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Cite as: [2014] EWFC 2

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Neutral Citation Number: [2014] EWFC 2
Case No: DI 13 C00253

(Sitting at Manchester Civil Justice Centre)

IN THE MATTER OF THE G CHILDREN (By their Children's Guardian)


B e f o r e :


Lancashire County Council
- and -


The S Children
(By their Children's Guardian)
1st Respondent

2nd Respondent

The 3rd to 9th Respondents


Mr Rothery (Instructed by Lancashire CC) for the Applicant
SG & SG the 1st and 2nd Respondents appeared in person
Mr Zentar (Instructed by John Whittle Robinson Solicitors) for the Respondent Children

Hearing dates: 7th to 11th April 2014



Crown Copyright ©

    The Honourable Ms Justice Russell:


  1. These are care proceedings concerning the seven children of Mr and Mrs S. The children are E (a girl - born 07.08.2000) now aged 13 years and 8 months, AS (a girl - born 12.12.2001) now aged 12 years and 4 months, JL (a boy - born 16.12.2003) now aged 10 years 4 months, AR (a girl - born 02.08.2005) now aged 8 years and 8 months old, JK (a boy - born 24.04.2007) now almost 7 years old, RD (a boy - born 19.05.2009) now 4 years and 11 months old and RS (a girl - born 15.09.2010) now 3 years and 7 months old; their ages alone indicate that each has differing needs and that the court will need to consider the welfare check-list contained in s 1 of the Children Act 1989 (CA) in respect of each individual child. As siblings their Art 8 rights to a family life both with their parents and within the sibling group under the European Convention on Human Rights and Freedoms of 1950 (ECHR) are engaged and must also be kept in mind.
  2. The case has a lengthy history, but I am concerned principally with the period between the judgement of Mr Justice Hedley in 2011 and now April 2014. Mr S and Mrs S, who appear in person and present as a united front, believe that their family has attracted some notoriety and that what has happened in the past particularly prior to their marriage has prejudiced the authorities against them, leading to these proceedings. I make clear from the outset that the circumstances surrounding the marriage do not form part of this trial and I am not concerned with them. Mr and Mrs S have been married for 14 years and it is the circumstances leading to their seven children being taken into the care of the local authority in the autumn of 2013 and the welfare of the children at that time, and now, with which I am concerned and whether the children have suffered or are likely to suffer significant harm attributable to their parents' care or lack of it.
  3. LCC applies for care orders in respect of all seven children it is their case that the children have suffered significant harm, attributable to their parents' care and that the harm takes the form of neglect, educational and emotional harm. Specifically as put by their counsel in his final submissions LCC say that there is no one particular incident or matter of concern that they can point to, rather that it is a case where drawing the matters regarding the children's care and welfare together the court should find the threshold crossed. The specific findings sought and matters relied on are set out below. They rely on the evidence of the social work team allocated to the case, Mr Goldsworthy (Team Manager), Ms Challender (Practice Manager) and Mr Norris (Social Worker). They also rely on the evidence of the guardian, who supports their applications for care orders.
  4. History

  5. As I have said Hedley J made findings of fact which are set out in his judgement of 29th March 2010. I do not intend to repeat them all here nor could those findings form the basis of care orders now. Hedley J found that the children, E, A and J had suffered significant emotional harm [52] and that "were the present behaviour of both parents to continue, and there is no earthly reason to think it will not, significant harm to any child living in their care is inevitable." He found the threshold criteria contained in s 31 of the CA met and made interim care orders. At paragraph [53] he refers to the other matters in his judgement, the itinerant housing history, the impact of that history on the children emotionally and educationally, the absence of signs of future stability in those areas, the family dynamics and personalities of the parents, the disruption to the children by the making [by their mother] of allegations and acting upon those allegations, the wholly unacceptable home conditions on 25th March 2005, and in 2008 questions of dental health and health oversight generally.
  6. During 2011 the children were rehabilitated and returned to live with their parents although the eldest child E was the last to return home as she displayed some reluctance to do so. The supervision orders in respect of E came to an end at the beginning of 2012. During this period there were no concerns reported about the family who were thought to be living in an address in Burnley. RS, the youngest child was born and along with her three brothers and three sisters she was seen by the Health Visitor and family support social workers from LCC at home in Burnley. They did not attend school and were educated at home; at the time this was not inconsistent with the expectations of the court as it was recognised that Mr and Mrs S were at liberty to home educate if they so wished ([2] of the judgement of 8th April 2011).
  7. Mr S has, himself, persistently referred to his own and their earlier history as set out in paragraphs [4] to [10] of the judgement of Hedley J. He says that they were referred to by the social workers and form the basis of a vendetta against the family by the local authorities both in Lancashire and in Blackpool. This history does not form part of the case brought by LCC, at all. I do not intend to repeat them here except to say that Mrs S, who is now 30 and the mother of seven children, married Mr S, then 48, on her sixteenth birthday.
  8. The precipitating events and circumstances which led to these proceedings

