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||Neutral Citation Number:  EWHC 4211 (Fam)
||Case No. FD14P00954
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE No. FD14P00954
||Preston Combined Court
Preston PR1 2PD
||8th October 2015
B e f o r e :
MR. JUSTICE NEWTON
Transcribed by BEVERLEY F. NUNNERY & CO.
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MS. R. KIRBY (instructed by Dawson Cornwell Solicitors) appeared on behalf of the Applicant.
THE FIRST RESPONDENT appeared in Person.
THE SECOND RESPONDENT appeared in Person.
MS. S. BIRTLES appeared on behalf of the Children's Guardian.
HTML VERSION OF JUDGMENT (AS APPROVED BY THE JUDGE)
Crown Copyright ©
MR. JUSTICE NEWTON:
- This is a welfare hearing concerning two girls, B and C, born respectively on 5th†August 2008 and 11th August 2009. Their welfare is my paramount consideration. In order to understand the background and context of this hearing, it is necessary to refer to the court's fact finding judgment of 18th June 2015. This is an ex†tempore judgment in this most difficult case. However, like the guardian, I have reached clear and overwhelming conclusions.
- Shortly after I delivered the judgment on 18th June, as anticipated, the mother arrived back in the United Kingdom on 23rd June. She went to stay with relatives in the north. Since that time it has become impossible for them, and so together with C, she now lives in bed and breakfast accommodation with 20 other occupants. She lives in very reduced circumstances, having about £30 a week at her disposal to provide for food, clothing and any other incidental expenses. The mother's visa in this country is time limited. She has until 10th†November 2015, unless an Immigration application is made, as I believe it either has or is about to be, she and C will have to leave the jurisdiction by that date.
- The court had hoped that the judgment of June had been handed down there would have been some movement, some reflection on the part of the paternal family, on the last judgment. I did not conclude that this was the worst case that I have heard. In fact, very sadly, I am afraid to say that that is no longer so, because, unusually, there has been no change at all on the part of the paternal family. The reason for that, having now listened to the evidence, is very, very clear. Once the mother and C had returned, there was, most unfortunately, immediate discord over the arrangements for contact, and it was necessary for the guardian to mediate and organise some visits. The father's conduct (I now have little doubt fuelled by his mother) in relation to financial provision was, in my judgment, designed deliberately to place the mother under the very maximum pressure.
- The first contact visit was organised for 14th July 2015 in Manchester. Considering the background and the very extreme perspectives, it was surprisingly successful. The second was organised in Leeds on 7th August 2015. That was much less so. Whilst C was receptive to the renewed relationship with her sister B, B appeared reluctant to interact either with her mother or her sister. Subsequently, on 21st August 2015, pursuant to the court order, a referral was made to a third party organisation to try and assist the relationship between the siblings. On any view, it was going to be a slow process; it being conducted by way of fortnightly meetings, the process has in any event only just begun. Whilst it is early days, it is very evident that the position for B has deteriorated sharply. Her behaviours echo those observed by the guardian when the two sisters had contact by Skype, in April. I am entirely satisfied that having now heard the evidence, those behaviours are a direct reflection of the corrosive contribution of the paternal family and, in particular, the influence and example of the paternal grandmother.
- These children have had the great assistance of Miss Jolly of the High Court CAFCASS team. She is both highly qualified and experienced in cases such as this of the greatest difficulty. One of the major challenges has been that B has consistently been unresponsive, indicating that she was not pleased to see either her mother or her sister, as indeed had been foreshadowed by the paternal grandmother in earlier evidence, that that would be her response.
- The position so far as C is concerned is in fact rather different. While she demonstrates a shyness and caution towards the father (apparently because of some unfortunate incident, which the father cannot recall, when he was last in Pakistan), nonetheless it is clear that her relationship has gradually but slowly developed, as one would have hoped it would have done. The relationship, therefore, between the two sisters remains fractured as, of course, is the relationship between the sister and the parent with whom they are not living. All parties agree, I think, that the sisters should be reunited. Both wish to provide care.
