gone wrong. Apart from blaming the court (by inference both HHJ Davies and the Court of Appeal), she blamed the police, other members of the local authority, teachers at C’s school, the school itself for obstructing her, (this was wholly unfounded), counsel for the parents and counsel for the guardian.

 

In the light of that, it is rather commendable that counsel for B was able to control his eyebrows. Mine would have been on the ceiling.

 

SW’s evidence – general matters

 

 

Her current memory of events

 

  1. She explained that she had been very reluctant to give evidence. In her tenth and last statement she had said that she could not trust the local authority case notes in view of the time lapse. She had resisted making that statement as she did not think she could usefully add anything, for now she could no longer recollect any details but, as the case had progressed, some matters had come back to her as she was questioned and shown documents, and so things had become more alive for her. Even so, she said that all the events with which the court was concerned took place over two years ago and she had not retained memories of the case in the same way she would have done if she was still the social worker. This is something she repeated many times during her evidence.

 

 

 

 

 

Disclosure of her own notes

 

  1. She was referred to the email of the local authority’s in-house counsel, Miss Manassi, on 28th February of this year which asked for her notes and said that a comprehensive statement would be needed from her. She was referred to the current President of the Family Division’s words twelve years ago, “Professionals should keep comprehensive notes. Social workers should routinely exhibit notes to statements”. SW said that, contrary to this, she had shredded all her notes. In fact, she had tried to shred all her notes on a daily basis when she worked for the local authority. She could not keep them because they might be stolen from her car or lost and she had no desk in the office where they could be kept. “I shredded notes because I did not need them”.

 

 

 

  1. Furthermore, in February 2014, Dawn Smith, her supervisor at Luton Borough Council, had told her to delete all her own records including all texts and emails from T. She deleted, she thought in all, about 500 texts to and from T. She was ordered to delete or shred all this material. She did so, she accepted, knowing that the proceedings were still underway and that a retrial of the sexual abuse allegation for C had been ordered, and that in relation to these T’s own allegations of sexual abuse against the father were relevant.

 

 

 

  1. She was reminded of one text in particular. T had alleged that SW had sent her a text telling her not to be in denial. Ms Lynne Jackson, the psychologist, had reported that this text had, in fact, been read out to her by T. SW said this:

 

 

 

 

“I knew all about this allegation of unprofessionalism and that T was saying this and other things too. I remember thinking whether I should delete this trail but I was told to”.

 

  1. In any event, she said she had never sent T this text.

 

 

 

  1. We have not heard from Dawn Smith. So whether or not SW was generally ordered to delete all her records, texts and emails still remains to be decided. Further investigation is needed. But the court notes that it seems very surprising that SW should have deleted a trail of texts which would have exculpated her from this particular accusation. (For the avoidance of doubt, I make no findings that any member of staff obstructed the Local Authority.)

 

[So I should make it clear that SW was alleging that she had destroyed all her emails and texts because the manager had told her to, but the Court didn’t hear evidence from the manager about this and didn’t make any findings. I have a little bit of sympathy about the handwritten notes- social workers don’t have paper files any more, and most of them don’t have their own desks any longer. Everything is on computer and workers hot-desk. Whilst the President did say 12 years ago that handwritten notes should routinely be exhibited to SW statements, there are not many Judges who would thank social workers for doing that. There’s no way that one can do that and comply with the 350 page limit. I would suggest that handwritten notes, particularly of conversations with children or adults about allegations ought to be scanned and kept, if they are not contemporaneously typed up]

 

Interviewing a child

 

  1. She was aware that, with a child who has learning difficulties, the interviewer has to be very careful of suggestibility. She said she herself would have been outraged if anyone had asked C leading questions, “One should be sensitive of this” she said emphatically. She was reminded that, according to Miss G, she had hundreds of conversations with C, some of which referred to sexual abuse or abuse allegations. SW assumed that Miss G would have had the appropriate training about how to talk to children who had made allegations. The school should have given her advice about this. The social workers were quite disappointed with the school about a lack of training and had to discuss giving general training to the staff at the school or arranging for that to take place.

 

 

 

  1. SW was very strident when giving evidence about how allegations of child abuse should be dealt with. She said, “Research shows that we must be more direct with children in abuse cases”. This was accepted in her social work team at the local authority. Dr. Van Rooyen, a psychiatrist in the instant case, too had said they have to be ‘more direct’ with the child. She said, “I suspected that she meant we had to talk to C and perhaps initiate conversations”. She then seemed to contradict this by saying, “We had to wait for C to speak, we know”.

 

 

 

  1. She repeatedly referred to research by Keir Starmer, a former Director of Public Prosecutions. “His work should be accepted by the court”, she said. Her tone and demeanour made it clear that she was very critical of the courts. Later she said the social worker should keep an open mind in investigations like this. She hoped that she herself had kept an open mind. When asked whether it was her working hypothesis that C and T were sexually abused, she said that C’s behaviour especially was indicative of abuse but she repeated, she hoped she had kept an open mind. Her actual words which follow are important. Her tone was distinctly barbed as she uttered them:

 

 

 

 

“I do not know whether C was abused or not. As her voice in social care I am directed by our research at the local authority even though the court may not be… C’s behaviour led to a very strong correlation with sexual abuse. The first time she presented as a victim of sexual abuse was on 17th December.”

 

  1. When asked what was indicative of sexual abuse on that occasion she answered:

 

 

 

 

“C’s behaviour. I was hearing all sorts of things from the school and what she had done… It’s the skill of a social worker to ascertain what is the likely cause of her behaviours.’

 

 

 

Use of the word “disclosure”

 

  1. She said:

 

 

 

 

“I was told this judge doesn’t like the use of the word ‘disclosure’ for allegations by children. I understand that courts in general don’t like the use of the word ‘disclosure’.” She had not read the Cleveland report of 1987 and did not know if it criticised the use of the word “disclosure” by professionals.

 

(It does disappoint me that a social worker dealing with a sexual abuse investigation would never have read the Cleveland report, but I can’t say hand on heart that I’m astounded by it. I do think there’s a general lack of understanding that ‘allegation’ should be used instead of ‘disclosure’ and why that is – broadly that disclosure as a word is perjorative – it implies truth. I can disclose that I ate your Jaffa Cakes (because it is true), I can’t disclose that I walked on the surface of Mars. So if I say that Mr X punched me, you don’t know whether it is true until the Court have decided it – it is an allegation at that point, not a disclosure. )

 

There was a very peculiar exchange about SW’s first meeting with C.

17th December 2012

 

  1. I must examine the events of this day very carefully, for they set the tone for what was to follow and go to heart of the case. This was the day of SW’s first meeting with C. The case had been closed by the local authority a couple of weeks before following earlier complaints by C. On the 14th December, as we know, the school told the local authority that C was still unhappy and did not want to go home. When she was allocated the case, probably on Friday 14th, SW skimmed through the electronic file provided to her by the local authority. She would have done this as quickly as possible, she said. (The court notes that this file was in fact just seven pages – a very short file indeed, and would not have taken long to read fully.) Part of this short file comprised the handover notes of Fiona Johnson, the previous social worker. These were reported as follows:

 

 

 

 

  1. a) C had alleged being hit, though the school believed there were no marks ever left on her. According to her, everyone seemed to cause her upset. The family upset her and all the family hurt her, except for D. Her brothers, especially B, beat her up.

 

  1. b) Other children had all been spoken to and all had said that they had never been hit by the parents.

 

  1. c) C had reported no major health issues.

 

  1. d) There were no concerns about A.

 

  1. e) All the other children were happy at home.

 

  1. SW appears not to have accepted this. ‘I wondered if C was unhappy, did it mean that the other children were unhappy.’ On skim-reading the notes, ‘I wondered if something was going on.’ Although, she accepted that there was nothing in the notes to this effect, it was her impression on reading them that this was Mrs Johnson’s impression too. So she had gone to the meeting believing that there was more she needed to understand about C’s self-harm, and about the pictures and drawings which she had drawn and made at the school. She had no idea of what this might be. She was asked whether she had any suspicions and there was a noticeable pause before she answered, “No” but she then added, “But we can partner certain behaviours with certain types of abuse”.

 

 

 

  1. On the second page of the seven pages of files notes handed on from Mrs Johnson, there is mention that, “The child has a bit of a fixation with Miss G”. The note also referred to Facebook entries which needed to be dealt with. SW said she did not recall this entry or how she had dealt with it. At any rate she had not known whether the fixation comment was correct or not. She was quite dismissive in giving evidence about this topic, the court noted from her demeanour. It is obvious that she did not think, and has never thought, it to be of any relevance whatsoever.

 

 

 

  1. SW duly met C at school in the presence of Miss Z on the 17th December, 2012. The child was anxious and ‘difficult to engage in so many ways”, she elaborated. She found the meeting very difficult. Sometimes her head was down, she was kicking the chair, her head was behind her ‘hoodie’, she was challenging and unwilling to talk about anything. Most of the time she was ‘a shrinking violet’. She seemed frightened and anxious and unwilling to talk and engage. There were very long silences. Nonetheless SW that she wanted to engage. In spite of this, the meeting took what the court considers a quite extraordinarily long time. According to SW, it started at 12 noon and ended at 3:30 or 4 p.m. (The note she wrote in her car afterwards was timed at 3:30 p.m.) During those 3½ hours she had left the room to contact the child abuse unit at Luton Borough Council and in particular Mr Graham Cole, the head of legal services there. And of course a lot of time, she repeated, there was, silence. As her evidence progressed, the court’s impression was that she trying to row back from her original time estimate. Eventually she said that the interview was perhaps ‘1½ hours, maybe shorter, maybe longer’. C had been given the chance to leave the meeting several times. Once she did leave but returned of her own volition. In this meeting it was difficult to understand what C said. Miss Z would say what C had said and C would either nod or shake her head. She soon realised that C hated to be asked to repeat what she had said. Neither she nor Miss Z took a note during the meeting, “It would be an abnormal thing for a social worker to take notes when interviewing a child other than during an ABE interview.’

