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Radical mountaineering in Leicestershire

A family with their three adult children and three minor children were stopped at Harwich port, we don’t know the reasons  (but can probably guess).  The father’s home was searched as a result and some significant things found as a result.

(The LA involved is not named to assist in anonymity, so please don’t assume that it is Leicester or Leicestershire because of the title of the post. You will see why I gave it that title later, be patient!)


The family’s version of events was that all of them were travelling to Holland, with the intention of visiting a children’s play park for the day, to sleep in their rented car overnight and travel back the next day.  That made the authorities query why it was that the father had been to a camping store the day before, spending six hundred pounds.  This was not a wealthy family.

One of the adult siblings gave evidence that the camping and outdoors equipment was for a later trip planned to Scotland, where they would be climbing mountains.


  1. Then there is B’s evidence about the equipment. She told me that the planned trip was to Scotland at Easter. The father had talked about his pleasure in going to Aviemore as a teenager. She appeared never to have heard of the Cairngorms when she was asked but perhaps that is not absolutely fatal to her case. More importantly, Aviemore is a ski resort, is at elevation, and there was likely to be still snow up there. To suggest that this family planned to sleep in a tent in potentially harsh weather conditions is absolutely fanciful. The father has diabetes and other health conditions. He needs to relieve himself frequently. B told me it was planned that she and the other children would go for long walks and climb a mountain. There was no suggestion as to what was going to happen to the father, and how he was going to keep up, or how the younger children would cope if they were tired or wet or cold. I may be wrong in having detected an inconsistency in B’s evidence as to whether or not they were intending to sleep in different camp sites taking their equipment with them, or whether they were going to stay at the same (unidentified) campsite every night and go for walks during the day. It is inconceivable that the father either would have subjected himself to such conditions or that he would have been left shivering in a tent whilst the family went on without him.
  2. I asked B whether she had ever climbed a mountain and she said she thought she had in Wales. She then said she had climbed one in Leicester recently. It had been very high and very steep. Leicester is an extremely flat part of the country. It is obvious to me that B was making up her evidence as she went along and I am quite satisfied that the Aviemore trip was a smokescreen. The family cannot even agree for when it was planned.
  3. I am satisfied that I have been told a series of untruths by the adults about the background to the Holland trip, what was intended, and the surrounding circumstances, and that in itself is probably one of the most important features of my findings


Indeed, Leicestershire is not known for its  mountains. Taking my lead from the Hugh Grant movie, I have established that there is one summit in Leicestershire which squeaks into being classified as a mountain, being (just) over 2000 meters in height.  Preparation for the Cairgorms it is not.


Perhaps the family were misinformed


Humphrey Bogus, sorry Bogart


Re Y children (findings as to radicalisation) 2018


  1. Radicalisation cases have only come to the forefront of the court’s attention during the last two and a half years, particularly since the escalation of troubles in the Middle East with the Syrian conflict and the rise of the Islamic State, called as well by various other different names. Radicalisation is not new.
  2. I stress that the courts see cases where religion is said to be harmfully impressed on children, or provides a harmful environment or lifestyle for them, as in cases of other religions as well. I have professional experience of childcare litigation concerning fundamentalist Christian sects and certain Hindu and Jewish groups, for example. I recognise also that the UK has not been immune from sectarian Christian violence both historically and recently.
  3. I repeat, as I have said to the parties, that not only do I realise how sensitive is this case, but how difficult are issues which concern freedom of thought, religion and expression; and personal autonomy. At the same time I have to look at s.31 of the Children Act in respect of care proceedings now presently in being in respect of the three index children. This case is about significant harm or the risk thereof and child welfare in respect of young people who cannot truly decide on their political and religious beliefs, and crucially, activities stemming therefrom.


The Judge heard evidence as to some of the matters found within the families purchases/packing, which was compared to the instruction list prepared by Isis and circulated to people who were intending to join up with them in Syria. In a peculiar set of circumstances, possession of this list is a criminal offence (don’t google the list, it will almost certainly flag you up with people / agencies you don’t want to be flagged up with), so even the Judge having temporary possession of it was potentially placing her in breach of the criminal law.


  1. There are a number of other matters which give rise to concern. They had an itinerary with them which Mr. Poole submits is written in stilted and unusual terms. It is not the kind of list of activities that one might expect to see, and has detail, particularly in relation to timings, which seems, objectively, unnecessary for this sort of trip. It is suggested that this is a kind of decoy document, intended to distract the authorities from the real purpose and to support the case that this was a weekend jaunt. Isis documentation online giving guidance about a planned journey to Syria via northern Europe suggests that such documentation might be useful and also suggests obtaining return tickets, so the existence of returns does not help. The father does not have very much money. The passports had been obtained in contemplation of this trip many months before, costing over £200. Yet the journey had not been booked. There are various other expenses, such as the ferry, which cost over £400. The suggestion is that this was a very unusually expensive trip to make for what was going to be just a day and a morning in Holland, for the purposes of a trip to the play park. The necessity or desirability of visiting that venue has not really been established.
  2. Further the father was unable to give a convincing reason for the presence of a Turkish phrase book in the property since the family had never been to Turkey. In the father’s house there was found a list signed with the signature of R and there was another list obtained made by B, headed “Things to get”. The day before the trip was made the father went to two branches of a camping shop, one in Area T and one in Area S, and spent over £600 on equipment. That equipment has considerable correspondence with a “suggested equipment list” in another document called “Hijrah (emigration) to the Islamic State”, emanating from supporters of Islamic State which is to be found online, the possession of which is a criminal offence. I have been given a copy of that document in the hope that I am not transgressing by its being in my possession. I have tried to protect the parties and they have accepted this by ensuring that the document’s copies are numbered and are retained, will be returned, and are viewed only within the courtroom.



For the same reasons, the Court has to be careful in stipulating the commonalities between the family’s camping shopping/packing for Holland and the Isis list.

