(Family Division; Coleridge J; 21 March 2006)
Care orders had been made in respect of two children, on the basis of the stepson's allegations that the father had abused him sexually. Under the order the children were moved to foster care and contact with the father stopped. When the children had been in foster care for 4 years the stepson, now 17 years old, admitted to his family and to the authorities that his allegations of abuse had been false. The father and mother, with the children's support, applied for the discharge of the care orders, unopposed by either the guardian or the local authority. In addition, the father sought to have the original findings of sexual abuse set aside.
It was right to re-examine the findings of sexual abuse in the light of the fresh evidence. The original findings of abuse were wholly wrong and should be set aside. The case offered a salutary lesson to all courts dealing with these kinds of very serious sexual allegation. However good the procedures for interviewing children, interviews were not evidence tested by the court. Had such testing taken place, obvious inconsistencies in the versions of events produced by the stepson would have been identified. The use of experts to produce personality profiles as tending to show that an individual might have certain tendencies was to be deprecated. There was no substitute for live tested evidence in court and serious consideration should be given to children of the age of this child, rising 13, giving evidence with the usual safeguards and the procedural arrangements familiar in the criminal jurisdiction. The stakes were just as high in care proceedings if wrong findings were made as they were in criminal proceedings.