 

 

 

  1. At 3.30pm, in her car, she made notes of the meeting. It was her practice to note down as soon as possible the important points of an interview note, which appears to two pages, is one of the few handwritten notes by her before the court:

 

 

 

 

“Very difficult meeting”, “Comes in when no one is there”, “Does stuff, bad stuff”, “Really bad things”, “Secrets”, “Where’s mum? Downstairs, out”, “Have you tried to talk to her about it? No point”, “Not allowed to talk about it”, “Couldn’t expand”, “Hits me. Kicks”, “Notice leg was sore, limping a little. Said dad had kicked/hit her last Sunday”, “Wouldn’t show me”, “Appeared very frightened/frozen”, “Didn’t want anyone to know what she’d said”, “Wanted to go into foster care”, “Hate family, hate mum, hate him”, “Gets beaten up at home – brothers, dad”, “Doesn’t feel safe at home”, “Does not feel there is anyone she could turn/talk to at home”, “Said she wanted to die”, “Does stuff he shouldn’t”, “Happened more than once”.

 

  1. A crucial element in this case revolves around what SW said in her statement of 20th December, 2012 about the interview three days before. The relevant part of the statement reads as follows:

 

 

 

 

“[C] disclosed sexual abuse by her father during this meeting. She told me that her father comes up to her room and does really bad things. Through discussion it was established that she clearly understood that there were areas of her body that no one should touch and this is where her father touched her. [C] found it extremely hard to expand on this although did manage to share that her father told her that she must not tell anyone and that the bad things would happen if she did. It was also established that [C] knew about her body, her sexual organs and other people’s. After ensuring I was confident [C] knew what sexual abuse was, she confirmed that this is what had been happening to her.”

 

  1. When it was pointed out to her that the handwritten notes make no mention of sexual abuse, SW caused, it must be said, considerable consternation in court in all quarters by asserting that there was a page missing from her notes. There was definitely a third page, she remembered. She remembered the Local Authority solicitor, Ms Abana Sarma’s collecting this document. She was most concerned that this page was missing because this page dealt with the sexual abuse allegations made by C on 17th December. Furthermore, this page had been before HHJ Davies at her fact finding hearing in June, 2013.

 

 

 

  1. She was referred to a number of documents from the court bundle. First was a police note of 17th December which states, ” [C] did not disclose sexual abuse”. Then she was referred to the transcript of HHJ Davies’s judgment at the end of the 13th June, 2013 hearing, which made mention of the content of the two pages long since disclosed, but none of the contents of the apparently now missing third page. Furthermore, the transcript of that hearing shows that the father’s counsel cross-examined SW on the discrepancy between the note of 17th December interview which did not record sexual abuse being mentioned and her later assertion that C had alleged sexual abuse at the interview. Indeed, when SW was specifically questioned about the fact that her notes did not include any mention of sexual abuse, she did not refer to any missing page. She was again referred to the transcript of evidence given at the earlier hearing when she was specifically herself asked under oath whether in the discussion of 17th December C had elaborated on “bad things” and she had answered, “No, not at this point”. Nonetheless, she said, she would not agree that C only went as far as saying “bad things”, although she did not recall what other words C had used. It was two years ago.

 

 

 

  1. Mr. Geekie, for the local authority now rose and said that the local authority was totally unaware of any missing third page of notes. Indeed, he said the whole of the fact finding trial was conducted on the basis of the two pages of notes only. This accorded with the memory of all those counsel for the other parties who had been present at that earlier hearing. If that was not enough, it was pointed out by the Local Authority’s solicitor, and agreed by counsel who had been present at the earlier hearing before HHJ Davies, that the bundles that the court was using at the current hearing were those used then, merely brought up to date by the addition of further documents. The court bundles then and now, did and do not include any third page of notes.

 

 

 

  1. In spite of being faced with what might have been thought an especially daunting body of evidence, SW was not to be budged. She repeated that she had given the third page of notes to Ms Abana Sarma of the local authority, that it was definitely referred to during HHJ Davies’s hearing, and that the missing page had stated that C had alleged sexual abuse. She could see the second page in her mind’s eye. There were several entries on it. Furthermore, it was shown to the police at the strategy meeting shortly after 17th December 2012, even though the police record of what happened on that date says that no sexual abuse was alleged by the child.

 

 

 

  1. When further questioned, she accepted that pages one and two of the notes before the court were consecutive, and were a complete document, so the third page could not have been the middle page of the three. The missing page was, she said, a second note written at a different time in the interview. This was despite her earlier evidence that she had not taken notes during the interview, and that it was her practice never to do so during interviews. She said she had discussed the contents of the third page with the police and her team manager. She then said belligerently, “I want to know why the second page is missing”.

 

 

 

  1. She then added that, apart from words, she relied on the non-verbal signals from C; the self-harm, the fact that she walked out of the interview, the hiding behind the hoodie, the fact that she started and stopped saying things and the fact that she wanted to go into care. She said this:

 

 

 

 

“Because of her words, in my professional opinion I felt she was the victim or at risk of sexual abuse. It is important that a social worker should be brave enough to say this.”

 

  1. She was then rude to counsel saying, “I’ve clocked where you’re going a long time ago” and then to me, “I hope this court does this case justice”.

 

 

The Judge had to make findings about this

 

Findings about the 17th December interview

 

  1. As for SW’s contention that C alleged sexual abuse to a total stranger on this occasion, this is plainly mistaken. The police note of the same date specifically records that no sexual abuse was alleged. The application for an Emergency Protection Order dated the 20th December and signed by the Local Authority’s Head of Legal services does not say that sexual abuse was actually alleged, only that C’s remarks ‘were suggestive of sexual abuse’. The notes made by SW after the conversation make no mention of sexual abuse. Her contention that a page of notes is missing, and that this page was before HHJ Davies in the earlier hearing, is simply ludicrous, for this would have meant that all counsel and solicitors, not to mention HHJ Davies, must have, unless through quite startling collective amnesia, willfully colluded in ignoring vital evidence during the hearing, and that the learned judge deliberately omitted mention of it in her judgment. It is also ludicrous to suppose that, when writing her notes in her car, SW wrote down relatively trivial allegations, but omitted to record the infinitely more serious accusation of sexual abuse.

 

 

 

  1. The reality is that when one stands back and looks at what happened, one can see just how serious this situation was and is. Based in part on, the Local Authority now sought and obtained the peremptory removal of C from her family on the 20th December 2012, and the following day sought and obtained an Interim Care Order. In each case the tribunal notes show that the decision was made, in part, on the basis that C had alleged sexual abuse. The removal of children from their parents, especially without notice, is one of the most draconian actions any court can take. It strikes right at the heart of basic human rights, on family life; it is frightening and traumatic for the children involved, and profoundly distressing for parents and other family. Sadly, the courts are required from time to time to sanction such removal, but only when safety and urgency requires it. In making such urgent orders, the courts must rely on the accuracy of Local Authority evidence. Whilst they cannot know whether any allegation is true or false, the courts are entitled to be told the truth by Local Authorities as to whether such an allegation has been made at all. The Family Court and the child-care justice system cannot function if Local Authorities do not tell the truth about this, for justice will inevitably be perverted.

 

 

 

  1. Responsibility for this cannot be laid wholly at the feet of one social worker. Others in the Local Authority must share responsibility, although, as I have said, on the evidence before it, the Court cannot and will not apportion this to particular individuals. The court freely acknowledges that all Local Authorities’ resources are over-stretched, and that social-work professionals are often alarmingly over-worked and under time pressures. Nonetheless, there should have been proper, efficient supervision of SW. Furthermore, the application for an EPO did not record an actual allegation of sexual abuse, whilst an application of the same date for an ICO did. With proper supervision and scrutiny this discrepancy should surely have been picked up by senior professionals at Luton Borough Council

 

 

After the first finding of fact hearing, and knowing that there was an appeal pending, the SW went to see the child to talk about the findings that had been made. It gets worse

 

Telling C about HHJ Davies’s findings of the 22nd June 2013

 

  1. SW visited C immediately afterwards to tell her of the findings. This was on the advice of CAMHS. C said that ‘he did it to A too’. SW had known then that there was going to be an appeal, but C was desperate to know what had happened and she was worried that C was at risk of suicide. The note of that meeting reads as follows:

 

 

 

 

“I then began by telling her that the local authority, us, had, as she knew, concerns about a number of things but we had asked the court to make a judgment/decision on these. I asked C whether she knew what those concerns were, she nodded but I decided to go through these. I said from what you have told me so far and from what I have learned from working with you and your family, I have been concerned that you are a victim and have suffered sexual abuse. C looked at me eyes moist but intently listening, she nodded. I said the concerns were also that the person who caused this to you was your father. C starred very intently at me nodding again and I carried on. I said the judge decided that after hearing all of the information that it was mostly likely to have been him. C remained staring at me, eyes a little more moist and said, ‘It was’. I then said the judge also found/decided that this had happened to T. I clarified this and said that the judge decided it was more likely than not that your father had also sexually abused T. C remained looking intently at me. C then said, ‘He did it to A too. She told me and I promised to keep it a secret, you need to talk to A. I said that we would and could she tell me a bit more. C said, ‘I promised I would keep it a secret'”.