  9. These proceedings were brought by LCC following events which took place in August and September 2013. It is ironic that the family came to the attention of the local authority as a result of the actions of the parents which drew the local authority's attention. They were not at the time subject to any court orders or any monitoring on the part of any local authority.
  10. The following is based largely on the evidence of Mr and Mrs S themselves. Both Mr and Mrs S told me that when RD was returned to their care, as a toddler, from foster care where he had been from 3 days after he was born Mrs S found it hard to bond with him and both parents said that he seemed to reject them and his siblings. According to Mr and Mrs S RD annoyed his brothers and sisters by taking their toys and taking food from their plates. They felt that he did not fit into the family. More than that they felt he was not like their other children. As a result they decided to live as a divided family with Mrs S and the six other children occupying one room downstairs and Mr S and RD occupying the other. RD was, on their own evidence, largely confined to that room with a gate placed across the doorway. Mr S ate his meals in this front room off a plate which RD shared. Mr S and RD slept in this room while the other children and their mother all slept in one room upstairs.
  11. Mr and Mrs S both gave evidence that RD would scream and cry for hours at a time. Mrs S emphasised that RD was screaming not just crying and that it was not like her other children. It is their case that they were worried that he was developmentally delayed and that he had something organically wrong with him. They were so concerned that his crying would cause the neighbours or a passer-by to complain particularly at night that they took him to see their GP, in Burnley, and then to a specialist.
  12. There was, apparently, no diagnosis but a recommendation that they change his diet in case he was lactose-intolerant. RD continued to have periods of screaming during which he must have been very distressed. Mr S described him as disaffected, disruptive and violent to the other children; he said RD's behaviour was classic attention seeking and that he would not bond with the other children. His speech was delayed and he was referred to a speech therapist. Both Mr and Mrs S say they do not blame RD but both saw the faults as lying with him and not with them. RD is put forward by his parents as the cause of what happened next which led to social services intervention. At the time he had been back living with his family for more than two years. He was just four years old.
  13. Mr and Mrs S disagreed about what should be done; Mrs S was concerned that if social services became involved the children would once more be taken into care. Mr S says he wanted to ask for help. The family had become more dysfunctional and there existed a kind of apartheid within the home. Mrs S left, it is agreed, without warning and went to a refuge that she had contacted before on the 14th August 2013. She left RD with Mr S. She and the six children lived in a self-contained flat in the refuge. They were given material, physical and emotional support by the refuge workers and Mrs S was in contact with her parents who provided some assistance for her and the children.
  14. Meanwhile Mr S found it increasingly difficult to cope. In his evidence he said that he realised he could not cope on his own. In his oral evidence he told me in terms that the only way he could cope with RD was when Mrs S was there and when he did not have that he could not cope. He wanted to put RD in nursery and there were no nurseries in the Blackpool area, so he took him to their GP in Burnley (at the time they did not have a GP in Blackpool). He described RD to me as a filthy child who could get filthy very quickly. He said RD ran his hands on the wheels of his buggy and that he would pick up and eat anything including chewing gum and cigarette ends. Mr S said he would try to bath RD but it was hurting Mr S's back and arms. He took RD to the GP who said he would make a "soft" referral to social services (LCC).
  15. On the 6th September 2013 Mr S approached LCC for help. I have seen the record of the self-referral. On it is a reference to a previous referral by the refuge on 28th August which shared information from the refuge that Mrs S had disclosed after a few days that she had left RD in the care of his father. The referral reads that Mr S was "requesting that [RD] be accommodated short term under section 20 of the Children's Act [sic], he referred [RD] as being mentally handicapped with behavioural problems which he is struggling to cope with. He stated [RD] is in acute distress and in need of his mother. [Mr S's] wife ran away with his 6 other children on 14th August 2013 because of [RD] , she dislikes [RD] because of his disability and wants to be away from him. She … "has mental health problems namely Schizophrenia and depression and has had issues since she was 13 and all she does is run away from her problems, [Mr S] stated that she is extremely vulnerable as she will go to anyone who shows her any interest or takes her in. [She] is refusing help from mental health services she says 'I don't want to be told by a psychiatrist that I am a nutter'".
  16. When called back by a social worker (a call he now denies took place) Mr S is recorded as denying that he had requested accommodation for RD or that he could not cope with his behaviour but is recorded as saying that he had concerns about Mrs S's mental health and capacity to care for the children, who are not registered with a GP or a dentist and that they cannot read or write. In his evidence Mr S denied saying any of these things but I find that it is more likely than not that he did as he has since told me that he could not cope with RD and there is no plausible reason why the records would have been fabricated at the time they were made.
  17. Mr S says he then spoke to Blackpool social services on 10th September but nothing came of it. On the 11th September the social worker in this case telephoned and this was followed by an agreed visit on the 12th September. Ms Challender and Mr Norris visited the house in Burnley. They both described Mr S as being voluble setting out his and the family's history in a torrent of detail. Having observed him in court over five days I accept the social workers description of that visit. Mr S said that the children had not been attending school and that the parents had been unable to buy the materials for their Christian home education for some time because of financial difficulties which concurs with what Mrs S told the refuge at the time. He was described as being very upset about his wife leaving him; which he did not deny when giving evidence although he denied almost everything else.
  18. RD was observed as unkempt, fully incontinent at four with delayed speech and not making any demands or seeking contact with anyone including his father. The house was poorly maintained, the kitchen in particular was in a bad state with decaying food, in bags and very limited in the way of provisions. The front room, described as the play room was barely accessible because of the clutter, rubbish and debris it contained. The bedrooms upstairs were also described as cluttered and unkempt with the main bedroom containing two double and two single beds. When asked where the family lived to establish which department would have most involvement the social workers found it difficult to ascertain as from Mr S's replies it became apparent that the family migrated between Burnley and Blackpool. According to the evidence of Ms Challender Mr S accepted that the conditions in the home were poor and that he was struggling with his son and consented to RD's accommodation. Mr S denies that he did so. I accept Ms Challender's evidence and I reject the evidence of Mr S that he had had to exaggerate the situation in order to get help and that his plan had backfired.
  19. Ms Challender says, supported by the evidence of Mr Norris, that Mr S showed little concern for how RD would cope with his removal to foster care and offered little or no assistance. As a result RD was transported wearing shoes that were too small. His clothing was very dirty and when the shoes were removed his feet were found to have overgrown toenails, be ingrained with dirt and covered in sores. Of real concern to the social workers was the lack of distress or confusion shown by this four year old boy on being removed from his father's care.
  20. Mrs S remained in the refuge. On the following day, 13th September 2013, she was visited there by social services. Mrs S said she had fled domestic abuse, not in the form of physical violence but in the form of the controlling and abusive behaviour of her husband. She described the children as almost captive not being allowed out to play or meet and play with other children of their own ages. She described Mr S as insulting and abusing her. The social worker said presciently in her statement of the 15th September 2013 that on balance it was highly likely that Mrs S would return to her husband in the very near future. Mrs S did not want to have RD placed with her; a further rejection of this little boy by his mother.
  21. The matter went to court on the 13th September 2013. At the Hyndburn FPC Mr S represented himself and both parents did not oppose the making of interim care orders. The six children remained with their mother at the refuge. The case was transferred to the County Court. The First Appointment was on the 23rd September 2013. Mrs S was represented, Mr S did not attend as he was in retreat, however he was represented. The children remained with their mother and without RD in the refuge. There was due to be a case management conference on the 20th November 2013.
  22. As directed by the court a statement was prepared and signed by Mrs S dated the 10th October 2013 which repeated much of what she had told the social worker and the case workers in the refuge, about the controlling and abusive behaviour of her husband, both towards her and the children and the isolation of the family that had occurred as a result.
  23. Mrs S had also signed an agreement with the local authority which formed the basis upon which the children remained in her care and in safety; she did so with the benefit of legal advice. On page 1 of that agreement each of the first three paragraphs makes reference to the fact that Mrs S and the children will remain in the refuge. The third paragraph explicitly sets out that should she leave the police will be informed and that Children Social Care will take steps to safeguard the children. On page 2 the fourth paragraph states, again in clear terms, that she will not allow the children to have contact with Mr S and that any contact will be supervised and arranged by the Social Worker or the local authority staff.
  24. On the 16th she left the refuge with the children, without informing anyone, and returned to Mr S, then in the Blackpool house. She did this knowing that she was breaking the agreement, and I find, in full knowledge of the likely outcome of such a move; namely that the local authority would remove the children. She had been warned that it was likely, and had signed an agreement that made it almost inevitable. Mrs S said that she had had to leave the refuge as the workers there had said she would have to leave soon due to JL's behaviour. There is evidence before this court from the refuge which is to the contrary and I do not accept that to be the reason she left.
  25. The team manager spoke to the police, the refuge workers, his social workers and the children's guardian. He took the decision to remove the children in consultation with them. Mr Goldsworthy then went to the family home in Blackpool. The children were taken from the house. E was distressed and crying, the others apart from JL left without incident. JL was getting ready when his mother entered the room threatening to kill Mr Goldsworthy. She accepted that she did this, and did so repeatedly, but denies swearing when she did so. Unsurprisingly, JL became very distressed. JL had to be carried from the house and was obviously very upset and distressed throughout. Neither parent was willing or able to contain their own emotions in order to help him, or indeed any of the other children. The police filed a report which bears this out and that, in particular, Mrs S was obstructive and failed to help the children collect any of their personal belongings or ready themselves for removal.
  26. There was then some difficulty in getting the case listed in Lancashire. On the 24th October 2013 the case came before His Honour Judge Booth, sitting as a section 9 judge. The case was transferred to the High Court to be heard by Mrs Justice King in London on the 15th November 2013. It was then transferred to be heard by Mr Justice Hayden in Liverpool but he could not hear it because of previous involvement in the past when at the bar. The case was then allocated to Mr Justice Peter Jackson who listed it before me for five days starting on the 7th April 2014.
  27. I heard the case over five days a full two days of which of which were given over to hearing the oral evidence of both Mr and Mrs S. Mr S had often interrupted the proceedings and his own questioning of witnesses, to make what amounted to submissions about the conduct of the local authority, the conspiracy of those in authority to remove his children and to prosecute him for what had happened with Mrs S many years before. He was loud and very vocal, using highly coloured and derogatory terms when speaking to and about witnesses, and when addressing the court. I had cause to remonstrate with him on several occasions, to which he objected. I consider that it was necessary for me to have done so, to ensure the case was heard within the time allotted to it, and to conduct the trial in a manner that was proportionate and fair to the cases of all the parties, including the children, in keeping with the overriding objective as set out in the Family Procedure Rules 2010.
  28. The Children

