A couple have both been found guilty of contempt of court after refusing to reveal the whereabouts of three of their six children.
In L County Council v MD and ID, the couple had a fraught 17-year relationship. Social services became involved last year after the police alerted them to an incident of domestic violence in the home.
Sitting in the Family Division, Mr Justice Hayden noted:
“The local authority’s perception, on investigating the family, was that the parents’ relationship had been characterised by violence and volatility. Neither parent, in the Local Authority’s view, was willing to engage with their investigations. The Mother, in particular, seemed determined to minimise the incident.”
“Social Services investigations revealed concerns regarding the parents’ engagement with both the health and educational services for their children.”
The family reacted badly to the involvement of social services, fleeing to Ireland.
In his judgement, Mr Justice Holman explains:
“The family were traced to Ireland. On the 19th of September, the police in Galway were called to an incident at an hotel. Others staying in the hotel believed that they were hearing domestic violence being perpetrated in one of the rooms. [The mother] has told me in her evidence that they were confused about that, and had misinterpreted the noise of boisterous children for domestic violence.”
The father was later arrested on an outstanding European arrest warrant for domestic violence against his wife.
The wife then returned to the UK with help from her sister-in-law, initially visiting the couple’s home in Preston before travelling south to stay with her husband’s sister.
Meanwhile, while the English authorities were still unsure of the children’s whereabouts, a child protection conference registered the children as suffering from neglect.
In October, three of the children – the oldest and two of the youngest – were flown to Pakistan. The judge said:
“There has been much discussion about how those children came to be put on that plane in that alarming and, in my view, quite brutal manner. What seems likely, doing the best I can on the evidence available to me, is that they were put on the plane without any adult to accompany them. The burden for looking after the two younger ones appears to have been placed on the 15yr old.”
“It is not difficult for any adult member of the public to understand why, when a family feels the local authority to be circling in, they might panic and run away together to evade the consequences of intervention. I do not for a moment condone that, of course. But I do understand it. What is far more difficult to understand is the parents who would put a three-year-old on a plane to an alien continent in this way. They must both have become very removed from their children’s most basic emotional needs. I find that illuminates the way they have behaved subsequently and the contempt in which they have held this court.”
The case was transferred to the High Court and the parents were ordered to reveal “the children’s location, their whereabouts and what had happened to them.”
But the children remained in Pakistan. The local authority launched committal proceedings for contempt of court.
The judge declared that:
“It is abundantly clear, as the Father has asserted to the social workers, in his own statement, and a number of times from the well of the court and from the dock of the court, he knows where the children are and he can get them back but he has chosen repeatedly to block the process. He is, as I have said, in flagrant contempt of the orders of this court. He has lied repeatedly.”
In addition, the mother had also lied to the authorities on a number of occasions and failed to follow their advice. She was also guilty of contempt, the judge declared.