March 11 2016 – AS v TH (False Allegations of Abuse) – High Court

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed161341

AS v TH (False Allegations of Abuse) [2016] EWHC 532 Fam

Application by mother of two children for findings in respect of a series of allegations made against the father of one of the children. Found that the allegations were false; reference made to the guidance professionals should follow in such cases.

This was an application by the mother of the children N and S for findings in respect of a series of allegations made against the father of S, TH.

Prior to August 2014, N lived in his mother’s care (in Scotland) and spent time with his father (BC) whilst S lived predominantly with his father TH (also in Scotland) and spent time with his mother. In July 2014 the mother commenced a relationship with ER in England. In August 2014 when both boys were in her care in England, she refused to return, or return them, to Scotland. TH commenced proceedings in Scotland to secure the return of S to his care.

From August 2014 to June 2015 the mother and the boys made a series of serious allegations against TH (considered below in ‘findings’). The allegations were of serious emotional, physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by TH against her and both children. Over the course of a nine-day fact-finding hearing Mr Justice MacDonald considered the written and oral evidence of numerous witnesses, to include Scottish and English police officers, social workers, refuge workers, teachers from the boys’ schools, CAMHS support workers, the mother and TH. It was not considered appropriate for the children to give evidence. At the end of the hearing counsel for TH put the court and parties on notice that findings would be sought against the mother (also considered below).

Approach by the professionals
Mr Justice MacDonald, in finding none of the allegations made by the mother to be proved, and in fact finding them to be false, criticised in detail the conduct of the professionals. In setting out the legal framework, he referred to the following significant guidance to be followed:

  • The case law on the correct approach to allegations of sexual abuse (Re I-A (Allegations of Sexual Abuse) [2012] 2 FLR 837, Re H (Minors); Re K (Minors)(Child Abuse: Evidence) [1989] 2 FLR 313;
  • The Report of the Inquiry into Child Abuse in Cleveland 1987 (the ‘Cleveland Report’)
  • Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings (March 2011) (‘ABE Guidelines’)
  • Guidance on Joint Investigative Interviewing of Child Witnesses in Scotland
  • HM Government Guidance: Keeping Children Safe in Education (July 2015) and What to do if you’re worried a child is abused (March 2015).

In the context of the above guidance the court found that the actions of certain professionals actively contributed to the difficulties in assessing the evidence, ‘materially prejudiced the welfare of both children’ and contributed to the emotional harm the children had suffered. These breaches included:

  • The social worker unquestioningly accepted the mother’s account and her failure to make enquiries of the fathers, the extended families, school, doctors or local authorities “was particularly egregious in circumstances where such enquires would have revealed a fundamentally different picture to that being painted by the mother.” [227]
  • A failure (by social workers, Detective Constables, Detective Sergeants and teachers) to keep accurate records of what was said by the mother and the children, resulting in accounts of what the children said that were diametrically opposed. [227]
  • A repeated failure by numerous professionals to interview the children in accordance with the ABE Guidelines, in particular repeated questioning of one child in the presence of the other child and their mother, and the repeated use of highly leading questions.
  • A failure by agencies to coordinate their intervention: between 11 August 2014 and 29 July 2015, taking the CAMHS intervention into account, the children were questioned by no fewer than nineteen professionals, on twenty occasions for S and forty-four occasions for N, with five different police officers interviewing the boys.
  • That ahead of any findings or criminal convictions in respect of the allegation, the CAMHS intervention extended to therapeutic intervention for N by three psychiatrists and over 29 group therapy sessions and six sessions for S on the basis that they had been abused as alleged.

Findings
The court did not make a single finding sought by the mother. At TH’s request it went further, and made findings that each of the allegations made by the mother was false. The findings are set out in the schedule to the judgment. Of note are the following:

  • TH did not rape the mother, nor was he physically violent or abusive and controlling; those allegations were false.
  • TH did on occasion physically restrain N and discipline S; however he did not physically abuse N or S as alleged by the mother; those allegations were false;
  • TH did not behave in a sexually abusive manner towards N or S, to include taking inappropriate photos and making ‘rude movies’ either as alleged or at all; all such allegations were false;
  • TH did not behave in an emotionally abusive manner towards N or S; all such allegations were false;
  • In so far as any allegations were made by N and S, such allegations were done as the result of indirect emotional pressure and direct encouragement of the mother.
  • S was removed from Scotland by the mother on 11 August without the consent of TH and was in breach of the orders made by the Sheriff’s Court on 12, 15 and 28 August 2014.
  • The mother told lies to professionals aimed at preventing the return of S to the care of his father, protecting the mother from compliance with lawful orders made by the Scottish court and preventing professionals from discovering that she had told lies.
  • In consequence of the findings set out above, N and S have suffered significant emotional harm as a result of the care given to them by their mother.

Summary by Esther Lieu, barrister, 3PB
___________________

Neutral Citation Number: [2016] EWHC 532 (Fam)
Case No: FD15P000036

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
FAMILY DIVISION

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 11/03/2016

Before:

THE HONOURABLE MR JUSTICE MACDONALD

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