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In the soup

This is a set of care proceedings dealt with by His Honour Judge Wood in Newcastle – so not binding or exciting case law, but sad and interesting and with some unusual quirks.  So far as I am aware, it is the first set of care proceedings in which a tin of tomato soup plays a key role.


[The very unfortunately named Lancashire County Council v A (Burned Child) 2015 mentions soup tangentially, but it does not specify tomato…


Oh, and of course the Hampstead Hoax case Re P and Q 2015 involves a finding that the mother and her partner made Hemp Soup and fed it to the children   


Turns out soup crops up more than you’d think. Spaghetti hoops, however, have never turned up in a published family judgment on bailii, just in one horrendously complex case about tanks used to store polymers – a case apparently worth £40 million…

Baked beans feature in no published  family law judgments at all.  Lots of other weird stuff, including the wonderfully named

Baron Uno Carl Samuel Akerhielm and another v Rolf De Mare and others (Eastern Africa) [1959] UKPC 11 

Quite hard to imagine the Baron, or Rolf De Mare eating baked beans 

My dear old friend Shepherd’s Pie just comes up in a criminal case, where the plan was to add death’s head mushrooms to the Shepherd’s Pie to poison someone.

I have digressed into foodstuffs versus the law. Sorry! ]




Re S 2016

The case involved two very ill children, and parents who were from India, and who in the midst of care proceedings went back to India and who were saying that they would only return to collect the children and take them to India. Thus not participating any further in the care proceedings. That is a shame, because certainly from the judgment it seems that mother was potentially a perfectly suitable carer for the children and the issues were really around father. Additionally that father’s issues were potentially of a mental health nature and thus potentially treatable.  If the parents had engaged with the process, the outcome could easily have been very different.


This being an international case, efforts were made to contact the Indian authorities. With the exception of what used to be called the Slavic countries, this response is pretty typical of what we tend to get when contacting foreign authorities.

I should mention at the outset that as these children are Indian nationals it is only right and proper that the Indian authorities should have been notified of this action being taken by the local authority in respect of Indian subjects. They were duly notified via their Embassy in November 2015 with full details as to the nature of the action being taken, as well as the contact details of all relevant family members, receipt of which was apparently acknowledged, with an indication that the Embassy would contact F, but nothing has been heard since.


The two children were, as I have said, very unwell.


  1. The background is significant. Each of these children suffers from profound disability and severe cognitive impairment. In B’s case, her current diagnosis is epilepsy, encephalopathy, global developmental delay, microcephaly, cortical visual impairment. She is fed by gastrostomy. She suffers from prolonged seizures as well as sound sensitivity. She has scoliosis of her spine and subluxation of her hip. By reason of her disability she receives extensive support from a community paediatrician, a consultant paediatric neurologist, consultant orthopaedic surgeon, an epilepsy nurse, dietician, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist and physiotherapist and sensory support team with regard to her health, mobility and postural needs.
  2. So far as C is concerned, his current diagnosis is dystonia, perinatal hypoxic lactatemia, encephalopathy, epilepsy and global developmental delay. He had previously had a nasogastric tube to aid feeding until May 2014 when it was replaced by a gastrostomy. He is currently in receipt of support from the community paediatrician, orthopaedic surgeon, epilepsy nurse, dietician, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist, physiotherapist and sensory support team.
  3. It goes without saying that each of these children is totally dependent on carers to meet all of their holistic needs, to ensure that they receive the medication and the delivery of their health plans as well as being closely monitored to ensure that their health and presentation, safety and wellbeing is at all times met. Neither has any verbal communication. B will apparently cry with distress, but it is said to be hard to find the cause at any time other than by elimination. C responds to sounds and sensory stimulation only.
  4. The local authority says that F in particular does not recognise the needs of his children and their increase. He has, from time to time, as part of a pattern, accused health and educational staff of harming both of the children, as well as ignoring advice from a range of professionals.
  5. There is, as I say, a significant history, but the onset of the precipitating event, if I can put it that way, was that on 13th March 2015, C was admitted to the University Hospital of North Durham with life threatening dystonia, that is to say a movement disorder that causes muscle spasms and contractions. This particular episode required a high level of nursing on admission and frequent monitoring, as persistent back arching had put him at risk of airways compression. This was described by medical staff as a serious life threatening medical condition, resulting from a gradual increase in muscle tone and, on admission, his father reported that he could no longer manage this at home, the spasms having become more frequent.
  6. The medical records record, and one of the treating paediatrician’s comments based on that record, that such severe dystonia would have developed over time and suggest that health support should have been sought at an earlier date to prevent this life threatening episode.
  7. B was admitted to the same hospital on 19th May 2015 due to increased seizures and she required monitoring and medication review and due to her complex needs and swallowing difficulties she has been fed by a gastrostomy which enables her to receive liquid feeds throughout the day in accordance with a dietician devised regime.