The father was a member of a prescribed organisation, ALM and had involved the children in their activities

  1. I am satisfied on all the evidence that the father is closely associated with ALM. I accept that he was not charged along with those recently convicted. I accept that there is no evidence that he has spoken or written in public on its behalf. However he has supported it online, and it has a significant online presence which I accept is important for the promotion of its ideas. I do not know whether he is a member, I do not know whether one can be a member of an organisation such as ALM, I doubt very much whether it has a list of members, or whether it has a joining fee or anything of that kind. Z told me that the father is well known to the membership. He is not part of the management or governance insofar as there is one – the ‘inner echelons’ as it was termed in the hearing- and, therefore, not one of the decision makers, but he is intimately known within and loosely part of the organisation.
  2. Sub-question (b) is whether ALM is a proscribed organisation, which it is accepted it is.
  3. The next sub-question is “(c) Did the father take the children to inappropriate ALM demonstrations?” There were two particular demonstrations. He took J (then aged 9) and F (then aged 7) to one in 2009 in London attended by HA. The second was a demonstration outside the Pakistani Embassy after the Pakistan Army had become involved with students in “The Red Mosque” incident. I have seen photographs of the father standing next to HA, outside the Embassy with F and L. The two boys were holding a placard of which the father said he was not able to tell me the origin, which refers to the Pakistan Army as, essentially, “the devil”. There are other placards next to the boys. I note one, relevant to another issue, supporting the introduction of Sharia law for Pakistan, because, the father told me, the students in the Red Mosque had called for Sharia law in Pakistan.
  4. I recognise that some people take children on political demonstrations (although not usually to events where violence might be predicted) and persuade their children to carry placards. Sometimes children are too young even to take persuading, sometimes the placards are put in the child’s pram. It could be said that the children, who probably do not understand in the least the point of the demonstration, are being used in order to put over and support adult views, in a way which could be seen as manipulative and even abusive. I recognise that this is not in any way an activity which is limited to any particular social or religious group. What the father involved the boys in was not illegal, and as a one-off would have been unlikely to have led to any child welfare intervention. However, the demonstration was linked with ALM, and it was not appropriate, in my view, for the boys to be actively involved in such a demonstration or such an organisation, knowing the views expressed by members and the possible consequences of the expression of those views: a public disturbance over which the father had no control, or the expression of harmful views. The father said these were peaceful protests but he was not to know that they would be so. Most importantly it demonstrates the influences to which he has wished to or at least been prepared to expose the boys. It is part of the overall picture.
  5. The next sub -question therefore is (d),
    1. “Did the father expose the boys to harmful views at ALM- inspired talks and take them to talks given by individuals later convicted and/or charged with terrorism offences?”
  1. The father was an attendee at Da’wah (proselytization or outreach) stalls. These are booths displaying literature in public areas, and not confined to ALM. Z told me that from his knowledge someone who attended such a stall who showed a particular interest in extremist themes might, after several visits, be invited to attend an evening meeting, once a degree of familiarity and common ground had been established between the stall minder and the enquirer. That was how he had come to be invited to evening events. The father told me that all were welcome at the stalls, of whatever age or religion, men or women, and this demonstrated how innocuous they were. He also said that Z had been welcome when it was thought that he was genuine, but would not have been had it been known that he was an undercover policemen. The father could not explain why this would be, if there was nothing wrong with the stalls. Z told me, and I accept, that the Da’wah stall attended by the father, to which at one time he took the boys, linked with ALM. At one time he took the boys, but stopped doing so. Z does not know why he stopped taking the boys, but it was at about the time ALM had spread the news that supporters were at risk of care proceedings.
  2. I conclude that the stalls were used as recruitment tools where people were given literature supporting ALM’s aims, and tested out, from which they were drawn into the inner circle as and when it was thought appropriate.
  3. Photographs of the father with ALM affiliates have been recovered from telephones of those persons. I accept that the father attended other protests with London ALM affiliates with many senior associates.
  4. Z told me that the father had been to a number of meetings with the boys, probably about five, at a local church hall. These were small meetings, 30 people only, where theological matters were discussed. The father is devoutly religious and it seems to me to be well within the acceptable spectrum of behaviour for the children to go to meetings – even if they may not be terribly interested and may not actually understand what is going on – which may express views about religious practices, even though they may be of more interest to the adults than the children. Those attendances do not seem to me to be of serious significance in themselves, but ALM members, later convicted of terrorist offences were present, and the father could not have predicted exactly what views would be expressed. It is all part of a pattern.


The police also found a letter in the family home from Lee Rigby’s killer.  If there’s an innocent reason to be in correspondence with him, I can’t think of it.


  1. Related also to this evidence and the conclusions that I have drawn is another reference to the killer of Lee Rigby, Michael Adebolajo. When the father’s home was first searched a letter was found from this gentleman from prison; whether it was an original or whether it was a copy does not matter. I suspect that, in the circumstances, it may very well have been a document made available to a number of people within this circle. It is a letter which is covered by r.39 of the Prison Regulations, which is intended to go to the legal representative. It is, in fact, quite a strongly worded letter making various strong comments about religious matters. It is both assertive and rambling and is quite closely written. It makes reference to a number of religious concepts, using a number of Arabic words, and also it makes various aggressive comments as to the role of various people in English political life, generally, and those who are connected with the Islamic religion. The father accepts that it was found in his house. He told RX that he did not know how he had come by it. He at first told me the same thing. Then he said that he had been given it, but could not remember who by. When asked again, he said that it had been a man. He could not remember who or the circumstances, just that he had been told or encouraged to read it. He said that he had not read it himself. He could not remember any conversation with the donor, such as, “Why are you giving this to me; what this is about; what am I going to get from this; what is its importance?” and so on. He cannot say why he kept this document, although he says that he did not read it and never gave it any thought afterwards. I do not accept this explanation. He must have known about the contents of and welcomed this letter in order to both have and retain it.


