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Re MA [2014] EWHC 3448 (Fam)

Date:30 OCT 2014
Neutral Citation Number: [2014] EWHC 3448 (Fam)
Case No: IL14 C00110


Royal Courts of Justice


Before :


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Re MA (a Child: Care proceedings)

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Eilidh Gardner for local authority A, a London Borough
Dorothea Gartland for the mother, MR
Annie Dixon for the father, MN
Charlotte Collier for the Children’s Guardian, Barbara Newton

Hearing dates: 7 – 10th October 2014

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Mrs Justice Pauffley

[1] MA is 8 months old. She was born in February 2014. She is the youngest of her parents’ three children. Her older siblings – V a boy and W a girl, aged 9 and 8 respectively – live with their father, MN, under a residence order. Proceedings in relation to those children as well as three others, one older and two younger, were finally concluded in March 2013 when orders were made as the sequel to a substantive fact finding and welfare hearing in October 2012.

[2] MA is the mother’s seventh child. All the children have been subject to court proceedings. Her eldest, a boy U now 10 years old, lives with his long term foster mother under a final care order. V and W are the mother’s second and third eldest children and had been in the interim care of another London local authority, B, until first W and then V went to live with their father. W and MN lived in a single room, the only accommodation available to them, from September 2012 until they were offered a more suitable home in an adjacent local authority shortly before the March 2013 hearing. It was at that point that V joined his father and sister.

[3] X and Y, the mother’s fourth and fifth children – now 5 and 4 years old respectively – live with their paternal grandmother near the South Coast under a Special Guardianship Order made at the conclusion of care proceedings in 2012.

[4] Z was born in January 2013. His whereabouts are unknown to everyone involved in this hearing save his mother. She flew to Uganda just a few weeks before his birth, during the currency of the earlier proceedings. There was an extensive litigation effort by the putative father of Z, who is also the father of X and Y, to secure Z’s return to this jurisdiction. His attempts came to an end in March this year at a time when complete obscurity surrounded Z’s whereabouts and no progress of any kind had been made in establishing paternity.

The issues at this hearing

[5] The welfare issue is simply this – should MA be rehabilitated to her mother or should the plan be to enable her to live with her father and siblings?

[6] Underlying the welfare question, there are a number of factual issues some of which have real and obvious relevance, others less so. One area of interest which occupied a great deal of court time surrounds the relationship between the mother and MN during a three month period last summer when MA was conceived. MN was cross examined extensively in relation to all aspects of that period and notwithstanding the frank admissions contained within his July statement that he had made a stupid mistake. He apologised to the court, the professionals and to the guardian for his actions which, he said, he deeply regretted. MN also made clear that he was very apologetic to his children for indirectly involving them in further court proceedings. He assured everyone that he was very sorry, had learnt his lesson and will not repeat the error.

[7] The other factual disputes centre upon:

•the 30th May circumstances of the mother’s departure from a mother and baby home where she had been living with MA;

•whether MN had been responsible for ‘beating’ or otherwise harshly punishing V and W;

•whether he has coached or influenced them so that they will not reveal their treatment to outsiders;

•whether MN coerced the mother into having a sexual intercourse with him in return for the offer of contact;

•and whether in September 2013 the final act of intercourse between them amounted to rape.

[8] Other more minor issues have been raised, notably whether MN was a ‘child soldier’ as the mother maintains. Since the hearing concluded, the mother has supplied an additional manuscript statement making a number of fresh allegations against MN relating to his physical care of the children – the standards of hygiene within his home, the provision of electricity and appropriate nutrition. None of those matters, even if substantiated, would have made a difference to my welfare decision. Other evidence, notably from the children’s schools and Ms Tobin suggests the mother is simply making mischief.

Background - historical and recent

[9] The background, essential to an understanding of the decision making exercise at this hearing, is succinctly summarised between paragraphs 7.1 to 7.19 (Summary of Events leading to Proceedings) and 8.1 to 8.13 (Current Position) of Miss Gardner’s Case Summary. I cannot improve upon her analysis and adopt those paragraphs in their entirety.