Given B’s difficulties with feeding and seizures, it was of vital importance that any medical advice regarding feeding be followed. There was an incident where it appeared not to have been, and the investigation as to the cause cannot have been too onerous or complex.


The local authority say this has been extensively discussed with B’s father and, on 9th June last year, whilst she remained an in-patient and F had been alone with her in her room, carers arrived to find B vomiting over her clothes and bedding, a liquid that was orange in colour and smelt of tomato soup. A tin of tomato soup was noticed in the waste bin in the room. F, who had briefly left the room, returned and was asked if he had fed B foods either orally or via the gastrostomy site and he denied it, but it is said that later in the evening he admitted that he had given B tomato soup with mashed potato. Medical advice suggested that this placed her at significant risk of aspiration and choking and could have been a life threatening situation for her. It constituted, in any event, having ignored the dietary advice, giving oral feeds that had not been agreed by medical staff, and thereby placed her at risk of significant harm. F at different times, it is said, has disagreed with the feeding and medication regime for the children and has indicated in terms that he would not follow such a regime once the children returned to his care.


The father’s behaviour become more challenging and peculiar after this. He started to assert that the medication given to the children was making them ill, that hospital staff had inserted electronic chips into their heads, that there was silver metal being placed in their brains and that the hospital were using the children as human guinea pigs to test the effects of bacteria upon them.  It was this behaviour, in combination with the fact that the children had very significant health needs which would have to be met, on discharge by their parents, that led to the degree of concerns that the Local Authority held.


  1. In addition to the evidence of the then social worker, Claire Brown, the local authority relied on the reports of two paediatricians who have cared for the children in Durham, Dr Haves and Dr Balu. These are frank and, in the case of Dr Haves in particular, really quite hard hitting reports, in which neither pull their punches. Dr Haves expressed belief that both of these children would suffer significant harm if they were returned to the care of their parents they being in hospital continuously from the time of their admission up until November, as I will come to. She was very concerned at what to her was M’s extended and unexplained absence. She considered F to have a significant undiagnosed mental health disorder, which was deteriorating and impacting on his ability to work with professionals, he declining to undergo mental health assessment. Dr Haves considered his belief about the causation of the children’s disability, which is thought, from a medical point of view, to be genetic in origin, to be paranoid or delusional in nature, but more worryingly, that belief acted as a barrier to the administration of proper care and she gave a long list of examples of that, some of which I have already touched upon.
  2. She felt his allegations against medical professionals were incompatible with any evidence, or indeed reasonable expectation. Nor, in her experience, could his views be explained by a cultural variant, or an adjustment reaction to the children’s disability, she having had some significant experience of working in communities where many people from the Indian sub-continent live. She gave examples of F’s paranoid beliefs that extended to his emails being hacked, his receiving telephone guidance from professionals in London and neighbours reporting on him, and she said it was impossible to engage with him in a rational way, which in turn made the provision of medical care in the community almost impossible.
  3. There were other specific concerns. First, his inability or unwillingness to recognise and manage seizures of which there was a long history. This had profound implications for ensuring the correct medication. His inability or unwillingness to comply with medical advice, withdrawing, reducing or increasing doses of medication, particularly anti-convulsants, such that, at times, the children were inadequately protected, or so dosed up that they presented as sedated. F also made claims of medical expertise, repeated, I see, in his closing submissions. His claims of academic qualifications include biology, microbiology, immunology, pharmacology, none of which were ever substantiated, but used by him to engage with professionals in what they considered an inappropriate way. He had acquired medical equipment with no qualifications to use it, such as a blood pressure machine, as well as taking steps such as dressing in an NHS uniform or a white coat, thereby implying that he had qualifications that he did not have. He had, on occasion, administered high flow oxygen to B, without any medical intervention or advice. He fed her orally, as I have mentioned, and administered a privately acquired nebuliser. Dr Haves also had worries about his emotional attachment and basic care, noting on occasion a lack of reaction to distress, a lack of stimulation, at one point offering to donate the children to medical science if a genetic condition was ever established, as well as leaving the children unaccompanied for significant periods. Finally, was her concern about his reluctance to accept support. She concluded her report by saying this: “B and C have profound and complex neuro disability. They are highly dependent on others for all aspects of their care and remain highly vulnerable to complications. As such, the level of parenting capacity required to meet their needs is extremely high and it is expected that any parent in that situation would require the help and support of a wide range of professionals, to give expert advice and opinion. Professionals working with families caring for such disabled children are generally highly skilled and experienced at working with families with a variety of different beliefs and levels of understanding and work hard to develop positive relationships with the families, regardless of any differences in opinion. However, in order to work in an effective way with families, professionals need to be able to expect a level of honesty and openness and to be satisfied that parents and carers have a reasonable understanding of key health issues. Where parental understanding or belief systems appear to be acting as a barrier to providing adequate care to highly vulnerable children, professionals must raise their concerns. Professionals working with F have had long standing concerns about his mental health and well being and how his strongly held beliefs are impacting on the care of his children and his ability to work with professionals. There has been real professional anxiety about the possibility of actual harm occurring, as a result of his beliefs and behaviour and about the potential future risk to the children, owing to any possible undiagnosed, untreated and unmonitored mental health condition. There is now additional witness evidence of incidents of a very serious nature, in which the children have been placed at high risk due to F’s behaviour. I strongly recommend that he should not be allowed any further unsupervised access to his children and that he undergoes an expert psychiatric assessment.”


