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England and Wales Family Court Decisions (High Court Judges)
You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> England and Wales Family Court Decisions (High Court Judges) >> Wigan Council v M & Ors (Sexual Abuse: Fact-Finding)  EWFC 6 (30 January 2015)
Cite as:  EWFC 6
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B e f o r e :
Sitting at Sessions House, Preston
M, Mr C, Mr P, GM, G, B
and CC (by their Children's Guardian)
Taryn Lee QC and Arlene Milne(instructed by Platt & Fishwick Solicitors) for the Mother
Karl Rowley QC and Kathryn Hughes (instructed by HCB Widdowes Mason Solicitors) for Mr C
Barbara Connolly QC and Sasha Watkinson (instructed by Stephensons Solicitors) for G
Nkumbe Ekaney QC and Arron Thomas (instructed by AFG Law) for B
Bansa Singh Hayer (instructed by WTB Solicitors) for CC, the younger children
Mr P and the Paternal Grandmother were not represented at this hearing
Hearing dates: 19 – 29 January 2015
Judgment date: 30 January 2015
Crown Copyright ©
Mr Justice Peter Jackson:
G now aged 17
B now aged 16
C1 now aged 11
C2 now aged 6
C3 now aged 2
- B said that his Dad smacked him 'so hard'.
- G had a mark on her cheek and 'was very keen not to talk about it'.
- B was seen wandering around the playground alone before 8.45 a.m.
- G told an adult that she had to make a bottle for the baby in the morning and help B and give him breakfast while the parents were in bed.
- G said that her father used B's blood testing kit on her finger.
- G had a large bruise on her face that was said to be caused by a cupboard door.
- B had a large bruise on his face and said at school that he had fallen out of bed, that he had banged it at a fair, and that he was hurt in a fight at home between his father and another man.
The parties' cases
Findings of fact
(i) Both young people were impressive witnesses. The manner in which they gave their accounts was compelling. There was no hint of malice. G spoke clearly, spontaneously and fluently. Her account was detailed, physically demonstrative, appropriately embarrassed and emotionally in keeping with what she was describing. She spoke naturally, correcting her questioner in small ways where necessary, sometimes to Mr C's advantage. There were embedded details and emotions that could not have been invented. Her repeated statement that she 'admitted' taking part in sexual activity was sadly touching and absolutely authentic. B too spoke in an unforced way, giving clear and flowing accounts and communicating difficult events both verbally and by demonstrating them with his hands. His solemn manner was in tune with what he had to tell, with occasional moments of wry humour. Like his sister, his evidence was sprinkled with small indicators of genuine memories. Having watched these young people describing their painful experiences over the course of several hours, I believed them.
(ii) The actions and words attributed to Mr C have a very large number of arrestingly distinctive features that could not have been invented by these children. They were not precocious or worldly-wise and would have no other way of knowing that this is how paedophiles act and talk.
(iii) There is a core of consistency in the accounts given by the children, individually and collectively. The accounts fitted together securely, but not slickly in a way that would suggest collusion. There were some inconsistencies about important details, for example their respective body positions when they were made to engage in sexual activity with each other. On behalf of Mr C, Mr Rowley QC and Mrs Hughes rightly draw attention to this and other examples. I am not troubled by the numerous variants within the evidence. They are entirely consistent with what one would expect from children who have been chronically abused. The accounts cover a very large number of highly-charged occasions over a very long period. As B said at one point, things get blurred. Young people cannot be expected to give a photographic replay of sequences of similar but varying events and get all the distasteful details right. Assessment of such evidence cannot only focus on the level of precision with which children give descriptions, but calls for a much broader survey of all the relevant features.