The police inspected all of the family’s electronic devices.  (Which, by the way, is the common denominator between cases where the LA have been able to prove radicalisation and the ones where the electronic devices are not explored are the ones where findings don’t get made)


  1. Various photographs emerged from the search of the family devices. I have a number of separate photographs of the children and the father, dressed in what looks like Middle Eastern style red-and-white headgear, in the case of both the children and father, with their faces partly obscured by the cloth and holding what I am told are ornamental swords. The adult children said these had been purchased by the family as a set at a boot fair, or similar outlet, and to be ornamental only. The two younger children were very little when these photographs were taken and I suppose they may not have been aware of the significance, as it is asserted by Mr. Poole to be, of this style of dress. The father says also that this cannot be connected with Islamic State because it was not then in existence. Mr Poole submits that that this is a style of dress associated very much with Islamic fighters, and has been for some time, and that posing with weapons is very much a radicalised style. Mr. de Burgos accepts that this style of dress and presentation would be regarded, and rightly so, as extremely culturally offensive if worn at a fancy-dress show or party, as to many people’s eyes it will have very significant associations with terrorism and with politically and religiously motivated violence.
  2. I cannot go so far as to say that the photographs of the two younger children, in themselves, would have caused them harm at the time, but it is quite possible that viewing them online later as older children might have done so and have given them expectations as to how they are expected to behave, what beliefs they are supposed to have and how they are supposed to treat other people. There are pictures of the older children, including J, when much younger, also in similar poses, in similar attire and with similar weapons. There are pictures of A with a gun, which he says was taken when he was working on someone’s home and he simply asked whether he could pose with that particular gun, an air rifle, as a joke. There are photographs of the father with a BB gun, also in a very similar pose. These are strongly reminiscent of the poses in photographs of ALM members posted online, referred to above. There are photographs of other weapons, the significance of which, the family has not been able to explain. RX told me that he perceived a clear association with the graphic execution scenes online, and so, independently, do I.

  1. Some of the material found, particularly on R’s telephone, is very shocking and very disturbing indeed. It does not come from normal news sites. Father says that they might have come from Fox News, but I find it very difficult to imagine or to accept that heads in buckets, details of crucifixions, the process of execution, dead bodies and dead fighters showing, it is asserted, the joy with which they died, material relating to bombings, a man with a knife to his throat, execution quads, would be shown on normal news channels. It is not my experience of the mainstream press. I cannot say where this material came from, but the evidence that I had from RT, the technical expert relied on by the police, and his overall view, was that there had been a lot of internet searching for this kind of horrific image, particularly relating to the process of decapitation. There was particular footage, which has nothing to do with Islam or the Islamic State at all, which relates to horrors in South America. He told me that that was an indication of the kind of search that was going on and that someone in the home had had a pre-occupation with looking for this material. No-one in the family has been able to tell me who that might be. The father tells me, and I accept, of course, that, as a Muslim whose family emanates from South Asia, although via East Africa, he has an interest and a passionate commitment to finding out what is going on in the Islamic world and I quite understand that, but the material which has been downloaded does not fit with what the father told me about his focus of interest, or with the pre-occupation with terrorism, demonstrated also by books removed from the home.


(I mean, there’s a lot wrong with Fox News, but I don’t feel I can hold them responsible for this)



  1. I cannot say who in the family has downloaded this material, but it is most likely that it has been a number of them. There were images found not only on R’s phone and other material on other devices as well. There is a very strong theme of there being someone in this family, or perhaps more than one someone, who has an interest in painful things being done to other people. This is not just related to terrorism. I saw a video retrieved from one of the family phones of the youngest child, who must have been seven or eight, perhaps younger, it is difficult to see. It is footage, apparently, taken by J, the child who is now nearly 16, of her younger brother being made to eat a raw chilli by his older sister, R. The young people around him seem to be totally unconcerned about the pain which it is causing him and the distress that he is showing. Anyone who has inadvertently bitten into a piece of raw chilli in a meal knows that it causes intense pain to the mouth, a very sensitive area. There is laughing in the background. It is not just that this was done, and it is a wholly inappropriate form of punishment, but that it does not seem to have evoked any form of sympathy or empathy at all. RX suggested that this might have been a punishment for some kind of religious transgression, but I cannot say. I am, of course, conscious that children used to have their mouths washed out with soap for swearing in the old days and I appreciate that treatment of children, which we would regard now as barbaric, was considered to be appropriate in the past. Nonetheless, the combination of features, lack of feeling for the victim, group participation in this punishment and it being filmed, no doubt for some form of record or enjoyment, gives rise to a very uncomfortable feeling indeed. It chimes with my sensation that there a nastiness about some of the attitudes in this family.
  2. I am also very struck by the father’s reaction to the discovery of this material. According to the father he has scarcely asked R why she has had this material on the phone, and took some time to even state that he had. The point is made by Mr. de Burgos that she is an adult and is entitled to do what she wants, but I would have thought that the father would want to enquire as to why his daughter had such interests, particularly because he is a loving father and the children have always been closely tied to the home and also, obviously, feel a high degree of responsibility for him. He does not seem to have tackled this issue at all, and the most likely explanation is that access to these kinds of images and their sharing was part of the norm. Furthermore, he told me that his little son had never told him about the chilli incident. He had not spoken to R or, indeed, any of the other children about why the video had been taken or what had been going on, or why she had punished L in this way. If that is true, it shows at the least a remarkable derogation of parental responsibility and lack of interest in what has been happening. His lack of interest strongly suggests that this was a form of punishment that was part of the norm within this family.
  3. DS has told me that all the electronic devices in the family were open to all members of the family. The father said that they were password protected. RT told me that he overrode one password. I am not prepared to accept that the children did not have access to this kind of material. I cannot say for certain whether they had. There is no actual evidence that they did. It may be unlikely that they would try to break into password protected material, but it may have been very easily available.
  4. It is highly likely that the children were shown it. I say that in particular because, during the family’s Eid celebration, there is a video of the family in front of the cake and a particular film being shown on the television. There are photographs of the family living room decorated with the Black flag bearing the Arabic word ‘shahada’. The father says that this was just part of a continuous streaming through YouTube or music that he wanted to listen to. Whether that is so, I am not going to decide, but let us assume that it is. It showed the ISIS flag and a black-clad figure against a desert background. It is very similar to some of the photographs found online and a very obvious approbation of the ISIS regime. Pro-Caliphate speeches can be heard in the background. The flag, the father accepts, which pictures the seal of the Prophet, is, as far as he knows, and as any of us know, only used by ISIS and not by any other group. So although it may incorporate a perfectly acceptable and holy image, it has very obvious connotations if shown on the screen. The children seemed to me to be looking at the screen in the photograph. The father says they were interested in the cake, but this video was very obviously there, right in front of their faces, and available to be watched. The father says that he was not interested in the background; he was merely interested in the “Nasheed”, the religious songs which accompany it. I do not find that an acceptable explanation. At the very least, the father was extremely careless about what he exposed his children to, but it is far more likely that this was a form of entertainment which the family wanted to look at and was available to the younger children as well.