 

 

  1. She herself has always been adamant that it never happened. The court is wholly satisfied that she was never abused by her father. It follows, therefore, that either C herself was making up the allegation to please SW in the light of the learned judge’s findings, or SW was making it up. On the balance of probabilities, the court is satisfied that SW was, as usual, putting words in the child’s mouth and then pretending they had come from the child.

 

That’s an incredibly damning finding, and one that clearly survived the Court of Appeal decision. The SW was, as usual, putting words in the child’s mouth and then pretending they had come from the child. Incredibly damning.

 

On the total number of ABEs

How many ABE interviews were there in January 2014?

 

  1. SW’s initial evidence was that there were six ABE interviews of C in all. One was on 4th October when “C said nothing” and another five in January 2014. When she returned to complete her evidence a few days later, she disclosed further documentation she said she had found at home, as well as her mobile phone she brought to court her 2014 diary and some loose sheets of paper she said she had found in the 2013 diary. She had not brought her 2013 diary with her to court as she did not think it was necessary.

 

 

 

  1. It was interesting that some of the loose pages of typed notes do not appear in or are cross-referenced to the documents previously disclosed by the local authority. She was asked how she had typed these notes. She said she would ‘audibly’ type notes on the local authority’s Care First system and sometimes this would go down and so she would type the notes on a standard word document format and transfer them later onto the system. Many times she was asked by the local authority to type up her documents on her own computer. She complained about being required to do this by the local authority to their legal department. When she did type documents at home, she never saved them. She would scan them and then ask someone else to scan them into the system back in the office. She would have expected all the loose pages found by her to be on the local authority’s Care First system. She typed up the notes of every substantial meeting with C and would expect them all to be on the system. She did not know why these notes were not on the system.

 

 

 

  1. She referred to her 2014 diary and to a number of entries in it. These contain the words, “C ABE on…” and then five dates …’ 23rd 27th, 28th, 29th and 31st January’. There are question marks next to the 27th, 28th and 29th January. She explained that the question marks were because the social workers were not sure whether C wanted to go through with the interviews. She still believed that C had done five ABE interviews in January, and six in all if the October ABE interview was counted, for that was what her records showed. She said, “My memory was that it went on for several days in January… I am ‘sure’ it was six interviews in all”. For the avoidance of doubt, there were no times when they took C to a police station and an interview did not take place.

 

 

 

  1. She later was referred in due course to her a file note of 12th December, 2013 which reads as follows, “C has now completed five ABE interviews, disclosed rape by father and V. She has also said she has been pregnant twice”. The date of 12th December 2013 does not make sense in the context of the timescale, the court notes. As to the substance of the note, SW commented that the reference here to five ABE interviews, “accords with my recollection. I recall five that week”. She then changed her evidence, something she did very frequently whenever she was in the witness box, saying that there had been, in fact, one attempted ABE interview that week in January and one aborted ABE interview. Added to those ABE interviews for which we have recordings and transcripts, that made six ABE interviews in all.

 

 

 

  1. It shows the extraordinary nature of this case that the court has had to consider whether C was ABE interviewed three or five times in January 2014. The evidence of the police officers, SWA ‘Y’ and Miss G collectively suggest that were but three. SW believes there were five. I prefer their collective memory. Accordingly I find that there were four ABE interviews only

 

It won’t surprise any reader to know that that the ABEs were very flawed – with leading questions, pressure, questions about things that weren’t alleged, the child being praised for giving answers that the questioners wanted to hear, disappointment from professionals where the child wasn’t making allegations (those being described as ‘failed ABEs)

 

And on the number of times C was interviewed about her allegations

Findings about the January ABE Interviews

 

  1. Save with one exception, the local authority does not rely on anything said in these interviews.

 

 

 

  1. It is submitted by Mr. Storey that C underwent literally hundreds of interviews. This is partly based on Miss G’s agreement that she had hundreds of interviews/discussions herself with C. The court is satisfied that this is, in fact, an exaggeration. The court must be cautious not to confuse spontaneous remarks made by a child or short informal chats with formal questioning. Nonetheless, doing its best, the court is satisfied that the child has had no fewer than 33 interviews about abuse with one or other social worker between 17th December 2012 and 31st January 2014. By “interviews” I mean either formal interviews or detailed question and answer discussions which went beyond the odd throwaway mark, or the odd question and reply. In addition, there appear to have been five similar discussions of a detailed nature with school teachers, seven with a foster carer and, of course, with Dr. van Rooyen and one with PO. On top of this, there were four ABE interviews. This makes, if the court’s mathematics is correct, an alarming total of 51. 12 of them were conducted wholly by untrained interlocutors in the form of the foster carer and the school teachers, and the rest were professionals whose ability to follow guidelines seems to have been non-existent. In addition, there can be no doubt that there were many, many other informal unreported conversations at school, in the foster home and when social workers brought C to and from school, which happened ’99 per cent of the time’.

 

 

 

  1. Furthermore, the court’s criticism is directed not only to those who conducted the interviews, but to those who sat outside and saw and listened to what happened: the social workers and teachers in the room next door. As professionals working in the field of childcare, they should have intervened to stop the 28th and 31st January interviews. They did not.

 

 

 

  1. Quite apart from the content of the interviews which were recorded, it is thoroughly reprehensible what was said before, during breaks and after the recorded parts was either inadequately noted, or not noted at all. The court is wholly satisfied that relevant matters were discussed at the police station at these times. All the professionals seemed to have operated on the false premise that what was said outside the interview room did not count.

 

 

As has been mentioned earlier, at around week four of the finding of fact hearing, an allegation was made that C had been pregnant twice. By the end of the hearing, the Local Authority were not relying on anything said by C in her ABE or other interviews other than this.

 

Findings about the 31st January pregnancy allegations

 

  1. It is incomprehensible to the court that the local authority, having conceded that no reliance should be placed on what was said by C during the three January ABE interviews, in the talks before it, in breaks or afterwards, should seek to rely on one short interchange about pregnancies, which took place during or immediately after the 31st January interview. How can a few words only, during or at the end of one of them, be exempted? It seems to the court illogical and perverse.

 

 

 

 

  1. The evidence about this episode is far from complete. Nonetheless, the court is satisfied that either during a break or at the end of the 31st January ABE interview, C made drawings and said things which led the police and the social workers to believe that she was alleging that she had been pregnant twice when she was much younger, and had either born two babies or lost them for one reason or another. Their names were Jack and Rose. She had also been given the morning-after pill. We do not know precisely what C said because the note-taking was hopelessly inadequate. The allegations were and have been taken seriously, for allegations that C conceived twice were added to the schedule of findings to be sought during the currency of the present hearing. Yet these allegations seemed, as was put to IO ‘W’, to have disappeared into the ether until they were unearthed late in the day.

 

 

 

  1. These allegations were very, very serious. So why was it that the first the court and the parties knew of this issue was during the hearing? Why did no social worker or police officer ever mention it? Why does it appear in no statements? The answer, regrettably, must be, not because the allegations were made outside a formal ABE interview, but because the local authority and the police realised only too well that they were ludicrous. They simply could not be true. They did not fit in with C’s medical records or the age when she attained puberty.

 

One of the other children, T, gave evidence

 

 

 

 

  1. T in her oral evidence disputed much of SW’s evidence about this meeting. She was particularly adamant that on 1st February 2013 she had never mentioned sexual abuse by the father. They had not really talked about this at all. Furthermore, she had never told SW that she had reported the abuse to her mother. “This was wrong!” Nor had she ever said that her mother had sent her off to live with her Aunt B, because of the abuse, nor was SW’s note accurate when it recorded that T had said that Aunt B had not believed her until she caught it out actually happening. “I did not say these things”.

 

 

 

  1. T then denied that she had ever told SW that the sexual abuse was the reason why she did not get on with her parents and why she would not leave her children with them. The reason she did not get on with her parents was, “because they always have a go at me’. She clarified this by explaining that her parents had not approved of her sleeping with a boyfriend from school. When she had left home she did it not because she was forced to and because she wanted to. Furthermore, she had, indeed, left her children in the mother and father’s care on many occasions. Indeed, she had not had a conversation with SW about her own children at all.

 

 

 

  1. During this part of her evidence, the court noted that T spoke with particular conviction. The court accepts her version of what was said, not least because the pattern here is similar to what happened on the 17th December.

 

 

 

  1. T did not like this. SW was aware of that. On 5th February 2013 she rang T, “To tell her that she did not have to do anything she did not want to”. This was in response to a telephone call from the mother to the Local Authority earlier that day. The next day, 6th February, the Local Authority received a typed letter signed by T. The key passage of that letter is as follows:

 

 

 

 

“SW from the children’s social services department in Luton keeps ringing me and keeps trying to contact me regarding me to make a statement about my dad, F, saying he had molested me at a young age to which of my knowledge none of this has happened. I am not willing to make a statement as it would be a false allegation. In my eye SW is dealing with my sister’s case, C, as she has no success in that one she is trying to manipulate and intimidate me to make a statement which I will not do. I would like SW to have no contact with me.”

 

  1. For reasons I shall give later, I am satisfied that this letter did genuinely reflect T’s feelings. Furthermore, I am wholly satisfied that T did not make any allegations of sexual abuse on the 1st February 2013.