The parties’ positions

[10] At the end of the hearing, the local authority does not recommend that MA should be reunited with her mother or that there should be any further assessment to evaluate the potential for her to look after MA long term. In relation to MN, dependent upon the findings made, the local authority advances a robust plan which, if successfully implemented, would result in MA living with him and her siblings.

[11] The mother’s position is straightforward. She earnestly desires MA’s return to her care, suggests she has already made positive changes in her engagement with professionals and should be given the same chance as MN to demonstrate the ability to look after MA long term.

[12] MN is thoroughly committed to MA. After a period in which he gave careful consideration to his own as well as the older children’s position, he now “firmly believes” he made the right decision, has never wavered and is “very, very happy” to make personal sacrifices so that MA can live within his home. MN accepts the need for considerable assistance, notably in the area of managing the children’s future relationship with their mother.

[13] Ms Newton, MA’s guardian, acknowledges that MN has done well with V and W but she has concerns about his understanding of their emotional needs. Miss Collier submits that at this stage, adoption is not an option and there would need to be “much more work and exploration of what (MN) has to offer” on the basis that MA needs to be safe and the issue of risk should be understood and managed as best it can be.

Legal principles

[14] It is worth reflecting upon the relevant legal principles which guide a judge in an application of this kind particularly because it has been my sense that, to a certain extent, focus in some quarters has been lost during this hearing. Wherever possible, consistent with their welfare needs, children deserve an upbringing within their natural families (Re KD [1988] AC 806; Re W [1993] 2FLR 625). Care plans for adoption are “very extreme” only made when “necessary” for the protection of the children’s interests, which means “when nothing else will do”, “when all else fails.” Adoption “should only be contemplated as a last resort” (Re B [2013] UKSC 33; Re P (a child) EWCA Civ 963; Re G (a child) EWCA Civ 965).

[15] Before I could consider placing MA elsewhere than with one of her parents, I would have to be sure there is no practical way of the authorities or other agencies providing the requisite assistance and support which would allow her to be cared for by one of her parents (Re B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146).

Threshold criteria

[16] Turning to the threshold criteria, it is necessary to say only this. In October 2012, I found that all of the older five children had been significantly harmed as the result of their mother’s inability to consistently meet their emotional and educational needs. I concluded that she had made it impossible for outside agencies to provide her with help; and that there was no prospect of the mother assuming the role of a dependable, consistent and stable care giver within a timescale which matched those children’s requirements.

[17] Mindful as I am of Miss Gartland’s submission that I should look sympathetically upon the mother’s actions in the period since MA was born it is nonetheless necessary to record that – as the evidence from [the specialist resources] amply demonstrates – she has been unable to keep MA safe because of her highly emotive behaviour and inability to control her impulsive reactions. As Ms Rednall said, at those times when the mother has been in a calm state she has been able to carry out the basic tasks in looking after MA. But her “highly dramatic reactions to any engagement which challenges her, heavily outweigh the positives.” Most unfortunately, as Miss Rednall also said, and I accept, MA has been in her mother’s arms at times when she has become distressed, exhibiting “extremely dramatic behaviour, dashing through the unit” and compromising MA’s safety.

[18] Ms Lowrie added that at the time of the breakdown of the placement in the second specialist resource, the mother’s behaviour “had been quite bizarre but it was not bizarre to her; rather it was one of the strategies she has developed in order to have her own needs met.” A little later, Ms Lowrie observed that "the mother sees the world through her own eyes and finds it very difficult to put herself in her children’s shoes.” In Ms Lowrie’s view, she would not be able to parent without 24 hour support.

[19] A glaring example of the mother’s difficulty in containing her emotional responses arises out of what occurred on 17th June in the car park outside the West Green Building immediately after a brief court hearing. She set fire to her clothing and only escaped serious injury as the result of her advocate’s quick thinking as well as the intervention of a nearby film crew. The mother was admitted to the Maudsley Hospital for assessment under s.2 of the Mental Health Act 1987. The diagnosis of her treating psychiatrists was that she did not suffer from serious mental illness but was rather reacting to circumstances. On 17th June, she had learned that MN was putting himself forward to look after MA.

