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Ex-wife jailed for contempt after defaming husband

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.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Paul says:

    Scorned woman labels innocent man an abuser. Shock horror. He must have paid a fortune to get a result like this. If he self represented he would be on here reminding you that this system is bias. Just like the rest of us.

    • Alan says:

      Im facing the same issue where my ex is causing defomation of charictor and im finding it hard to stop her and she is in breach of a court order too

  2. MalcolmL says:

    This doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

    It appears effective action was only taken very late in the day; that the court did very little to counteract the defamation for years before that; and that the father’s relationship with his daughter was destroyed despite their belated action.

    Surely, if the court had enforced the contact order early on, the mother would have realised her campain of defamation was pointless, the father’s reputation would not have been traduced, the child would not have lost a parent – AND the mother may well not have ended up in jail.

  3. anon says:

    I expect she is yet another woman , not listened to by family court judges. I expect this is her ex [*site removed] and in a search further day it refers to his preaching as verging on sexist and racist. I know who my money’s on despite the majority of commentator’s on this blog thinking family court judges are mainly biased against men, more than a few women can say the opposite.

    • JamesB says:

      Who knows what goes on behind the net curtains. I can certainly understand Judges not wanting to base AR rulings on conduct due to that.

      This appears to be the old, “no smoke without fire”, throw enough mud, some will stick comment that makes it harder for real DA victims to be believed when the vast majority use it as a weapon to get as much from their ex as possible, including friends, money, house, children, assets.

      We need 50:50 shared care default to stop this grab the children, run and throw mud to clean up on dodgy status quo law approach rewarding the person who grabs the kids and then gets rewarded as primary carer for finances and contact, or pre nups.

      I don’t know Anon perhaps you are right, I am not sure how we judge, like I say I know I wasn’t guilty of the stuff my ex said about me and 90%+ of the allegations made re domestic abuse are made up. But how is a Judge to tell? Same thing with the police. Perhaps impossible to tell. What I do say is that the collateral damage of unfairly tarnished stigmatised men and unbelieved women is unacceptably high and made so in part by bad law driving that approach, including UB petitions and children act and lack of rights for men and bad cafcass and bad contact law and csa/cmec/cmoptions/cms law and bad ancillary relief law. Its why so many feel outside of society.

      We need more civilised Divorce.

  4. BillyO says:

    This kind of defamation is common place. And is ignored by the courts during divorce cases.
    My ex made non specific allegations of child abuse. Once the courts get a wiff of an abuse allegation they err on the side of caution.
    The courts fail children miserably in this area and mothers are rarely punished for this tactic. After all its a good money spinner for the lawyers.
    My ex defamed me on social media, contacted my family and work colleagues.
    If they are determined to use these tactics then they will.

    • JamesB says:

      I agree with all of that. I had the same. You find out who your real friends and who are sensible people at such times. Like the stuff anti Brad Pitt recently. Heard it against Jonny Depp, Geoff Boycott etc.

      Its gossip really and not usually worth listening to, that lawyers and divorcing people throw it around so much is bad and should be reduced. I don’t understand why, perhaps to win the public vote?

      People who win the public vote can be absolute animals behind the net curtains. I have seen that. I have also seen the people playing the victims actually be victims. Its for the judge to decide I suppose, I just wish they didn’t have to decide so frequently. I think most agree with me, hence the fall in divorce numbers, its a rather messy business and should be tidied up.

  5. JamesB says:

    Yes, I had all this. Everyone looked at me when I was laughing when her barrister was saying it. Judge looked like he / she didn’t want to be there. Used as a smokescreen as part of the grab and run tactics by women to clean up on status quo DA approach day in day out. Hence decline in marriage and respectability of courts. Highlighted last week by the contempt shown to the Judge of the Grenfell tower enquiry.

    • JamesB says:

      I didn’t like the comment from the judge when he dismissed her claim, well, his approach really, he looked me up and down. thought me a wimp, and said something like “what? him? nah” or “Don’t think so”, made me feel small, even though I won. I wasn’t sure if I would rather have been found a macho wife beater or a wimp, either way was an unnecessarily humiliating experience.

  6. Open the secret courts says:

    Yet again another woman forced into silence of abuse she has suffered by the family court. The UK family court is a shameful example of justice where abuse is suppressed, silenced and gagged. This poor woman needed victim support, a court to believe her and a conviction on yet another man that gets away with abuse. How many more woman need to suffer in this horrific, draconian barbaric country. The reason she kept raising it is because it was true an no one believed her. There is no support in this country for abused woman, we are living in the past, its about time we caught up with the future!

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