 

 

 

I could do an entire post about the flaws in the ABEs, to be honest, but there’s just so much in this judgment. I will end with the concluding remarks

 

 

 

 

Concluding observations

 

  1. One can only pray that the adults, and children, may recover from their unimaginable ordeal, though I fear that they will carry the scars of their suffering for the rest of their lives. As for C, with her underlying problems, the damage may well be irreparable. So much now needs to be done to see what damage can be repaired and how family relationships can be restored.

 

 

 

  1. This court has no jurisdiction over C beyond this fact-finding. But that cannot prevent my emphasising how urgent it is that her case be re-opened. The existing care order was made on the basis of incomplete evidence. The parents’ approach in not opposing the order was adopted in ignorance of the true facts. This injustice must be rectified.

 

 

 

  1. The court cannot entrust the care of children to those who abuse or fail to protect them. That applies to local authorities as much as to family members. Parties must have faith in those who care for their children.

 

 

 

  1. The local authority have already undertaken to commence forthwith a Serious Case Review, and rightly so. But it must go further.

 

 

 

  1. This situation poses grave dangers for family justice. Valuable court time is taken up weighing such breaches against the evidence and of course, there is the risk that not only may false information be garnered in interview, but that genuine allegations may be so contaminated that they cannot be relied upon. Those who permit their employees to question children and vulnerable witness must therefore be certain that not only have they received the standard training but they understand what it means in practice.

 

 

 

  1. This case has taken up an inordinate amount of the court’s time, but rightly so in the circumstances. Yet the cost to the public purse in one form or another will be immense. There has been a significant disruption of court lists, with other cases being delayed. Family justice cannot perform the vital task it does in protecting children without honesty, objectivity, transparency and fairness. I thus hope that no court ever again has to see and hear what this court has seen and heard during the past weeks.

 

 

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“Finding” out the hard way

A discussion of the High Court decision of A London Borough v A and Others 2013, and what it tells us about coming to terms with difficult findings.

 The case does not contain much that is precedent or important for cases other than for these specific facts, but on a human level, it throws up some really interesting issues, which I felt were worthy of a closer look.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/96.html

In this case, the family had had four children and one of them died. A finding of fact hearing was conducted, and the Court concluded that the father had been responsible for the death of that child, having rejected the proposition that one of the other siblings, C, had caused the injuries and hence the death.

At the final hearing, the mother had not come to terms with this finding or accepted it, and the Court were faced with the stark choice of adoption or returning the three surviving children to her care with that risk in place.

The Judge decided, having heard the evidence, that if mother could be assisted, through provision of therapy to move to  a substantial and genuine acknowledgement that the father may be dangerous, combined with a genuine emotional distancing from him, would be sufficiently protective.”   

And made as a finding that if, at final hearing, she could be demonstrated to have reached that point, this would be sufficient for the children to be placed with her. The Judge therefore adjourned the final hearing for five months, to give mother the chance to get to that point, with help. This was a real second chance, and it was of course imperative for her to grab it with both hands.

Therapy was provided for her, and she was seen again by the psychologist following that therapy, to see if there was any movement

Sadly for her, there was not.

  1. On 19 November 2012, the mother’s therapist reported to a professionals meeting within the limits of proper confidentiality. She said that the mother had been open about her reluctance to engage in therapeutic work but had shown commitment and was open to attending more sessions. The mother “is clear about what the judgment said and understands she will have to talk to the children about this later. [She] however feels she cannot say for sure what happened as she wasn’t there and feels this is true for anything that she has not been present for in life. [She] believes that ‘seeing is believing’ and this is where she is at and cannot go beyond this perception.” The therapist said that she had been working with the mother on her beliefs but that the possibility of change would take perhaps a year or more and without any certainty of a shift in her belief system.
  1. On 21 November, the mother met Dr Asen, who discussed her understanding and acceptance of the risk posed by the father with her. In his report at paragraph 3.1, he records what she said:

“I can’t know what happens if I wasn’t physically there … but I believe that he did not do it … there is nothing else apart from the Judgment that shows me what happened … Judges have the power to make a Judgment … but the coroner found something different … I wasn’t physically there, so I don’t know what happened.” She added, “it is not fair that I have to say what one person (i.e. the judge) has said”. She repeatedly stated that, as she had “not been there”, “I do not know” what had happened. When I put to her that none of the professionals involved in the case had been ‘there’ either, but had nevertheless arrived at different conclusions from her, she replied, with a smile on her face: “but you don’t know K… – they don’t know K…” She said she knew K… very well and therefore I know he could not have done it.”

  1. The mother accepted that this note is accurate with the exception of the two passages I have underlined, which she denies saying. Dr Asen explained that he keeps a contemporaneous note during interviews such as this and he confirmed that the mother spoke in the way he records. I accept his evidence about this.
  1. In his report, Dr Asen concludes that nothing has changed with regard to the mother’s internal understanding and acceptance of the risks posed by the father to the children and herself. “Essentially her current position is no different from how she presented earlier this year when I first assessed her …”

 

This is something which professionals come across quite often with findings of fact hearing, that the findings are made, that there needs to be some movement towards accepting them, but that people remain of the position that the judgment is ‘one person’s opinion’,  ‘they weren’t there, so how can the judge know what really happened’ and ‘they don’t know him/her like I do’

 Those are all pretty natural, understandable, and human reactions; but against the background of a ticking clock (as decisions needs to be made for the children and they can’t wait for the parent who has been found to be not culpable to come to terms with the awful reality).  It is harsh, it is difficult, but from a legal perspective (if not a human one), once the Judge has given that finding of fact judgment, that is now the truth of what happened.  As hard as that must be, once the Judge has made the decision, the time for doubts or uncertainties about what has happened has gone, the truth is now what the Judge said happened.  

In this case, and adding a particular dimension, there was of course the issue that if the mother was not accepting that father caused the injuries, the only other candidate was the child, C.  And how would C growing up in her care, with that in mind, impact on C?

 

  1. He [Dr Asen] advises that the mother is able overall to provide a psychologically nurturing environment for children, but that in relation to C there is one major limitation in that, when he had the ability to understand, she would “tell him what the judge said …” When Dr A pointed out that C would in all likelihood pick up her own underlying views, namely that she does not believe that the father could have killed B, and that he will ask questions, leading to C and his siblings coming to the conclusion that his mother believes that he actually killed his brother (even though he was not legally or morally responsible), the mother replied that she would not be able to tell C that his father had caused B’s death, repeating: “I don’t know what happened — I wasn’t there.”
  1. Dr Asen concludes that this position is also unchanged and it is his opinion that the consequences for C and his welfare remain a major concern for the reasons set out in paragraph 5.5 of his first report. I will not repeat that passage, which lays out the implications for all the children of there being two conflicting stories about such an important part of the family history, and for C, who would pay a very heavy penalty for something the court had found he did not do.
  1. Dr Asen also discussed the mother’s support network with her. He gained the strong impression that she had not discussed the risks the father poses with her friends and that they could not at this stage contribute to the protective network that needs to be in place.
  1. Dr Asen’s opinion is that the changes made by the mother, if any, are not sufficient to reduce the risks posed to the children’s future welfare if returned to the mother’s full time care now or in the medium term future. Plans should be made for the children and the mother should continue to be offered therapy.

 On a human level it is deeply sad and tragic that mother wasn’t able to reach the stage that the Judge had wanted, even with the help, and although he had lowered the stage from one of total acceptance of the findings.  It is not terribly surprising with a lawyer hat on, that the case was going to conclude with decisions that were adverse to her.

 She wasn’t helped by a decision to file a letter of support from a leading light of her local community / religion, this being more of a nail in a coffin than a letter of support  

The mother was then asked about a letter circulated on 17 December 2012 by Dr O, who holds an honorary title and is the local co-ordinator of the Traditional Rulers Union of the parents’ community. This letter, entitled “Community Support” and running to three pages, was sent to the mother’s solicitor and copied to the therapist, to Ms Stephens, to the Guardian and to Dr Asen. In it, Dr O is highly critical of the judgment that the father was responsible for B’s death, and of many aspects of the proceedings. He refers to C as having been up and about “mischievously” on the night and he draws attention to the Coroner’s verdict. He states that “the couple have been made to separate” and that the process, including therapy, is “psychological warfare… professional blackmail” in that it attempts to persuade the mother that her husband killed the baby. He variously describes the process as prejudicial, racist and insulting, and says that the social workers are seeking to destroy the parents. Dr O then sets out a practical programme which he would coordinate for visits to be made by members of the community to the mother and children

The Judge’s consideration of the mother’s position was measured and careful, and was mindful of the difficult situation she found herself in

 