The Judge made the following findings in relation to father

“iv) F holds strong and dogmatic views on the treatment of his children. Some of these views are paranoid and delusional. His insistence on the validity of these views impinges on the ability of the treating team to treat the children effectively. F is unable to exercise consistently rational judgments in relation to what care and treatments are in the children’s best interests, thus placing them at the risk of significant harm. The following are examples.

(i). C had a microchip deliberately implanted in his head, which is the cause of his fits.

(ii). B has been deliberately inoculated with harmful substances.

(iii). B’s fits at school are caused by allergens and bacteria.

(iv). The dose of Keppra may be poisoning B.

(v). An obsessive belief that Lamotrigine is the cause of B’s fits.

(vi). Both children have been implanted with bacterial pathogens and silver fragments in their brain.

(vii). A refusal to submit to psychiatric assessment by professionals from the National Health Service who were ‘the opponent’ and were ‘a criminal organisation’, who fabricate information.

(viii). M has gone to India to have children since it is safer. The NHS have made the children how they are.

(ix). The other paranoid beliefs, some of which I have mentioned, including the view that his emails are being hacked.”

The father claimed, though was not able to evidence this claim, that he had a Masters degree in Zoology.

However, given one of the later findings made was :-

“viii) F made unsubstantiated claims of expertise in science, microbiology, biology, immunology and pharmacology. He seeks to take on a medical role in relation to the children, over and above that which it is reasonable for a parent to claim in such circumstances. The following are specific examples:

(i). F required various medical equipment – a blood monitoring machine – which he had no expertise to utilise.

(ii). F dresses in a white coat and has been seen examining the children with a stethoscope in hospital.

(iii). F brought intravenous bags to administer fluids without seeking advice.

(iv). The use of an Abigail pump incompatible with the current feeding regime.

(v). Administering high flow oxygen without medical advice.

(vi). Administering privately acquired nebuliser.

(vii). Administering a significant quantity of potato and tomato soup, either orally, or via a nasogastric tube, without seeking prior advice.

(viii). F’s expressed intention to return to a natural feeding regime, should the children return to his care, which is contrary to professional advice, which will place the children at risk of harm.”


One can see why hospital staff were concerned. An unsubstantiated Masters in Zoology doesn’t really equip one to be walking round in a white coat in a hospital wearing a stethascope and examining children. I’d be pretty concerned if he’d been walking round a petting zoo examining rabbits.

Given that the parents had withdrawn from the process by going back to India (it seemed very likely that this had been because mother was pregnant and wanted to have the baby overseas and not return to the UK) the Judge had very little choice but to make the Care Orders sought.