- Most recently, the day before the hearing commenced, the father proposed that the parents should reconcile by reuniting in a home provided by the father; that is to say, away from the paternal grandmother's house. The first that was known about that proposed, so far as the mother was concerned, was, I understand, when they arrived at court on Monday. What was instructive was how the message was communicated, through members of the family, paternal then maternal, and in fact that no contact had been made directly to the mother until the Monday evening. It is not unusual in the context of cases such as this that such a proposal might be made circuitously, but having regard to the unabated campaign of the paternal family (spanning four years, involving the child, and reinforced by a total lack of financial provision), notwithstanding the enormous cultural pressures placed upon the mother she politely rejected it.
- The hearing has spanned three days, this being the fourth. I have read the papers, the updating statements and position statements. I have had the benefit of again hearing the evidence of the mother, the father and the paternal grandmother, as well as Miss Jolly. The evidence that I heard in this hearing mirrored my assessment of the evidence given in June, and my evaluation of the live evidence both then and now has been determinative of my decision and very clear conclusions.
- The mother, as I have indicated, returned to this jurisdiction and remains living in a difficult and foreign environment. She lives in very reduced circumstances. But for the charitable support of the relevant local authority, whom I particularly wish to commend, her situation would have been intolerable, and untenable, as I am satisfied the paternal family had intended. The issue over financial provision, itself very modest, has continued to be difficult. I understand a committal hearing against the father is listed shortly.
- The mother described the two visits that were organised by CAFCASS with her children, echoing entirely the evidence of CAFCASS. The first went tolerably well; the second, she was told by her daughter, "Mama, I don't like you". Her daughter was distant. It was, of course, very unlike the first meeting which had occurred. That behaviour has continued, indeed her daughters approach has deteriorated since that time. It was suggested by the father to the mother in cross-examination that it would be beneficial to her to reconcile with him and for the children. Her remarkably dignified response, putting aside to an amazing degree her own loss and pain of the last four years, concentrating, quite extraordinary, only on the losses suffered by both these girls.
- The mother's evidence was powerful; powerful because it was restrained and, as I have said, remarkably almost completely child focused. Despite her almost total displacement from her family and support, and from all that is familiar to her, she has concentrated and focused on the welfare of these two children. There is in fact, as the father told me last time, no good reason (other than financial provision) why these children should not live together. There is no good reason why they should not be reunited in their mother's care. I very much hope that that care can be provided by the mother in the United Kingdom, but it is not certain. I very much hope that armed with this judgment and with her circumstances, and with the importance of the children maintaining a relationship with both their mother and their father, that she is given permission by the authorities to remain in this country.
- The father gave evidence. He demonstrated at the outset, perhaps for the first time, a hint that he may have just begun to appreciate the damage caused by the conduct of this family, his family, and particularly by his mother from whom he seemed to acknowledge he needs to distance himself. He could not admit that he is dominated by her, and when the questions became more difficult, he continued to look to her for support. As a result his apparent independence has not been sustained through the hearing. His feelings and expressions were inevitably, and in any event, confused. He is, as I say, a man who struggles with feelings of decency, though retains them, but who is, essentially, weak and will find it very difficult, perhaps impossible, to resist the dominating pressures of the women in his life; that is to say, his sisters and, in particular, his mother.
- He is looking to re-house himself, suggesting that he had hoped his wife would agree to reconcile so that he could prove that he was not under the influence of his mother (although of course he had not yet consulted his mother about that course of action). It was perhaps disappointing but predictable that that message of reconciliation was passed through relations in the way that I have described, and more disappointing that those initial thoughts (of independence) have not been sustained. His final submissions at the conclusion of the case were, with respect to him, depressing. He described the mother as a compulsive liar; someone who was obviously selfish because she would not reconcile on his terms and, as a result, he would now go for a Sharia divorce. The father repeatedly said that he accepted the court's judgment of 18th June 2015 and whilst I might expect him to still challenge some of the detail, even a cursory examination of what has occurred since that time is very less than impressive, and does him no credit at all.
