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Louisa Gothard
Louisa Gothard
Senior Solicitor, Head of Family Law
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Re W and F (Children) [2015] EWCA Civ 1300
Date:18 JAN 2016
Third slide
Law Reporter
(Court of Appeal, Richards, Gloster LJJ, Baker J, 18 December 2015)

Public law children – Sexual abuse allegations – Evidence – Breach of ABE guidelines - Appeal

The appeal from a fact-finding hearing in relation to sexual abuse allegations was allowed.

In care proceedings involving two families a fact-finding hearing was convened to determine allegations of sexual abuse. The proceedings concerned 7 children who were linked by X who had fathered one of the children and had a relationship with the mother of three other children. It was alleged that he had sexually abused children from both families.

At the conclusion of the hearing the judge found that X had sexually abused three children but dismissed allegations that he had abused three others. It was also found that all of the children apart from one had displayed inappropriate sexualised behaviour as a result of being exposed to inappropriate sexual knowledge and/or conduct through having experienced significant sexual harm. The wide-ranging findings were sufficient to meet the threshold requirements of s 31 of the Children Act 1989 in respect of all of the children. X appealed.

The appeal was allowed.

The Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings – Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures (the ABE guidance) was detailed and complex. Very great care was required when interviewing children about allegations of abuse. The guidance had been formulated and refined over the years by experts in the field including specialists with a deep understanding of how children perceive, recall and articulate their experiences. While it was unrealistic to expect perfection in any investigation, unless the courts required a high standard, miscarriages of justice would occur and the courts would reach unfair and wrong decisions with profound consequences for children and families.

The interviews in relation to two of the children had been described as ‘truly shocking’ and fell far short of the requirements of the ABE guidance. The investigation of the sexual abuse allegations had been characterised by wholesale and serious breaches of the guidance to such an extent that it had been unsafe to place any weight on what the two children had said in their interviews.

Furthermore, there had been no real analysis in the judgment of the impact of discussions between the siblings or between the adults in the presence of siblings on the allegations made. There was no real consideration of the allegations that one of the children was a perpetrator of abuse on the girls nor of the impact of those allegations on his own allegations against X.

The medical evidence had been of only limited value and the findings that one of the children had been abused could not stand as it had been based on the equivocal medical evidence alone.

No court could have reasonably concluded that X had abused any of the children on the basis of the evidence presented at the hearing.

Neutral Citation Number: [2015] EWCA Civ 1300
Case No: B4/2014/4085



Royal Courts of Justice

Date: 18/12/2015




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Janet Bazley QC and Simon Hirst (instructed by Symes  Bains Broomer) for the Appellant

Taryn Lee QC and Gaynor Hall (instructed by Local Authority Solicitor) for the First  Respondent

The other respondents were not present or represented


Hearing dates: 12 November 2015

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