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Re L (No 2)(A Romanian Child: fact finding & welfare) [2015] EWHC 3191 (Fam)

Fact-finding of sexual and physical abuse and subsequent welfare decision for long-term specialist foster care for the child.

Background
In March 2015, Russell J gave judgment about the child's (L – aged 9 ½) habitual residence and refused the father's request for an Article 15 transfer.  See Re L (A Child)(Jurisdiction: Private Fostering) [2015] EWHC 1617 (Fam).  Russell J was now concerned with a fact finding and welfare decision.

L, a Romanian child, had been living with Mr and Mrs V under a private fostering arrangement.  L's mother was deceased and L made and repeated allegations that her father sexually abused her and her sisters in Romania.  When the father visited England and tried to remove L from the Vs' care, L was police protected and returned to the Vs' care under an ICO.

The placement with the Vs later broke down due to L's disturbed behaviour. The local authority care plan was for L to be made subject of a final care order and placed with specialist foster-carers, supported by therapy.  The father, who attended the final hearing by Skype from Romania, sought for L to be returned to his care.  L had changed her mind several times, previously wanting to remain with the Vs, but then wanting to live with siblings in Germany, a sister in Romania, or another foster family in England.  She was consistent in saying she did not wish to live with her father.

L had 11 full siblings.  Some were adults and lived independently, whilst some minor children lived with other relatives or family friends in Romania or Germany.  Four brothers, aged 14-18, continued to live with their father in Romania.  The Vs previously facilitated telephone contact between L and her siblings in Romania, but the local authority asked that this cease, with the exception of L's sister in Germany.  The court considered this left a vacuum for L and the Vs were left to deal with this without any appreciation of the impact on L and her placement.

L was assessed by a child and adolescent psychiatrist, who observed L to have complex trauma and loss and disordered attachment development due to neglect.  She was described as displaying profoundly disturbed behaviour, including sexualised behaviour.  L began presenting with difficult behaviour, including making allegations against Mr V. Mr and Mrs V decided they could no longer look after L in the long-term and that she needed a specialist placement. The local authority investigated the allegations and the Vs account was accepted by the local authority and the court.

The court heard oral evidence over five days, including from L's sister A (by video-link from Romania) who also alleged sexual abuse by their father, and the father (by Skype from Romania).  The father's position was that the children had been coached by adults who were conspiring against him for material and financial gain.  The judge described his evidence as unconvincing and that "he seemed to indulge in the fantastical allegations he complained of in others".

Fact finding
The court reminded itself that any findings of fact must be based only on the evidence, including inferences that can be properly drawn from the evidence, and not on suspicion or speculation. A wide canvass of evidence was surveyed.  The evidence was largely based on complaints by L, which was supported by the written and oral evidence of her sister A.  Otherwise, there was little documentary evidence and no physical forensic evidence.  The court concluded that the level of disturbance by L was so evident that it could not have been manufactured by coaching alone.  The allegations of L's abuse arose soon after she arrived in England and there was no evidence to suggest that this occurred whilst in England.  The court made findings about the sexual and physical abuse that L experienced from her father, along with findings about neglect and emotional harm.

Welfare
The court concluded that it would not be safe for L to be returned to her father's care (and made an order permitting the local authority to refuse contact).  Her sister, A, put herself forward, but the court concluded she herself is a vulnerable young woman who does not have the resources to provide the intensive and specialist care that L requires.  There were no alternative family placements.  Satisfactory arrangements could be made for the therapeutic support that could be put in place to reduce the likelihood of a breakdown in the specialist foster placement.

The court made a contact order in favour of the Vs.  Despite the opposition of the local authority and the guardian, the court considered it to be in L's best interests not to lose another "family" and it would be the only connection in England with her country, language and culture.  The court found that the local authority's failure to properly manage and promote L's contact with her siblings in Romania contributed to the placement breakdown with the Vs. Criticism was made of concentration on the administrative convenience of the local authority, rather than taking a child-centred approach and a contact order will ensure that contact between L and the Vs is not overlooked in the future.