We learn even that during the care proceedings, the father was posting pro Islamic State material on his Twitter feed, which he claimed was in protest at the way the English Courts were treating him and his family.


In case you are wondering, the later judgment


Re Y Children Radicalisation 2018


shows that all three of the younger children were made the subjects of Care Orders and placed in care.


We are all unquantified risks


This was a permission hearing, Re B and P 2014 heard before Ryder LJ

There were a number of features which made the permission hearing difficult, not least that the parents, their McKenzie Friends and the Court did not have any of the papers from the care proceedings, save for a transcript of the judgment.

So, Ryder LJ listed the case for a rolled-up appeal (the permission application first, and to go on to an appeal if successful)

Why did nobody have the court papers?

Well, the parents were in person, and their solicitors had sent the bundles off to the cost-draftsmen (if you aren’t a lawyer, that will be meaningless, so by way of explanation it means that in order to get paid, the lawyer has to send all of their papers off to a specialist who then draws up the detailed bill to send to the Legal Aid Agency, who then sit on it for nineteen months and then pay an arbitrary amount that bears little relation to the actual bill)

The parents had asked the Local Authority to give them a copy of the bundle and the Local Authority had refused.

Now, the Local Authority weren’t at this appeal hearing, so I don’t know their side of it. It might potentially be that there was felt to be some very good reason why it would be unsafe for the parents to have those papers.  Hopefully it is some legitimate reason and not just being awkward. I suspect if the reason was just ‘it’s not our job’ or ‘why should we do it?’ or ‘get it from your own lawyers’, that’s not going to cut it with the Court of Appeal.

The parents appealed on six points, two of which Ryder LJ kicked out straight away, but he was interested in some of the others.

[From the reported facts of the case, I am reasonably sure that the judgment that was being appealed was Parker J in Hertfordshire – there are SO many similiarities, it would be hard for it to be coincidence. Not least because both cases involve a father being convicted for assaulting a social worker and a dispute about a religious naming ceremony]


Mrs Haines, representing the parents as a McKenzie Friend, puts the nub of the case very neatly

The baby’s case depends in large part on the same history that led to the conclusion in relation to the older child, J. J was thriving in his mother’s care and after his removal there was good quality contact with the parents (those facts can be deduced from the judgments that I have). There had been two assessments of the parents’ capability to care for J which were both reasonably positive, the latter assessment being a residential assessment after which the child went to live with the parents under an interim order. So what caused everything to fall apart?

The trigger for the ultimate end position was the father’s aggressive failure to co-operate with the local authority and Cafcass. That led to a police raid on the parents house (described by one of the judges as an unfortunate incident i.e. it was either not necessary or should not have occurred at all or in the way that it did). The raid found nothing amiss but had been prefaced by the father’s failure to permit anyone to discover whether the child was still being appropriately cared for. The father has obdurately put his own dignity and rights before his child’s to the extent that it has ultimately led to the removal of both of his children. One might well ask, and Mrs Haines does on his behalf, is an argument with the agencies of the state, even a violent argument, sufficient to cause one to lose one’s children?



This is a peculiar one, since despite a previously unfortunate history, it appears from the judgment that assessments were such that the parents were given an opportunity to care for their new child at home and it was the father’s violent outbursts to professionals which led to the shift in plan from placement with parents to adoption.


So far as father is concerned, he is described as being an unquantified and unassessed risk. He is regarded as being dangerous and is suspected of having a psychiatric or psychological trait / personality disorder that is not amenable to change. That may be right. This court at least needs to scrutinise the evidence given its importance. He is the essential support for the mother, if the psychological opinion relating to her care capability stands. It is said that he is unable to work with professionals and he has assaulted a social worker and those are conclusions of fact that appear to be very secure – there is a conviction for the latter incident. But does that mean he is unable to support the mother and is he a risk to his child?

A conclusion that someone is ‘unquantified’ as a risk is meaningless. We are all unquantified in the absence of evidence and it is for the local authority to prove its case. He was certainly a risk to professionals but not according to the judges to the mother. Was he a risk to his child? The evidence relating to that is not yet known to this court save that which can be gleaned from the judgments. That suggests that he was condemned as being an emotional risk to his child because he had no insight into how his behaviour with professionals might affect his child. That is circular. If there is no need for professional input because he can provide the support for the mother then his reaction to professionals does not prevent him caring for a child or supporting the mother in that task.

In fairness there is another and potentially important factor. These children needed protection at least until it could be concluded that the prima facie risk identified in relation to their mother had been answered one way or the other. Father acted so as to thwart an assessment of himself and in doing that he is alleged to have exposed his children to the risk of emotional harm because his behaviour is indicative of a trait that would be dangerous to their emotional health. Whether that is sufficient to permit of the removal of children for adoption is a question on the facts of this case that the documents will no doubt illuminate but it may also raise a legal policy issue relating to proportionality that the court needs to address i.e. can even a violent failure to co-operate with an agency of the state be sufficient to give rise to the removal of one’s child?

I don’t know yet whether when the Court of Appeal tackle this case in full, with all the papers, and hearing from the other parties, the final outcome will be very different to Ryder LJ’s take, but it certainly raises an important and interesting aspect.

If the sole concern is that a parent is not co-operating with the Local Authority (even violently not co-operating), what is the risk to the child that justifies the State assuming care of the child?

There are some people who are violent to their partner and their child, and that bleeds into their violent outlook on life and approach to professionals. There are people who betray their violent tendencies and nature by the manifestation of their temper, and one learns of the risk that they would pose to others close to them.

But there are some people, maybe not many, but some, who just violently dislike social workers and are not afraid of saying so, but would pose no risk of violence to those around them.

This appeal might answer the question – if you’re not harming your child by doing so, are you entitled to be vile to social workers ?

If it does answer that question, there will be a lot of people interested in it either way.

There are two different perspectives here

(A) That the father was the protective factor against the established problems the mother had in providing care for a child, that he would need support from professionals and how can that support be provided if he is assaulting them physically when they visit?

OR, conversely

(B) If the major problem that the father has only happens when social workers visit, then it is solveable by just not having social workers visit.