  29. The seven children range from a teenager of thirteen to a toddler of 3 years. Each child has been given numerous names by their parents many of which can only be described as eccentric. As this judgement will be published I shall refer to the family in anonomised form as S and to the children similarly. Most of the descriptions in the following paragraphs are taken from the oral evidence and core assessments of the social worker and his practice manager; the former has had most of the direct contact with the children. They include the reported words of the children themselves and letters they have written to the court and indirectly to their parents. The children's descriptions of their life at home raises questions of concern on their own and, if true, paints a picture of a harsh, unpredictable and isolated existence and of neglect of their emotional and physical needs, and of their right to an acceptable level of education.
  30. E is the eldest child, a girl of 13 who has been described by social worker and the practice manager as a lovely young person entering her teenage years. She has very long hair which she would like changed to a shorter style with a fringe. She has made it clear, again and again, that she wants to stay in foster care. She has said this to her foster carer, to her social worker, to his practice manager and in writing; including a letter, almost three pages long, to the court.
  31. E is described as very loyal to her family particularly her mother, but has felt her life is restricted. More recently she has been very upset by her father calling her a liar and because her parents have refused her permission to go on a school trip and attend some classes. She cannot go to biology classes or attend those which deal with sex education as her parents refuse to allow her. She wants to do these things. She is reported to be doing well at school but is markedly behind in her education. By that I do not mean behind with reference to the national (or indeed any other) curriculum, it refers to her ability to read and write, to numeracy and to some basis knowledge of science, art and technology. E is reluctant to have contact with her parents and did not go to see them for a month earlier this year, although she has started to go again recently.
  32. The fact that she has apparently been held back in reading and writing is evidenced by the letter she wrote to the court, to Booth HHJ which makes disturbing reading. In it E says that she does not want to be sent home. She describes having to look after her youngest siblings. She describes the separation of RD from the rest of the family and of him waking in the night corroborating what her parents said in evidence. E complains that her father would drink lots of beer cans and then go through and throw out their belongings. She said she told the social worker the truth despite her mother telling her not to (during contact; E also refers to this in the rules for contact she wrote for her parents). She describes rats in the yard and incidents involving her father a seagull, and a dog (Mr and Mrs S were prosecuted by the RSPCA for ill treatment of a dog in or around 2008 which led to a conviction and a ban from keeping pets for 10 years) and a cat (which was found injured by the side of the road and taken home in a box); all of which he accepted in his evidence.
  33. E, with the agreement of AS, has written out rules for contact which she would like her parents to follow. They include that her father is not to shout at them or lose his temper; they (the parents) are not to talk about the court hearing; or talk about home and say about changes they haven't changed; they are not allowed to say anything against the foster carers or lies or make up stories; they are not allowed to say that she is a liar or that she writes too many letters; they are not allowed to say anything against the people who help [the children] like the social worker or the guardian; and no making fun of [the children's] doctor's or dentist's appointments.
  34. E needed immediate dental treatment when she came into care and told the social worker she had not seen a dentist since she had last been in foster care. She has not been immunised. She and all the other children had whooping cough when at home. RD did not.
  35. E has suffered emotional harm in numerous ways as she has taken on a parenting role and feels a responsibility for her siblings over and above that which a young person of her age should. She feels guilty for the way that RD has been treated and segregated from the rest of the family; she recognises that the way he was parented was neglectful and this has affected her as she feels she did nothing to stop it, although, of course it is not her responsibility. She has described witnessing physical altercations between her parents. E has described being treated in an insensitive, hurtful and dismissive way by her father who has thrown out her belongings. As with the other children, with the exception of JL she has progressed and become more confident.
  36. AS is now 12. She is described as a beautiful girl, lovely and full of life like her older sister. Also like her sister she does not want to go home and has said so and put it in writing. She is reluctant to go to contact and goes once a week rather than the twice a week on offer. Her social worker and his practice manager describe her in glowing terms and say she is doing very well at school. AS has made friends at school and enjoys their company.
  37. The letter from AS was dictated by her. It is a litany of complaints about her parent's neglectful behaviour, including having scraps to eat; always staying in the house and never going out; of rats and mice; of E being like the mum; of her parents being scared to go to the doctor's or dentist's. This latter coincides with the evidence of Mrs S. AS complains that her father slapped her and still threatens to slap her. She says that her parents put on a show of caring for the social workers.
  38. Like her older sister AS needed immediate dental treatment when she came into care. She has a stigmatism and is now wearing glasses. Her limited health records betray periods of time when she had not been registered. She is now reaching puberty and as with E the sleeping arrangements at home were not suitable or appropriate. She told her social worker that she was not told how to bathe properly and only did so once a week. Like E she is distressed by the treatment of RD. She seemed to have had little by way of structure and routine in her life but this has now improved, and she is thriving on it.
  39. Like all her siblings she was substantially behind in her education at the most basic levels of reading, writing and numeracy. It is hoped that she will catch up but, like E, it will be difficult for her as she is older and missed more schooling.
  40. JL is now 10. He is the child that is struggling most with the separation from his parents, his mother in particular. His social worker says that he blames himself for the children being in local authority care as he was difficult for his mother to manage when in the refuge. At first he too complained about what happened at home. He described his father breaking and throwing away his belongings as did the other children. JL said that he was hit and kicked by his father. He was described as having behavioural issues, betraying a lack of routine, and as a result has little or no boundaries to his behaviour. He too was behind in his education and lacked the basic attainments of his peers. He will require tutoring. JL is reported by the guardian as being physically underdeveloped and having mobility problems, he has grown taller and gained weight. This is obvious evidence of previous physical neglect and harm.
  41. There is evidence, in JL, of a child that was, at times, indulged by his parents, particularly his mother, when he misbehaved who is now struggling to cope with the boundaries that are being put in place. Out of all the siblings it is he who finds it most difficult to engage socially and to make friends. JL is described as very changeable and given to sulking. But he shows natural talent at school and has become more active. When he first came into care he could not run and had an awkward gait. The practice manager described him as a lovely, lovely talented young man. He looks well physically and his appearance has improved but he is sad and very angry. Angry at his parents, at the social workers and himself. He wants to go home.
  42. AR is 8. She lives with her baby sister RS and is described as a lovely child who is doing very well both in the foster placement and at school. She was the only one of the S children to be overweight and gives the impression of having been less favoured at home, from observation at contact; in addition her foster carer found that she hid food in her room. AR is proud of her belongings and likes to show off her things like her Brownie uniform and her new shoes. She was eventually allowed to go on a school trip by her parents but the delay in giving their agreement must have been distressing for her.
  43. AR is delayed in her education; she writes back to front and was significantly behind children of her age, in basic literacy and other skills. She has struggled more than the others to make friends and has appeared to be more on the periphery of her family during contact. She seems more significantly socially delayed than most of her other siblings; she appears more insecure and lacks the ability to mix easily. However she has settled well into her placement.
  44. She is unaware of how to look after herself and, specifically, has not been taught how to care for her personal hygiene. This concurs with the evidence of her mother. She had difficulty sleeping on her own in her own room. Again, this is consistent with the evidence of Mrs S who would let the children all sleep in same room, with her; because that was what they said they wanted.
  45. JK is almost 7. He is popular with his siblings and is described as a happy boy. He sounds a delightful child. He went to a party in the soft play centre which he very much enjoyed. He could not read or write when he came into care. He can now write his name and read. His progress is described as amazing by his social worker.
  46. JK has responded well to his placement and seems to have settled well and developed positive relationships.
  47. RD will be 5 in May. He is described as being like a different child to the one who came into care, and it is the change in RD which is most marked although all of the children have shown progress physically, emotionally and educationally. He can now speak and he knows his colours. He can ride a bike, albeit backwards at the moment. He is very affectionate and has a good attachment to his foster-carers. He is doing well at school where it is believed that he will catch up.
  48. RD has now been toilet trained and will be going into mainstream schooling. He initially seemed emotionally detached which is hardly surprising given the physical and emotional exclusion he experienced within his own family. His parents in their evidence showed little insight, if any, into the effect that their decision to treat him in the way they did would have had on him. The effect of his treatment on the others is likely to have caused them all significant harm emotionally; to RD himself and to his siblings who witnessed and were encouraged or allowed to collude in his segregation. They are children and not responsible for his treatment, unlike his parents, but the older children have expressed feelings of guilt.
  49. Fortunately he has responded well to his foster carers and shows none of the behavioural difficulties complained of by his parents. There is no report of him screaming or crying inconsolably for hours. On the contrary he is described as a loving child with none of the challenging behaviour described by his parents in their evidence (in particular, of the screaming and crying). I consider the absence of the behaviour relied on by Mr and Mrs S to be particularly telling.
  50. RS is just over three and a half. Her progress since she had been taken into care is less marked; she is struggling with speech and language and calls everyone "she" regardless of their gender. In keeping with their lack of co-operation regarding the children's care, her parents have not consented to a referral for speech and language therapy. Nonetheless she has settled happily and is socialising well. She is not toilet trained but is ready for it and can go forward with that soon. She is placed with her older sister AR.
  51. The delay in RS's development more likely than not reflects the babying she was subjected to by her mother, in particular, and which has been observed during contact when Mrs S has continued to spoon feed her and wrap her in a blanket. Apart from rocking for protracted periods of time RS has not displayed any behavioural difficulty in her placement and it is hoped that she, too, will soon be toilet trained.
  52. I have seen numerous pictures of the children, which were put before the court by their mother, and, I understand were mostly taken by her. I do not know when they were taken or where. I am told they are mostly in Blackpool. Some were taken inside their house and many outside in a park or elsewhere. Of the pictures taken inside a very few included RD; of the tens of picture I counted only 4 in which he was identified (they nearly all had the children's names written on the back). I also noted the cluttered state of the property which was similar to that which was subsequently recorded in the pictures taken by the social worker. In one the view from a window, behind the children, was obscured by the sill being covered by objects including what appeared to be two large computer screens and numerous other objects.
  53. The pictures were of the six other children and included birthday celebrations and outings. The children looked happy and were often making cheeky faces at their mother behind the camera. I was very pleased to see what they all looked like and they looked like they were having fun. But I was concerned that in all the pictures where they were having what looked like fun outside, RD seemed to be always absent.
  54. I have considered the veracity of what the children have said and whether I can rely on their descriptions of their life with their parents. There is a consistency to their descriptions. The insistent language and nature of the communications from two oldest girls that they should be believed, along with their anger at their father at his calling them liars is compelling. The circumstances in which JL retracted his evidence or complaints about his father is disturbing for two reasons; it followed his father speaking to him during contact visits along with contact by mobile phones provided by the parents (subsequently taken away from the children because of the disturbance caused) and mirrors the behaviour of his mother. On balance I find that what the children have said more likely than not reflects their view of their lives at home and the reality of the care they received, not only because there is no reason for them to make up such complaints but because as can be seen above (and below) what they say supports each other's version of events and what has been said by their mother (although later retracted or denied) and to some extent by their father.
  55. Their parents