The court highlighted how impressed it was by the care provided by the Vs, notwithstanding the placement breakdown.  The placement was not sustainable as L was unable to withstand the uncertainty and isolation she felt from her siblings.  The lack of therapeutic support or counselling for L in this process was antipathetic to her best interests.  Russell J commented on the approach of CAMHS or other mental health providers being unwilling to commence work until the court has reached its decision, but this lack of support can result in breakdown of placements as carers are unable to deal with a child's precarious emotional state.  Further, the effect on carers can be devastating, as shown by the Vs' distress by the placement breakdown and they were offered little or nothing by way of support.

Summary by Ariel Ricci, barrister, Coram Chambers
_______________________

IMPORTANT NOTICE
This judgment was delivered in private. The judge has given leave for this version of the judgment to be published on condition that (irrespective of what is contained in the judgment) in any published version of the judgment the anonymity of the persons concerned must be strictly preserved. All persons, including representatives of the media, must ensure that this condition is strictly complied with. Failure to do so will be a contempt of court.

Neutral Citation Number: [2015] EWHC 3191 (Fam)
Case No: WD14C01814/WD14P01723

IN THE FAMILY COURT
Sitting at THE ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE

IN THE MATTER OF THE CHILDREN ACT 1989 section 31
IN THE MATTER OF L (A Child) (Born 18th May 2006)

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 09/10/2015

Before :

MS JUSTICE RUSSELL

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Between :

 Hertfordshire County Council Applicant

and  LC (deceased) 1st Respondent

and  AC 2nd Respondent

and  ??RV & EV 3rd & 4th Respondents

and  L (A Child) 5th Respondent  

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Ian Bugg (instructed by Hertfordshire County Council) for the Local authority
Alison Brooks (instructed by Jane Kaim Caudle Solicitors) for the 2nd Respondent
RV and EV the 3rd and 4th Respondents appeared in person
George Lafazanides (solicitor from Fahri Jacob) for the 5th Respondent (by her children's guardian)

Hearing dates: 5th October to 9th October 2015
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Approved Judgment
I direct that pursuant to CPR PD 39A para 6.1 no official shorthand note shall be taken of this Judgment and that copies of this version as handed down may be treated as authentic.

.............................

MS JUSTICE RUSSELL

This judgment was delivered in private.   The judge has given leave for this version of the judgment to be published on condition that (irrespective of what is contained in the judgment) in any published version of the judgment the anonymity of the children and members of their family must be strictly preserved.   All persons, including representatives of the media, must ensure that this condition is strictly complied with.   Failure to do so will be a contempt of court.

The Honourable Ms Justice Russell DBE:

Introduction 
1. In March 2015 I handed down a judgement in respect of the habitual residence of L, a Romanian child, born on 18th May 2006 and now nine years and five months old, who had at that time been living in Hertfordshire for some eighteen months; Re L (A Child) (Jurisdiction: Private Fostering) [2015] EWHC1617 (Fam). For reasons set out in full in my earlier judgement I found L to be habitually resident in England and that the Family Court had jurisdiction. L has remained living in England although, sadly, and for reasons that will become apparent in the course of my judgment, her foster placement with the Vs broke down. The court has continued to exercise its jurisdiction in this case as L's habitual residence has not changed. 

2. In this judgment I am concerned with the facts concerning L and with her welfare now and in the future. These are care proceedings that were issued on 26th September 2014. The court is now concerned with fact finding in respect of the circumstances which led to L coming into the care of the applicants, Hertfordshire County Council (the local authority), having previously been in the care of the Vs who brought her to the United Kingdom with the consent of her remaining parent, her mother having died in April 2013. It is the local authority's case that the threshold criteria in s 31 of the Children Act 1989 are met and that L should remain in their care under a care order. That position is supported by the child's guardian and by the Vs who had previously cared for L for almost 2 years. She has shown very disturbed and disturbing signs of pernicious emotional harm and has consistently made complaints that her father sexually and physically abused her and her siblings when she lived with him. Her father (C), the 2nd respondent, denies that there was any abuse and says that L should be returned to his care in Romania.  

These proceedings
3. The case was first transferred to the High Court from the Family Court at Watford by an order of His Honour Judge Wright on the 9th October 2014 for the discrete purpose of deciding jurisdiction. L is a Romanian national who had been habitually resident in Romania for all of her life until she came to live in Hertfordshire with RV and EV on 10th September 2013. She came to the UK here with the agreement of C her sole surviving parent, although he later tried to remove L and subsequently withdrew his consent to her remaining in this jurisdiction with the Vs.