  1. Having listened carefully to the mother and being conscious of the intense difficulty of her position, I find that her views have not moved on in any meaningful way since she undertook therapy. I assess her as being deeply sceptical about the father’s responsibility for B’s death, and in my view it is this, and not only cultural or religious considerations, that explains her decision to remain married to him.
  1. The mother’s witnesses, most of whom do not form part of her immediate cultural and ethnic community, are clearly excellent people. They have an appreciation of the court’s findings and of the risks posed by the father, and I am sure they could be relied upon to do their best to support the mother and children. However, it is striking that even this body of opinion has not enabled the mother to move on in her own thinking. She did not involve them over the past months in planning the future with social services. I do not accept that this is because she did not want to trouble them: it is more likely that she did not involve them because their views do not coincide with her own.
  1. Instead, it is to her family and her community, including her church, and to Dr O, that the mother has turned. The view of the family and significant community members is that C was probably responsible for B’s death. The views contained in Dr O’s letter reflect this and it is to be noted that the mother has not chosen to call evidence from the people upon whom she most depends.
  1. Making all allowances, I cannot accept the mother’s evidence about her present beliefs. I do not believe that she has even reached the point where she has an open mind about what happened to B. Her nature is not militant, but I find that she has a quiet belief that the father is probably innocent. She was not frank about Dr O when first asked about him in evidence, and I was not persuaded by her attempt to dissociate herself from the views he expresses.
  1. Setting these conclusions against the many other factors in this case, and weighing up the children’s individual interests, I have concluded with real sadness that they cannot be returned to the care of their mother. The nature of the risk in this case is of the utmost gravity and there are no effective measures that could guarantee the children’s physical safety over time. Like Dr Asen, Ms Stephens and Ms Shepherd, I find that despite any current good intentions, the mother would not be reliably able to exclude the father from her life or the life of the children over the long period of years that would be necessary for their safety and wellbeing. She does not have the inner belief to enforce separation, and she would come under increasing pressure from her own thinking, from the father, from the community, and no doubt in time from the children themselves, to let him back into their lives once the intensity of the current professional interest was in the past. Moreover, even if the father was kept at a distance, I accept the evidence of Dr Asen about the likelihood of emotional harm to the children that would arise from being brought up in an environment in which the prevailing belief was that the father was innocent. The consequence is that C would learn that he was thought to have harmed B, and yet none of the children could see the father or be given a good reason why they could not.
  1. I accept the unanimous professional evidence and therefore approve the local authority’s plans for the three children’s future placements. I shall make care orders and, having considered the terms of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, make placement orders in relation to M and J. In M’s case, adoption is clearly in her interests, and in J’s case, a time-limited search for adopters is in my view right, while at the same time seeking a long term foster home. I dispense with the parents’ consent to making placement orders because the children’s welfare requires it. If an adoptive placement is not found, the placement order will have to be discharged in a timely fashion – the application can be made to me.

 

As we wind our clock ever more tightly and make the hands turn faster, how compressed will the time period for a parent to come to terms with an awful finding against their loved one be?  You can’t hurry love, as they say, but you can’t necessarily hurry dismantling that love in the light of an awful finding  either…

“All right then, I WILL give evidence

 

A discussion of the very tricky problem in Re R (A Child) 2012. It never ceases to amaze me how many appeals are not so much about difficult points of law so much as truly peculiar things happening in a Court room and a Judge trying and failing to get an impossible situation right. This is one of those.

 

 

This Court of Appeal decision relates to a very difficult position a Recorder found themselves in, towards the end of a finding of fact hearing in care proceedings.

 

You can find the case here:-

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed111044

 

 

The father was facing very grave allegations of sexual abuse, and the two primary witnesses would be the child victim, who was 8, and it was ruled not appropriate for her to give evidence, and the mother, who had refused to give evidence and about whom there was expert evidence to the effect that it would be wrong to make her give evidence against her will.

 

The Recorder delivered judgment, and uttered this phrase, which must have made alternating hearts on the bench sink or soar, depending on the briefs they held

 

 

“One would normally expect me now to go on to say what my conclusions are in relation to the sexual abuse allegations. However I must deal with the issue of fair trial.”

 

I like to imagine at that point, that the pen belonging to the father’s advocate wobbled hopefully on the page, if only just slightly.  The words “Oh, hello!” may have passed, albeit silently, over their lips.

 

8. He then expressed his hesitation in proceeding on the conventional path by saying at paragraph 47:

“What causes me considerable difficulty is what is submitted in paragraphs 169 to 175 by Mr Jackson. The father has an absolute and fundamental right to a fair trial on the issue of sexual abuse. The allegations against him and the findings sought against him are extremely serious.  They depend solely on the assertions of an 8-year old child, who I rule cannot be cross-examined and, as I have been at pains to point out earlier in the judgment, the court is entitled to make findings based on such evidence but must exercise a great deal of care.”

9. He then came to his conclusion in paragraph 50:

“The fact is father has been hit with ‘a double whammy’.  Not one but two of the most important witnesses in this case are unavailable to him for cross-examination. In my judgment, that is unfair or at least creates the perception of unfairness in father’s eyes and probably in the eyes of an officious bystander.  Whatever the findings I have made of father’s presentations of witness, he is entitled nevertheless to a fair hearing.  In the circumstances I am persuaded that the father’s right to a fair trial on the issue of sexual abuse has been prejudiced and that it would be unfair to make the sexual abuse findings sought by the Local Authority. “

Paragraphs 1, 2A, 3 and 5 of the schedule, insofar as they relate to father, were accordingly to be deleted. 

 

 

The Court of Appeal were not terribly flattering about this:-

 

10. Now, with all due respect to the Recorder, I find that a bizarre piece of reasoning and a bizarre conclusion.

11. In these cases the opportunity of the accused parent to cross-examine the eight-year-old informant is effectively zero.  So the Recorder has effectively argued that, because the mother did not testify and thus the father had no opportunity to cross-examine her, that amounted to a breach of his Article 6 rights.

12. It seems to me that, on a proper view, the husband’s litigation case was not prejudiced but rather aided by the absence of the mother, whose evidence was discounted but whose evidence, had it been available, might have been a nail in his coffin.  So for my part, although it is not the issue before us, I think the judge was wrong to hold himself debarred from proceeding to rule on the local authority’s numbered paragraphs of the schedule by the absence of the mother’s evidence.

 

 

But this wasn’t actually the point of the Appeal, we move on

 

13. But I must move to the developments over the lunch hour.  Counsel for the local authority, who had the mother available, explained to her that the judge had announced that he was not going to make adverse findings because she had not testified.  Her reaction was “Very well I will go into the witness box“, and that was the application Miss Greenham advanced to the judge on the return of all at 2.00.  Obviously for the Recorder that was a totally unexpected and difficult situation, and it is always these totally unexpected and difficult situations that are the hardest for a Recorder to get right.

14. The judge decided, having heard argument, that he was not going to take the course that Ms Greenan invited and again he explained himself by reference to the father’s asserted rights as advocated by Mr Jackson.

15. Paragraph 56 is in these terms:

“Mr Jackson submits that if I reopen the evidence now, and hear from the mother on the issue of preoccupation and false memory and on all the other matters he wants to cross-examine her about and here evidence about [S], that I will not be coming to it with an open mind.  I can say until I am blue in the face that I will come to it with an open mind and I would like to think that I would come to it with an open mind but justice not only has to be done but has to be seen to be done and I well understand that Mr R [the father] would have no confidence in any decision I made after hearing fresh evidence because he would always be of the view that I made my views fairly clear and prejudged those issues. This would, in effect, compound his complaint that he has not been given a fair trial and it is for that reason that I agree with Mr Jackson that it would not be fair to father to re-open the issues upon which I have already ruled.”

16. The judge had not, effectively, ruled beyond saying that the fair trial argument precluded him from ruling, and here we see the fair trial argument being deployed equally effectively in the reverse direction.  Earlier it was advanced, “Absent mother; can be no fair trial“.  Then when mother appears it is said “Well, to admit her evidence would preclude a fair trial.”

 

 

I’m sure that you can read between the lines on this and see where the Court of Appeal are about to go…

 

I think, with great respect, that the judge in the heat of the moment reached the wrong conclusion.

17. The question of fairness is objective and not subjective to one of the parties.  It was all extremely unfortunate.  It should not have happened as it did, but once it had happened the judge really had no alternative but to labour further in this rather unpromising field.  I think he had already spent ten days and of course it was unattractive to all that time would have to be found maybe for another two days in order to complete the process.

18. But, as these appeals have demonstrated, there was effectively no other practical choice.  There was no other practical solution and accordingly I would allow the appeal and send the case back with a request to the Recorder to resume the trial process, keeping it within the tightest possible bounds, hearing the evidence of the mother and then in the light of submissions deciding what other evidence he was compelled to hear.  But Ms Greenan has said that she is confident that the re-opening of the case can be kept within tight bounds and it is important that it should be.

 

 

I have to say that I feel for the Recorder here, having delivered a judgment, a key witness then decides that not being content with the outcome, they would wish to give evidence.   It does seem to me that the Recorder may well have been positioned somewhere between K2 and one of those boozers visited by Ross Kemp in “Britain’s most violent pubs”    – or between a rock and a hard place, if you prefer.

 

Don’t hear the evidence of the mother and you get appealed by the LA / the mother.

 

Hear the evidence – after having concluded the trial and given a judgment that finds that the facts against father can’t be safely made out,  and the father is going to appeal you if you alter your findings.  If you don’t alter your findings, the LA and mother are probably going to say that you couldn’t have approached mother’s evidence with an open mind given that you’d already given a judgment which didn’t make the findings against father.

 

 

If I had been faced with that dilemma, I think I would have taken the same way out as Basil Fawlty does in “Gourmet Night” faced with the grisly task of having to introduce a Mr and Mrs Twitchen, to two other dinner guests, one of whom has a facial twitch.  He attempts with “Colonel and Mrs Hall, may I introduce you to Mr and Mrs… phahbarma…”  and when that doesn’t work, fakes an fainting episode.

 

“So sorry, I fainted”

 

 

[I had hoped to put the clip here, but can’t find it online. Anyway, from the same episode, Basil losing it with his car “I’ve laid it on the line to you time and time again…. I’m going to give you a damn good thrashing”]

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78b67l_yxUc

 

fawlty

A tapestry of justice

 

A discussion of London Borough of Sutton and Gray 2012   – in which the High Court determined that an earlier finding of fact that a father had shaken a child, causing injuries (and for which father went to prison) was wrong and had been in effect a miscarriage of justice.