  1. The court has therefore been presented with two options: a return to the parents or other family in India, or the making of a care order with a plan of long term foster care. The return to India was far from fanciful as an outcome. It is perfectly possible that, despite the findings the court has now made, that these children could go to India, could there receive suitable care and be cared for either by extended family or some institution, nevertheless maintaining the link with the birth family. The local authority says that the findings in fact do not permit a return to the parents and unless and until there is acceptance of those findings and an understanding as to how they can work with professionals in the future, that is simply not a possible outcome. Although the parents say they can access a lot of support, both from family and from professionals, there is no indication that they do not seek to care for the children themselves. Indeed, they seem to be saying that they intend to care for them. Whatever it is, in any event, it is all wholly unassessed and that is not because the local authority has not tried to assess it, but because of the parents’ conduct throughout this litigation.
  2. The local authority is supported by the guardian in its entirety over the inability of a plan to place the children with the parents. Counsel for the parents frankly accept that they cannot presently advance the parents as carers, given their responses to the litigation.
  3. The only other contention is long term foster care. There is, literally, no other alternative. The local authority has identified a permanent foster parent who, with the support of 24 hour professional care, can care for the children at their present home, which was for a time at any rate the home of the family, and which is adapted and fully equipped to meet the children’s needs. Their needs will be met in accordance with the care plan, if approved, that is to say medical needs, a multi-agency care team, schooling, personal education plan, as well as universal services.
  4. The children’s guardian raised an issue as to whether Children and Families Across Borders should nevertheless embark upon assessment in India, as the present social worker appeared to be suggesting in her final statement, but withdrew after the discussion we had about it. Because, unless and until there is a plan, or at least a proposal of a plan, that could meet the children’s needs, it would, I am satisfied, be an academic exercise, despite, as I say the suggestion that it should be proceeded upon, in any event.
  5. From the court’s point of view, nothing would give greater pleasure than to be able to reunite this family, scattered across two continents. However, the findings that the court has made, are serious and, absent them being addressed by the parents, or them preparing a care regime where safety would be ensured by others who have made themselves available and been assessed, it seems to the court that it would be completely unrealistic and disproportionate to embark upon an assessment in what would be a vacuum. If the parents seek to oppose the order actively, they can of course apply to discharge any care order made, explain their responses to the findings and offer properly supported proposals, which are capable of investigation and assessment. It seems to the court that, at the present time, they are in denial and they have not, despite on the face of it putting forward long lists of names, advanced proposals which are capable of being exposed to such a process.
  6. By reference to the welfare checklist, the wishes and feelings of these children would be very difficult to ascertain. I accept they have a relationship with their father, in particular, which is of value to them. Set against that, they are well and building good relationships and thriving within their limitations. Their needs and characteristics are central to this case: they are complete, profound and life long, as well as life limiting. Any change in circumstances for them would be very hard to manage but, if all other factors were in place, no doubt could be managed. The risk of harm is, in the court’s judgment, profound. The findings go directly to the welfare question and there is simply no understanding as to why F, in particular, but M to an extent, have behaved as they have. It turns directly on their capability, which is impossible to assess, because neither has engaged meaningfully in the final analysis, so it is really very difficult to measure.
  7. Looking at the range of powers available to the court, they are in truth extremely limited.
  8. This is a desperately sad case, where, whatever their motives, the two children with whom I am concerned, have been effectively abandoned. I am satisfied that on an application of the welfare checklist and by reference to the Article 8 rights of parents and children, the only order that presently meets their needs, is a care order. So I approve the care plan for long term foster care. I note that the local authority will seek to facilitate regular contact, should the parents come. Should they choose not to, they will endeavour to facilitate Skype contact. Whilst it is of course for the local authority to promote contact for children who are in their care, it is also incumbent upon the parents to make themselves available and demonstrate a commitment so that any contact that takes place can be meaningful.
  9. I wish both children and their carers well. I very much hope that the parents, faced with the enormity of what they have done, can and will reflect and, in time, at any rate, engage in a way that might yet give these children a chance of life within their family.





[Later edit – very sad postscript is that the health of one of the children deteriorated still further and the Hospital sought a declaration from the High Court that treatment cease    The parents represented themselves in those proceedings, and stood by their views that the children had been made unwell by the hospital and that they should be sent to India forthwith]

Sibling rivalry


In Re P (A child) 2015, His Honour Judge Wood had to deal with an application for a Care Order for a girl who was sixteen years and four months old. That in itself is unusual. Even more unusual, the central allegation was that of physical abuse (which was disputed by the family). More unusual still, the allegation was that the girl had been physically assaulted by her older brother.


Now, if you have a sibling, you might be thinking along similar lines to my initial reactions.  My sister and I fought, not like cat and dog, but like two fighting roosters whose feed had been laced with PCP. We fought about absolutely everything. No topic was too trivial , no imagined slight too minor.  That did occasionally spill into physical conflict. I’m sure that my sister has many dreadful stories about me – many of which would be true, and I will simply indicate that there was a day at Pwllhlei Butlins putting green where she hit me with some degree of force on the nut with a golf club  (from behind) and when it knocked me out, ran off and spent the rest of the afternoon in the arcades playing Burger Time.  She also once hit me full in the face with a tennis racket swung with genuine purpose and intent (but as I recall, that was warranted, though painful).