(iv) The evidence relating to B's allegation of having been abused on 22 February 2014 nonetheless calls for special consideration. I find that B is unlikely to be correct about abuse having happened on that particular date. Given the general level of activity in the home, this was an occasion when the opportunity for abuse was much reduced. An analysis of the CCTV evidence shows that Mr C and B were only together at home for three uninterrupted periods of about half an hour each on that day, during which there were specific active preparations for the following day's christening. It is said on Mr C's behalf that the failure of this allegation, which might be described as the one most susceptible to proof or disproof, amounts to a fatal blow to B's credibility. I do not agree. The manner and content of B's allegation that the abuse continued after G left the home strongly persuades me that it is true, and that the continued abuse is what ultimately prompted him to speak out. By far the most likely explanation for this aspect of the evidence is that B was mistaken about the date.
(v) The allegations have not only been broadly consistent but also persistent. G has been making allegations against Mr C since 2011. Until late July 2013, she withdrew them in the face of scornful disbelief and inadequate professional investigation. For her to have withdrawn her allegations (with no plausible reason given) in the face of such pressure does not make it likely that they are untrue. Significantly, since G and B stopped living with Mr C, they have robustly maintained their allegations.
(vi) While there is no burden on Mr C to supply an explanation for the children to have made false allegations, it is relevant that there is absolutely no plausible motive for them to have done so. On the contrary, the consequences for G of making, remaking and maintaining her allegations have been desperately hard. Likewise, B made his allegations in full knowledge of what had happened to G, but nonetheless maintains them at great cost to himself. The only conceivable reason for these children to have behaved in this way is because the continued sexual and physical abuse finally became too much to bear.
(vii) There is in my view no good evidence that G has been a child who is particularly prone to telling lies. The evidence of the school pastoral support worker suggested that any such statement is no more than an accumulation of rumour. However, after the 2013 allegations this rumour was often mentioned as if it was a fact and this may have made it easier for professionals not to take action. As to B, there is no suggestion from any quarter that he is an untruthful young person.
(viii) Mr C had every opportunity to carry out sexual and physical abuse because of the amount of time available to him over the years and the complete failure of the mother to protect the children.
(ix) Mr C was in every way a thoroughly unimpressive witness. He was clearly determined to defend himself by repeatedly saying that he had no idea why the children should have done this. Had he actually felt this, he would have shown bafflement at what had happened and a desperate curiosity to know what had gone wrong. There was not a hint of any of that in his evidence, which largely consisted of stonewalling denials. He pretended not to remember the many occasions on which child protection concerns had been raised down the years. His mask as a mild-mannered victim of circumstances occasionally slipped, showing flashes of anger and spite, particularly when describing neighbours who had frustrated his plans by helping G.
(x) On his own account, Mr C is a habitual, deliberate liar. Examples of this are:
- lies to the police and the court about his level of involvement in the 2001 proceedings: G97 & 214.
- lies to the court about previous involvement with social services: C119.
- lies to the police about his work record: G78, C260.
- lies to the police and the court about his physical discipline of the children: G70, C118 & 213. [At C118, this lie is cheek by jowl with his denial of sexual abuse.]
- lies to the police about violence to B at the school gate: G97.
(xi) I exclude from my overall consideration the puzzling evidence about the photograph of B at F307. While the content, described above, is deeply concerning and while I suspect that Mr C, and maybe B and the mother, may know more about this than they have been willing or able to say, I find myself unable to reach any safe conclusion. It is possible that this photograph represents a small window into an even more disturbing world, but the evidence for that is as yet insufficient. The matter has not, so far as I am aware, been thoroughly investigated by the police and I prefer to say no more about it.
(i) Making full allowance for her cognitive disadvantages and unhappy personal history, the mother was a troubling witness. She showed a good deal of anger, little sign that she is afraid of Mr C, and little or no understanding of the children's feelings or experiences. Her repeated statement that she should have been there for them was, I am afraid, hollow. She was unable to explain why she had dismissed their allegations out of hand. She untruthfully pretended that she had not washed her hands of them. Her denial of their clear accounts that they had warned her of what was going on was especially unconvincing. She instead became more animated when discussing the possibility that they were unreliable in certain respects.While the mother needs help and explanation with complex issues, I am quite satisfied that she had the capacity to heed the children's warnings and act on the things that she saw for herself.All this raises real doubt as to whether she genuinely believes G and B, and whether she has separated emotionally from Mr C, matters that will require further assessment. Her complacent attitude towards her highly vulnerable 16-year-old daughter continuing a relationship with a 25-year-old man and then becoming pregnant will also need consideration, as will her willingness to get back together with Mr P and her connivance in separating G from a placement with Mrs D where she was perhaps experiencing decent parenting for the first time in her life -- knowing that G does not see it that way does not alter the fact.