It has tricky socio-political consequences, if the Court of Appeal do answer this point (and don’t hold your breath – remember that Re B went to the Supreme Court specifically to resolve the vexed question of emotional harm and completely ducked the issue)

If the Court of Appeal were to find that (A) is the right answer, then parents and campaigners will feel that this is carte blanche for social workers to cultivate a bad relationship with a parent and then rely on that same bad relationship as reason why the child has to be removed.

If the Court of Appeal were to find that (B) is the right answer, does that give a green light for parents to abuse and intimidate social workers?

Which is why I suspect a way will be found to duck the points that Ryder J raises.

[If there was a bet to be had on the outcome of this appeal, the sure thing is “If a parent or their McKenzie Friend asks the Local Authority for a copy of the court bundle to assist in an appeal, the Local Authority MUST provide it” (and probably that the LA must also produce appeal bundles and copies for the Court too) ]

Private law appeal (unsuccessful)

The Court of Appeal have given judgment in Re H (Children) 2014


This relates to an appeal from the decision of Parker J to make an order transferring residence of three children from their mother’s care to their father’s care AT AN INTERIM STAGE – the case is not over and further steps are being taken prior to the final hearing of the private law applications.


The interim change of residence followed a finding of fact hearing in which the mother made very serious allegations about the father – including that he had raped her and hit the boys with a belt. The boys had made that allegation during police ABE (Achieving Best Evidence) interviews.


The Court of Appeal are quite right, to make sense of the appeal, one needs to look at the context of the litigation, which they set out in summary form


  • In order to make sense of what follows, it is necessary to set out the bare bones of the chronological history which catalogues the development of evidence with respect to each of these two core themes.




  • On 4th April 2013 the mother applied for an injunction against the father under the Family Law Act 1986 and made applications for residence and supervised contact orders with respect to the children. In her witness statement supporting those applications the mother did not complain that she was the victim of any physical or sexual violence from the father save for one occasion nearly twenty years earlier prior to their marriage. She did, however, allege that the father was highly controlling and threatening in his manner towards her and that he would regularly assault the children and, in particular, would take a belt to them if he considered that they had misbehaved. The father issued a counter application for contact and specific issue orders regarding the children’s schools.




  • The first court hearing took place on 15th April 2013 before DJ Hodges. At that hearing the mother’s position had changed from one of supporting supervised contact between the children and the father. Her case was that the elder boy, A, opposed the two younger children having direct contact with the father and the mother herself therefore opposed direct contact for any of the children. At the hearing the District Judge explicitly stated that the court would start with the presumption that children should grow up knowing both parents. Some 2 hours after the conclusion of that hearing the mother and A attended the local police station and made allegations about the father’s behaviour. The police record shows that, in addition to the allegations of violence towards the children, the mother alleged that the father had also been violent towards her, but that his abuse of her was “mostly emotional and sexual”.




  • On the following day, 16th April, police visited the mother and the children at the refuge. Notes of that visit indicate that C and A made allegations of physical assault by their father, but that these were not substantiated by B’s account. The mother’s complaint was of emotional and mental abuse. She made an historical allegation that he had raped her and she stated that he had physically abused her, but that this had not happened for some years. In subsequent police interviews (in April and in September) the mother came to make allegations of repeated rape and controlling behaviour.




  • On 23rd April A undertook a formal Achieving Best Evidence [“ABE”] interview with the police in which he made various allegations of physical assault by the father, including the use of a belt.




  • Matters then took a striking turn when, on 30th April, the father filed a statement exhibiting a number of notes and other documents written by the mother which described how she had herself been violent to the children, that she was unable to cope and was unable to control her consumption of alcohol.




  • At his subsequent police interview the father denied the allegations of rape, violence and controlling behaviour. He accepted that during one of A’s violent outbursts he had physically intervened.




  • The first hearing before Parker J took place on 7th May 2013 in which the judge heard oral evidence from the mother, father and paternal grandmother. The judge’s judgment on that occasion indicates that the background material produced by the father, originating as it did from the mother’s own hand, suggested that the father’s case that the mother was emotionally very troubled, was borne out. The judge said that the material that had been produced “worries me in the extreme, particularly the mother’s reference to drinking, Alcoholics Anonymous and being physically out of control with regard to the children”. The case was thus one in which allegations flowed in both directions.




  • Having heard the mother’s oral evidence with regard to the father’s behaviour and, in particular, his use of a belt on the children, the judge was plainly unimpressed with her credibility and stated “I thought that the mother’s evidence with regard to the belting was all over the shop to put it bluntly as to what actually she said had happened and what precisely she knew”. The judge was, however, plainly impressed with the “quite excellent” paternal grandmother who the judge described as being “true as steel, stout as oak”.




  • As a result of this, her first encounter with this case, the judge developed a very clear strategy as to the way forward. Whilst expressing concerns that the mother’s presentation, and the children’s allegations, might indicate that the children had become “recruited children”, in the sense that they had fallen in with their mother’s view of matters, the judge was prepared to accept, for the moment, that these matters were as a result of her troubled emotions and were not deliberate acts. The judge therefore ordered that the two younger children should be made available for contact with their father each Saturday during the day, but that all such contact should be supervised by the paternal grandmother and a paternal aunt. A was free to attend contact with his father and brothers should he desire. The judge fixed a further hearing for the end of June.




  • Three days later, on 10th May, the mother made a without notice application to stay the contact order. Fortunately it was possible for the father and his legal team to attend court on that hearing before Parker J, who, having heard the matter, dismissed the mother’s application. It is apparent that, again, the judge heard oral evidence from the mother on that occasion. The judge records the mother as saying that she was not relying on her serious allegations of domestic violence against herself and the children in opposing contact, but upon the need for the family to “heal” from the difficult marriage and marital circumstances and for the children to repair their relationship as siblings before contact could take place. The judge expressed great concern about what she perceived as the mother’s shifting stance in the proceedings, which did not demonstrate a solidly-founded mindset upon which the court could place any confidence. The mother’s application for a stay was founded upon A refusing point blank to attend any contact with the father and the younger children being said to be visibly upset and awake all night after being told of the proposal for contact. The judge on this second hearing expressed herself as having far more cause for concern as to the extent to which the children had been drawn into adult concerns and adult perceptions. The judge considered that the mother’s “havering and wavering about what her case actually is” supported her view that a firm grip was needed to be taken on contact before there was further opportunity for matters to deteriorate. The judge therefore repeated that she expected contact to take place in accordance with the order.




