The former wife of a Methodist Minister has been jailed for contempt of court after repeatedly accusing him of abuse.
The case dated back as far as 2001, when the divorced couple disputed the father’s rights to see his daughter. In the High Court Mr Justice Hayden noted, the father’s wish to see his children was “strenuously resisted by the mother”. She made a series of allegations against her former husband. These included “emotional abuse”.
The original judge carefully considered what he described as “a lot of evidence”, concluding that:
“I have no doubt that the evidence I prefer is that of the applicant father. I simply cannot recognise and reconcile the demeanour of Mr Gibbs and what I saw, with what he is alleged to have done.”
The Minister’s ex-wife appealed unsuccessfully.
The case, however, returned to court just a year later following the intervention of the local authority. At the last minute the mother’s counsel announced that her evidence was insufficient and that she would therefore be dropping the case. A consent approved at the same hearing stated that the mother:
“…accepts that by not raising any allegations of emotional, physical or sexual abuse against [the mother] the contact between [their daughter] and her father should proceed on the basis that all the allegations are unfounded.”
The mother also agreed not to raise “allegations of emotional, physical or sexual abuse” against the father “in any forum with any person or body”, including his employers, the Methodist Church.
The presiding judge, Mr Justice Munby, later to become President of the Family Division, approved the order, saying:
“The advice which mother has received and the decision which the mother has taken seem to me to be entirely appropriate in the circumstances. These matters must now once and for all finally be laid to rest.”
The parents had, he added:
“… taken a brave decision, and a decision which in many respects and for different reasons must have been difficult for each of them, [they] are to be congratulated and thanked for agreeing to this order.”
But the future President’s optimism proved unfounded. Just six months later the contact schedule had run into difficulties and the parties once again returned to court.
The Judge at that hearing wrote:
“Having seen the mother give evidence now on more than one occasion, I do not find it at all surprising that she did not abide by the agreement she had made. In my judgment, and I find, she never intended to abide by the agreement.”
She had also never really believed in the allegations against the father, he suggested, but had nevertheless continued to repeat these to friends and neighbours.
The Judge did not mince his words:
“These allegations are false. The mother knows it but continues to publish them because she wishes to hurt the father.”
Further contact orders were made but these “foundered…on the rocks of the mother’s intransigence”.
A series of court hearings followed and time passed. At one, Mr Justice Ryder (now Lord Justice Ryder) declared:
“…absent cogent reasons to the contrary it cannot be right that a young woman grows up in the absence of one of her parents’ care when that parent is alive. It is morally and legally offensive. I say these words in the clearest way I possibly can.”
Nevertheless the father abandoned his efforts to see his daughter face-to-face.
Then, earlier this year, the mother resumed her “campaign of vilification”, to quote Mr Justice Hayden, sending thousands of emails either directly accusing the father of physical, sexual or emotional abuse or implying that he had engaged in this.
The Judge noted:
“The father had undoubtedly become used to his character being traduced by the mother in this way but this bombardment against his reputation was, as the mother herself frankly acknowledges, beyond anything that she had undertaken before.”
She apparently believed that since her daughter had not passed her 18th birthday, previous legal restrictions no longer applied. Her ex-husband took her to court to “prohibit her from further defamatory publication”.
Mrs Justice Roberts issued such an order, with a penal notice attached – i.e. a warning that she could be fined or imprisoned if she breached it.
But the mother took no notice and within 24 hours of the order had sent a further 100 emails defaming the father. The latter therefore applied to have her sent to prison for contempt of court.
Mr Justice Hayden jailed for nine months, saying:
“In contemporary society it is difficult to think of any allegation against a man or a woman which attracts greater public opprobrium than one of sexual abuse against a child. Where these allegations are proved that public censure is entirely understandable. Here allegations are not proved. The responsibility of mature adults is to take such complaints seriously, but to avoid rushing prematurely to judgement.”
Read the ruling here.
Image by Angelina Earley