[20] In relation to MN, as I have already recorded, he accepts he made a foolish mistake in permitting the mother to come to his home, resume their physical relationship and permit contact between the mother, V and W. Whether his actions could be characterised as the infliction of significant emotional harm is open to question. In order to qualify, the harm must be significant enough to justify the intervention of the state and disturb the autonomy of the parent in bringing up the children on his own; and significant enough to enable the court to make a care or supervision order if the children’s welfare so demands: see Re MA (Care Threshold) [2010] 1FLR 431.

[21] I note there is no current suggestion that any kind of statutory intervention is considered necessary in relation to the father’s care of V and W – though the local authority responsible for MA altogether see the need to properly co-ordinate and professionally manage the Herculean task of arranging the mother’s contact with U, V, W, X and Y.

[22] Ultimately, I do not find that MN acted without regard to the welfare of V and W nor do I see him as having failed to protect them to the extent that they were significantly harmed. His evidence was that he had been “very mindful and concerned” about the impact upon the children. He had done “as much as possible to keep the mother calm, not lose her temper and not raise her voice in front of the children.” MN agreed with Ms Gardner that the entire experience of those three months “must have been very distressing for the children.” However, when Ms Newton spoke to V in September this year, he said he “liked to see Mummy … she stayed over and it was nice. It’s been a long time since (he’d) seen Mummy … and he would like to see her locally … twice a month.”

[23] During a similar conversation with W, Ms Newton learned that she had liked it when “her mummy had come to her home as ‘they never got to see her and then suddenly (she) got to see her!” W added that when her parents had been together “they are OK.”

[24] Of course it is possible to argue that by acting as he did MN was ‘failing to protect’ V and W, that he should have been more circumspect, sought out professional advice and drawn the mother’s attempts at restoring contact with the children to the notice of the authorities. I have concluded that although MN behaved very foolishly in allowing the mother into his home and into contact with the children, it would be overstating the position to presume they had been significantly harmed. Some emotional confusion there may have been but, to my mind, that does not equate to significant harm.

[25] It is also very necessary to give proper attention to the context to what happened between June and September. In March 2013, it had been my expectation that MN would have been afforded a high level of local authority intervention so as to support him in managing the huge task of meeting the children’s needs and, in particular, devising strategies for managing direct approaches from the mother. He was, I remind myself, completely isolated from his family who remain in Uganda; he had come to the UK as an unaccompanied minor when only 15 years old and lived without recourse to public funds for six years. He assumed responsibility for W and then V who had experienced considerable instability and neglect at a time when he and they had had no contact for about 5 years.

[26] The way in which local authority B implemented the supervision order did not match my expectations. It might best be described as ‘low key’ intervention and was directed primarily to “promoting the children’s sibling contact.” As to that, MN was expected to liaise with those responsible for looking after U, X and Y and make suitable arrangements.

[27] It is also significant to note there were changes of allocated social worker and then, between July and November 2013, “no social care involvement.” Even after Mr Lacey assumed responsibility for the case in November 2013, he achieved only 2 out of a planned 8 visits – a record which becomes altogether explicable given the encryption which attached to the social worker’s emails, MN’s communication difficulties arising out of his university commitments and time pressures upon him resulting from meeting the children’s needs.

MA’s welfare needs

(i) Expert evidence

[28] I turn then from the threshold criteria to consider MA’s welfare needs. The starting point is that Ms Tobin, an independent social worker of long experience and considerable expertise, unequivocally recommends that MA should be placed with her father. In her first report she commented that MN is an intelligent and thoughtful father who could easily, in the right circumstances, parent MA alongside V and W. In her supplemental report, focussed upon a number of discrete areas of further inquiry, Ms Tobin concludes that her view of the father’s ability to care for MA had been reinforced; and she should be given the opportunity to live with her father, sister and brother within their local community.