 

The children had been placed with a relative (fortunately) who cared for them under Special Guardianship Orders. Had they been instead, adopted, then the Court would have been faced with the same issue as in Webster, that children had been wrongly removed and adopted, but that such a step cannot be unpicked.  The LA had been seeking a Placement Order for the younger child.

 

 

The Judge in this case, Mrs Justice Hogg, dealt with the case in a very measured and compassionate way – the other judgment, which I don’t include, which deals with the aftermath of this finding of fact and the reconciliation of the family is moving in the extreme.

 

 

[I am very grateful to Ms Troy who was junior counsel for the children in alerting me that this case was forthcoming and to watch for it.  Ms Troy is a very able advocate, a thoroughly decent person and someone blessed with good taste in football; an all-round good egg. The title is a malapropism from a gentleman who left Court and informed myself and counsel that this had been “a tapestry of justice”]

 

The judgment is here:-

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2012/2604.html

 

 

You will notice the highly unusual step of the Court giving the full names of those involved, rather than anonymising them. That’s a marker of how important it is for this family to be exonerated, and the likelihood that there will be further media involvement – I note that journalists were present.

 

I would point out in this case, that the miscarriage is not a result of bungling or bad faith on anyone’s part,  nor crookedness, nor incompetence, nor overly dogmatic experts. It just reflects what is becoming increasingly understood – that in complex medical cases involving injuries to children, sometimes our best working diagnosis on the balance of probabilities, can still be wrong.  As the Judge says late on, with reference to Mrs Justice Bracewell – in effect the Judge has to make the best conclusions they can from the evidence as it is presented, but being aware that today’s certainties can be tomorrow’s grey areas.

 

In a case such as this, we can see the stark impact of that on the family. It would not be an overstatement to say that they have been torn apart by these circumstances.

 

  1. From a very early stage the spectre of Non Accidental Injury was raised to explain Ellie’s collapse and the findings of intracranial and retinal bleedings. The parents, in particular the father, was unable to give a history of an accident or other explanation as to why she had suddenly become limp and in a collapsed state. The various tests performed did not reveal any medical explanation. Suspicion therefore arose that Ellie’s condition was a result of an inflicted injury. The fact she had been injured previously added to the suspicions. The Local Authority and police were informed of the position.
  1. As a result the parents were arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm to Ellie and interviewed by the police on 6 March 2007. Both denied causing injury to Ellie on or about 15 February, and have continued to do so ever since.
  1. In the meanwhile the Local Authority decided to issue care proceedings in respect of Ellie in which a care order was sought on the basis that she had suffered an inflicted head injury and burns whilst in the care of her parents.
  1. The application was issued on 5 March 2007 in the Croydon Family Proceedings Court. The first Interim Care Order in respect of Ellie was made on 15 March 2007, and thereafter renewed on a regular basis. On that date the proceedings were also transferred to the Croydon county Court.
  1. The fact-finding hearing took place in front of HHJ Atkins culminating in his Judgment dated 29 January 2008, in which he made findings against the father in that he:

(i) caused the burns on 7 February 2007 to Ellie deliberately or recklessly or negligently;

(ii) caused the head and eye injuries and the consequences sustained by Ellie on 15 February 2007;

(iii) the mother failed to protect Ellie by leaving her in the father’s sole care on 15 February.

  1. On 28 April 2008 the Learned Judge made further findings against the parents that:

(i) neither had accepted his Judgment and findings on 29 January 2008;

(ii) neither had been open and honest about the extent of their relationship, that “it has been more extensive than they said”;

(iii) both had intimidated and made various specific threats towards the maternal grandparents;

(iv) and the Learned Judge ruled the mother out as a long-term carer for Ellie.

  1. On 14 August 2008 the Learned Judge made the Special Guardianship Order to the maternal grandparents and the contact orders for the parents.
  1. The police charged the father with causing grievous bodily harm to Ellie on 15 February 2007 contrary to S.20 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 and with cruelty contrary to S.1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
  1. On 24 March 2009 after a 4 week trial at Croydon Crown Court the father was convicted on both counts, and by majority verdict on the charge under S.20 and sentenced to concurrent terms of 18 months and 1 month imprisonment.
  1. Isabella was born on 7 September 2009 while the father was in prison.

 

 

It can easily be seen, that in relation to paragraph 45, those findings made that the parents had not accepted the finding of fact hearings are the only thing they could have done, and to criticise them for it is now evidently unfair.  Given that it was not true, how could they do anything other than continue to deny it?

But of course, the Court was proceeding on what was understood to be right at the time   [and from a legal point of view, what the Court FOUND to have happened at the hearing in January 2008 WAS what happened; although we now know that in reality, it was not what happened at all]

 

  1. The Injuries Ellie received
  1. Ellie collapsed in the father’s home. She suffered brain dysfunction or encephalopathy. She sustained subdural and retinal haemorrhages.
  1. Those three types of injuries are often referred to as The Triad and considered as a significant pointer towards a diagnosis of non-accidental head injury, particularly as in this case where there are no other signs, symptoms or marks of injury on the child. In this respect I am excluding the burns.
  1. It must not be assumed that because it seems ‘The Triad’ is present that it automatically and necessarily leads to a diagnosis of non-accidental head injury.
  1. Before concluding that The Triad exists and that a finding of non-accidental head injury is justified the Court must consider and examine the evidence in respect of each injury, its diagnosis, and its causative event(s) with care. It must also consider the clinical presentation of the child and the evidence of the parents, carer or other relevant witnesses.
  1. The findings in every case must depend on the specific individual facts to that case.
  1. At the end of the day it is always possible for a Judge to rule that the cause of an injury remains unknown. As Mr Justice Hedley said in Re R. 2011 EWHC 1715:

“In my Judgment, a conclusion of unknown aetiology in respect of an infant represents neither professional nor forensic failure. It simply recognises that we still have much to learn and it also recognises that it is dangerous and wrong to infer non-accidental injury merely from the absence of any other understood mechanism.

Maybe it simply represents a general acknowledgement that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

 

 

I suspect, that this is a phrase, as it is both resonant and skilfully constructed, that we will see again and again  “We are fearfully and wonderfully made”

 

The Judge analysed the evidence in relation to each element of the ‘triad’  – those classic symptoms which suggest that the child has been the victim of a shaking injury.

 

  1. My Conclusions
  1. The conclusion I draw from the evidence of all three ophthalmologists are:

(a) This is an unusual case;

(b) It is unlikely that the injuries to the eyes were (i) birth related or (ii) caused by the seizures suffered by Ellie in hospital.

(c) The causative event(s) probably occurred shortly before Ellie’s admission to hospital;

(d) Ellie’s rapid and complete recovery was “remarkable” given the apparent severity of the haemorrhages when first seen;

(e) By just looking into the eye it is not possible to identify the cause of haemorrhaging;

(f) The haemorrhages do not have the hallmarks of a shaking injury, but such an injury cannot be excluded. In the event it was a shaking injury the severity of the force would be at the lower end of the spectrum;

(g) An airway obstruction giving rise to a sharp increase in intra cranial pressure could be an explanation for the haemorrhages, and would fit into the scenario resulting in a rapid and complete recovery without any residual damage;

(h) All three were prepared to consider an explanation other than that of shaking. The two experts were also specifically questioned about the possibility of an airway obstruction being the root cause as suggested by Professor Fleming. Both accepted the possibility;

(i) None were prepared to say on the balance of probabilities the injuries seen in Ellie’s eyes were caused by a shaking or inflicted mechanism. Mr Gregson and Professor Taylor were prepared to say they “did not know” or “could not be certain” what caused the injuries and “sat on the fence” when asked whether there was an innocent explanation or non-accidental explanation;

(j) The ophthalmic evidence is only one part of the picture, a piece of the jigsaw which is before the Court

 

 

 

  1. The conclusions I draw from the ENT doctors are as follows:

(i) All the doctors accepted that Ellie had abnormalities: the cyst, the cleft and laryngomalacia. They also accepted that there were indications she suffered from reflux and the cleft could contribute to possible aspiration of the gastric products.

(ii) They accepted that she had intermittent stridor, noisy breathing indicating an airway obstruction, which could have been caused by the cyst, and/or the laryngomalacia and positioning of the head, but that it was mild and there was no evidence that it was a moderate or severe obstruction.

(iii) None were aware of a link between airway obstruction whether severe or not and intracranial haemorrhages either in personal experience or in medical literature.

(iv) Mr Joseph alone indicated that a sudden reflux could cause a spasm and a closure of the airway which would be sudden and silent, but producing a floppy child.

(v) None of the doctors had examined or treated a child with the three physical abnormalities, nor had they read about such a case, even without the additional complication of reflux.

(vi) They agreed she was an unusual child

 

 

 

  1. The conclusions I draw from the radiological/neuroradiological evidence are as follows:-

(i) Any fluid seen in the subdural space is an abnormality and cause for concern. It has a pathological cause.

(ii) There are abnormalities seen on the scans and there was broad agreement as to what is visible. The differences lie in the interpretations; what the abnormalities represented;

(iii) There were darker areas of attenuation over the frontal areas and convexities containing small areas of brighter attenuation:

(a) It is agreed the small bright areas represent acute blood;

(b) The darker areas could either be:

(i) Chronic subdural haemorrhage, possible dating back to Ellie’s delivery; or

(ii) Acute traumatic effusions being cerebro-spinal fluid having leaked through damage to the arachnoid;

(iv) Acute blood is seen as brighter attenuation up to 7 to 10 days after bleeding;

(v) Chronic bleeds are seen as darker attenuation and are recognised between 2 to 3 weeks after the bleed. An upper age limited is not possible to assess from the scans;

(vi) Birth related subdural haemorrhages do occur, particularly after a Ventouse delivery. They are asymmetrical and usually resolve/disappear by 4 weeks: some may remain longer;

(vii) New bleeds creating acute subdural haemorrhages require a force which is beyond that of every day handling. An observer would know it was excessive and inappropriate and likely to cause injury to a child;

(viii) Re-bleeds are possible into chronic subdural haemorrhages either around damaged bridging veins or from membranes within the haemorrhages. Lesser force is required to trigger a re-bleed.