  56. Mr and Mrs S have, once again, elected to represent themselves and to present a joint case to the court. They are, of course, entitled to public funding and could be represented and although there are some difficulties with local solicitors who may have been involved with previous proceedings concerning the family. Mr S has told me that he wishes to represent himself and his wife and has chosen to do so. Mr S (as has been observed previously after other hearings) is no ordinary litigant in person. He has chosen to act for himself, and for his wife, on numerous occasions. He has made it his business to learn about the law in various areas including family law. Indeed it is his business as he told me he offers advice and assistance to others in conflict with authority. Mr S is an astute litigant in person and keeps himself well informed. But his is a confrontational, often belligerent approach, compounded by his use of derogatory language and insulting terms when asking or answering questions or making submissions or speeches (which he did throughout the hearing). As a result it was not always easy to understand exactly what he was trying to get across.
  57. For most of the trial I found it difficult to gain a clear impression of Mrs S. Maybe that was her intention, as she sat at the very back of the large court room well away from all the parties and said very little, although she occasionally came forward to speak to her husband. Any impression of her as an individual was often lost in the hail of invective used by her husband throughout the hearing. However when she gave evidence over the course of the fourth day of the trial Mrs S herself became clearer. Mrs S has been unwell and had treatment for cancer last year which she said, and I accept, made it more difficult for her to deal with the conditions and difficulties at home. She is pregnant with her eighth child and fears for the future of that baby.
  58. I gain the clear impression from the oral evidence of both parents that Mrs S undertook most, if not all the responsibility for caring for the children. This included their home education, despite the fact that she had received substantially less in the way of education than her husband. They did not always agree about what to do and Mrs S, who loves her children and wants to be loved by them in return, was often indulgent. I am sure that she would let them do as they wanted, such as allowing them to all sleep in the same room or making them all different food for their tea. I am equally sure that it was one way that she had of coping with the demands of seven children. There was no structure, no routine and no boundaries; I cannot imagine that she would have ever been able to impose the discipline and routine necessary for successful home schooling.
  59. It was apparent from the oral evidence of both Mr and Mrs S that such discipline as there was came largely from Mr S. His discipline was arbitrary, unpredictable and harsh according to the reports of the children. He was the one who ultimately made the decisions when it came to interaction with the outside world. It is a world from which he and his wife are isolated, through choice and one of which, on his evidence, he largely disapproves. The children, as a result, had very little social interaction at all. This has detrimentally affected the development of their social skills and caused them harm. The effect of this isolation was observed since they were placed with foster carers and started attending school.
  60. I find that it is most likely to have been through desperation that Mrs S "ran away" to the refuge, and although she returned as she has in the past, the descriptions of the chaotic nature of their lives at home when Mr and Mrs S came to give evidence concurs in many ways with the statement she made in these proceedings and later retracted. The evidence that they produced as evidence of the children's integration into the community in Blackpool only consisted of short statements from shop-keepers or shop assistants in places visited by the children. Rather than proving integration it served to underline the very limited social contact that these children had had with others; and with other children in particular.
  61. To make matters worse it seems they are now estranged from the church with which they had an association and relied on for society outside their home. Mr S is subject of a Harassment Order because of his behaviour towards a church member.
  62. Mrs S describes that she did, from time to time, stand up for the children, and for herself; she painted a vivid picture of watching a favourite TV programme with the six children when Mr S was in the front room with RD. She described manoeuvring Mr S from the room so they could all settle down and watch the television together. It would have been a lovely picture of the children all having fun with their mum had it not been for RD ostracized from their company in room to which he had been confined. However I accept that she did argue with Mr S about his behaviour towards the children and would intervene, for example when she had JL's play-station returned to him.
  63. I know that both Mr and Mrs S love their children and want them all to be at home together again. Both Mr and Mrs S deny that they have caused any of their children significant harm, or that the threshold in s 31 is met. They seek the return of the children to their care.
  64. Designated local authority