This story, however, goes rather further even than those (admittedly shameful) incidents.


At 18.11 hours on Monday, 20th June 2014 P, a girl born on 28th October 1998 and now aged 16 years 4 months, was admitted by ambulance to the emergency department of Hospital A. She was found to have six distinct areas of injury: the first were three red linear marks on the right upper thigh, 1cm by 6cm long; second were two linear marks on the outer aspect of the left forearm, 4cm by 1cm wide; the third was an oblique red mark across the left upper outer thigh, 10cm by 1cm; the fourth was a bruised area, circular in shape, 3cm in diameter with a contusion over the left shoulder tip; the fifth was a linear bruise to the left upper outer arm approximately 4cm by 1cm and the final were a number of red marks across the lower thoracic area, that is to say the back, approximately 3cm by 1cm to the left and right of the midline.



The fact that the girl had been injured was not therefore in dispute, what was disputed was how these injuries had occurred.

The girl said that she had been at home, watching television and that she and her brother had had an argument (he wanting to turn the channel over to watch football and she wanting to finish watching what she had started), whereupon he started hitting her, escalating to hitting her with an iron bar.


The brother said that the girl had come home from school, complained of being hot and fainted from the heat.

It had of course been June when this happened, so perhaps it was hot. However, the girl had grown up in Nigeria and only been in England for a year.   And the family were living in Sunderland. Perhaps the weather in Sunderland that particular day was so hot that a girl who had spent 13 of her 14 years in Nigeria was unaccustomed to such heat and it caused her to faint.


The weather in Sunderland on 20th June 2014 was pretty hot for Sunderland. 20 degrees Celsius.  Looking at the weather in Nigeria in the year before, when the girl had been living there, 20 degrees C would represent a brisk chilly day in Nigeria, with a hot day being about 33-36 degrees.


I have to say that the ‘fainting from heat’ explanation is in need of some work.  I suspect that “Girl Faints from Heat in Sunderland” would be headline news in the North East were it ever to happen.


[Actually out of curiosity, I just Googled ‘Sunderland heat wave’ ready to tell you that there were no results, but there were 168,000. Perhaps many of them were along the lines of  “Ed Milliband making a comeback as Labour leader in 2020? That’s about as likely as a Sunderland Heat Wave”]


The brother’s evidence became less credible when, for example, he denied that the iron bar was something that he had ever seen before and then retracted this when it was suggested to him that his DNA would be on it.


The mother, who had been present, and her father (who had been in Nigeria) both supported the brother’s version of events.

The cultural issue of course raised its head, and the Judge dealt with that

  1. Before considering which evidence I prefer, I want to say a word about cultural issues. This family come from a remote part of Nigeria. English is not their first language, albeit they have a good command of it. They are, as I have said, born again Christians and they seek to live their lives by a strong religious code. Their cultural background is in many ways very different to that which exists in the north east of England. They do things in Nigeria which are acceptable there but not here.
  2. Specifically, physical chastisement of children is normal. The father’s evidence was very clear that for what he called an accountable child, probably from the age of 10 onwards, whipping a child on the legs with African broom or with a cane as part of a process of punishment and learning is normal. It is not so long ago, certainly within the lives of some of the lawyers here, that such was acceptable in this country and so the court has no difficulty at all in accepting that but, given the way that this case has proceeded, its relevance is limited because it is not said either by the mother or R that this is what happened to P. Rather, they say she was not struck at all but I do accept that P and R are likely to have a more benign view of physical chastisement on a child than most British people would have in 2015. All that said, I agree with Mr Donnelly that this is not a case about chastisement in a different culture but a case about significant harm in the care of a mother.
  3. I accept that, further, there is a strict hierarchical structure within families whereby the father of the house, whether he is there or not, has to be consulted on important decisions. That has had significant practical consequences given parental separation here and I accept that it may have played some part in the refusal to consent to P being accommodated, as well as the initial engagement with the Local Authority and possibly even going to court in the early stages which I have no doubt is both a frightening and possibly shameful thing for the mother, in particular, to have experienced. So I have all of these factors very much in mind in making the decisions that I have to and I will return to this in due course.



The Court had to consider the evidence given by all parties, and of course the legal framwork, which is all very carefully set out. It is a very well constructed judgment.