  • On 28th June all three children were interviewed by police and made allegations of violence against their father.




  • The judge had directed the local authority to provide a report pursuant to Children Act 1989, s 37. In that report, which is dated 26th July, the local authority recommended that no contact with the children’s father should take place “for the time being”.




  • At the end of September, and again in a revised document one week later, the mother filed a detailed schedule of allegations. That second (revised) document raised, for the first time during the court process, allegations of rape “on numerous occasions” from l992 onwards.




  • At this stage the father filed additional material including video, audio and photographic evidence which included a film apparently taken by A of a violent assault by C on B. It was apparent that the father was not present in the house and the children were in the care of the mother, who, apparently, can be seen ineffectually attempting to stop the assault and then leaving the room. This material was viewed by Parker J during a hearing on 29th October. That hearing, which had been intended to be a substantial fact finding process, was thwarted in two respects. Firstly, sadly, the mother’s father had died some five days earlier and she was not available to attend for all of the three or four day trial. Secondly, as a result of a failure by the police to respond to orders for disclosure, the court did not have access to key police records. The case was therefore adjourned part heard. However, at this hearing the court again heard evidence from the mother, father and paternal grandmother. In a short judgment given on 30th October the judge concluded that the risk of the children being put under pressure by the mother was very high in the light of the mother’s inability (apparently demonstrated in the witness box) to restrain herself in airing what she says about the father, including allegations of rape, in the children’s presence. The judge concluded that professionally supervised contact was not in the children’s interests, as there was a high risk that the children would understand that they should behave badly at contact so that this behaviour would be seen by the contact supervisors.




  • Although the judge was plain that the fact finding process was not concluded, and that she kept an open mind, she was struck by the fact that the two younger children had not made assertions of being belted by their father until after the judge herself had made her adverse comments relating to the mother’s oral evidence at the May hearing. The judge seriously entertained the view that the younger children may well have sought to provide corroboration for the allegations that were being made by picking up from the mother’s conversation, either directly with them or by overhearing what she said to A, what the issues in the case were. The judge therefore considered that contact should be reinstated to the father as soon as possible for the younger two children. The judge was clear that, because of A’s alliance with his mother, he should not attend those contact visits, but could, if he wished, have supervised contact with the father. The matter was set down to conclude the fact finding process at a two day hearing on 19th December.




  • Between the October and December hearings contact took place, but not without incident. It is not necessary to spell out the details, but in consequence of the difficulties on 4th December the father applied to enforce the contact order and applied for a residence order with respect to the two younger boys.




  • The fact finding hearing concluded on 19th and 20th December with judgment being given on Monday 23rd December. On the first day of the hearing the court ordered that B and C should stay overnight that night with the father. During their stay the two boys received a text message on their mobile phone from their elder brother A encouraging them to disrupt their time with the father. Part of the message read “fight, break stuff and argue to get out of this situation…you know what to do to get out of this situation…if you don’t act [F] will have custody of you after tomorrow. Good luck. Break, destroy and burn.”




  • At the conclusion of the hearing on 23rd December the judge made an immediate order transferring residence of the two younger boys to the father and making a residence order for A to the paternal grandmother. It is against those orders that the mother now seeks permission to appeal.



The appeal was centred around 3 issues


1. That the judge had come to conclusions prematurely about the allegations, making up her mind before hearing all of the evidence. In part because the earlier history of the litigation had set her mind against the mother’s allegations before the evidence was properly tested at a finding of fact hearing.

2. That in meeting the boys whilst the finding of fact hearing was going on, the exercise crossed from the appropriate one of familiarising the children with the Court and the process into an inappropriate one of gathering evidence  (I note, in passing that Parker J was of course the Judge who was recently criticised by the Court of Appeal for just this issue, having asked a child some 87 questions during an hour long interview )


3. That the Judge had decided that the case warranted an expert of particularly high calibre to assist, but then went on to decide that as the expert she had in mind was not available, no expert would be instructed.


[For my mind, looking at this purely from the outside, the third point is the best one, but relatively little was made of it]


Point 1 – the appellant claimed that the Judge had prematurely reached conclusions and as a result had curtailed mother’s ability to call witnesses and to put matters to those witnesses who had been called (regular readers will know that this is the Jones v NCB point – has the Judge ‘descended into the arena and become a participant in proceedings’ ?


This in part is complicated by the fact that the Judge had previously conducted a hearing in the case, and evidence had been heard during that hearing. Was the Judge entitled to rely on the impressions she formed of the evidence in the earlier hearings, thus allowing her to fairly restrict evidence and the extent of the evidence this time around? The Court of Appeal said yes, she was.


  • The range of detailed points about the judge’s conduct of the proceedings all, to a greater or lesser extent, come back to the central submission that the judge formed a premature conclusion on the factual material which was adverse to the mother’s case. That the judge had formed a preliminary view by, at the latest, the end of the October hearing, seems clear. In the light of that view, and conscious of the very tight timetable within which the December hearing had to be completed (given that the judgment was in fact handed down on the first day of the vacation), the judge may have been justified in excluding certain matters entirely from consideration in oral evidence, limiting the witnesses and the time available for cross-examination. On this point Mrs Crowley’s core submission is that the judge was wrong to use the early adverse view she had formed of the mother’s evidence to determine the allegations that had been made by each of the three children and to do so without a proper evaluation of the primary material that only became available to the court at the December hearing. That primary material comprised of the disclosure that was received from the police, including, importantly, the records of the various interviews undertaken by the children and the parents together with a DVD recording of A’s ABE interview. In particular, a point is made concerning the judge’s assumption that the younger boys only made allegations of physical assault by their father after Parker J had made adverse observations about the mother’s credibility at the May hearing. That assumption was shown to be erroneous with respect to C on disclosure by the police on the eve of the December hearing of a note of the interview with him undertaken by the police on 16th April. Mrs Crowley submits that the judge simply failed to engage with this new material and did not refer to it in the judgment.