- The difficulty over financial support, the desperate circumstances in which the mother has found herself, have all been, in my view, deliberately designed to wear the mother down. I am not entirely clear how she manages on £30 a week. The gratuitously unpleasant and indeed wholly untrue assertions about the mother's alleged mental ill health (as the father now admits) about which there is absolutely no factual foundation, are all aspects of the way in which the case has been persistently fought by his family over the last four months.
- During his evidence, the father became increasingly and genuinely distressed, frequently seeking refuge, predictably, in past contentions that, for example, the mother had deliberately marooned herself in Pakistan, making assertions of consent given to him by the signing of the two documents by the public notary, upon which I have already made findings. I am not unsympathetic to the plight of the father, but he has a very, very long way to go. It may be because of his background and all that has happened that it is asking too much of him, but he does need to remove himself from the emotional power and influence of his own mother and he has not yet been able to do so. Her hold over him is absolute, as was immediately and graphically demonstrated when she gave evidence. He is a casualty of her malevolent dominance, but he is an adult and could yet forge his own path. The biggest casualty is B, placed in an environment, an unhealthy environment, where her mother has been airbrushed from the picture completely, and by the grandmother, in particular, as her evidence both in June and in this hearing has so amply illustrated.
- The paternal grandmother's evidence, was particularly illuminating. She immediately delivered herself of a long and emotional plea, setting out the hardships of her life; how she had acquired her own home on limited means, rearing her own children, of her devotion to her son and that all she had done for the mother in this case. What might at first be regarded as a highly emotional plea and outburst (at times howling and wailing), in fact quickly proved to be a sophisticated device to reassert her own controlling position, not for a second had she in fact lost control. Its effect on the father and his sister, the grandmother's McKenzie friend (who both began to sob), was immediate, as it was no doubt intended, and it graphically demonstrated, not just how tough and manipulative she is, prepared to stop at nothing, but how very difficult it will be for the father to salvage and reassert his independence. Its effect on the court, however, was quite the reverse. She endeavoured to manipulate each area of the evidence to her own advantage, making a concession only then to qualify or reverse it, suggesting that this entire proceeding was a malicious plan by the mother. She is a woman of powerful determination, used to getting her own way at all times. She has brought up her family on her own (having separated from her husband many years ago), proudly managing to acquire her own home despite her responsibilities and straitened circumstances.
- Gradually, as the questions from the counsel entered more difficult territory, the grandmother deliberately contrived to misunderstand questions that were put to her, deliberately deflecting enquiries and her answers. In that way she gradually built herself up to a crescendo of apparent and deafening wailing and hysterics. It was so obviously not genuine distress, but a cynical self indulgent display of temper. It may well be, I do not know, a device that she has practiced in the past, but it was entirely about getting her own way (B has occasionally behaved similarly). It demonstrated that she was prepared to stop at nothing in order to achieve the primacy of her views and wishes. She is a woman who has always had her own way and will make quite sure that she does so in the future. It was, from beginning to end, a demonstration of consummate control. Not once was she prepared to give way. On reflection, it vividly reminded me of the evidence of her brother in Pakistan, which I had heard in June.
- To the very end, I am satisfied the paternal grandmother bears not just a heavy, but the primary, responsibility for these circumstances in which this family finds itself. She is not just selfish and self-centred, but utterly manipulative; a woman who will stop at nothing; who has been able and does use her position, exploited and honed over many years of practice, to achieve her own ends. Sadly, she is also a person who has no idea, indeed no concern, of the effect that all of this has had on two young and vulnerable children. Amongst the galaxy of thousands, probably tens of thousands of witnesses whom the court has heard over many years, including serious criminal cases, this witness was amongst the toughest, most focused, manipualtvie and callous that I have ever heard, reinforcing my view, if such were needed, of the real force behind what happened to this mother in September 2011. As she said in her closing words of evidence, "she, (that is the mother) will regret this one day".