[29] Ms Tobin was an impressive witness, thoughtful and reflective as she answered questions, bringing a sense of direction and focus to a hearing which had the potential for being diverted away from its essential purpose. So, too, Ms Lowrie, AM’s allocated social worker, whose evidence revealed just how much careful thought she had given to the necessary strategies and support mechanisms if I approved a plan with the ultimate aim of placing MA with her father. As she commented towards the end of her evidence in chief, and so pleasingly given earlier responses from other local authorities, Ms Lowrie considers her local authority has a duty of care to MA, she is their responsibility; and even although MN lives in another London borough there is no present intention to pass responsibility for MA elsewhere.

[30] Ms Newton explained she is not “fully in agreement with Ms Tobin’s recommendations” because she, Ms Tobin, had not been critical of MN whereas she was. Ms Newton suggested Ms Tobin lacked experience and knowledge of the previous proceedings. But Ms Newton also said V and W are now “beautiful children;” that they are so different to the way they were when looked after by foster parents and that she, Ms Newton, has no concerns about the way in which they are being cared for. Ms Newton was frank in revealing that she had undertaken professional supervision in relation to and has worried about this case; and that she was disappointed in MN, but nonetheless believes she can be detached.

[31] Given those candid concessions, it causes me anxiety that in Ms Newton’s analysis of 9th October, written just before she gave oral evidence, there is no mention of MN’s very considerable success in looking after V and W so that they are now thriving. In relation to MN, her report was focussed upon what, in her eyes, he had done wrong rather than reflecting upon his considerable achievements. The shortcoming becomes even more important when consideration is taken of Mr Lacey’s evidence which, in summary, was less than supportive historically of MN’s ability to manage the children’s emotional needs.

[32] No one who had involvement in the earlier proceedings could fail to have been surprised, if not incredulous, at the news that MN had been shown by scientific analysis to be MA’s father. But astonishment has to give way to objective consideration about the life long needs of the child concerned. Would it, could it, ever be appropriate to deprive her of the opportunity to grow up alongside her father, brother and sister because, for a period last year, her father had, and was then seen as being secretive about, a relationship with the mother? I don’t believe it would.

[33] Moreover, this hearing has been the forum for understanding why events occurred as they did. I do not agree with Ms Newton when she suggests there should be a specialist psychological assessment to elucidate why MN put himself in that situation or, as she put it, “to see if he’s learnt his lesson.”

Welfare considerations

[34] MA’s physical, emotional and educational needs are, for now, those of any 8 month old baby. She needs to be able to develop a secure, loving and reciprocal attachment with whomsoever is looking after her. As she grows she will benefit immeasurably from a day to day relationship with one of her parents and also, if it can be arranged, with her siblings as well. She will require consistency, stability, calm and reflective parenting if she is to develop emotionally as she should. Children do best in life if they have the advantage of an upbringing by at least one of their natural parents.

[35] Moving MA from the short term foster home where she has been looked after since May 30th should be relatively straightforward. She is a placid, ‘easy’ baby who has already made one move – from her mother to short term care – without appreciable difficulty. Neither the mother nor the father is a stranger to MA – both have contact, the mother, thus far, significantly more than the father. MA might be expected, over time, to forge attachments to either of them. All the signs, sadly in relation to the mother, are that the relationship would be insecure because of MR’s limitations in providing consistency, safety and good quality care when emotionally aroused, for whatever reason. The same problem does not arise in relation to the father who has done so very well in providing for V and W in every area of their development.

[36] MA would be at very considerable risk of suffering serious harm if restored to her mother. The strong likelihood is that over time her emotional needs would be neglected; and her physical safety could not be assured because of the potential for the mother to act dangerously and impulsively when emotionally distressed. There would be an appreciable risk of flight arising out the events surrounding firstly W’s abduction in 2011 and, more recently, the mother’s decision to fly to Uganda when heavily pregnant with Z. I reject the mother’s account that her departure in December 2012 arose from any Home Office “force” as she suggested in evidence. The mother made a deliberate choice to put Z beyond the reach of the authorities here, knowing as she did there would be proceedings and possibly separation had she given birth in this country. Left to her own devices, it must be seen as altogether likely that the mother would once more take the law into her own hands and put MA beyond the reach of her father, siblings and the court.