(ix) Subdural haemorrhages in themselves do not cause brain injury: but are markers of injury.

(x) Ellie suffered from encephalopathy, dysfunction of the brain which caused her collapse and presentation to hospital;

(xi) There was no evidence of hypoxic-ischaemic damage in the brain, but that did not exclude such injury being present, but not visible and thus very mild;

(xii) Ellie appears to have made a complete recovery from the neurological point of view;

(xiii) There was no evidence on the scans of scalp swelling, or skull fractures or other visible injury to the head. (I leave aside the injuries to the eyes).

(xiv) Whether there were re-bleeds into chronic subdural haemorrhages or an acute traumatic effusion there needed to be an incident of trauma: the degree of force required for such trauma depended upon whether it was a re-bleed or a bleed de novo;

(xv) The traumatic event would have occurred before her presentation to hospital, and most likely shortly, if not immediately before her collapse;

(xvi) The traumatic event could be one involving a shaking and/or impact, or if only enough to trigger a re-bleed a minor force or even the alleged bumpy buggy ride;

(xvii) In Dr Stoodley’s opinion the trauma sufficient to trigger re-bleed’s would not account for the acute bleeding at the back of the head and in the posterior fossa nor the encephalopathy.

 

 

  1. The conclusions to draw from the evidence of Mr Richards and Mr Jayamohan are:

(i) The two neurosurgeons were in broad agreement with the findings on the scans by the neuroradiologists. Like them Mr Richards and Mr Jayamahon could not agree as to the interpretation of the darker attenuation in the frontal areas. They both agreed there was fresh blood within the darker areas and at the back of the head and in the posterior fossa.

(ii) They agreed that an explanation was required for that fresh blood, and the blood at the back of the head and in the posterior fossa could not be accounted for by a re-bleed or movement between compartments and thus a lesser force. They agreed that the most likely explanation was that of trauma.

(iii) They also agreed that Ellie had suffered some brain dysfunction shortly before her presentation to hospital for which there was no obvious answer: the force required for a re-bleed would not suffice.

(iv) They were of the overall view that the encephalopathy and trauma occurred at about the same time and could have been caused by the same event.

(v) Both were presented with Professor Fleming’s evidence and proposition that Ellie suffered an airway obstruction causing cessation of breathing. In her struggle to breathe there was a sharp rise in intracranial pressure which caused her to collapse. They were both prepared to accept this as a possible cause for the brain dysfunction.

(vi) They were also both prepared to accept that the father unintentionally inflicted injury to Ellie in his panic to help her. Neither could say from the scans that the trauma Ellie sustained was accidental or non-accidental in motive. That was for the Court to decide.

(vii) Both acknowledged that the injuries could have been sustained as a result of an unknown cause.

 

 

 

A significant issue was the detection of a cyst in the child’s throat, with the mechanism being that the cyst had caused breathing difficulties, which in turned caused the child to enter into a fit, which caused the subdural haematoma and the retinal haemorrhaging.  This had potentially been compounded by the child travelling in a car seat, which if the child had (as in this case) weak neck muscles the head can tip forward and block the airway.

 

 

The Court was assisted by the paediatric overview from Dr Fleming

 

  1. Sometimes in cases of alleged abusively injured children a paediatric ‘overview’ adds little to the overall medical evidence. In this case Professor Fleming with his great interest and experience in airway obstruction and near life-threatening events in children was able to look at this case and its history in the light of recent medical thinking and with a very objective eye.
  1. He was cautious, fully aware that there is much to be learnt in medical science particularly with reference to life-threatening events in infants, and the many aspects of their physiology:

“The medical professionals are sometimes arrogant in thinking we know the answers, but our understanding is changing rapidly at present. There are things we know about now that we did not know about 3 or 4 years ago. That is why I am conscious that despite all the investigations we can do in children who have had such life-threatening episodes we don’t actually find an answer as to what’s caused them. Not finding an answer is not to me the same as saying somebody must have done it”.

  1. If I may say, wise comments from a very experienced practitioner and one of which doctors and lawyers alike should take heed.

 

 

 

 

And the Judge then pulled all of this together, and an analysis of the parents evidence.

 

  1. 15 February
  1. I turn now to the 15 February. Should I make the finding sought that the father caused Ellie to suffer a non-accidental head injury by doing something, a shake, a shake with impact or other mechanism in a brief loss of temper or control?
  1. Do I accept the father’s evidence that something silently happened to her before in panic he scooped her out of the car seat?
  1. Do I accept that his actions of scooping her up, putting her onto the bed inadvertently caused her some injury, but only after she had collapsed?
  1. The father’s description of Ellie’s collapse, appearance and floppiness are descriptions of an encephalopathy or brain dysfunction.
  1. Her presentation to hospital and clinical observations are those seen typically in an infant who is suffering from an encephalopathic illness.
  1. It is accepted that the illness could have either an innocent explanation or a non-accidental one.
  1. The investigations undertaken have shown that she was not suffering from any illness or other disorder and unless there was an unknown cause, not impossible, the doctors effectively excluded an illness or disorder.
  1. The CT and MRI scans reveal subdural collections in the frontal area, and at the back of the head and in the posterior fossa. The frontal collections contain acute blood, and there is acute blood at the rear of the head. There is a dispute as between the neuroradiologists and neurosurgeons as to what the frontal collections represent; there is no dispute as to the presence of acute blood in the various areas. There is no dispute that the acute blood was caused by trauma, the exact nature of the mechanism and force required is disputed, subject to the individuals’ interpretations.
  1. The important blood to consider is that at the back of the head and in the posterior fossa and the possible mechanisms and forces required to cause it.
  1. Otherwise the neuroradiologists and neurosurgeons agree that on the scans there was no other evidence of hypoxic-ischaemic damage or injury to brain, and no evidence of an impact to the skull or scalp. The radiology revealed no other injury to Ellie’s body and other than the burns there were no other marks or bruises on Ellie.
  1. There were retinal haemorrhages present which were not typical of a shaking injury and which required explanation.
  1. Ellie was an unusual child with three abnormalities in the laryngeal area. The cyst and the cleft are rare features, the laryngomalacia more common. That combination with the cyst could have caused her intermittent stridor. No doctor appearing before me had ever encountered a child with all three abnormalities present.
  1. She also suffered from reflux.
  1. There was strong evidence from Professor Fleming that Ellie could have suffered from airway obstruction, either as a result of laryngo spasm triggered by reflux, or by her head dropping forward whilst asleep in her car seat. Either way she could have collapsed through an inability to breathe and consequential lack of oxygen. Either would give rise to rapid changes in intra thoracic and intra-cranial pressure which in turn could have caused the retinal haemorrhages.
  1. The experts, the neurosurgeons in particular and the ophthalmologists were able to accept this hypothesis as possible.
  1. Professor Fleming was not so certain about the acute blood at the rear of the head, and I felt the other evidence that indicated a trauma of some form was required to cause it was stronger.
  1. The neurosurgeons accepted that a swift arc like movement from the car seat and a bang onto the bed following a collapse induced by an airway obstruction was a possible explanation for the presence of the acute blood both at the back and in the frontal regions. Even Dr Stoodley who preferred an overall inflicted shaking causation could accept it as a possibility but an unlikely one.
  1. On the medical evidence alone there is no strong pointer that the injuries Ellie sustained were inflicted through a loss of control or temper by a perpetrator shortly before her collapse.
  1. I go further. On the medical evidence alone I think the Local Authority has difficulties. There are too many pointers which question a conclusion of inflicted injury. There is a strong pointer indicating an innocent explanation for the collapse, being the airway obstruction as propounded by Professor Fleming and accepted by the neurosurgeons as possible.
  1. The Local Authority has to prove its case. In my view on the medical evidence alone I do not think that it has established on the balance of probabilities that the injuries Ellie sustained were non-accidental in origin. There is too much strong evidence flowing the other way. I do not make the finding sought by the Local Authority that she was a victim of an abusive head injury.
  1. Where does that leave me? Am I in a position to take the matter further, or merely leave it as a case of no find of fact against the father?
  1. In fairness to all I should try to go further. Ellie and [OTHER CHILD] when they grown up need to know with as much clarity as possible what happened to Ellie in February 2007 and why they were separated from their parents while still infants.
  1. The parents have suffered enormous loss as a result of the findings. If I can exonerate them from wrongdoing in February 2007, the father in particular, I should do so. This family, all three generations, have suffered as a result of the findings made in January 2008. The grandparents’ planned quiet retirement was invaded by their granddaughter. It has been their pleasure and enjoyment to bring her up, but it has been at an enormous physical and emotional cost. Neither is in the first flush of youth or best of health. It could not have been easy for them to change gear and take on a toddler. They have done well. Ellie is thriving in their care. Without them she would have been adopted, but the additional cost is they have lost touch with their own daughter, and she with her siblings. The family circle has been shattered. I hope the damage can be repaired, and if it be possible any work might be assisted by all the adults knowing what I think probably happened to Ellie that February evening.
  1. I therefore ask myself: Do I accept the father’s account of the events of that early evening, that all was peace and calm before Ellie for some reason collapsed; and do I accept his now not clear account of his reaction to seeing his daughter lifeless?
  1. There is corroboration from the parents themselves describing intermittent noisy breathing and episodes of intense paleness. Professor Fleming accepts these could be symptoms of the underlying, and then unknown laryngeal abnormalities.
  1. There is corroboration from Dan the flat mate that all was quiet and he did not know Ellie was there until summoned by the father.
  1. There is corroboration from the 999 tape and transcript that the father was panicking.
  1. The incident took place more than 5 years ago. The father was panicking and frightened for his daughter and I accept it is likely in those circumstances he may not now recall the exact details of what he did after the collapse or what he said on the tape. Even nearer the time given his panicky state of mind he may not have recalled the precise details. Such corroborative evidence as is available supports his account.
  1. It is inherently unlikely that a ‘silent’ something happened which caused the father to silently lose control and silently inflict an injury upon Ellie. He is not someone who reacts silently, even in court when he disagreed with a piece of evidence he was muttering and overheard by others. If there had been an event which had caused him to lose his temper or control he would not have been silent, he would have been heard by Dan. There would have been some form of commotion.
  1. According to the neurosurgeons in particular his account of a collapse followed by a panicked reaction involving a swift arc-like movement onto the bed could have had the same effect in Ellie as if she has been shaken or shaken with an impact onto a soft surface.
  1. On the medical front there is an innocent explanation for all the injuries Ellie sustained having taken into account the father’s own evidence. It is a complex picture that involves two innocent events in quick succession.
  1. Overall, I felt both parents wanted to be open with me. I felt in this context the father was anxious to be truthful. He did not say he remembered it all; he did not try to provide new information. I accept his account. I do not think he inflicted an abusive injury to Ellie. It may well be that inadvertently he injured her, but only in a reactive way after she had collapsed. I wonder how many parents in a panic situation scooping up a lifeless infant from a car seat remember to protect the wobbly head. I am sure many parents would not.
  1. It may be in failing to do so and swinging her round too fast he mimicked a rotational shaking movement; maybe he banged her head too hard onto the bed. He was a new and inexperienced parent reacting to a very difficult and frightening event. He was seeking to revive his baby. He may well have acted in too much haste and with too much force but not intending to harm her in any way.
  1. I do not blame him for causing injury to Ellie, while I accept that he may have done so with all good intention to help her.
  1. I hope everyone will accept that I do not attach any culpability to him, and that in my Judgment he is exonerated from causing her any inflicted injury. If, in fact, he did cause her injury it was purely accidental.