- The children have the benefit of a highly qualified and experienced guardian. I have read and apply her reports and analyses. She made it clear that there was no acknowledgement, no insight, no evidence of conciliation, let alone appreciation, in relation to the plight of these two children. Indeed, she used emotive language, this from a guardian who is, in the Court's experience, always calm and moderate. She was alarmed, indeed frightened, by the manipulation of this family and of their strongly held views and how they had put them into effect. She was absolutely certain that the two sisters needed reuniting. She was an extremely powerful witness in what is in fact a most difficult case. If there are factual disputes between the guardian and other witnesses, as there are, I prefer, without hesitation, the guardian's evidence.
- It is the greatest disappointment to me, and indeed a tragedy for these sisters, that in reality there has been no change in the approach of the paternal family, despite having had almost four months to reflect and think about it. The father, who does have vestigial thoughts of decency, displayed genuine upset and emotion about his own plight in this hearing -- but not of his daughters, even though it was brought about through him; he has been unable to separate from his own mother, as his depressing submissions at the conclusion of the case and hers so vividly demonstrated. I had hoped that his reflections and avowed acceptance of the court's judgment from June would have brought about some gradual, if modest, modification of his approach, but that has not occurred. The reason, having now heard the paternal grandmother again, is all too obvious.
- There is, at the moment, no evidence that the father and his family have any conception of the damage, indeed cruelty, which has been heaped on B and C. The behaviour of B is inexplicable unless she has been actively alienated from her own mother. Of course, that is precisely what the paternal grandmother told me directly that she had done in her evidence in June. That cynical behaviour by her, in the context of the court's previous judgment, I am satisfied can properly be described, as frightening. It should be remembered that the grandmother plays a seminal role in the life of her granddaughter. They even share a bedroom. Her sphere of influence was graphically illustrated by the evidence that I heard on Tuesday. There is no possibility of any separation or any reparation being possible whilst she is involved. Whilst the father perhaps has just begun to appreciate -- though he cannot admit it (at least in front of his mother) -- the damage caused by him to B and C by what has occurred, his proposals are, at best, too little and too late, and at the moment, in any event, in my judgment, would be most unlikely to be sustained. That leaves to one side his proposal and any submissions about reconciliation which may be a final attempt to control and bring the mother to heel. I take the father, at least, at face value. Inevitably great pressures have been placed on both these parents, but the situation remains as it is: that they are and will remain separated.
- The father's final submissions were an attempt to shift the responsibility of this situation back onto the mother and he also criticised her failure to consider his proposal for reconciliation. It seems to me that they were entirely in accordance with the submissions made by the paternal grandmother concentrating on the dishonesty of the mother's family in Pakistan, lying, apparently, about her age and other examples.
- Here is not just a good mother, but a remarkable young woman of real depth and insight, as all the evidence incontrovertibly demonstrates. Here is a mother who was cruelly and deliberately removed from her daughter's life. Perhaps it was those very qualities which triggered her disposal, sent back to Pakistan. Here is a mother who has demonstrated how very resilient she is as a parent, and as a strong, decent adult, by all that she has done and endured in these proceedings. I am satisfied from that remarkable resilience that she is well placed to look after her two daughters wherever she may be.
- The current evidence demonstrates the impossibility of the existing situation continuing. If these children are to have any relationship with both their parents, their position needs radical alteration. B's expressions in relation to her mother are strengthening and there is a diminishing prospect of any reconciliation even with her sister, let alone her mother. She is controlled and manipulated by the environment in which she lives, dominated by the grandmother, whose views, as I have made clear, are absolutely plain. The grandmother was a remarkable witness. She demonstrated a quite extraordinary focus, toughness and controlling sense of purpose. Unfortunately, B is a casualty of that perspective.
