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Mr Justice MacDonald reminds professionals of responsibilities when considering allegations by children

June 20, 2016   /  Uncategorized   /   no comments

Actions of some professionals ‘materially prejudiced the welfare of both children’

In AS, TH, BC, NC and SH (False Allegations of Abuse) [2016] EWHC 532 (Fam) Mr Justice MacDonald has reminded professionals of the guidance they ought to follow when involved in cases in which allegations of abuse are made by children.

The case concerned an application by the mother of the children N and S, two boys, for findings in respect of a series of allegations made against the father of S, TH.

From August 2014 to June 2015 the mother and the boys made a series of serious allegations against TH (considered below in ‘findings’). The allegations were of serious emotional, physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by TH against her and both children. Over the course of a nine-day fact-finding hearing Mr Justice MacDonald considered the written and oral evidence of numerous witnesses, to include Scottish and English police officers, social workers, refuge workers, teachers from the boys’ schools, CAMHS support workers, the mother and TH. It was not considered appropriate for the children to give evidence.

Mr Justice MacDonald, in finding none of the allegations made by the mother to be proved, and in fact finding them to be false, criticised in detail the conduct of the professionals. In setting out the legal framework reference was made to the following significant guidance to be followed:

  • The case law on the correct approach to allegations of sexual abuse (Re I-A (Allegations of Sexual Abuse) [2012] 2 FLR 837, Re H (Minors); Re K (Minors)(Child Abuse: Evidence) [1989] 2 FLR 313;
  • The Report of the Inquiry into Child Abuse in Cleveland 1987 (the ‘Cleveland Report’)
  • Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings (March 2011) (‘ABE Guidelines’)
  • Guidance on Joint Investigative Interviewing of Child Witnesses in Scotland
  • HM Government Guidance: Keeping Children Safe in Education (July 2015) and What to do if you’re worried a child is abused (March 2015).

In the context of the above guidance the court found that the actions of certain professionals actively contributed to the difficulties in assessing the evidence, ‘materially prejudiced the welfare of both children’ and contributed to the emotional harm the children had suffered. These breaches included:

  • The social worker unquestioningly accepted the mother’s account and her failure to make enquiries of the fathers, the extended families, school, doctors or local authorities “was particularly egregious in circumstances where such enquires would have revealed a fundamentally different picture to that being painted by the mother.” [227]
  • A failure (by social workers, Detective Constables, Detective Sergeants and teachers) to keep accurate records of what was said by the mother and the children, resulting in accounts of what the children said that were diametrically opposed [227]
  • A repeated failure by numerous professionals to interview the children in accordance with the ABE Guidelines, in particular repeated questioning of one child in the presence of the other child and their mother, and the repeated use of highly leading questions.
  • A failure by agencies to coordinate their intervention: between 11 August 2014 and 29 July 2015, taking the CAMHS intervention into account, the children were questioned by no nineteen professionals, on twenty occasions for S and forty-four occasions for N, with five difference police officers interviewing the boys.
  • That ahead of any findings or criminal convictions in respect of the allegation, the CAMHS intervention extended to therapeutic intervention for N by three psychiatrists and over 29 group therapy sessions and six sessions for S on the basis that they had been abused as alleged.

The court did not make a single finding sought by the mother. At TH’s request it went further, and made findings that each of the allegations made by the mother was false.

For the judgment and for a detailed case summary (of which this is an abbreviated version) by Esther Lieu of 3PB, click here.

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