(ii) The mother has chosen to be untruthful about important matters, when truthful information from her could have helped protect the children. An obvious example is her repeated denial that she had never seen anything concerning in Mr C's behaviour towards the children. During her evidence, she gave a vivid description of the occasion when Mr C beat G up at the bottom of the stairs, something she revealed for the first time just two months ago. Her explanation was that she had forgotten about this when making formal statements over the course of the previous 18 months. This was so unbelievable that it is worrying that she should imagine that anyone would believe her. Likewise, her last-minute acceptance that the children may have told her about sexual abuse but that she may not have been listening or heard them because she was more concerned about cleaning the house showed her unwillingness or inability to face up to her own responsibility.
(iii) It is not possible to place any weight on the mother's statements about whether or not she believed the children. As she knew that abuse was occurring, her violent reaction to their allegations can only have reflected fear about the consequences of exposure for the family. After G and B left home, her continued loyalty to Mr C dominated her thinking. Her decision to separate from him cannot have been based upon any real thought about his guilt or innocence. In the same way, her decision to get G back home gave no thought to her daughter's real needs but sprung entirely from her own isolation and unhappiness.
(iv) I am less surprised at the mother's weak efforts to ensure that B consistently received the medical treatment that was on offer, as her limitations and the extent of her other responsibilities for a growing family provides some explanation.
(i) The actions of the police in August 2011 and on 1 June 2013 can only be described as cack-handed. By twice being confronted unexpectedly in the presence of the adults, G was effectively dropped in it. Instead of protecting her, these actions made her situation at home even worse and made it even harder for her to speak about what was happening to her.
(ii) Against a background of chronic concerns and previous sexual abuse allegations, the social work assessment of the allegations that G made in July 2013 was superficial and inadequate. As a result, the decision to treat these children as children in need, and subsequently to downgrade their status even further, was plainly wrong. There was no risk assessment whatever. There was no analysis of the issues, merely a recital of facts with no conclusions being drawn – see C270. There was no thinking. There was clear evidence in the form of G's allegations and the family's striking response that demanded the invocation of child protection procedures. Instead, G's emotional needs were forgotten while Mr C returned to the home and in the mother's telling words "everything settled down". Had a Child Protection Case Conference been called, it would have been an opportunity for an experienced multidisciplinary assessment of this abnormal situation. Proper consideration could have been given to the real needs of this sibling group. G's anomalous situation in living without contact with her family in an unregulated private fostering arrangement could have been improved. B could have been protected.
(iii) It is disturbing to consider G's situation at meetings such as the one that took place on 3 October 2013, where she was made to face the hostility of her family. It is no wonder that she was so distressed.
(iv) It is entirely unsatisfactory that no social worker viewed any of the ABE interviews until October 2014. It is a serious imposition on children to record them speaking about such sensitive matters. The least that they can expect is that their social worker will watch and listen to what they have had to say. If crucial evidence of this kind is not absorbed, it is not surprising if misjudgments follow.
(v) The social workers should certainly have asked for legal advice in 2013, well before the case was closed.
(vi) Although Ms H became the children's social worker back in October 2013, I am in no way critical of the way that she has carried out her responsibilities. This demanding case was the first to be allocated to her as a newly qualified social worker. She was entitled to rely on her manager for supervision and guidance. The local authority has had the opportunity to present evidence showing what that amounted to, but it has not done so. Having heard Ms H give evidence, the first time that she has done so in any case, I was impressed by her grasp of the issues and her willingness to learn from experience. She inherited a case that had already taken the wrong path and she is not personally or professionally responsible for the consequences.
Postscript (11 March 2015)
Further postscript (14 December 2015)