A note on the Vicky Haigh case

Children|August 23rd 2011

The case of Vicky Haigh has made lurid headlines today. She is the woman publicly named and shamed by Lord Justice Wall, the President of the Family Division, after making “entirely false” and “scandalous” allegations about her former partner. She accused him of sexually abusing their young daughter.

Sir Nicholas Wall said:

“Allegations of sexual abuse were first made by the mother and not by X [the child]… X was coached by the mother to make allegations of sexual abuse against the father.”

He explained his decision to sit in open court as follows:

“The father is entitled to tell the world, and the world is entitled to know, that he is not a paedophile, that he has not sexually abused his daughter and that the allegations made against him are false.”

Now the father has been publicly exonerated in national news reports. The damage done to him has been corrected, although I expect that there will always be some people who believe him guilty. That is the way of the world. The child now lives with him, and Vicky Haigh may make no applications to the court about the child for two years. She is living in Ireland, having given birth to a second child there to evade concerned social workers.

Vicky Haigh’s sexual abuse allegations were examined and rejected by two judges at previous High Court hearings, which took place in private. However the allegations were also repeated elsewhere. Yesterday Sir Nicholas Wall sentenced Elizabeth Watson, a private investigator engaged by Vicky Haigh, to nine months’ imprisonment for contempt of court.

Sir Nicholas Wall said that Vicky Haigh had been

wholly unable to accept the court’s verdict and, with the misguided assistance of Elizabeth Watson has unlawfully and in breach of court orders put into the public domain via e-mail and the internet a series of unwarranted and scandalous allegations about the father and others”.

The Court could not have come out more strongly against Vicky Haigh and her supporters. There will still be those who side with her. As for me: based on what I have read in the newspapers today, I find this to be one of the most repugnant cases I have ever come across.

I am sorry to say that it is not the only case of women behaving badly that I have encountered. Over the years I have, on occasion, come across other women who are prepared to stoop this low. There is, perhaps, a taboo about discussing women who behave badly. But during a family breakdown both sexes can behave towards each other with conduct so bad, it beggars belief. So in this post, which I understand is likely to prove contentious, let’s look at how women can behave. Fortunately such cases, in common with those of men who stoop similarly low, are rare.

Sometimes, I have found myself acting for a less sinister version of the mother whose conduct was laid bare in the High Court yesterday. At our first meeting she will tell me, in graphic detail, about her suffering at the hands of her monster of a husband. She and the children are at his mercy. She will be intelligent and persuasive. However as the case goes on, and the excuses for not settling come thicker and faster, it becomes apparent that far from being the victim, she is in fact in complete and utter control of the family’s situation. For example, she will do all she can to ensure that the father never sees his children at all. She will make arrangements for all their free time. She will have ready excuses for why he can’t have the children for contact when he comes to collect them. She will always blame him for this state of affairs, ultimately because of what he has done to her. It will never, ever be her responsibility. Perhaps she makes him jump through hoops of fire because he has left her, and this is “payback time”. Perhaps she feels that she hasn’t had enough money from him, so he must pay.

In such cases, there is little doubt that once I twig what is really going on, and the extent of her determination to stop him seeing his children becomes clear, she will likely part company with our firm. We cannot continue to act for a client who is playing out a charade for revenge, who lacks insight, and who has no comprehension or concern of what she is denying her own children: the right to a relationship with their father.

Such people portray themselves as victims, their partners as predators when nothing could be further from the truth. The perceived wrongdoings in a relationship should have as little impact upon the children as possible, but every effort we may make to resolve the situation falls on stony ground. This particular client has no intention of settling with the father, none at all. The intention is to completely alienate the children from the other parent.

(Don’t overlook the fact that even if we don’t see eye to eye with a client, another firm of lawyers will. An individual will have his or her own version of what is happening, and everybody has the right to have a case heard by the court – which is as it should be.)

I have also acted in two cases of a type rarer still, for innocent fathers who never faltered in their accounts of what had happened. In one case, the mother made an allegation of paedophilia -whereas it was the mother herself who was the paedophile. She had lost control of herself and, emboldened by all the steps the court and social services were taking to protect the children from the father – removing him from his home and allowing him the strictest possible supervised contact – she sexually assaulted one baby on a day when the father could conclusively prove that he’d had no contact with the child. The children were ultimately removed from the mother by social services, and placed with their father.

In another case, the father had to move out of his home following allegations of violence, which he disputed. There followed an arduous battle for contact with his children. Ultimately the father was successful, but the struggle wore him to a frazzle. It was a lengthy case, and our firm ended up doing the last part of it pro bono. The mother made all the nastiest allegations that she could, did all she could to avoid giving him any contact, then permitted only the most limited contact. She almost got away with it, hoping he would give up – but with our support, he did not.