4. The case came before me on the 19th March 2015; at that hearing as during this hearing the parties were all represented except Mr and Mrs V who were in person. Mr and Mrs V have since been to each hearing either one or both of them, and have remained unrepresented. As they no longer have L in their care (nor are they asking the court to place her back with them) they have not participated in this hearing although Mrs V has given oral evidence and Mr V attended the final day of the trial to make submissions on behalf of his wife and himself.

5. C had, with some difficulty, been served with documents related to the proceedings in January 2015; and his participation in proceedings has been intermittent; he has, from time to time, left his solicitors without instructions. However he has remained represented since the hearing before me in March 2015 and all documents have been served on his representatives, and where necessary, they have been translated. C was represented by counsel throughout this hearing and has chosen to remain in Romania which has inevitably limited his direct participation in the proceedings to some extent.

6. C has joined the proceeding via Skype on a laptop. He has been provided with an interpreter throughout this hearing by the court; his solicitors arranged for another interpreter to be available for him to give his instructions by telephone. The video-link via Skype was poor, just adequate and no more. C was in his own home and on one occasion went off to find and refer to papers when he could not recall the ages and dates of birth of his children. None of the advocates in court or the court itself had sight of those papers. As he was apparently on his own there were no means by which the court could regulate the documents that he had, or indeed confirm that there was no-one else present in the room. This method of participating in a trial or hearing is fraught with difficulties, is not wholly secure and it is only with the willing consent of the other parties that I allowed for the hearing to go ahead in this manner.

7. The local authority seek a care order pursuant to s 31 of the Children Act (CA) 1989 on the basis of the abuse and neglect set out in their final threshold document dated 27th August 2015. It is their plan to place L with specialist foster-carers supported by therapy for L from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and from a multi-disciplinary team in house known by the acronym ARC. This package has been approved by the court appointed expert Dr Butler and recognises the difficulties that L and those who care for her will face in the future.

The background to the care proceedings
8. I set out some of the background to this case in my previous judgment and repeat it here; L is the second youngest of 12 siblings the oldest of whom is now 24 or 25. L's mother died of a heart attack on the 15th April 2013. Her father AC placed her in the care of RV and EV (who are themselves Romanian) and signed a declaration on the 9th September 2013 allowing the couple to bring L to the UK for at least 12 months. Once in the UK, and quite properly they contacted Hertfordshire social services to tell the authorities that L was living with them because her mother had died and her father could not afford to care for her.

9. The local authority carried out statutory assessments during which they learned that L's older sisters had made allegations in Romania of sexual abuse of L and her sisters by their father. The girls had told their pastor in Romania. The allegations were passed on to the Romanian police but there was no prosecution. The local authority contacted the pastor directly who confirmed the story. L complained to Mrs V about her father having sexually abused her. Despite some investigation by the police and other agencies no action in respect of child safeguarding has ever been taken in Romania and C still has several of his children living with him.

10. In January 2014 a strategy meeting regarding the allegations was attended by the police. No action was taken in the UK as the abuse had occurred in Romania where the perpetrator was living. In March 2014, after speaking to the pastor, the local authority wrote (translated to Romanian) to C to up-date him. The local authority followed this up with a phone call through an interpreter in May 2014 to ask him about the consent form that he had signed. In July 2014 C arrived in the UK; during his short visit he saw L but he tried to remove her by force leading to the police being called and a police protection order being made.

11. The local authority had initiated s47 investigations, but C did not attend the appointment which had been arranged by the local authority along with a Romanian interpreter. C chose to return to Romania on the 8th July 2014 the day before the meeting was due to take place. The local authority then had difficulty in contacting C and for months his position was not known.

12. A further strategy meeting was held on the 9th July 2014 at which it was clear that L did not want to return to Romania and wanted to remain with the Vs. It was apparent that as no-one in the UK had parental responsibility it had caused difficulties for L's carers in registering with a GP and in other ways. The allocated social worker was concerned about the 2nd Respondent withdrawing his consent for L to remain in the UK with her carers.