 

 

 

 

There are some final conclusions, which are very important. One is the Judge’s firm views that the involvement of neurosurgeons in a case of this kind is vital, with which I completely agree. Another is that the role of the Guardian, and her representatives in this case was pro-active and assisting the Court in reaching the truth, rather than the passive ‘deckchair brief’ that it often becomes.

 

We have had three judgments this year, McFarlane LJ,  Justice Mostyn and now this one, and this is the strongest of the three.  I would say that this is, because it is a positive decision praising the Guardian and her representatives for being pro-active, that it is now authority for the principle that this is what a Guardian and his or her team should do in fact finding hearings.  Fold up the deck-chair and get stuck into the medical records.

 

If you are representing a Guardian in a fact-finding hearing, or if you are involved in a fact-finding hearing and think the Guardian is being entirely passive, these passages are vitally important.  [My underlining]

 

I could NOT agree more forcefully with these sentiments – it isn’t for the Guardian to prosecute or defend, or to take a side, but to ensure that the possibilities are properly explored and that the Court has the best chance of reaching the truth for the children concerned.

 

  1. And Finally
  1. The medical evidence which I heard is very distant from that heard by HHJ Atkins in January 2008.
  1. To begin with neither he nor the criminal trial, nor indeed the Court of Appeal had sight of the CT scan of 26 February. Its first appearance in Court was before me and before I heard any evidence. Why it was not produced to Judge Atkins I do not know. It is a most valuable document identifying the subdural collections, the acute blood in the subdural space, and the cyst in the larynx.
  1. The Learned Judge heard evidence from Dr Rich, the “treating” Consultant Neuroradiologist, and Dr McConachie, the expert Consultant Neuroradiologist, who declined any further instructions in these proceedings. I did not. He did not have the evidence of Dr Anslow or Dr Stoodley.
  1. He heard from Dr Salem, Dr Dutta, and had reports from Dr Shepherd, all being ‘treating’ doctors. He heard from Dr Lloyd who was jointly instructed, and Dr Harding instructed by the mother. I did not.
  1. He heard from Mr Richards who has never seen the whole medical evidence. He did not hear or see any report from Dr Jayamohan.
  1. He heard from Professor Proops and Mr Joseph, both Consultant Otolaryngologists and ‘expert’ witnesses. He also heard from Mr Daya, the treating Consultant ENT Surgeon. I did not.
  1. He heard from Miss Leitch the ‘treating’ Ophthalmic Surgeon and Mr Gregson and Professor Taylor who were instructed as expert Ophthalmologists. I did not hear Miss Leitch.
  1. He also heard from Dr Cussons, a Consultant in Burns and Plastic surgery. Although I have seen his report and views he was not required, and I preferred the more pragmatic view of Professor Fleming.
  1. The Learned Judge did not hear from Professor Fleming, who was particularly instructed by the parties for this hearing as an expert paediatrician with considerable experience and interest in treating infants with airway and breathing difficulties, and those who have suffered a life-threatening event.
  1. It was very fortunate that he was available. The issue of airway obstruction had been raised long ago, particularly by Dr Salem who called for an expert. Although Dr Harding accepted the proposition her evidence was not so strong. Professor Proops’ evidence discounted airway obstruction as did Dr Lloyd.
  1. I have not read HHJ Atkins’ Judgment of January 2008 or the summing up of HHJ Stow, and deliberately so as to ensure that I dealt with the ‘raw’ medical evidence only and not that as recorded or interpreted by another. I cannot and do not criticise Judge Atkins Judgment, and I make no comment upon Judge Stow’s summing up.
  1. I have come to different conclusions from Judge Atkins on different and more expansive evidence. In my view it is important for me to emphasise this so that the parents, the grandparents and the girls in time can appreciate this. It may also be of some value to the Local Authority.
  1. I wish only to add a few comments and thoughts.
  1. I add also that in many cases involving a fact-finding hearing of alleged abusive injury a Guardian plays little or no part in the proceedings at that stage.
  1. In this case although I gave leave that the Guardian personally need not attend every day she was most ably represented by experienced Queen’s Counsel and experienced Junior, newly drawn from the ranks of solicitors.
  1. The Guardian through them was kept closely informed of the medical evidence. She was able to reflect upon it, and give clear instructions. She came to hear the parents’ own evidence, which in itself is important if a case is to go further.
  1. She gave clear instructions for her written submissions.
  1. I appreciate that it is important to consider costs in such cases, but in this case the Guardian’s involvement and interventions have been of great assistance and significance in the final outcome.
  1. There is no reason why a Guardian should not play an active part in a fact-finding hearing. There are very good reasons why a Guardian should.
  1. A Guardian represents the interests of the child. It is in the interests of that child that the truth is ascertained with as much clarity as possible.
  1. It is the child’s right to know in later life what happened in his/her childhood, and why certain decisions were taken.
  1. In days gone by when I was still practising, and when some children were represented by a Guardian, then the Official Solicitor, the Guardian’s Counsel took an active part in the fact-finding part of the hearing and was expected to do by the Judge and other Counsel ensuring that the relevant and appropriate questions were asked and issues raised for the Judge.
  1. In the appropriate case a Guardian should not only be represented but personally attend parts if not all of a fact-finding hearing, and be prepared to play as full a part as is necessary in that hearing: only then can the child be properly represented.
  1. The instruction and evidence of Professor Fleming only emphasises in cases of alleged inflicted injury and difficult medical issues to resolve the need for all parties and their legal advisors and Courts to consider with care the type of expert required, and the particular expert’s expertise and experience.
  1. It was also important in this case to have the evidence of two experienced Consultant Neurosurgeons. The evidence of a neurosurgeon tends to be broader than that of a neuroradiologist. A consultant neurosurgeon is capable of viewing a scan and interpreting what he sees, he then on operating will see the real thing, and see in fact what he saw as an image on a screen. He also has the advantage of meeting the parents or carer of an injured child, and indeed has to meet with and console grieving adults. Whilst working with the neuroradiologists discussing cases both neurosurgeons said they could read the scans, but deferred to the neuroradiologists for subtleties on the scan.
  1. Again in some cases and with an eye to the costs of cases it may be appropriate to consider instructing an expert neurosurgeon rather than neuroradiologists. In many cases the evidence only of a neuroradiologist is adequate.
  1. It is also important to reflect that in the last 5 years further research has been carried out and papers published on head injuries to infants. There has been much debate on the medical and legal worlds as to how or why some injuries occurred. The debate has emphasised that there is still much that is not fully understood and much to learn. Professor Fleming put it so well, that there was a need to be cautious, not arrogant, and to know that medical science is still learning.
  1. I simply add: “we do not know it all”.
  1. The late Mrs Justice Bracewell once commented to me after a particularly difficult case that it was at the “very edge of medical science”, “she could only do her best in the light of the evidence put to her”.
  1. Mr Justice Hedley is right: “we are fearfully and wonderfully made”.

 

[See, I said we’d be seeing that line again.  It”s from the King James Bible, Psalm 139:14 if you’re interested]