  1. So which evidence do I prefer? Unhesitatingly, that of P. There is no more explanation for her lying now than there was in June last year. The lengths to which she went in feigning a faint point to the seriousness of the assault that she suffered. The instincts of the ambulance man first on the scene were, in my judgment, entirely correct. The injuries are entirely consistent with her account. They are all about the same age and fresh. They have the characteristics of being hit with an object such as a table leg in their linear appearance. They affect the outer aspects of both thighs, the outer aspects of the left arm and the back. They are not consistent with a simple collapse to the floor. They are, as Dr Mellon said but the mother, father and R denied, characteristic of defensive injuries. It appeared to be beyond the father and R’s comprehension that P would not fight back. She is described elsewhere as an underweight, 15-year-old girl of slight build pitched against a 19-year-old male who appeared to be over six feet high and who was armed and one might have thought that that was a sufficient reason to adopt a defensive position rather than try and fight back.
  2. There is simply no other explanation for these injuries, just as there is no reason put before the court as to why, as R said, P would want to put herself in care and be separated from her family. I reject her father’s submission that because P has told him that she has been refused permission to go to church and to foster care, to the foster carer has said that she does not want to go, that she is demonstrably untruthful or unreliable. There could be many reasons for two different accounts at different times and there has been no opportunity to investigate the circumstances in which those accounts were given in any event. I also reject R’s submission that because she identified her shoulder to the ambulance man, she was thereby not complaining of being beaten by her brother. The medical evidence, in my judgment, is clear. There is no alternative, credible explanation.
  3. The evidence of the mother and R, far from causing me to question her veracity, confirms that they were neither credible nor reliable. I found R to be evasive, argumentative and unwilling to confront the truth staring us all in the face. I could say more about it but I am satisfied, as it happens, that in her letter P has described her brother to a tee:

    “My brother is not a type of person that says sorry so easily. He is a type of person that is so proud and full of himself.”

    It seemed to me that that was a very accurate description of a rather arrogant and self-centred young man. I am quite satisfied that he is an intelligent and articulate man. Having seen him give his evidence and be cross-examined, I am quite sure that he was generally intent on ensuring that he gave answers which supported and/or did not undermine his case rather than trying to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth at all times. Accordingly, I did not find him credible and reliable.

  4. I am satisfied that R lost his temper with his sister over an argument about the television. He wanted to watch the five o’clock football match and would not let her finish the programme that she had been watching for some time since she came in from school and, not for the first time, he responded with violence. I am satisfied he beat her with a table leg and caused the injuries that I have noted and, furthermore, I am satisfied that P’s mother knew that this is what had happened for the very reason that she saw it. I pay due regard to what her husband has said about his belief in her veracity but I do not believe that she intervened but, in seeking to deflect attention at the outset, suggested that very thing to the police only to back away from it, as she did, when the seriousness of the incident became known.
  5. P’s shock and distress at her mother not intervening was marked and entirely understood. Although the mother told me that both R and P are her children and that she loves them equally, by her conduct she has demonstrated that, in fact, she has put R’s interests before her daughter. She has protected him when she knows the truth of what he has done. She has almost inexplicably abandoned – and it is not too strong a word – her daughter by denying her contact, putting up as obstacles the Local Authority’s perfectly reasonable conditions. Most parents would walk over hot coals to see their children, however objectionable the terms, because to do so would be to prioritise the child and to meet the child’s needs to see her family. Furthermore, she is not ignorant of the role of social workers. Her professional training and experience over a period of almost ten years contradicts her claim. She may very well be ashamed at the misfortune that has befallen her and her family but she simply has persistently refused to engage in this process as I will explain.
  6. So looking at the threshold document prepared by the Local Authority in the bundle at A16, I am satisfied it is made out as pleaded. That refers in paragraph 4(a) to the injuries themselves, in paragraph (b) to R being the cause of the injuries, being struck by an iron rod and that it was causing her pain, in subparagraph (e) that the mother has been complicit in that physical abuse perpetrated by her son in that she knew or ought to have known it was happening and had failed to tell anyone so as to protect her own interests. She misled professionals and, indeed, now the court about her son having assaulted her daughter and instead alleged that P is lying about the abuse she has suffered and following P’s admission to hospital and subsequently care has, as I have said, abandoned her daughter preferring to protect her son.


The family in this case had adopted a strategy of not engaging with the assessment or coming to contact, which is the all or nothing approach that only really ever works if the Court find that the threshold is not met. In a case like this, where the Judge found that the brother had caused very serious significant harm to the girl by hitting her with an iron bar, and that the mother had been in the home at the time, had not intervened and had lied about it, that is not really giving the mother much chance of a happy outcome.  They absolutely would not countenance the brother moving out of the home so that the girl could come home.