13. On the 19th March 2015 the court directed that they should be joined as parties to the proceedings as L had been in their care for almost eighteen months and they were asking that they should be considered as her long-term carers. L had developed an attachment to them and had said that she wanted to stay with them and that she did not want to be returned to C or to Romania. Mr and Mrs V had originally applied for a Special Guardianship Order (SGO) in September 2014. They then changed their minds and decided to have L placed with them under a care order and they were given permission to withdraw their application for an SGO in November 2014. L remained with them until August 2015 when to the distress of Mrs V in particular the placement finally broke down because of L's disturbed behaviour.

14. The position of the local authority and the child's guardian has always been that L should remain in the UK and that she should not be returned to live with C. L herself has changed her mind about living with Mr and Mrs V and has said that she would like to live with her siblings in Germany, with her sister A in Romania and with another family in England, provided that they have children. She has never asked to be reunited with her father and has been consistent in saying that she does not wish to live with him.

The background to this case
15. C was born on 2nd August 1946 in T in Romania; he is now 69 years old. This background is based in part on the limited investigation of the family of L by the Generatie Tanara Romania (GTA) social workers who prepared a report in April 2015 for International Social Services at the request of Children and Families across Borders (CFAB). This report contained the results of the most superficial of investigations into L's family and the allegations that had been made by her and her elder sisters and was of little assistance to the court, I shall return to it later. C has been married three times. His first wife died in child-birth and her daughter is 48 and lives in T. According to C his second wife abandoned him and of her six children only one E (41) remains at home with his father. L's mother was C's third wife; L is the eleventh and second youngest of her twelve children. Her mother died on 15th April 2014 at the age of 45. It seems that it was her death that led to the complaints of C's sexual abuse of his daughters coming to light.

16. L has eleven full siblings. The four youngest siblings all live away from C. The youngest T (a girl of 6) lives in Romania within her maternal family. I (a boy of 12) and S (a girl of 11) live in Germany with the family of daughters of the pastor (P) of the church attended by the family and to whom I have already referred. Another of P's daughters is a friend of Mrs V and it is through that connection that L came to live with her. Of L's remaining eight siblings, two older brothers live abroad, and two live in Romania with their partners. A (an older sister aged 21) has recently left C's home and renewed her complaints about the sexual abuse she and her sisters suffered. Four brothers aged 18, 16, 15 and 14 remain living with C and were all still at school when the GTA report was completed.

17. It would seem that when the children's mother died C found it difficult to cope with all the children living at home not least financially, the church stepped in and offered help by taking the younger children into the care of members of the church and members of the pastor's family. C now claims that they took advantage of him being in a vulnerable and distressed state, and that is what he told GTA. I take note, however, of the fact that he has not, at any time, since these proceeding started sought to contact the local authority about L if only to enquire after her welfare, nor has he ever offered to assist with her care financially or materially. He has not sent her a single card, letter or note far less anything else. It is a matter of undisputed fact that he did not seek to have her returned, to make complaints about her retention or initiate proceedings in this jurisdiction; indeed he took no action and made no complaints in Romania until he was made aware that allegations of abuse were under consideration by the court in England. When C did come to the UK several months after he was first contacted by the local authority in July 2014 he did not take up the appointment he was offered instead the police were called and a police protection order was made to stop him from removing L. As some of the facts of this incident are disputed I shall return to it later.

18. This lack of any apparent concern for L's welfare does not, of course, lead to the conclusion that L's complaints of sexual abuse are true; it does, however, support her complaints of a poor relationship with her father who she has described as being physically as well as sexually abusive to her and her siblings. From the limited documents filed by the local authority in Romania an anonymous complaint was made about the conditions that the children were living in with their father in July 2014 and they were left unsupervised, unfed and dirty. When they visited there were four boys at home and the social services found the conditions in the family's flat to be suitable; the boys did not appear unkempt. C is recorded as telling the local authority that P had advised to give consent to allow S and I to live in Germany and that he did not know their address there. He is recorded as saying he had signed a consent form for L and that L was placed in foster care in England as a result of his intervention following the refusal of [Mrs V] to hand her over and that he had enlisted the help of the local authority. On any view this description of events in England was not true. I note that he is not recorded as saying that he sought to have the children returned to his care.