- The difficult balance for the court is to weigh everything that B might lose, which is considerable, with what she may gain if I change the existing regime. Of course, she wishes to stay in the closed environment where she is. She loves her father. She no doubt loves other members of the family too. Her life is settled; familiar; stable. She is doing very well at school, as the reports indicate, but she is an innocent girl caught up in a complex family, in a cultural dispute through no fault of her own and over which she has no control. She will suffer enormous emotional harm by being denied any relationship with either her sister or her mother. She has been manipulated in the cruellest of ways by the father's family. The only way now for that relationship to develop is for her to be removed from her present environment. Such a change will cause her enormous shock, distress and disturbance. It is unlikely to be an experience that she will, in the short or probably long term, ever forget, but she is not responsible; it is not her fault, nor that of the mother. Should she be denied 50 per cent of herself? Should she be denied a proper relationship, for no good reason, with her mother and her sister? The court has to balance the shock and distress of the short term with the overwhelming advantages of the long term. That is the balance which has to be struck, and whilst it is not all one way, there is only one clear conclusion that could be reached.
- There has been some real development in the father's expressed views since June, but in relation to the relationship between the children and their parents, the position has become more difficult; it has gone backwards. In order to achieve what B requires, having regard to the welfare checklist, in particular. My conclusions are clear and unequivocal, they are strongly informed and supported by the guardian.
- Having thought about it carefully, it is, I am afraid, necessary and proportionate to remove B from the environment in which she currently lives. Having regard to the conclusions that I have made about the father's care and of the family in particular, it is not possible for her to remain where she is. Indeed, it would, it seems to me, be no overstatement to say that I found the evidence of the grandmother chilling. She is likely to do nothing to shield, let alone even help B. Indeed she said during the course of her evidence that she was not expecting to see B again.
- I direct the appropriate local authority to undertake an investigation into B's circumstances pursuant to s.37(1) of the Children Act. I direct that they file a report in eight weeks. Pursuant to s.38(1)(b), having made a s.37 direction, I am completely satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that B is suffering and is likely to suffer significant harm attributable to the care given to her, having regard to the evidence which I have heard. I considered, in fact, whether or not I should make such a direction in June. I had hoped that it would be unnecessary and that my initial conclusions about the family would have led to a change in direction. I am satisfied that the s.31 criteria are overwhelmingly made out and it is necessary and proportionate due to the short term risks here to make an interim care order for a period of eight weeks.
- The mother wishes B to be placed with her forthwith, for reasons which anyone would understand but, in my view, that is an unrealistic aspiration. It would be, at best, an untested experiment having regard to B's behaviour so far, and whilst it might be less traumatic, it might well be more so, and possibly fatal. I do not know what her reaction will be, and it seems to me necessary, therefore, that that should not occur yet. I direct the local authority to remove this child from her home forthwith and place her with suitable and appropriate foster parents. I am told that such a step has been anticipated by both authorities and that active preparations have already been established.
- I cannot be sure, but I hope very much that the father, despite his distress, nonetheless if he truly loves his daughter -- I believe he does -- that he will, over the next few days, enable and assist his daughter in the move which she will find immensely difficult. He holds a key to her future equilibrium. It is whether or not he can find it within himself, I would urge him to help her.
- The local authority must carry out urgent and intensive work with B in order to re-establish her relationship with her mother and C, including placing B in the mother's care at an appropriate time. I hope that it will not be necessary for the institution of public law proceedings within the eight week period, but it may be necessary, depending on how the relationship develops. In any event, in so far as I have any control over it, I direct that this guardian be appointed as the guardian both in any future enquiries and future proceedings.
- Contact with the father will have to be carefully managed and clearly needs to be supervised. Having regard to the grandmother's views and perspectives, I direct that there should be no contact at the present time with the paternal grandmother. I urge the father again to help his daughter. He has a great role to play.
- I shall relist this case for directions for half a day on 3rd December 2015 when I shall also consider the important issue of costs, having regard to the responsibility for how this situation has arisen. The father has the ability to earn and the grandmother owns her own home, free of mortgage. They are both on notice that the Court will actively consider costs against them at that hearing.
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