Even then, though, the Judge was holding out a hand and inviting the parents to take it

I want to say this at this stage: it is still not too late for this family, mother and R in particular, to accept the findings of this court, to make a suitable admission and to work with the Local Authority to reduce the risk both to P and any other children with whom they may be concerned – a very particular concern of P as she said in her letter to me


The Court had to make the Care Order, there was no other option


This is a very, very sad case. It began as a one issue case, the assault. It could, as Mr Rowlands has said, have had a very different outcome. That it has not is entirely due to the family and not their daughter. It has ended up as more than that because of the astonishing and persistent denial in the face of all of the evidence and the near complete rejection of P by her family. The harm to her from the latter is likely to outweigh the harm from the former in the longer term but, I repeat, even now it is not too late to reverse that process. These parents have an attractive, appealing and loving daughter who has shown the Christian virtues of forgiveness and love that they taught her. She really deserves a very much better outcome than this but I am afraid the solution lies entirely in their hands.


One particularly worrying feature of this case was the removal of the child by Police Protection. The mother having refused section 20 and the girl at that time not being sixteen so she was not able to accommodate herself using section 20 (11).   However,

I want to register my extreme concern at the level of force which was used when the police recovered P from her home when she ran away from foster care in September. She was handcuffed, under what power is not clear, and the incident is said to have been recorded because of its nature. This incident needs to be noted and taken up by the Local Authority in conjunction with the police. It is ambiguous from the statement as to whether a social worker was actually present when it happened. It has not formed part of the material evidence before me but it was an extremely unfortunate incident, it was harmful to P that her guardian was rightly horrified about. I do not know what the Local Authority response to it was at the time, what its response has been since and I do seek separately an explanation from the Local Authority and the police as to the circumstances that were pertaining and as to what measures have been devised and agreed upon to avoid a repetition of such an event in the future.


Angola – gross, inexplicable and unjustifiable delay


This is a judgment by a circuit Judge, His Honour Judge Wood, sitting in Newcastle. It is not binding precedent, but I think that it illuminates some important issues.


The mother in the case was Angolan, born in 1977. The eldest child had been born and raised in her early life in a refugee camp in Angola. The family came to England in 2005. It was sadly and brutally apparent that this mother had seen and experienced things that you would wish on no human being, and that obviously as a result, she had severe and serious need of help that she did not receive.



Re N (Children) 2015

  1. I have found this case simultaneously to be very difficult, very sad and also to have made me very angry. In reverse order, the anger flows from the failure of this Local Authority to meet these children’s needs in a significant way. First, the gross, inexplicable and unjustifiable delay, the breach of statutory duty under section 1(3). Secondly, this is a family with, if not a unique background, a relatively unusual and extraordinarily difficult one, which until Mrs Louw reported does not seem to the court to have been really considered at all and even following her report I question the extent to which it was properly embraced. The search for suitable cultural support has come really very late indeed.
  2. Thirdly, the likelihood of the parenting course that the mother was sent on barely scratching the surface was evident before the mother even went on it. I do not say that she learned nothing from it, she was able to explain what she had learned and spoke to me in quite complimentary terms about it, but the real difficulty identified by Mrs Louw was completely beyond its scope. Fourthly, the delay in obtaining the evidence from Mrs Louw was caused entirely by the Local Authority not identifying that need until these proceedings were issued. It was ordered at the earliest point at the case management hearing but by then 17 months had elapsed since the children went into care.
  3. Fifthly, the Local Authority knows about this mother’s isolation. It is apparent on all of the evidence. She belongs to a church but does not mix with other families, at school or elsewhere. She has, on her account, maybe one or two visitors from her church to her home but she does not visit the homes of her visitors and she has no other family or friends, certainly locally. As an asylum seeker from a war-torn country but with children brought up in a western educational system, the potential for cultural issues and expectations to give rise to conflict ought to have been obvious. I do not underestimate the difficulty of finding appropriate help. Even at the end of this hearing it is not clear what does exist but no real attempt was made even to mount a search until much too late. To criticise the mother for not having learnt from five group sessions of an effective parenting course is really just not fair.
  4. Sixthly, the background of being a refugee, particularly from Angola, even with an elementary knowledge of recent Angolan history and absent that an enquiry just on the internet, should have alerted the Local Authority to the likelihood that this mother had experienced real trauma likely to be of a severe kind which should have set alarm bells ringing as to her likely needs. On all of these scores the President’s textbook example of how not to conduct a care case seems to the court to have been met.