  65. On the 18th December 2013 His Honour Judge Booth considered whether the applicant local authority (LCC) were the designated local authority as Mr S had taken the point that the court was wrong to make orders to LCC; as Blackpool UA should be the designated local authority not LCC. The learned Judge decided that LCC were the designated local authority. This decision has not been appealed and therefore it stands but even if it did not I am not concerned by this question for the following reasons.
  66. The jurisdictional basis for an application under Part IV of the CA is the same as that established by the Family Law Act 1986; that the child or children are habitually resident in England and Wales when the application was made; there is no fact in this case on which one could found an argument that the children were not habitually resident in England. This court has jurisdiction and the application is properly brought. I understand from Mr S's final oral submissions that he accepts that this is the case.
  67. In respect of which local authority is the "designated local authority" the law is governed by s 31(8) of the CA. The designation refers to which local authority should be designated in a care order; should one be made by the court. If one accepts the argument of Mr S, which Booth HHJ did not, that the children were ordinarily resident in Blackpool and not in Lancashire, in this case, it would be s 31 (8) (b) which applies; "(8) The local authority designated in a care order must be – (b) where a child does not reside in the area of the local authority, the authority within whose area any circumstances arose in consequences of which the order is being made."
  68. The family has, or had at the relevant time, homes in both Burnley (within LCC) and Blackpool (a unitary authority). It seems that they spent time in both and that the family had a peripatetic life spent moving between the two addresses. I have no evidence before me on which I could find the proportion of time spent in Burnley or that spent in Blackpool. Certainly after the supervision order was made in 2011 and after birth of RS in 2012 the family was visited in Burnley by the family support worker and the Health Visitor. Indeed Mr and Mrs S rely on that evidence to support their case. RD was in the house in Burnley when he was taken into local authority care in circumstances that are in dispute.
  69. The children were in the house in Blackpool when removed by LCC after their mother returned to the house and to their father from the refuge, but the reasons for that removal originated in the circumstances which arose as a result of Mrs S going to a refuge in Bolton and signing an agreement with the local authority after LCC had had RD placed in their care, in Burnley, by Mr S. Even if Mr S is right and the family spent most of their time in Blackpool, LCC are the authority within whose area the circumstances arose in consequence of which any order is being made by this court.
  70. Mr S made reference to section 105(6) CA. I believe that he wanted to rely on s 105(6) (b) which makes provision for the determination of the ordinary residence of a child and states that in such a determination any period during which a child lives in accordance with the requirements of a supervision order should be discounted. He says that the children lived in the Burnley address as a result of supervision orders. The last child to do so was E and the orders in respect of her ended in January 2012. The Court of Appeal considered the construction of sections 31(8) and 105(6) in Northampton CC v Islington LBC [1999] 2 FLR 881, when it was held that the two sections should be construed so as to provide a simple mechanism for designation. To ensure that section 31(8) provided a test applicable in all cases sub-section (8) (b) would be legitimately construed to read "where the child does not ordinarily reside" inserting the word "ordinarily".
  71. In this case, because it is not possible to determine exactly how much time was spent in each house with the entire family moving between two different areas, the local authority submit that the children did not have any place of ordinary residence. I am willing to accept that the family may have spent a little more time on balance in Blackpool than in Burnley in 2013 prior to the children being taken to a refuge by their mother in August, but it is impossible to say how much more. There is considerable force in the local authority's argument, which would lead to the same result as the conclusion reached by Booth HHJ namely that the designated local authority is LCC as the area within which the primary circumstances arose which carried the case over the section 31 threshold; but by virtue of s31 (8) (b) as they were not ordinarily resident in one local authority area.
  72. Other applications and complaints

  73. I understand that Mr S has several applications outstanding in the courts, including in the Administrative Court in Manchester; but I have not had sight of the applications and therefore do not know what those applications consist of, or details of the remedies sought. The only application before me is that of the local authority for care orders. Mr and Mr S made applications (in respect of these care proceedings by a letter dated the 3rd February 2014) which were dealt with by Mr Justice Peter Jackson at a hearing on the 6th February 2014 when they were all dismissed. The applications included an application for a parenting assessment; for permission to disclose the papers to raise funds by public subscription (Jackson J noted, as do I, that there was nothing to prevent Mr and Mrs S obtaining non-means tested public funding); for the removal of the Guardian; for LCC not to be considered the designated local authority.
  74. Some of those applications were repeated in a further application by Mr and Mrs S dated 7th February 2014 (made on a form C2). Allegations of abuse were made against the foster carers and the social workers were described, in terms as vindictive and criminals. The social workers were accused of bullying, intimidating and ill-treating the children to take revenge on the parents. The social workers were said to have forced the children to make false allegations against the parents and to cover up their wrong-doing.
  75. The foster carers were accused of working with the social workers to concoct evidence against the parents. The children were said to constantly complain of being assaulted, smacked and physically abused in foster care. The youngest child was said to have a scarred nose from being punched in the face (there is no evidence to support this). The application form demanded that the social workers be removed from the case immediately.
  76. The Guardian was accused of bullying and intimidating E and coaching her to write the letter referred to above. Complaints were made about Peter Jackson J and others in hyperbolic and florid terms in the attached document. The aim of LCC was said to be to have Mr S imprisoned for the sexual assault of Mrs S when she was 13 by using the removal of the children as a lever to persuade her to make further statements to the police for Mr S to again stand trial; the fall back position of LCC is that the children especially E will be persuaded "to make sexual abuse allegations which will be used as a spring board for the arrest and prosecution" of Mr S.
  77. I have come to the conclusion having heard his repeated referral to the past and the circumstances leading up to his marriage over the whole of the five days of the trial that Mr S has become obsessively concerned with what happened during this period. It forms no part of the case put by the local authority nor am I concerned with it; I have said so on numerous occasions during the hearing. So often has Mr S made reference to that part of the past that I must conclude that his obsession with it has led him to lose sight of what is happening now and with his behaviour and responsibilities towards his children in the more recent years and at present, and it is that with which this court is directly concerned.
  78. On the 18th of February 2014 these applications were dismissed, on paper, by Mr Justice Peter Jackson on the basis that it repeated applications already determined by the court on the 6th February 2014.
  79. Mr S has filed numerous documents, some printed on red paper, in the same vein which I shall not set out here. He has made complaints about the social workers and about the Guardian. He has attempted to bring private prosecutions against them and a circuit judge; I have not seen the documents concerned in these proceedings. I have seen an application in the Administrative Court (unsealed) for committal of Ms Challender for contempt of court at the Accrington Family Proceedings Court. I do not know the current status of the application.
  80. Mr S has, as I was told by the social workers in evidence, made constant complaints about them and sent them, individually, email messages which contained abusive and threatening language. This amounted to a barrage of complaint and invective, which has occurred at times daily and not less than at a rate of several times a week in respect of Ms Challender and Mr Norris. The correspondence relating to and addressed to Mr Goldsworthy has abated over the last month leading up to the trial. Yet in his evidence Mr S tells me that he is willing and able to work with social workers and social services. The evidence, of his own making and composition, is to the contrary. It is consistent with more current lack of cooperation such as the refusal of the parents to provide their consent to activities for the children, to allow a referral for speech and language therapy for their youngest child and to provide an explanation (when there was one) for the loss of RD's tooth.
  81. The complaints to Cafcass about the children's guardian have directly compromised her ability to carry out her duties. Mr and Mrs S complain that she did not visit them at home as the guardian did in previous proceedings. Mrs Wright was instructed by her managers not to go to the home of Mr and Mrs S as they had concerns for her safety. Although Mrs Wright said in evidence in answer to questions by Mr S that she did not fear for her physical safety there can be little doubt that the approach and his use of threatening, bellicose language will have caused concern to those in authority with responsibility for the children's guardian within Cafcass. The complaints to this court that Mr S made on behalf of Mrs S and himself regarding the guardian's not going to visit them at home are without foundation as he was the author of that situation.
  82. The Law

