A seven year-old boy was prevented from seeing his father for almost a year after social workers conducted a confused and inconsistent investigation into allegations of abuse.
The parents of ‘V’ met in 2008 and he was born the following year. They had a difficult relationship and separated not long after his birth. Multiple court hearings followed as each parent made allegations. Eventually they agreed to a partial shared parenting arrangement, with V living with his father for three nights out of every 14 and with his mother for the remaining time.
In the Family Court sitting at Manchester, Recorder Clive Baker noted:
“It would be fair to summarise those proceedings as acrimonious.”
Social workers and the Police had both been involved in arguments between the pair.
Later the parents reconciled and got back together but the reunion only last for a year. After they split up for a second time the former couple returned to court to try and reach new arrangements for their son, but the earlier arguments and allegations against each other soon resumed.
Recorder Baker explained:
“The degree of contention between the parents is perhaps illustrated by the fact that even after a contested hearing at which both gave evidence and a full judgment given by a district judge in October 2015, the exact terms of the order could not be agreed between the parties and further written submissions were required so that a final order could be agreed and drawn up, a process that was not completed until some months after the ostensible ‘final’ hearing.”
The new parenting plan agreed was that the V would spend four nights out of every 14 with his father during term time. School holidays, meanwhile, would be split roughly equally between the mother and father.
But earlier this year, vitriol returned when the father was accused of “sexually inappropriate behaviour” towards V. This claim arose after a family friend overhead the boy mention “massages” he and his father had apparently given each other. The family friend reported her concerns and V was interviewed at school by a police officer and social worker.
The school reported that V seemed to have a good relationship with his father, a “medical professional”. The latter was known to have massaged V in connection with a recent operation they explained.
When interviewed V insisted that there were “no bad things” about living with either parent and that his father had never done anything to make him feel “confused, upset or angry”.
Despite the boy’s denials, the mother wanted to prevent further contact. Advised that she would have little grounds on which to do so, she nevertheless attended a police station with V. There she was thought to be asking V “leading questions”.
Her son was interviewed on video but the resulting allegations made his father were “muddled and inconsistent”.
The same day she attended the mother successfully applied for a prohibited steps order, which prevented the father from seeing V for a full 43 weeks, an absence described by the Judge as a “great sadness” for the boy.
Unsurprisingly, the father denied all allegations and the Police eventually decided to drop the case. However, it was a full 22 weeks after this decision was made before he was able to see his son again.
The Judge explained:
“It is notable that by the conclusion of the father’s police interview (i.e. only 2 ½ weeks after the original referral to school) all of the primary evidence relating to the allegation of sexually inappropriate behaviour by V’s father had been obtained and it, in essence, amounted to very little indeed.”
Recorder Baker said this lengthy delay had been fuelled by “egregious errors”. The unnamed local authority had been too quick to assume the allegations were truthful and had taken too long to properly investigate them. No conference was held to discuss the available evidence.
A social worker investigating the claims had not spoken to the father and had produced a report containing errors and which had not explored inconsistencies in V’s claims. At one point it claimed there as a “likelihood” the claims had been influenced by his mother and at another point that there was no evidence she had done so.
Under a vaguely worded agreement, the local authority had asked the mother to prevent V from seeing his father until “investigations” were complete, but this failed to define which investigations it referred to. The mother later used this agreement to argue in private proceedings that V should not see his father.
Eventually, as a result of those proceedings, social workers conducted a fresh investigation under section 37 of the Children Act 1989. This concluded that there was no real evidence to support the claims.
Recorder Baker noted that the resulting report declared:
“The writer concludes that V has suffered significant harm but that harm emanates from the acrimonious dispute between the parents rather than any form of direct sexual or physical abuse.”
Read V (A Child) here.