19. From the documents contained in the court bundles, including the statements of P and Mr and Mrs V, it would seem that the complaints of physical and sexual abuse by C first surfaced when their mother died and the Pastor P (P) and members of the church community (their denomination is Pentecostal, C's family had been members of that church for a number of years) took several of the children in to care for them. A and E (two of L's older sisters) told P that their father had sexually abused them and their sisters S and L from a young age. The police were informed of the complaints in Romania. There was an investigation of some kind which included a forensic medical examination of the girls apparently with no conclusive results. I have not seen any papers or material from the police, social services and/or the local authority which details their investigations. What is apparent from the limited documentation that I have seen is that A did withdraw her complaints. As she was living in C's home and was interviewed when he was in the flat it is a predictable response. I am told by C that he underwent polygraph tests which exonerated him. Such evidence, and I have not seen the results themselves, is controversial and I can give it no weight.

20. A has now repeated her previous complaints and gave evidence by video link from Romania accompanied by a lawyer instructed by the local authority, I shall return to her evidence in due course. After her mother died L had been in the care of a brother of C's (M). C now says, although he has not done so previously, that M was in thrall to P and party to a conspiracy to abduct the children so that they could be trafficked for financial gain through benefit claims or prostitution. None of this was raised by C  until shortly before this hearing in his statement dated the 29th September 2015. An extension was granted for C to file this statement; again, he had failed to give his solicitors instructions. C says that the Vs are in league with P and his family, despite the fact that they do not belong to the same church, who have brainwashed and coached all his children into lying. He does not explain how this was affected in respect of A, who has been living with him until earlier this year; although he says that she is a religious fanatic who has been enticed away from him by P and promised "a wonderful life in the UK as a babysitter once this is all over". C told me that the reason that P, his family, the Vs and presumably his brother M and other members of the Pentecostal Church were conspiring to keep his children from them was both to profit from them and to get his flat by ensuring that he died soon of a heart attack. He had no explanation of how any one of them might inherit the property or tenancy.
L's background and her complaints

21. According to the evidence contained in the statements of Mrs V, after C's mother died she lived with her paternal uncle M for a short time, a period of weeks, and then with two members of the church who was not able to keep her long-term. It was then that Mrs V's friend (P's daughter) spoke to her about taking L into her home and fostering her. Mrs V, who gave oral evidence, accepted that she knew very little about parenting a child and that as she and her husband had no children of their own it could be said that she had acted out of desperation to have a family.  In fact no-one has made such a suggestion as it C's case is that she sought to profit financially from L's presence in her household and turn her against her father by inventing "fantasies".

22. Mrs V met L in Romania on 12th August 2013 when she was there visiting her own mother. She and her mother went to the home of the woman with whom L was living and says that she and L became friends almost instantly. She took L out for the whole day. L ended up staying with Mrs V at her mother's until the 15th August. L was then 7 years and 3 months old, she had lost her mother just before her seventh birthday that May. L had already been with three families and was told that Mrs V would be her "new mother". While this must have raised expectations for the child I accept that it was well meant for that was also the expectation of the adults and is not so dissimilar from some of the explanations given to children by social services in this jurisdiction as to attract the opprobrium of this court.

23. On the 13th August P's wife spoke for some three hours to Mrs V about the implications of taking L into their home; she also told Mrs V about the family including about the sexual abuse that the older girls (A and E) had told P about in May 2013. That evening Mrs V met A and E to make arrangements to go and see C on the following day. Mrs V went with P's wife to meet C on the 14th August and at that meeting he agreed that L could come to England to live with Mr and Mrs V. On the 19th August 2013 Mrs V took L to meet C to get documents for L's passport, L had to be there and the process of getting the passport took the whole day. In her second statement (dated 13th November 2014) Mrs V said that she had noticed that L avoided eye contact with C and did not display any affection towards him. She was shy or withdrawn when he put L on his lap and L followed Mrs V if she left the room, to go to the bathroom, or the house to go to the shop to get a drink as if she did not want to be alone with C. 

24. At that time Mr V was in London and had not met L although he spoke to her on the telephone. Mrs V returned to the UK at the end of August 2013. They had put a deposit down on a flat north of London; they found L a place at a small private school. The Vs felt that by putting her name down for a small school she would get the extra attention she needed as it was obvious to them that she had gaps in her education. During the time Mrs V was in the UK she found out the police investigation in Romania was going ahead and that the girls were to be subjected to a forensic examination.  