[37] Moreover, the mother’s ability to involve herself constructively with professionals so as to enhance her children’s wellbeing is severely compromised. Any such engagement would be on her terms so that, when challenged, there would be serious problems involving the potential for physical risk as occurred at both the specialist resources earlier this year.

[38] By contrast, all the indications are that if suitably and adequately supported MN would do everything in his power to prevent MA being exposed to risk of any kind. He was under no compulsion to put himself forward as a potential provider long term for MA. He would have saved himself a great deal of trouble and personal embarrassment had he decided to concentrate his efforts upon V and W. His experience of being cross examined for some 4 hours, over two days, last week must have been humiliating. In large measure, the concentration of effort was upon the detail of his interaction with the mother last summer. He could have been left in no doubt as to the scale of his failings in the view of the authorities.

[39] To his very great credit, MN did not seek to deny responsibility for his actions beyond claiming, as he does, that the mother had been extremely persistent, “bombarding (him) with calls, pleading and begging (him) to allow her contact with the children, saying how much she loved them and how much they meant to her.” Again and again, throughout cross examination MN accepted responsibility – he “entirely agreed (he) had made a terrible mistake;” said he had been “stupid not to end calls from the mother,” he “completely agreed contact with the mother had got out of control” and did accept “that it must have been very distressing for the children.” MN repeated that it was his stupidity and his fault and he “very well understands everyone’s concerns and doubts.” Those comments mirror the sentiments expressed within his written statements. In his discussions with Ms Tobin on the subject, he was as she related “very thoughtful, reflective and upset with himself.”

[40] MN is an intelligent and considerate man. He could have been left in no doubt as the result of his experiences here in court about the seriousness of re-involving himself with the mother and permitting the resumption of contact. I regard the risk of any recurrence of what occurred in the summer of 2013 as negligible; and that is because it seemed to me that MN was utterly genuine and sincere in expressing his remorse, transparently truthful in the account he provided and creditably focussed upon the repercussions for the children including MA of any recurrence in the parental relationship.

[41] Although MN was subjected to an onslaught of criticism for what he did, I doubt that I was alone in pondering that MA owes her very existence to her father’s inability to withstand her mother’s persistent demands to be allowed back into his, V’s and W’s lives. MA may have been conceived in circumstances which attract professional disapproval but there is no doubting that she is a delightful, lovely and beautiful child. I have had the privilege of seeing her briefly on those occasions when her mother has brought her to court hearings.

Matters in dispute arising from mother’s claims against the father

(a) Physical abuse

[42] Now I turn to consider MN’s ability to meet MA’s needs having said enough already about her mother’s serious deficits. The first matter for decision is as to whether I am satisfied there is credible evidence to support the mother’s claim that MN has physically abused the older children and instructed them not to report what is happening to them.

[43] The mother’s evidence was that she is “very scared and seriously concerned for V and W because of what (MN) does behind closed doors. He forcibly beats them; he is aggressive to them; he kicks them when he beats them; he will knock them on the head with his hand or with a stick.” Later the mother added that she had met with a lady outside the children’s school who had told her she “could not stand the way MN beats the children and there was a need to do something.” The mother also said she had been in the father’s bedroom when V had come in without knocking. She continued, “Oh My God, what he did! Poor V … he really hit him hard” because he should have knocked. And the mother wept as she gave that evidence but had recovered her composure completely just a few seconds later when she related that MN had told her he was beaten by his own father and was doing to V what had been done to him.

[44] On 12th June last year, the mother made a referral to the police, asserting that the children were being beaten and that she’d been told as much by a ‘babysitter.’ According to the police logs, two women were interviewed; both denied having met the mother and failed to support her account.

[45] The father’s evidence was that there is no truth in the allegation that he’s hit the children. He does not smack them and has never told them not to say anything. In relation to an incident in February 2014 when W’s school made contact with Mr Lacey to report that she’d said her father had “dragged V and hurt his back,” MN said that nothing of the kind had ever happened. The only explanation MN could give was that one of his friends had once said to W that if she “wanted to put her Daddy in trouble, say he smacks you,” that in the context of them witnessing another child at a bus stop being slapped by his father for going too close to the road.