  83. The law that I am principally concerned with is contained in s1 and s31 of the CA. The local authority apply for care orders in respect of all seven children; the court may only make care orders if s31 (2) if it is satisfied that each child with whom I am concerned is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm which is attributable to the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give him. This is an objective test and I have considered with each child what care it would have been reasonable to expect Mr and Mrs S to give to that child.
  84. The burden of proof is on the local authority who bring the case and standard of proof is the balance of probabilities. The standard of proof was considered by the House of Lords in the case of B (Care Proceedings: Standard of Proof) [2008] 2 FLR 141. I keep in mind the words of Baroness Hale in paragraphs 70 to 72 in her judgement in particular, at paragraph 70, "the standard of proof in finding the facts necessary to establish the threshold under section 31 (2) or the welfare considerations in section 1 of the 1989 Act, is the simple balance of probabilities, neither more nor less." And the words of Lord Hoffman in the same case, at paragraph 13 of his judgement "I think that the time has come say, to once and for all, that there is only one civil standard of proof and that is the proof that the fact in issue more probably occurred than not."
  85. When deciding whether the threshold criteria is met I shall do so by concluding whether the local authority has proved its case on the balance of probabilities; whether the facts they seek to prove are more likely to have occurred than not on the evidence that they have put before the court. When it comes to deciding any matter pertaining to the welfare of the children, such as whether orders should be made or not in respect of their care I shall decide those matters, as with others, on the balance of probabilities.
  86. In any application for care orders the Art 8 (ECHR) rights of the children and parents are engaged. In judicial decisions where the Art 8 rights of parents and child are at stake in any balancing of interests it is necessary there should be a fair balance between the rights of the child and that of the parent, while attaching particular importance to the best interests of the child. Where the nature and seriousness of the interests require it the child's interests may override that of the parents; this is a précis of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights from that in Johansen v Norway [1996] ECHR 31, and in subsequent decisions. In this case the findings of significant harm and likelihood of future harm sought by the local authority, as set out below, if found proved on the balance of probabilities, are of a sufficiently serious nature to make it proportionate to interfere with the rights of the parents in order to safeguard the best interests of the children.
  87. Mr S has made allegations and complaints that he and his wife have not been sufficiently involved in the decision making process of the local authority concerning the children. He complained that prior to the children's removal from the Blackpool house there should have been a strategy meeting at which he and his wife should have been present. I have considered the authorities concerning the need to involve parents in decision making. There is a heavy obligation on the local authority to make sure that the procedure is transparent and fair throughout the whole process of care proceedings and child protection procedures, I have in mind the decision in Re G (Care: Challenge to Local Authorities Decision) [2003] 2 FLR 42.
  88. The local authority have, I am told, ensured that Mr and Mrs S have had all documents and information delivered to them. They have been invited to LAC reviews and have been offered funds to ensure they can attend. Mrs S attended the one on the 10th October 2013. However Mr and Mrs S have chosen not to attend some meetings, the most recent being a LAC review prior to this hearing which was attended by teachers from the schools the children are currently attending. The guardian offered to meet them afterwards before they went to contact with the children but they would not go as they were not given facilities to wait in or provided with a meal or funds for a meal during a period of approximately two hours between appointments. I do not consider that either the local authority or the guardian acted unreasonably. Choosing not to attend a meeting or meetings is very far from being excluded from the decision making process.
  89. There was no meeting prior to the removal of the six children in October 2013, after Mrs S left the refuge and took the children to Blackpool. Mr Goldsworthy discussed the case with the children's guardian, the workers at the refuge and his team before taking the decision to remove the children on 16th October 2013. The agreement signed by Mrs S was clear and she was aware of the consequences that would flow from her returning to Mr S with the children. The allegations made both by Mrs S (in a statement signed on the 10th October and as of the 16th October not retracted) and by the children regarding Mr S's behaviour included the following: Mr S being controlling of his wife and the children: the children being frightened of him and disturbed by his shouting at and verbal abuse of their mother; Mr S shouting at and being abusive towards the children; the isolation and scapegoating of RD; the deteriorating behaviour of JL including aggressively self-harming by hitting his head and bashing his hands on the door until his knuckles reddened. This latter behaviour on the part of JL was described by E and AS as regularly happening at home. The state of the family's home has seen in picture put before the court and described by the social workers in their evidence; they considered the houses to be unfit for the children to live there.
  90. The children had been reported as telling the social workers that they had been physically abused by their father, who hit them, isolated the family and that they were not allowed out to play with other children. Mrs S said that this situation was exacerbated by their non-attendance at school and that she could not school them as Mr S would not give her money for books and materials. The local authority were aware of the transient nature of the family's home and further concerned by the fact that Mrs S had originally concealed or neglected to mention her seventh child left with his father. None of these matters by themselves would necessarily justify emergency measures being taken to remove the children but taken as a whole they amount to a picture of potentially serious and significant harm and their removal from their parents, taken with the involvement of the children's guardian, is proportionate to their needs at the time.
  91. Evidence of the parents