25. On the 2nd September 2013 Mrs V returned to Romania to collect L. While she was there she took the child to a forensic medical examination at the suggestion of P. The medical examiners found no physical signs of sexual abuse. That same day C signed a paper in the presence of a notary agreeing to L coming to England. Mrs V says that while the document referred to L being with them for a year C verbally agreed that L should remain in their care until she was 18.

26. The evening before they came to England Mrs V took L to say goodbye to her siblings. Prior to that E (L's elder sister) had accompanied Mrs V and L to get some documents translated; the declaration, school reports and some medical records. When E was with Mrs V she told her that C had sexually abused her and her sisters. She said that C had told her that should she (E) become pregnant she was to say that it was a boy at school. E said that she had been too embarrassed to tell her mother about the abuse. She told Mrs V that their late mother had had an affair with her own step-brother and that the youngest child T was the issue of that affair. E said that the youngest child T lived with her father. E told Mrs V that she was very angry with her father and with God but that she would never think of putting him in jail because he was her father.  On the 10th September 2013 Mrs V and L flew to England.

27. In October the Vs moved to Hertfordshire with L. They contacted social services almost immediately and 2 social workers came to their home on the morning of the 2nd October 2013. They were shown round the house and read the documents signed by C. L started school at the 7th Day Adventist Primary School on the 15th October 2013. Mrs V was contacted by the social worker then allocated to the case, June White. The local authority ran DBS checks and a home and pet assessment. It was around that time that L started to tell Mrs V about the abuse she had suffered at home in Romania. Mrs V said in her first (handwritten) statement that L made her complaints when they were alone and did not do so in the presence of Mr V. At first Mrs V did not tell the social worker about what L had told her, when she did so in December 2013 Ms White did not take any immediate action and it was not until April 2014 that Ms White, accompanied by a Romanian interpreter, interviewed L at home. Ms White told Mrs V that L had made complaints of sexual abuse to her but that they would not be taking immediate action as L was not at risk of significant harm while placed with her and her husband.

28. In her second statement Mrs V said that L made complaints about sexual abuse between 10th September and 23rd December 2013 and that she could not remember the specific times or dates when these disclosures took place. L told Mrs V that her father had put his fingers in her vagina and that he had his trousers down. Mrs V records that L struggled to tell her how C would touch her with his penis and it would hurt. L told Mrs V that he would use a cream which would sting and make her itchy. L told Mrs V that blood would come out sometimes and that it was very painful and if she tried to scream he would cover her mouth or put her face into a pillow. She described to Mrs V that he would sometimes put her on a fridge in his room when it happened. Mrs V asked L if she had told anyone like a teacher at school or at church and L said she had not told anyone except her sisters A and E.

29. L told Mrs V that C would promise her sweets and that there were sweets locked in his room. C promised both L and S that he would give them sweets if they did what he wanted them to do and that he did give them sweets when they had done so. L told Mrs V that one day before church C had told her that if she and S kept quiet he would buy them some clothes. He took them shopping but only bought S a tracksuit and trainers as L had not done what he wanted. L told Mrs V that C would put L and S onto his lap and stroke their backs and tell them they must not tell anyone and if they did so there would be no more sweets. Mrs V said that she had observed that L would tense up when she put her to bed and tucked her in but that after a few weeks this had stopped and L began to relax.

30. In the statement of Ms White dated 30th November 2014 (the social worker to whom Mrs V spoke about the complaints L had made on 23rd December 2013) she confirmed that Mrs V had told her she regretted not telling her earlier and that she had explained that she found it difficult to talk to a stranger about these things. Mrs V repeated what L had told her. Mrs V also reported a conversation that she had had with C on the 30th December 2013 when he had taken the phone when L was speaking to her siblings. C accused Mrs V of spreading rumours and denied doing anything wrong. It was recorded that C demanded that L be returned to Romania but calmed down and withdrew the demand. I note that this is the first record of any such demand being made and it coincides with the complaints of sexual assault surfacing in the UK.

31. Ms White exhibited her record of the interview she had with L on 14th April 2014. L was asked if she knew why the social worker was visiting and that L had replied that she did it was about C, referring to him by his first name only, and what he had done to her; L said she had been worried about the [social work] visit as it made her "afraid and [she] feels shame." L is reported as telling Ms White that she did not know of anything that had happened to the others [siblings] but said that there was one occasion when S had gone into C's bedroom to watch his laptop and C had put his finger some where "bad". It is recorded that L told the social worker "that [C] would say to her and S that if they allowed him to put his fingers 'there' he would buy them clothes, she said S always let him, but that she did not always let him and when he refused, he did not buy her anything."

