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Cite as: [2015] EWFC 14

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This judgment was delivered in private. The judge has given leave for this version of the judgment to be published on condition that (irrespective of what is contained in the judgment) in any published version of the judgment the anonymity of the persons concerned must be strictly preserved. All persons, including representatives of the media, must ensure that this condition is strictly complied with. Failure to do so will be a contempt of court.

Neutral Citation Number: [2015] EWFC 14
Case No. MA14C00511


2nd February 2015

B e f o r e :

Sitting at Preston


In the matter of:
Re: V (A Child): Fact-Finding


Transcribed from the Official Recording by
AVR Transcription Ltd
Turton Suite, Paragon Business Park, Chorley New Road, Horwich, Bolton BL6 6HG
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Counsel for the Applicant Local Authority: MR. PETER ROTHERY
Counsel for the Respondent Mother: MISS SASHA WATKINSON
Counsel for the Guardian: MR. GRAHAM BAILEY



Crown Copyright ©

  1. MR. JUSTICE PETER JACKSON: This is my judgment in relation to the application by Manchester City Council for a care order in relation to a little girl called L V, who was born on 18th July 2012 and is now two and a half years old. The judgment concludes the court's investigation into what has happened to L in the past, leading to the proceedings being taken. There will be another, and I hope final hearing on 7th and 8th May in Manchester, that which the court will attempt to make final decisions about L's future.
  2. The matter is expertly summarised in the Local Authority's position statement for this hearing. L is a Latvian national, both her parents are Latvian and she was born there. She came to the United Kingdom in May 2014 and has remained here since then. L's mother is still only 19 years old. When she was 15 she met L's father, who was then 18. In 2011 they began to live together and L was born in July 2012. For the first year of her life she lived with both her parents. It was agreed between them in August 2013 that the mother would come to work in England to earn money, and that he would join with L within a few months. In fact, the father changed the plan within a few days and told the mother that he had found another partner. She remained in England while L was looked after up to the end of 2013 by her father and his new partner, who also has two children of her own.
  3. Just before Christmas 2013 the father handed L over to her great-grandmother, and she looked after L until her death on 6th April 2014. At that point L went to live with her maternal grandmother, who lives in Latvia with her partner and her two young children. While the mother was in England, she worked, particularly in Lincolnshire and in May 2014 she went back to Latvia, collected L, and brought her to this country. L was then aged about 21 months old.
  4. By this time the mother had started a relationship with a man named Mr A. He came to this country in 2010 on a student visa and has remained here illegally. He and the mother were first in touch with each other in 2012. They first met after she came to this country in 2013. He occasionally visited her in Lincolnshire and she visited him in Manchester.
  5. While L was living with her mother in Lincolnshire there was a referral to the NSPCC about the mother bringing L in very late at night and leaving with her very early in the morning. Nothing came of that referral. In the same month (June 2014) the mother and L moved to live with Mr A in Manchester. L lived with the two of them until 19th September. During this period the mother was trying to get work and allowed Mr A to have a very high level of care for her daughter. She also left L with another Latvian mother, Miss D and on occasions she babysat M D's own daughter.
  6. On 19th September 2014, Miss D contacted Social Services after finding a large number of bruises on L's body after the mother had left her in her care. L was taken to the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital, where a total of 41 separate injuries were identified.
  7. On release from hospital on 21st September L was placed in foster care, where she has remained. She sees her mother twice a week for one and a half hours' supervised contact.
  8. The court has medical evidence in relation to these injuries from Dr Danielle Gaynor, a Paediatric Registrar, who gives the opinion that the bruising which is to the face and upper body is the result of a number of purposefully inflicted physical injuries which would have been extremely distressing to L, causing great pain as well as injury. Of the 41 marks, 32 are particularly identified as being inflicted injuries, including a bite mark.
  9. As soon as L arrived in foster care she began to show sexualised behaviour. Her behaviour is described in detail in the report of the children's guardian for this hearing, and I need not repeat it. As a result L was examined by a renowned specialist in the field, Dr Victoria Evans, a Forensic Physician. She examined L on 3rd October and on 24th October, and has produced several reports. She found abnormal findings in both the vagina and anal areas. There was a transection of the hymen at the 6 o'clock position and scarring to the anal verge at the 1 o'clock position. Each of those injuries would have caused bleeding that would have been evident to a carer. The anal injury could, theoretically, have been caused by the passing of a bulky stool. However, in Dr Evans' opinion, this was unlikely because there was no history of constipation causing bleeding, because the position of the scar was not typical of injury caused by stool, and because of the vaginal findings which together point to the anal injury being the result of penetrative abuse. Accordingly, the undisputed opinion of Dr Evans is that L had suffered penetrative vagina and anal abuse before the examinations in October.
  10. The Local Authority has prepared a schedule of findings, which are accepted not only by the parties to these proceedings, that is the mother and the child through her guardian, but also by Mr A, who has been a participant at this hearing for the purpose of answering the allegations against him. The 41 injuries are there set out, and the Local Authority contends that they were all caused by Mr A. He accepts this, saying that he caused them in a series of assaults over a period of some two months before L was removed, and that he covered up what he was doing or lied to the mother. Mr A's position is reflected in interviews that he gave to the police. The first interview dealt with the physical injuries, as I have already mentioned. The second interview concerned the sexual abuse, which he denied.
  11. The mother was also interviewed by the police, and accepted up to a point that she had neglected L's needs and safety, but said that for the most part she had no idea what had been going on. Both the mother and Mr A were charged with criminal offences and ultimately both pleaded guilty to an offence of child cruelty. Mr A was sentenced on 21st November to a sentence of 20 months' imprisonment, which he is currently serving. The mother was sentenced to a period of twelve months' imprisonment, but suspended for a period of 24 months. The criminal proceedings did not take account of the evidence concerning sexual abuse nor, as I understand it, are any criminal proceedings likely in that regard.