  92. I have made reference to the evidence of Mr and Mrs S above and throughout this judgement. Mr S holds strong views and strong convictions about many issues and had given the court the benefit of both. He does not approve of the national curriculum in schools, he does not approve of sex education, he does not approve of most women's refuges which he believes are set up by radical feminists who hate men and has spent a considerable amount of time making speeches about these and other matters which exercise him. Mr S has been given time within this hearing both to ask questions and to give evidence himself. He and Mrs S were given a full day each in respect of the latter. On the final day of the hearing the guardian gave evidence followed by very short oral submissions by counsel for the local authority and the children of approximately 30 and 15 minutes respectively. Mr S made submissions which lasted over two hours and took up almost the whole afternoon with the court rising at 5pm. He was permitted to submit evidence and written submissions late and during the currency of the trial.
  93. I have previously referred to the tenor and content of Mr and Mrs S's evidence above and will not repeat it here. Mr S has said categorically that his daughters are lying and has shown no insight into the effect of this stance on the girls. He has said he is not angry with them and does not blame them, but his demeanour and behaviour does not bear this out. Even if everything said by E and AS is not strictly true the fact that they have made these complaints gives rise to concern of itself. Mrs S's explanation that E in particular is making things up to avoid her mother rejecting her is convoluted and makes little sense.
  94. Mr and Mrs S have put an extraordinary case before the court which is that there is a conspiracy to implicate Mr S in charges of child abuse and that in order to do so E will be persuaded to make such allegations about her father. It is simply not a credible case and there is no evidence to support it. Moreover such a scenario is largely centred on Mr S and his own obsessions. To suggest that his daughter would become involved in such a conspiracy begs more questions than it answers; particularly regarding his attitude towards his own child, her well-being and the difficulties that she is encountering as a result of these proceedings and her father's allegations about her lying. When coupled with his evidence that RD's behaviour and difficulties at home were to be laid at the child's door and not at that of his parents, Mr S's inability to even start to accept his own responsibilities as a parent are starkly illustrated.
  95. In addition to the evidence of shop-keepers referred to above, Mr and Mrs S relied on the evidence of a Health Visitor and a specialist safeguarding practitioner. Both visited the family at home in Burnley; the latter was at pains to emphasise that the timing of her final visit was the end of October 2011. The children were not all there each time to be seen and although there were no concerns the visits were short and the observations largely superficial. The children appeared to be happy healthy and well cared for, she did not see the bedrooms, the hygiene was adequate and the house appeared overcrowded and cluttered but gave no cause for concern. The second and third visit was not long after the children returned home from being in the care of foster-families. This evidence has little relevance to the situation current at the time these proceedings were issued.
  96. The health visitor visited frequently until March 2013. She visited the house in Burnley 18 times. The primary purpose of her visits was to provide support after the birth of RS. At first RS was the only child present. All of the visits were planned and she was always accompanied. She reported no concerns; she saw E on four occasions after her return home. Her visits were short and her observations limited; she did not see the whole house or the bedrooms. She did not see the house in Blackpool at all. Although she supported the parents case that they sought help and advice about RD her evidence was that the advice was not always taken; her advice about the home conditions was not followed and the house was never "de-cluttered"; RD was not put into a nursery; appointments for speech and language were not kept or taken up and advice about it not followed; there was no dental attendance despite dental registration being arranged near by (it was reported that the parents wanted to use a private practice).
  97. This last piece of evidence directly contradicts the evidence of the parents that there was no dental treatment available. Although there were no concerns reported the health visitor's involvement was by its nature superficial and she did not ever challenge the parents. She observed in her evidence that the family's movements between Burnley and Blackpool made it difficult to arrange appointments and that in the house in Burnley (which she had seen) the front room was never cleared to use it as a school room or living space.
  98. Her evidence of the children playing together and of their polite behaviour concurs with the evidence of others, but it also suggests that she had little to do with most of the children. She only weighed them once and reports little interaction with them. She has had no contact with the family since March of 2013 and none at the relevant time when proceedings were issued. Her evidence is of limited weight and value because of the limited role she played, but it contains the basis for some of the findings now sought by the local authority.
  99. I did not find the evidence of the parents credible. I have already made reference to some instances where their evidence has been contradicted not least by the children themselves. Their lack of insight into the emotional and developmental harm caused to the children by the lack of structure to their lives, particularly in respect of education, and the denial of the harm caused to RD alone renders their evidence untenable. I must and I do prefer the accounts of their children.
  100. Evidence of the local authority and findings