32. The record continues that L "spoke of an occasion when he took her into his bedroom saying he was going to wash her feet, she said he closed the door and laid her on her back and put his fingers in a bad place. I asked L if she could show me where and she became visibly uncomfortable and said she was ashamed to show me. At the point she picked up the dog [family pet] and started to hug it tightly as if for comfort." L had spoken of "another occasion when he had taken her into his room and she had started to cry, she said he put a pillow over head and pulled her trousers down and started to beat her with his belt on her back, bottom and legs. She said he went to sleep and when he woke up he took her clothes off and beat her more, pushing her head into the bed so that she could not cry. She said that he made 'ugly faces'". It is recorded that C had made 'ugly faces' to scare her on another occasion when he took her into his room and took her clothes off and she had slapped him by mistake.

33. Ms White recorded that she had asked L if she was on her own when these things had happened and that L had said sometimes she was and sometimes S was with her. "She indicated that sometimes [C] would get them to touch his penis and also that it had hurt when he touched her. I asked her if her mother had known about [C] taking them to his room and she said that she did not know but went on to say that she sometimes thinks about [her mother] and dreams she is still here and talks to her." Ms White asked where her older brothers and sisters were when these things were happening and was told that C would take her and S into his room and lock the door. L told the social worker that she had told A and E what was happening.

34. It is recorded that L was asked about contact with her family and that L had said she speaks to her brothers and sisters but does not want to speak to C because she was afraid to; she said "she is afraid because of what he did to her and that it had hurt her." L was asked if she would want to visit Romania and said she would like to see the woman who had cared for her prior to Ms V, but she would "be afraid to visit her home in case [C] would take her into his room and put the chain across the door…She then went on to talk about the dreams she sometimes has and spoke of dreaming about [C] coming to [the V's] flat and of him smashing the phone…I asked her if she would like to be able to talk to someone about her dreams and she indicated that she would." Ms White asked her how she would feel about her [Ms White] talking to [C] about what L had said and that L had replied "But he lies." L told the social worker that she did not want C to be her father anymore and wants it written down that the Vs are her mum and dad.

35. Despite the social worker suggesting that L may want to talk to someone about her dreams this was not followed up by her or by the local authority at the time.

36. In the meanwhile, in March 2014, the local authority sent consent forms to C as no-one in the UK had parental responsibility. C only gave consent for limited treatment, such as dental and optician appointments but did not agree for medical or psychological treatment. The need for both was evident. L had respiratory problems affecting her breathing and sleeping that were not properly diagnosed until February 2015 when the specialist observed chronically inflamed tonsils with jugulodigastric lymphadenopathy (polyps), her nose had compromised airways and a large pad of adenoids were found; she was then recommended to have an adenoidectomy and tonsillectomy.

37. As I said in my previous judgment, the local authority had endeavoured to keep in touch with C and had some contact with him in September and October 2014 as set out in the social worker's statement dated 7th November 2014. In Ms White's statement dated the 30th November 2014 she set out her dealings with the C including her contact with him by phone through an interpreter in May 2014 when he accepted that he had given consent for L to live in the UK with the Vs and he agreed to sign a delegation of authority to allow for L to receive medical and dental treatment; when the translated form was sent he gave only limited consents.

38. There then followed a period when C was difficult to locate and for the local authority to communicate with him. The telephone number they had previously used was answered by another man. The case management hearing listed in this court on 18th December 2014 could not take place because he had not been served. On the 26th January 2015 he was finally served by a process server in Romania. The local authority received a letter from him on the 29th January 2015 which was translated and sent to the court on 30th January 2015 which amongst other matters indicated that he wanted to instruct lawyers in the UK and apply for the case to be transferred to Romania. At the hearing on the 30th January the case was adjourned to allow for his representation and further communication with the Romanian authorities. The 2nd Respondent was represented and filed a statement before this court on the 19th March 2015 resulting in my decision of March 2015.