There are, I am very sorry to say, those who are so driven by a desire to punish their former partners that they will do anything to hit back. Anything at all.

The problem is that it is much easier to believe these types of allegations, because in certain cases, they are true. There are fathers who do abuse their children. And because the allegations can be true, we think they must be true. We desperately want to protect the innocent children who are at risk.

And these accusers know it. So do the courts and social services, who need no reminding of obligations that can make front-page news. They have to make decisions in cases where the “facts” may not exist at all or can be swept away, if examined with greater care. But how many courts and local authorities have all the resources to do this? They struggle to do their best. And they are not helped by these types of cases.

Such cases remind me of the circumstances I came across when I became involved with Sally Clark’s case. Sally Clark finally walked free from court on her second appeal against convictions for murder of her two babies, three years after her original conviction. Because two babies died in her care, it was argued, they must have been murdered. And she must have done it. The jury and even the Court of Appeal agreed. Only after the most careful digging, to unearth what had really happened, did the truth come out.

And that’s the problem. When serious allegations are made against an innocent man, the tendency is to believe that “there is no smoke without fire”. His back is up against the wall. He can have the entire system ranged against him, as two of my clients did.

Thankfully in the Vicky Haigh case (and in my clients’ cases too), justice has ultimately been done. A wicked vendetta and a misguided campaign have been caught and stopped.

The price that may ultimately be paid, if social services and the courts relax their vigilance and get it wrong, is by a child or another parent. And how easy it is, to get it wrong.

UPDATE 05/09/2011: The judgments have been published in relation to Ms Haigh and Ms Watson. After applying to purge her contempt, Ms Watson has now been released from prison. Instead, a  two-year suspended sentence has been imposed by the court.

Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council v Watson [2011] EWHC B15 (Fam) (22 August 2011)

 

and

 

Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council v Haigh [2011] EWHC B16 (Fam) (29 August 2011)

Author: Marilyn Stowe

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

Comments(25)

  1. Secret Family Court… | says:

    […] would refer you to the excellent post of Marilyn Stowe here, further comments have been made by David Allen Green […]

  2. ObiterJ says:

    This is by far one of the best posts I have read about the difficulties inherent in many of these exceptionally difficult cases. This particular case is repugnant in the extreme and you have given other actual examples of particularly vicious conduct on the part of some mothers.

    It is hard to think of an allegation against a man which is more serious than one of sexual abuse of a child. The consequences for the man can be devastating and, to be frank, even if formally exonerated, his life will be ruined. I have frequently thought that there should be serious consequences for those who make such allegations knowing them to be untrue.

    In family proceedings, I think that it is far too easy to make allegations and, regrettably, they are often either unsupported by specific evidence or they are supported by only tenuous material. Whenever someone alleges “abuse” (physical, including sexual) it should be impressed upon them that the allegation can have massively serious consequences and that they must only allege it if they genuinely belief it to be true and they have some evidence to support it. In my view, the courts need to look at such allegations at the earliest possible stages of proceedings but it is often many weeks along from issuing proceedings that the court really starts to get into the factual issues. This delay is detrimental and allows the allegations to gather momentum.

    Sally Clark was damned by expert evidence which has since been discredited. In any event, in my opinion, the “expert” in question was not an expert on statistics but was allowed to get away with presenting such material. Her case was an appalling miscarriage of justice which I believe ultimately resulted in her untimely death.

    Regrettably, I fear for the future of our legal system and family law. Legal aid is to be slashed and the new rules might well induce allegations of domestic violence. DV will be the peg on which to hang an application for legal aid. A seriously flawed policy.

    If I may, I will link my blog to this amazingly good post which is grounded in actual experience as opposed to theory. I will include a few other posts on the same subject since some bloggers have locked on to John Hemming MP’s interventions.

  3. Hemming and Haigh: Freedom of Speech and Abuse of Privilege « Inforrm's Blog says:

    […] of the “family law” context can be found in posts by family lawyers “A note on the Vicky Haigh Case” on the Marilyn Stowe blog. “Secret Family Court …” on the Confessions of a […]

  4. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Thank you. It amazes me that there has been so much hype about this case. I’m very impressed that the courts and social services seem to have got it right, and that the courts have come down so strongly and determinedly for the father.
    But why the need to keep publicly justifying that decision? And why all the fuss and palaver wrangling about the lack of an appeal?
    These nasty cases do happen. Not everyone is a nice person. They also take other people in;- some are gullible, some misguided, some looking for a cause ( but I dont think this is it,) some so utterly overblown by their own sense of self importance, they can’t see the woods for the trees.
    The worst thing about this ghastly case is that guilty people might in the future walk free
    and innocent people might find it harder to prove their innocence.