  • In this respect Mrs Crowley is correct. At paragraph 63 of her December judgment the judge deals with the issue in this manner:



“I have thought very hard, notwithstanding the evidence that I have heard about good contact, whether there could have been incidents when the father had taken a belt to the children, whose behaviour was, as I have said, seriously out of control at this time. But as a result of the combination of the timing; the older boy’s assertions; the fact that the children were taken to the police station, as they must have been, in order to make this disclosure; the fact that I had made comments in my judgment only weeks previously about the lack of any assertion by the boys; I have come to the conclusion that I cannot place any reliance on these allegations. Also, the mother’s case about what she knew at the time has been markedly unreliable and inconsistent. She cannot possibly have not known about beatings at the time had they happened.”


  • It can be seen that the judge’s understanding of the timing of the boy’s allegations, coming after her adverse comments in the May judgment, is but one of the factors relied upon by the judge. It must also be borne in mind that the interview with the boys at the police station on 16th April, whilst happening prior to Parker J’s observations, took place within 24 hours of DJ Hodges indicating that the presumption would be for direct contact to take place.




  • In her skeleton argument in response to this application, Miss Pamela Scriven QC for the father submits that the premium now placed upon ensuring judicial continuity in these cases is partly justified by the fact that it is beneficial for a judge, over the course of successive hearings, to form a developing view of the evidence as it unfolds. I entirely agree with that submission, and Mrs Crowley does not seriously dispute it. It is, in my view, wholly artificial to regard one part of the series of hearings conducted in front of Parker J to be, in some manner, a free-standing, fact finding hearing in which the judge must ignore any previous views she had developed as a result of evidence heard on prior occasions. In a case such as this, where, fortunately, judicial continuity had been largely maintained, the proceedings before the judge, at successive hearings, should be regarded as one single process. Before the start of the December hearings this judge had heard the mother give oral evidence on three previous occasions. At the December hearing she received the material that had been disclosed by the police and watched A’s ABE interview.




  • In her judgment the judge rejected the allegations that were made by the mother having expressly referred, once again, to the “marked inconsistencies” in the mother’s accounts. With respect to A’s ABE interview the judge observed that his demeanour was “quite remarkably flat” with no sense at all of any emotional engagement. The judge observed that “there was every sense of giving an account which had been repeated, perhaps in his own mind, on many occasions, rather than being any form of spontaneous recall”. That description is not challenged within this appeal and we have not been invited to view the ABE interview ourselves. The judge concluded that the father may very well have been over-rough with A on one particular occasion, but she observed the difficulties in dealing with a child whose behaviour is physically very challenging.




  • The judge reviewed the evidence relating to allegations made by the boys more generally, and, in particular, about being hit by the father with a belt. I have already set out the judge’s conclusion on this point which is at paragraph 63 of her judgment. The reasons given by the judge, save for her misunderstanding as to the timing of the first allegations made by the younger boys, is supported by the evidence to which she refers and the conclusion to which she came was plainly open to her on that evidence.




  • Once it is established, as I consider it is, that the judge was entitled to form a preliminary view of the veracity of the mother’s core case following hearing her oral evidence at the two hearings in May, I consider that the criticisms of the robust case management that the judge undoubtedly deployed in December must fall away.



The nub of this is really the timing of the allegation that the father had hit the boys with a belt, which came right on the heels of  DJ Hodge telling the mother that direct contact would be in the interests of the children (no allegations of physical abuse were being made by mother at that hearing, but they emerged immediately after). At the fact finding all of the mother’s allegations were rejected, and Parker J reached a decision that the mother’s behaviour had gone beyond a misguided belief that the children were at risk or over-protectiveness and into darker areas.


The change of residence is interesting – the boys were expressing the view that they did not want to live with their father. The social worker did not support a move, nor did the Guardian. (note the criticisms below of the Guardian)


  • Neither the social worker nor the Children’s Guardian supported an immediate change of residence. In justifying her conclusion in favour of an immediate change of residence, the judge explained her reasons for disagreeing with these two professionals as follows:



“72. The social worker, JW, who is warm, caring and committed, urges me to leave the children living with the mother because that is what they say they want. Until I enforced contact she was also saying that there should be no contact, because that is what the boys say they want. The proof of that pudding has been very much in the eating, on present showing. I have more than once stressed in this case, as in others, that the word used in the Children Act about wishes and feelings is “ascertainable” and not “expressed”. “Ascertainable” often means that the Court has to look at actions rather than words. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of these boys have been demonstrated by the evidence that they are more than happy to be with their father. I suspect they may feel some relief being out of the maelstrom. Their grandmother is calm and robust.


73. The Children’s Guardian also urged me to do nothing and not to intervene because of what the boys say they are not willing to see their father. She has done remarkably little as a Guardian. She has not read most of the papers, she hardly knows the boys. When it was put to her that if this was a case of parental manipulation and recruitment, then this could be or would be emotionally abusive to the boys, she took that on board seemingly, or at least superficially, but then said, “But the boys say they don’t want to go.” She was reminded that they were fine when they went on contact. “Oh,” she said, “but the boys don’t want to go.”


  • At paragraphs 74 to 76 the judge then set out her conclusions:



“74. I regard parental manipulation of children, of which I distressingly see an enormous amount, as exceptionally harmful. It distorts the relationship of the child not only with the parent but with the outside world. Children who are suborned into flouting court orders are given extremely damaging messages about the extent to which authority can be disregarded and given the impression that compliance with adult expectations is optional. Bearing in mind the documented history of this mother’s inability to control these children, their relationship with one another and wholly inappropriate empowerment, it strikes me as highly damaging in this case. I am disappointed that the professionals in this case are unable truly to understand this message. The recent decision of the Court of Appeal, Re M (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1147 requires to be read by all practitioners in this field. Lady Justice Macur gave firm and clear guidance about the importance of contact. Parents who obstruct a relationship with the other parent are inflicting untold damage on their children and it is, in my view, about time that professionals truly understood this.

