I’ve said it many times before, but you really never know what you’re going to get when you dip into the latest family law reports. The point, of course, is that family law deals with such a wide range of human behaviours: some good, some bad, and some just mysterious.
The case Halford v Halford, published on the Bailii website last week, falls squarely into the latter category. In fact, it reads almost like an Agatha Christie short story, even down to its setting.
The judgment of Mr Justice Hayden sets out the narrative, and really nothing else, as nothing else is required.
He begins by explaining that:
“By early 2011 it was clear that the marriage of Mrs. Ruth Halford and Mr. John Halford had irreconcilably broken down. They had been married for twenty-five years and, undoubtedly, some of those were happy years. They produced three children, all now adults.”
The ‘difficult domestic situation’, as Mr Justice Hayden called it, was compounded by Mr Halford having been reduced from full-time permanent paid employment to commission-only employment and, as a result, there was significant strain on the family’s finances.
Against this backdrop Mr Halford did something remarkable, and apparently quite out of character. He:
“…announced, to the astonishment of his wife and his children, that he intended to embark upon an extravagant ‘fly-drive’ holiday alone to Egypt and to join a cruise.”
We are told that the youngest son was quite indignant at this extravagance (the trip cost some £6,000), at a time when the family could ill afford it. Nevertheless, Mr Halford proceeded with it, and on the 31st of March 2011 Mrs Halford drove him to Luton Airport, from where he embarked upon his ‘personal odyssey’. It would be the last time Mrs Halford would see her husband.
Notably, it had been agreed that upon his return the family would no longer live together, with Mr. Halford finding bed and breakfast accommodation for himself.
Mr Halford duly boarded the ‘Spirit of Egypt’, and was accommodated in a cabin towards the stern of the ship. During the week-long cruise it seems he kept himself to himself, with there being no evidence of him socialising with anyone else. This behaviour was entirely normal for him.
He did, however, text his wife on the 6th of April, his last day on the ship, setting out the arrangements for his collection from the airport. He then placed his luggage outside the cabin door as he had been requested to do.
The last sighting of him was perhaps significant, as it was definitely not in character. Late on that last evening he purchased two cocktails in the ship’s casino bar. As Mr Justice Hayden explained:
“Mrs. Halford found it frankly astonishing to think of her husband drinking a cocktail. That was something that she had never known him to do. When he drank, which was not particularly frequently, he was very much a beer or lager drinker.”
The mystery, however, deepened the next morning when, after the ship docked at Sharm el-Sheikh, Mr Halford did not appear at his coach to the airport. The ship was searched, but no trace of him was found, and he was never seen again. He had apparently returned to his cabin after drinking in the casino bar, but then left his cabin again (it did not have a balcony), leaving behind his hand luggage, travel documents and his phone.
An investigation was subsequently undertaken by the Thames Valley Police. They concluded that Mr. Halford had either jumped or fallen from the ship overnight, and that there were no further inquiries that could be made.
Under the law, a missing person is not automatically presumed dead. However, after they have been missing for seven years an application can be made for a declaration of presumed death, and this is what Mrs Halford did. In the light of the history of the case, Mr Justice Hayden granted the declaration.
A sad little case, but at least it provides the family with some closure, and allows Mrs Halford to move on with her life.
The judgment is so short that I have pretty well summarised it all above, but if you do want to read the whole thing, you can find it here.