  5.   A note on the Vicky Haigh case|Untouched Smile says:

    […] A note on the Vicky Haigh case is a post from: Marilyn Stowe Family Law and Divorce Blog […]

  6. William Benson says:

    How do you know “that the courts and social services seem to have got it right”? I am confused. The courts and social services got it seriously wrong in the Sally Clark case, the Angela Cannings case, the Webster family case, the Donna Anthony case, the Trupti Patel case. I am certain that many people in the legal profession (and, maybe, even your self) said at the time of the decisions in those cases “the courts and social services seem to have got it right” until those decisions were shown to be entirely wrong!

    Bah, humbug, to the whole of the legal system (of which Charles Dickens described it “the one great principle of the English law is to make business for itself”) and, in particular, the corrupt and secret Family Courts of England & Wales.

  7. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Good morning William thanks for your comment.
    Actually if you check it is public record that I very much disagreed with the outcomes for those women at the time, which was an unpopular view, and nevertheless I did my bit to help Sally Clark with digging up a medical report case which changed the tide for her and all the others. So I don’t hesitate to stand up and be counted.
    The courts were acting in good faith however, on the opinion of experts:- and this area has also since the Clark case and the rest, has substantially tightened up.
    I formed my initial view of Sally Clark’s innocence having read about her in the media.
    I have formed my view of this case having read Ms Haighs website which should not be in the public domain but is.
    I am awaiting the judgement and if my view changes be assured I will not hesitate to say so.

  8. Graham says:

    I have quite a bit of experience of this myself. I would add two contributing factors of the law which encourages this.

    1. The burden of proof necessary to evict the man from his home and his money and his children is on the balance of probabilities. Thus, in these difficult situations much harm is done when it is impossible to disprove a lie it is thus found true when it is not.

    2. The status quo and adversarial nature of the court encourage bad behaviour to setup status quo where one parent has the – possession being 9/10ths of the law – argument.

    Like you, I do also find it very distasteful. I am now faced with a situation where I have given up as I am tired of the hostility and lies and don’t know what to say to her barrister when he keeps making things up or I don’t understand what he is on about.

    Could give a load of examples, one is that I locked the children in the car until they told me what the cafcass officer had said. Although not true, I simply did not know what to say to that. Thus judge probably found it to be true. Also the court didn’t give me an adjournment when I couldn’t make the final hearing, so it went ahead without me and I don’t get to see my children now – sick.

  9. Graham says:

    Paying money to see your children is also bad. It should be a right.

  10. Graham says:

    It also costs too much and I cannot afford the legal fees.

  11. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Yes I agree, it’s really hard if you are caught up in cases involving children.

  12. Rachel says:

    I made the decision at the outset that my child would not be mentioned in the divorce under any circumstances. It is difficult when maintenance is withheld if matters do not progress in her dads favour or he threatens to bring our child into it if financial settlement doesnt go his way . He knows our child is my achilles heel and I would do anything to shield her from the ugliness of the divorce. As he is a pathological liar I do fear what he will ‘invent’ and I do know how distasteful it could become if he took that route. I have nothing to hide but consummate liars are not easy to contend with. When your ex partner announces they will use every trick in the book to defeat you financially you live in dread of their next ‘trick’.

  13. Louise says:

    I just know how hard this is….so complex and the pain when your life is destroyed for no real reason.

  14. Louise C. says:

    Marylin.

    I suspect I will not be alone in welcoming the candour of your post. Aside from the distress caused by false allegations and the damage done to the children through loss of contact, this issue causes delay and consumes huge resources in Family Courts.
    What would you suggest by way of a deterrent?

  15. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Why do people behave badly on divorce? I think there are some people who are just not nice people. They are selfish, self centered, blind to anyone else, unappreciative of other’s needs, including their own children. But I think they are in the minority.
    But mostly? I think it will go back to what has happened over the marriage, and the way the other party has behaved towards them, consciously or subconsciously.
    One example all too common is this:-
    Husband has an affair and leaves for the other woman. He wants the children to meet this woman. He is completely thoughtless about the effect this has on his wife, who is facing the loss of her husband, her home, and now, possibly her children. She will view her life as a train wreck, caused by the other woman and her husband. There will usually be a reduction in available money to spend, so life for her will be pretty bleak.
    So she may well lash out. The husband and other woman will justify their own misconduct by reference to that of the wife whose own conduct will be worsening.
    And they will therefore make it worse. The other woman will probably not think too much about what is happening to the wife, justifying her actions by supporting the husband out of his marriage to the ghastly wife. They will often go away on holiday together, showing the world they are the new couple.
    So the wife, hurt, angry, betrayed:- makes it worse.
    And so on. That is one situation, but there are others. There may be long standing grudges that surface on divorce.
    It does boil down to respect, respect for each other, respect for the need for everyone to have some breathing space and adjust to the new situation. If there is mutual respect, including apologizing, saying sorry, there is more chance of a dignified split.