[46] Mr Lacey had not been able to speak with W herself but, according to reports from her school, she had said she’d made up the story; and V confirmed it had “never happened.”

[47] More generally, MN commented that the mother “uses the benefit of any kind of knowledge about you so it will be linked with reality” in her attempts to make false allegations. I share that view.

[48] Any kind of violent behaviour in the direction of a small baby would be a matter of great concern. If I believed there was even the slightest chance of MN physically abusing his infant daughter, I would not be in favour of pursuing placement of her with him. As it is and for a number of reasons, I do not find that risk is real but the product of the mother’s fertile, destructive thought processes coupled with her intense desire to ensure that no one other than herself is considered for MA.

[49] When Ms Tobin visited the father, V and W she had a good opportunity to observe the family dynamics. She related that the children did not look at their father “as if they were asking for permission to speak or that they were anxious about his responses.” It was Ms Tobin’s assessment that MN does not physically chastise the children. She is, of course, an expert skilled at detecting indications that something may be amiss in relation to parent / child relationships. Ms Newton’s evidence was that MN had “brought out the best in his children.” In similar vein, Ms Lowrie suggested there was no evidence to support the claim that MN beats his children and made the valid point that there is a difference between something happening as a ‘one off’ rather than as part of a pattern.

[50] Given W’s innate chattiness and both children’s ability to talk with class mates, teachers and others within their schools about any aspect of life at home which they perceive to be a problem, I predict that there would have been some good evidence by now if, in truth, MN had been mistreating V and W. As it is, reports from their primary school are glowing which is, in large measure, a tribute to the calm and consistent way in which MN has been looking after the children. I am quite unable to find there is validity in the mother’s claims relating to physical abuse.

(b) Coercion and rape

[51] The last matter for decision is as to the nature of the parents’ sexual relationship in 2013. Was it, as the mother claims, coercive in the sense that MN would only allow her to see V and W if she had sexual intercourse with him? Or is the father correct when he claims the mother badgered him so that she was able to meet with the children again; and that there was no coercion on his part to engage in intimate contact. He maintains that on the first of about five occasions when they had intercourse, the mother had asked him not to use a condom and assured him she was 100% sure she could not get pregnant. According to MN, he never asked the mother for sex in return for contact.

[52] The mother claims “on her children’s lives, (she) had never wanted sex whatsoever;” and that if she had not let him have sex with her, MN would not have allowed her to see the children. The mother says she saw them “countless times between June and September last year,” at least every week. But I note that neither V nor W corroborated that account when asked questions by Ms Newton just a few weeks ago.

[53] It is not hard to make sense of what occurred between the mother and NM knowing, as I do, about the mother’s extensive history of child bearing and the way in which she has involved herself with other men, notably the father of X, Y and Z. Because of the way in which she has lost her older children and the profound emotional impact upon her of having been separated from them, the mother craves motherhood. She yearned to conceive once more after her return from abroad having relinquished Z to someone else. I have no doubt she was, as MN suggests, very happy when she telephoned him to say she was pregnant. I know how deeply she yearns to be able to look after at least one of her babies. I have no doubt that it was part of the mother’s plan to become pregnant. She wanted another child and made sure there was no barrier in place to prevent her conceiving.

[54] MN provides a detailed, almost day by day account of events including his reasons for continuing to see and have an intimate relationship with the mother – because he wanted to ‘keep her sweet’ during the period when it would have been possible to terminate the pregnancy safely. Overall I found his account both entirely plausible and utterly reliable.

[55] Understanding why there was sexual contact between the parents seems to me to be one of the least complex issues of all. MN is a normal individual with the impulses which might be expected of any man of his age. On 8th June, the first occasion when there was sexual contact, the mother had installed herself in his bed, the children were asleep, he didn’t believe, so he said, that “anything would happen” but it had not crossed his mind to sleep on the sofa. One thing led to another and MN found himself in exactly the same position as the father of X, Y and Z. He, too, was drawn back in to a sexual relationship with the mother, at a time when the authorities had been led to believe there would not be contact between them and a child was conceived.