  101. The local authority relies on the evidence of the social workers in this case. There is further independent evidence from the Children's Guardian Mrs Wright from whom the court heard on the final day of the trial. The social workers and the guardian are, of course, qualified to comment as they do in respect of the neglect of the children; and of the effect of that neglect on their physical and emotional well-being, on their education and their social development. The local authority seeks findings of significant harm which they say crosses the section 31 threshold.
  102. I pause here before continuing with the findings sought by the local authority to deal with the criticism made by Mr and Mrs S of the lack of expert evidence. No such evidence was necessary. The question of neglect and the effects of neglect is well within the purview of qualified social workers and experienced guardians. The social worker Mr Norris may be recently qualified but he was supported by an experienced practice manager in Ms Challender, who was herself supported by an experienced team manager.
  103. All three have shown commitment to this case and to the children and have attended the hearing throughout. I found each to be measured and competent when they gave evidence. Both Mr Goldsworthy and Ms Challender remained calm and always courteous when questioned by Mr S even when it was done so in a hostile and belligerent manner. Mr Norris was a little less poised but given that it was his first time giving evidence it was not surprising he found responding to Mr S difficult. I was impressed by all three and I found them all to be credible witnesses. I prefer their evidence to that of Mr and Mrs S and I find that there is no evidential basis for the complaints made about the integrity and motivation of the social work team. There is no evidence of any conspiracy or bad faith on the part of any of the professionals involved in this case.
  104. In respect of domestic abuse LCC seek a finding that the parents' arguments and behaviour towards each other and towards the children was distressing and harmful for the children. I find that Mr S, in particular, frightened the children. That this has caused them significant emotional harm can be seen in what they have said themselves and the behaviour observed when they came into care in the middle of October 2013; the behaviour of the parents mirrors the behaviour found by Hedley J in his judgement in 2011. I find that it is more likely than not that the children have at the very least witnessed and were aware of parental conflict, shouting and arguments. I find on the basis of what the children have said and on the evidence of Mr and Mrs S themselves.
  105. When Mrs S fled the family's homes in October 2013, and I can see no reason that she would have concocted the all evidence contained in her statement, still less that, as she claims, it was made up by her solicitor as part of a conspiracy against Mr S. The description of her husband and his bullying, controlling and abusive behaviour is consistent with what was said by the children. It is consistent with the evidence of their isolation and lack of social interaction, about which there is no evidence to the contrary. For those reasons I find that the statement made by Mrs S in October 2013 largely contains the truth of what she had experienced and prefer it to the evidence she gave in court.
  106. LCC seek findings that the children have suffered harm to their emotional, social and educational development and that education provided by their parents was inadequate and has led to them lacking basic skills and lagging behind their peers. They have also suffered social isolation which has compromised their ability to interact socially and to enjoy the society of others. I find that this is so based on the evidence of the state of the children's knowledge and basic educational attainments when they went to school in October 2013 after they were taken into care. It can be seen in E's letter. The struggles that JL has had with making friends further bears this out as does the paucity of evidence from their parents about social interaction in general and the society of other children in particular.
  107. LCC seek finding that the physical well-being of the children was compromised by their living conditions both in Burnley and in Blackpool. It is the local authority's case that the pictures taken of the two homes which both parents accepted in their oral evidence as unfit for the children to live in could not have deteriorated to that extent in the short time between the children being taken into care and when the pictures were taken. The pictures show rooms that are so covered in clutter that they are either unusable or virtually uninhabitable. I make two observations at this point that the description of rooms above mirrors that of Hedley J in 2011 where he spoke of "endless clutter making the rooms almost uninhabitable", and secondly, that Mr and Mrs S accept that the house in Blackpool was in no better state on the 31st March 2014 despite the fact that they were shortly to come to court and ask for the children to be returned to their care in that house. It was foreshadowed in the evidence of the health visitor, to which I referred above, and upon which they relied.
  108. The outside of the properties were no better. In Blackpool there was a sea of bags, black bin bags, detritus and other objects which meant that the children could not go outside to play. There was glass on the ground of the side alley which allowed access and egress to the house at the time the children were removed which was still there months later. The front door in Blackpool was entirely inaccessible from inside the house. I find that the physical surrounding in which the children lived would have caused them significant harm by removing any opportunity to play outside and by limiting even further the space in which they could live, study, play and interact. As they lived their lives in these two houses and did not have the opportunity to be educated elsewhere this has caused them significant harm in terms of their education, as well as emotional harm by severely restricting their ability to become socialised and learn how to function in the wider community. The physical effects on JL are visible in his awkward gait and difficulties in running around; something any little boy, who can, should be able to do freely and with ease.
  109. I find there is evidence of significant physical neglect and harm to the children including of their personal hygiene; the older children do not know how to keep themselves intimately clean; the youngest ones were not toilet-trained. Both of these neglected aspects of the children's physical health were largely accepted by Mrs S in her evidence. JL had some difficulties with his mobility. E and AS showed signs of neglect to their teeth and dental health. AS's ophthalmic needs were ignored. None of this was caused by anything other than the parents' care and is directly attributable to them.
  110. The very significant harm to RD caused by his neglect and isolation within the family is obvious from the evidence of his parents and siblings and from the descriptions of his behaviour and improvement in his behaviour and development since he was placed with foster-carers. The depth of the emotional harm he has suffered may not become apparent until he is older, but it would be facile to suggest anything other than that he must have suffered significant emotional harm based on the evidence of his parents alone. He was seen as the problem and he and the other children must have known it; indeed the older children have said so. The emotional harm that this has caused his siblings is significant. The oldest three have expressed guilt and remorse at the way he was treated; they should not have been put in that position.
  111. The lack of emotional engagement and the unpredictable behaviour of their father, of whom they were scared and frightened; which in turn caused them to feel insecure has caused significant emotional harm. The almost total lack of consistent boundaries added to their feelings of insecurity. The local authority does not seek findings of physical abuse as such but say they can prove that there was a harsh and frightening environment. I find that there was such an environment which caused significant emotional harm to each of the children.
  112. On the children's behalf their guardian says there is sufficient evidence from the children themselves of being hit by their father and the court should find that he did hit the children. There is no direct evidence of physical harm as a result of physical chastisement before the court, or of physical assault. I find that it is more likely than not that the children were physically chastised but I cannot make findings as to the extent and nature of the chastisement. I find that the unpredictability of their father's behaviour towards them which, more likely than not included some physical chastisement caused significant emotional harm.
  113. The emotional harm suffered by the children along with the social isolation and cramped, cluttered and restricting conditions of the homes must have combined to detrimentally affect their emotional and social development and I find it more likely than not that they have suffered significant and long lasting harm as a result of the care of their parents. It is hoped that the younger children will be able to recover and catch up more readily in education (as can be seen with JK), and in their emotional and social development but the outcome of their upbringing for them all will be evident for years to come.
  114. Whilst I find that, by her own account, Mrs S has been overborne by her husband she has also has some insight into the effects of his controlling, isolating and verbally abusive behaviour so that I find that she has, this time as in the past, been unwilling or unable to withstand her need to return to him regardless of the effects that it has on her children. She is unable to protect or shield them from any or all of Mr S's excessively combative, confrontational and unpleasant behaviour.
  115. Both Mr and Mrs S have shown little or no ability to work with professionals particularly when they are challenged by those same professionals. Indeed Mr S has deliberately set out to undermine social workers by making constant complaints about them and to them, asking for their removal and questioning their professional integrity in an abusive manner. I have seen no evidence, what so ever, that they are able to work with social workers or to cooperate, particularly when challenged as they would have to be in this case where the difficulties and deficiencies in their parenting are long-standing and pernicious. The likelihood is that the children will challenge their parents as they grew older and the attitude of Mr S, in particular, to E, AS and RD points towards him rejecting the children as they confront him.
  116. The contact notes, the observations of the guardian and the social worker and the "rules for contact" written by E and AS are evidence that the children perceive Mr and Mrs S using contact to put pressure on the them to retract what they have said and to say that they want to go home. In JL's case this approach has worked and he has retracted what he said previously; but I accept that what he said on his reception into care was what he believed to be the truth, and is consistent with what the other children have said. I find that the pressure put on JL and his siblings is bound to be harmful and undermines the children's sense of well-being and self-worth.
  117. The wishes and feelings of E and AS while not determinative should be given due weight because of their ages (13 and 12) and they do not want to return home. JL at 10 does. Their guardian observed that AR is ambivalent about going home and is keen not to upset her parents. All the children are aware that their parents are not pleased by E and AS having told people about their lives at home.
  118. While some of the findings set out above may be considered to be capable of resolution and improvement, with support and assistance - such as the very poor and cluttered conditions in both the homes – I cannot consider the findings I have made in isolation but as a whole, and similarly must consider with the effects on the children overall when I look at whether the threshold is crossed. Further the ability and willingness of Mr and Mrs S to accept support from professionals is something that I have to consider when deciding whether orders should be made; the evidence is that they react with considerable hostility to any intervention with which they do not agree. They have set out to make it almost impossible for this local authority to work with them and they object to orders being made in which LCC is named as the responsible local authority.
  119. I find that the threshold is crossed, and when deciding what orders to make consideration of the welfare of the children, their needs, best interests and well-being are my principle concerns. I do not consider that the children can be returned to live with their parents given the totality of harm that they have each and severally suffered. The evidence points to a likelihood of that harm continuing and worsening as the children all grow older and more challenging. There is no evidence that their parents could work with others to safeguard the children and ameliorate the harmful effects of their parenting already evident in the children or improve their parenting to ensure good enough parenting in the future.
  120. Although it is a great and substantial interference with the family lives of the children and their parents I consider that care orders are proportionate and the only way of providing for the best interests of these children now and as they grow to adulthood so that they may begin to achieve their potential in education, emotional and social development and physical health.
  121. The plan of the local authority is not to place the children with permanent adoptive families; this is entirely appropriate given their ages and their close relationships as a sibling group and the need for them to continue to have regular contact with each other. The local authority must ensure that they are put in long-term placements where they can develop long-term and secure relationships so as to minimise the disadvantages that are inherent in the care system. The children must have regular, frequent and good quality contact which means that proper arrangements must be put in place. Anything less will be a breach of their Art 8 rights.
  122. Care orders will be made naming LCC as the designated local authority for the reasons I have already set out in this judgement above.
  123. This is my judgement.

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