  16. A. pseudonym says:

    I also believe that Marilyn has given the best description that I have read concerning the type of vile accusations that Vicky Haigh made.

    I have been the victim of exactly the same type of false accusations (but bizarely, supposedly against non specified under age girls, not our own child) in retaliation for my reporting her for genuine child neglect.

    I tried in vain to get her solicitor to prevent her neglect but, after several months, resorted to notifying the Council child welfare department. This is when the allegations were made in private but
    were not even investigated without my permission!. I only became aware of the allegations by quizzing the welfare department at length. My own allegations (that were still valid) were never investigated.
    Her solicitor received an extremely strongly worded “rebuke” from the head of social serces when the allegations were quickly found to be entirely malicious but, within a few days, neverthless helped her draft a 15-page unofficial “statement” to CAFCASS containing around
    150 lies – to try to prevent me gaining normal access to my child
    Three years later, this rebuke letter came to light at the final hearing only because I had received a photocopy of it (probably by mistake) from her solicitor. The judge did not rebuke the mother (as rightly
    occured with the Vicky Haigh case) and the he simply alowed me “normal” access by a standard Court order.
    The mother continues to this day to breach this order with impunity and I am sadly not able to go back to court because she (and her incompetent solicitor) have also utterly destroyed our former highly successful business/livelihood. I have not worked since.
    Vicky Haigh has lost access to her child for two years but otherwise has not been further prosecuted. In my case, my child has continued to be emotionally abused by his mothers persistent parental alienation and has moved house around 9 times in 7 years. Although I didn’t initially request full custody, I believe I should have been awarded it because of these vile accusations. She still coaches our child to create new allegations
    It is encouraging to have some publicity at long last highlighting these evil women and hopefully the threat of “the whole world” knowing might dissuade others from making false accusations of similar nature.
    If the judge in my case had been more “robust” perhaps Vicky Haigh might not have tried the same dirty trick
    Keep up the good work!

    (Name) and address supplied to Marilyn

  17. Tulsa Divorce Attorneys says:

    It sounds to me like Vickey Haigh is a lying piece of _____!!!

  18. Tulsa House Cleaning says:

    Sad to see this kind of stuff happening – just plain sad 🙁

  19. Thankful says:

    Whilst this post is a year old it is still as relevant as the day it was written.

    It’s nice to see so many balanced articles on this site. I was also actually moved to read “It was a lengthy case, and our firm ended up doing the last part of it pro bono” as it is amazing to hear that some companies or some people would be willing to do that, especially having felt that my solicitor has anything other than engaged with my case (i’m guessing my meetings have been done on auto pilot as she is on annual leave!)

    In my case I’m really worried for my two children as my soon to be ex-wife is hellbent on “taking me down” and making sure she does “whatever she can” to make sure i never see the children again.

    Having read the article I realise my only hope is pretty much that a court will see through it but I expect her flair for the dramatic and tall tales will give her solicitor a lot to work with and will mean that might not be the case this time.

  20. Tim says:

    Dear Marilyn,

    Please can you tell me of any other parental alienation cases like this? For two years my ex-wife has accused me of Assault, Rape x2 Burglary and Theft and most rescent masterbating my 5 year old daughter. Last month I one a 5 day fact finding trial and proved these alligations were all lies. I have asked for my daughter to come and live with me and my partner. However the Cafcass Officer is supporting the mother sayiny the child seems happy with mum and should stay with her. I am a Lecturer and a loving dad. How can the Cafcass be so stupid? My case will be another Dominic Cole case!

  21. Dai says:

    I do not believe Vicky Haig was in receipt of legal aid – I surmise the outcome would have been the opposite ie father on a no contact order and Vicky at home with child and new manfriend.

  22. Fiona Berry says:

    I am wondering what your thoughts are on this case now that she has been reimprisoned on some very strange evidence. I do not know the facts of the case, but it seems very odd that a woman can be imprisoned and not be able to see what evidence has been used to prove a breach of licence conditions.

  23. Observer says:

    Fiona,

    Do you also go around questioning all the evidence that has been used to put men (who may be fathers) behind bars?

    Good job if so. Someone needs to be questioning this sort of thing.

  24. Observer says:

    I forgot to remind you, there is I think something called the everyday sexism project. I find that your use of the word ‘woman’ rather than ‘human being’ is a good example of that.

  25. Paula says:

    Unfortunately she is STILL going on on the web with her accusations her page is full of her self justification that will hurt her daughter. This doesn’t seem to matter to the woman in her spite against an innocent man

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