  12. The Local Authority seeks findings in relation to the physical abuse, namely that it was caused by Mr A. It does not suggest that anybody else inflicted these injuries. That submission reflects the evidence as a whole, and I accordingly find that the physical injuries were caused by Mr A.
  13. The mother, the Local Authority says, unreasonably failed to protect L from being assaulted by Mr A and unreasonably failed to seek medical treatment for her. The evidence about this comes only from the mother. She admits that in August 2014 she saw Mr A slap L in the face for no good reason other than she was crying. She says that she challenged this and that Mr A apologised. The mother denies seeing any bruising on L until the very day that she was removed into care. Although she admits that on the previous day (18th September) she heard L crying, and when she went in saw that L had an injury to her nose and some bleeding, which Mr A explained away as being an accident.
  14. It is of relevance that the mother has some degree of learning disability. This is fully described in the report of Dr Shawn Mosher, Consultant Clinical Psychologist dated 17th December. He refers to the mother as appearing to be somewhat naive and guileless, notes that she received special education from an early stage in Latvia and assesses her to have a degree of learning disability, placing her on the borderline.
  15. I find that the mother unreasonably failed to protect L from Mr A. Although much the greatest responsibility rests upon Mr A, the failings on the mother's behalf were very serious. Even if her own account is accepted, she knew that he was capable of unprovoked violence to a very small child. In addition, if it is the case that she did not see these many injuries to her daughter, it shows her to be a very inadequate parent indeed.
  16. The Local Authority further seeks the finding that L has been sexually abused vaginally and anally by means of penetration, and I so find on the clear evidence of Dr Evans and the evidence of L's behaviour since she was removed. However, and after considerable thought and analysis, the Local Authority does not invite the court to identify a perpetrator of that abuse. This requires explanation because these are extremely grave injuries. Dr Evans has been asked in a series of questions to be as specific as she can be about the timing of these injuries; because of their nature they cannot be accurately timed. The vaginal injury could have been inflicted at any time between L's birth and her reception into care. The anal injury could have been inflicted at any time up until approximately July 2014, but in Dr Evans' view, is more likelier to have been inflicted sometime before May 2014, based upon the appearance of the anal injury. Accordingly, the suspicion that is bound to fall on Mr A, based upon his persistent cruelty to this child, does not fit easily with the medical evidence. During L's short life she has passed through many hands. She has lived with her parents together, with her father and his new partner, with her great-grandmother, with her grandmother (all in Latvia), and with her mother in England and her mother and Mr A in England, and she has been left with countless unknown third parties both in Latvia and in England. I therefore endorse the Local Authority's conclusion that it is not possible to identify and to bring to justice the perpetrator of these injuries.
  17. Where an injury has been proven to have occurred but it is not possible to say on a balance of probabilities who is responsible, the court can only seek to identify who might fall within a pool of perpetrators. Those that fall within the pool of perpetrators include anybody of whom it can be said that there is a reasonable possibility that they inflicted the injury. In this case, unfortunately, the pool of perpetrators remains very widespread. It includes, in no particular order, the mother, Mr A, the grandmother, the great grandmother, the father, the father's partner and any other adult in whose care L has been left in Latvia and in England. I say it once that I identify those people for the record and for the assistance of anyone not present in court. The pool is so wide that membership of it cannot very much inform the assessments that are going to be carried out in future. The fact, however, remains that whichever adult was responsible for L at the particular time, including the mother after she brought her to England, has so far offered no useful information as to how she might have been abused.
  18. I confirm the accuracy of the Local Authority's case summary which is a key document for future professional assessments. I make the findings sought in the schedule running to 20 paragraphs.
  19. I lastly turn to the future arrangements. The future direction of this matter has been discussed and agreed as between the parties and approved by myself, this is that the Local Authority will continue and conclude its assessment of the mother by 31st March. There will then be a period for the mother to file her final evidence, and for the children's guardian to file an analysis of whether the mother can or cannot resume L's care against this desperate background.
  20. There is also, however, the question of alternatives if that cannot happen and international assessments of L's father and maternal grandmother through Children and Families Across Borders has already been commissioned. The Local Authority will, after this hearing, send information to the parties and to myself about what is actually happening with those assessments, but they are expected to be available at the end of April at all events. Although it might be possible to have a hearing shortly after Easter, that would not necessarily have the information from Latvia. It is all round better, in my opinion, for a hearing to be held in early May, at which all possible information is available.
  21. I will therefore resume my consideration of this matter in Manchester on 7th and 8th May. This will allow the parties to file a further group of evidence if the mother's assessment has been negative, and I will want the view of the Local Authority, the mother and the guardian on information from Latvia. I will expect the Local Authority and the Guardian to do everything possible to ensure that that information is to hand, whatever it amounts to.
  22. Lastly, I have kept in mind the question of whether these proceedings rightly continue in this court. In my view, they do, at least for the time being. I found in October last L was habitually resident in this jurisdiction. The matter has been considered by the Latvian authorities, who have been kept informed, and they do not seek a transfer of these proceedings. Once the assessments of the mother and of the Latvian family members have been obtained, the question of whether the matter should be transferred, or whether a request should be made to the Latvian authorities to take over decisions about L will again be held in mind.
  23. I accept that fixing a hearing in May takes L's case slightly outside the statutory limit. I am in no doubt that that is necessary in her interests. I am also of the view that given the profound effects of her experiences, the stability that L is currently receiving in foster care is likely to be what she needs in the few months between now and the next hearing.
  24. (End of judgment)
    (Discussions follow as to preparation of transcript)

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