75. I am in no doubt that I am entitled to disagree with the view of both the Guardian and the social worker, both of whom, although expressing their own views forcefully, recognise that the decision is for me, having surveyed all the facts and depending upon the findings that I make. I disagree with them because they have not taken into account the degree of parental manipulation and the dangers presented to the younger children from the inappropriate power given to the eldest boy. I am in no doubt that the mother’s track record is such that she cannot safely have unsupervised contact to her two younger boys at the moment. Much though I would like to give these boys a Christmas as they want it, or as they believe they want it, it is unsafe for them to spend Christmas Day with their mother and her family. Quite apart from anything else, the mother accepts that the two younger children should spend Christmas with the father and his family. They should be told that that is now the parental agreed plan.

76. I am in no doubt that the boys must remain living with their father until this case can be looked at again. I see no chance of any significant change to divert me from that view. I am not inclined to bring this matter back before the circuit judge in January, when I am away, unless there is some emergency which needs to be dealt with. There does need to be some form of further investigation. I am not at the moment persuaded, particularly because an expert of proper calibre has not been identified, that there needs to be any form of psychological assessment. That simply detracts from the judicial role and, after all, it is not experts who make findings and decisions; it is the Court. I would like to see how things settle down.”



Point 2 – the Judge meeting with the boys



  • On the morning of the second day of the December hearing the judge conducted two judicial meetings with the children, firstly with the younger two and secondly with A. Depending on the circumstances of any given case, a judge may see a child for a variety of purposes. Such purposes are, however, likely to fall under one or both of two heads, namely providing an opportunity for the young person to say anything that they wish to say to the judge and, secondly, providing an opportunity for the judge to explain the process being undertaken by the court and to otherwise enhance the young person’s understanding of, and feeling of engagement with, the court proceedings. Judges are encouraged to adhere to the guidelines issued under the authority of the President of the Family Division by the Family Justice Council (Guidelines for Judges Meeting Children who are Subject to Family Proceedings (April 2010) [2010] 2 FLR 1872). The guidelines make it plain that a judicial meeting is not for the purposes of gathering evidence:



“It cannot be stressed too often that the child’s meeting with the judge is not for the purpose of gathering evidence. That is the responsibility of the CAFCASS officer. The purpose is to enable the child to gain some understanding of what is going on, and to be reassured that the judge has understood him/her”


  • It is clear that the meeting with the judge occurred in consequence of the judge’s conclusion that such a meeting was likely to be beneficial, rather than arising out of any request from any of the children. The judge indicated both at the October hearing and on the first day of the December hearing that she considered a meeting with the children was likely to be useful. Mrs Crowley submits, and the transcript supports her, that the meeting arose from a desire on the part of the judge to inform the children of the process and of the orders that might be made, rather than to ascertain their wishes and feelings, which were well recorded. On 19th December the judge told the parties that she perceived a need to be open with the children and to “put her cards on the table” at that stage of the process.




  • The judicial interviews were conducted entirely in accordance with the guidelines. The judge saw the boys in the court room, albeit no doubt in an informal configuration, so that the encounters were recorded and have been transcribed. She was accompanied by her usher, her clerk and the Children’s Guardian. First of all the judge saw the two younger boys together. In addition to hearing the boys give a short account of their wishes and feelings, and their reaction to spending the previous night in the father’s home, the judge used the encounter to describe the possibility that the court might order a change of residence and her expectation that the young people, as would be the case with the adult parties, would co-operate with her decision and abide by it. The boys were plain in stating that they did not want to go to live with their father. During the second interview with A the judge adopted an approach which was commensurate with his age and sought to explain to him that he was not “the man of the family” and that it was the grown ups who had to take responsibility for the arrangement of the affairs of the children.


Point 3 – the instruction of an expert



  • Given the extreme behaviour displayed on occasions by A and given the striking content of the mother’s own handwritten notes reflecting on her own behaviour and emotional stability, the question of whether or not the assistance of a child and adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist inevitably arose for consideration. On the first day of the hearing in December the judge indicated that an expert of a particularly high calibre was required. She indicated that she had a particular expert in mind, but, on the second day of the hearing the judge reported that she had made enquiries which had ascertained that that particular expert was not available to take this case on. The judge therefore concluded that no other expert should be considered and the case would proceed without additional expert involvement.




  • That sequence of events had initially been one of the grounds of appeal   [The Judge went on to grant an application in February 2014 for the instruction of a different expert, so that bit of the appeal falls away]  Although any appeal on the question of whether or not an expert should be instructed therefore falls away, Mrs Crowley criticises the judge’s approach to this matter, on the one hand considering that only an expert of high calibre should be instructed but, on the other, taking it upon herself to assess the situation. She submits that as indicating that the judge went outside the boundary of her judicial role in developing an analysis of the family dynamics which, wrongly it is submitted, supported the decision to make an immediate change of residence.

Even though that point did not have to be determined, since it had fallen away by that stage, the Court of Appeal still say that Parker J was entitled to make that decision and did not need to have expert evidence in order to make her decision that in the interim, the children should move from mother’s care to father’s care.

Although I understand the argument as is so clearly put by Mrs Crowley, I do not consider that the judge’s approach to this matter is open to that criticism. The residence arrangements that are currently in place are plainly interim arrangements pending the further assessment by Dr Asen and the further consideration of the court. Given that the judge was required to make findings of fact in December, and given that those findings were so adverse to the mother, the question naturally arose as to whether the children could be emotionally “safe” if they continued in their mother’s care after those adverse findings had been made. The judge having concluded that the allegations made by the boys were not grounded in reality, it was necessary to consider other explanations to explain the fact that the boys had nevertheless said what they had said to the police. Of the limited range of alternative explanations available, the judge’s conclusion, at that stage of this ongoing process, that the allegations in some manner arose out of a dysfunctional relationship with the mother is not, in my view, seriously open to challenge.


Any hearing where the allegations are as strong and vivid as this carries risk for both parents – if the Court finds mother’s allegations proven, then father will have difficulty in establishing any relationship with his children. If the Court finds that mother, as they did here, has made them up and drawn the children into a web of deceit, then a change of residence is a distinct possibility – by that time, the children having taken sides so manifestly are going to find a change of residence very difficult. And of course, worst-case scenario is that a Court eventually concludes that the children are so damaged and the parents so culpable that the children can live with neither parent.  Great care has to be taken over making allegations for tactical reasons, rather than raising  a genuine concern. If the concern is genuine, then it is vital to raise it early on in evidence, rather than filing statements that make no mention of something so serious.