[56] Human beings are fallible. Every single one of us makes mistakes large and small on our journey through life. Sometimes, as here, the consequences are great. MN commented during the course of his evidence that this experience has been the “worst (he’s) ever had in (his) life;” and he could never put himself in this position again. I believed him.

[57] Finally in relation to sexual matters, I should say that I reject the mother’s allegation of having been raped by MN in September last year. During her oral evidence relating to 23rd September, the mother said that she’d had a “difficult night.” On the day she had reported MN to the police, it had been “wrong for (her) to have (her) sleep disturbed by him wanting to have sex.” The mother added more detail but nothing she said seemed to me to come close to substantiating the very serious allegation of rape.

[58] There was a police investigation. MN was arrested and interviewed under caution for more than an hour. He provided a detailed account of consensual intercourse. By mid October, the mother was telling the police she wished to drop the charges. The case was not referred to the CPS because it was considered there was no realistic prospect of a conviction.

[59] It is part of the mother’s strategy, I am afraid to say, to seek to make trouble for those with whom she has argued. MN has found himself in almost the same, terrible position as did the father of X, Y and Z during the hearing of October 2012. Scurrilous and wholly false allegations were made against each man in a bid to defeat their cases in relation to their children.

Finally in relation to decision making

[60] Finally, I turn to the future, convinced as I am that the essential ‘direction of travel’ should be towards placing MA with her father. Ms Lowrie has drafted an impressive proposed plan. It is designed to incorporate MN’s support network and will be developed so long as he is fully engaged and cooperative with the relevant agencies.

[61] As a first step, MN must be given parental responsibility for MA. There is every reason to continue the interim care order so that the admirable Ms Lowrie can pursue the plan with vigour as I am confident she will. MN must commit himself to engaging fully and timeously in the planning process and alter his university schedules accordingly. I approve of the proposal to gradually reduce the mother’s contact between now and the next hearing and authorise the local authority to with hold it should there be a welfare need so to do.

[62] MN, V and W do not live in the area of the local authority which is responsible for MA. It will be essential, for the future, that the two authorities liaise and work together to produce joint, counter-signed plans. I am cheered, therefore, to read within the Position Statement of Ms Peck who has represented the other local authority today, that its social workers support the sharing of information, joint working and plans which are co-authored. One of the complications of this case is that there are not one but four local authorities, three of which sit close by one another. Thus far, although I could be wrong, it does not appear to be the case that there’s been joint working.

[63] I wholeheartedly agree with Ms Lowrie when she observed that the mother’s contact with the children should “be managed as it would under a Special Guardianship Order and … it would not be right for MN to be involved in the transport or supervision. Full co operation from the other authorities, particularly the one in which MN lives will be essential. I can only reiterate my gratitude to Ms Lowrie for her ready willingness to take the lead in seeking to coordinate inter-authority working – the pre-requisite to securing the best of outcomes for each of the six children now spread across a wide area.

[64] I approve of the plan that I should reconsider this case towards the end of November. I hope that, by then, a great deal will have been achieved so that it becomes possible for MA to move to live with her father. If there is the potential for an earlier move, then I make clear my likely agreement to that course. I am sure Ms Lowrie will keep progress and timing under constant review, gauging when the circumstances are right for MA to move within her family.


[65] I cannot conclude this judgment without observing that Ms Gartland has performed her task in representing the mother in the most exemplary fashion. She did not have the advantage of having represented MR at any stage before this hearing having inherited the brief from Ms Perry who was simply unavailable to continue in the role. Ms Gartland’s performance has been faultless. She presented her client’s case fully, economically and with flair. She has made every legitimate point on MR’s behalf with moderation, proper emphasis and singular poise. 66.Just as importantly, it has been all too apparent that Ms Gartland has treated MR throughout with kindness, courtesy and compassion. Whenever she was on the point of completing her cross examination of any witness, Ms Gartland would turn to check with her client, not once but repeatedly, as to whether she wished to raise anything else. There could have been no better all round example of how to perform the role of Counsel for a parent in a complex public law case. I am indebted to her as I hope the mother is also.