The Judge was rightly scathing about the delay between the Local Authority taking these children into care and issuing proceedings, some 17 months. With all of the features of this case, it should have been apparent that section 20 would not be sufficient and that proper plans for the long-term future of these children was needed.  Even worse than the delay was that the Local Authority took SEVEN MONTHS to issue the proceedings from the date that they wrote to mother’s solicitors saying that they were going to issue.  As the Judge points out – if the LA had issued when they said they were going to, the proceedings would have been concluded a month earlier than when they were actually issued.

[Even worse than this, the children had been taken into Police Protection a year before the section 20 accommodation, as a result of a physical assault, and then returned home, so the LA were seized of the issues and concerns for some 29 MONTHS before care proceedings were issued]


5. I want to say at the outset that the course that this case has taken in the hands of this Local Authority has been deeply unsatisfactory. Following a precipitating event in the middle of June 2013 the children were accommodated with the mother’s consent under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. Despite taking a decision in January 2014 that the plan was to be long term foster care and the Local Authority writing to the mother’s solicitor in March of that year to the effect that proceedings would be issued within seven days, they were not issued for another seven months on 22nd October 2014. As I observed when Miss Woolrich on behalf of the Local Authority addressed me, had the proceedings been issued when the Local Authority said that they were going to issue, they should have been concluded before the date when they were, in fact, issued. That they were not is bad enough but that bald fact ignores the period of nine months that preceded that statement of intent. Thus, these children were voluntarily accommodated for 16 months prior to the issue of proceedings and can properly be said today to have been in limbo now for 21 months.

  1. It is difficult to avoid a direct application of the words of Sir James Munby P in the recent Darlington Borough Council case reported at [2015] EWFC 11 in which he described that case as being, “Almost a textbook example of how not to embark upon and pursue a care case.” A specific criticism from that case that applies directly in this case is, “The misuse and abuse of section 20”, that the President said could no longer be tolerated endorsing, as he did, the observations of the Court of Appeal in Re W [2014] EWCA Civ 1065 and Northampton County Council v AS [2015] EWHC 199 quoting with approval the remarks of Keehan J recorded at paragraphs 36 and 37 of that latter judgment.
  2. This all lies entirely at the door of the Local Authority and requires addressing at the highest levels within Children’s Services and their legal advisors. That said, no parent in such circumstances is left without a remedy. Legal advice is available from the outset of notification of proceedings and it is a matter of both surprise and disappointment that the mother here was not encouraged to force the point as she was perfectly entitled, and I would say bound, to do in the circumstances of such gross delay by withdrawing her consent. I want to emphasise I do not blame this mother personally but it is the fact and a matter of regret that this did not happen long before the Local Authority belatedly got round to issuing proceedings. The effect of delay varies from case to case but in no sense could it here have been described, using the now disapproved term, as being purposeful. It served no identifiable purpose, it has delayed the outcome inordinately for young children wanting their futures decided and, as a matter of law, it has amounted to a complete and inexcusable breach of the statutory delay principle enshrined in section 1(2) of the Act.


The Judge sadly had to make Care Orders – one will never know whether if during those 17 months of drift the mother had been given the right help whether the outcome would have been different.

He decided that these failings were not solely those of the social worker but of the organisation and system as a whole, so followed the President’s decision in Darlington not to name and shame the individual workers

 I make a disclosure order to the head of service and to the independent reviewing officer in respect of this judgment which will be transcribed as anonymised, the cost of which to be shared equally by all parties. I should say that for the avoidance of doubt for the reasons that the President gave in the Darlington case itself, I have also directed that the two social workers who have been involved should be anonymised as well because it seems to me entirely unfair that, whatever individual shortcomings may have arisen, the criticisms that have been levelled against the Local Authority should be laid at their door or that they should be identified as responsible.


It also seems to me that with all of the demonisation of asylum seekers that goes on in both political discourse and the media reporting, it is worth reading this little passage and remembering that asylum seeker ought not to be used a synonym for ‘sponger’

The mother was born on 23rd October 1977 in Angola. By then the brutal civil war that shocked the outside world had been underway for two years. G was born in a refugee camp in Zambia in 2002 just after that war ended. The psychologist who reported in this case makes the point that the mother grew up and came to maturity in a war-torn country. The central province where she lived is said to have been devastated. The mother herself reports that there came a day in 1999 or 2000 when they “all ran different ways” and she thereby lost contact both with her parents and her sister. She has no idea where they might be – that is to say, assuming they are still alive – and somehow she ended up following a convoy of complete strangers that took her to Zambia. Little more than that is known, albeit the expert assessment of her presentation was consistent with her affirmative nod in answer to a direct question as to whether she had been jailed and/or tortured. She is likely to have experienced first hand, or at least witnessed, extreme brutality that has traumatised her to this day.