39. As Mr V later described in his statement dated 1st November 2014, L needs a "psychiatric assessment and bereavement counselling and we may need support in dealing with such complex issues as L develops and grows." Mr and Mrs V were aware of the difficulties that L was facing emotionally in dealing with the loss of her mother and the separation from her biological family. They had already identified some difficulties in learning and in communication in Romanian as well as in English; which is why they had chosen to enrol her in a private school. They had reported to the local authority about the challenging behaviour that L displayed at home and at school. Both the Vs and the local authority were in a difficult position as there was no-one within the jurisdiction with parental responsibility. For the local authority this would not have been a novel or unique situation and despite the fact that there had been a strategy meeting to this effect held on the 9th July 2014 L never received the kind of counselling and support that she so badly needed.

40. On 9th May 2014 when C was again contacted by social services Mrs White attempted to discuss the need for him to give his consent for various arrangements to be made to meet L's welfare needs. The record ends with the comment that the "discussion went round in circles and the interpreter indicated that it was difficult to translate at times as [C] had no focus or definate [sic] thoughts, just contemplations and therefore I ended the call." C eventually agreed to dental treatment (L's teeth had been so badly neglected that she would need sedation to cope with the extensive treatment required); he agreed to the prescription of medicines by the doctor but nothing else. He would not agree to school trips unless Mrs V went with her. C refused to allow L to join in school or other clubs or activities. He refused to agree to her having extra support including therapeutic support. In this interview it is abundantly clear that his primary concern was to retain control and there was little or no consideration of L's physical, educational or emotional well-being. He was both complimentary in respect of Mrs V describing her a very religious woman who would guide L to only good things he then said she was trying to convert L to become a 7th Day Adventist (he had attended the Pentecostal Church himself until his expulsion) and said that L was of a different faith.

41. As both the Vs were working they had, at first in 2014, needed a child-minder to look after L after school. Mrs V gave up her job on 17th July 2014 after which she stayed at home to look after L. Until February 2014 a friend who lived locally looked after L and this went well. When she had to stop because of the birth of her second child she recommended her cleaner a Romanian woman IB. This was not such a successful arrangement according to Mrs V as the woman undermined their care of L by failing to follow their regime with L; she openly disagreed with them and had "little secrets" with L taking her to places without telling the Vs and giving her sweets and biscuits. They decided to dispense with her assistance in May 2014. They then used a local and registered child-minder. It would seem that IB had contacted C and/or members of his family in Romania in June and had been feeding him misinformation about the V's which he then used to complain to the local authority about the V's care of L at the end of January 2015.

42. On the 4th July 2014 C arrived in the UK unannounced and called Mrs V, who, in turn called the social worker. Ms White advised Mrs V to meet C in a public place; and not alone with L. They arranged to meet at McDonalds in Watford. According to Mrs V's statements and her oral evidence when the Vs arrived with L they found C in the company of two strangers (friends, it later transpired, of IB who had paid for C to travel to the UK; there was also another older couple at a table nearby). C greeted L by picking her up off the ground and hugging her tightly; she struggled to be free and ran to the Vs. Shortly after that C grabbed L's hand and pulled her away from Mrs V saying "You're mine!" L started crying and tried to hold on to the arm of Mr V. The Vs called the police on 999 and the police arrived within 10 minutes. The police called the social worker and took L into police protection. They brought L home later that evening and L suffered from nightmares for several nights.  When Mrs V put her to bed that night L said that C used to play movies on his lap-top with "naked ladies" doing "naughty things" and that he had told her that is what he did with A and E.

43. It is C's evidence that L was pleased to see him and that the police took L away from the Vs. While it is true that she was taken into police protection she was returned by the police to the V's care that evening. C did not, it would seem, attempt to contact the authorities in the UK about either his daughter's whereabouts or her welfare. Instead he returned to Romania without taking up the appointment arranged for him with social services. He sought to use the incident, in particular the police intervention, to bolster his case in Romania when he complained to the authorities there by lying to them insinuating that the police had removed L from the V's care.

44. It is not disputed that when L was living with the V's they made some mistakes in their parenting of her. Mrs V was quite open and honest and has accepted this both in court and when investigated by the local authority, after C complained in January 2015, that she had found it difficult to look after L and that as she and her husband had no experience as parents they had done things in a way they later regretted. Specifically that Mrs V had chastised L by hitting her with a wooden spoon and that she had early on told L when L had been complaining about their home that she could go and look for a new mother which Mrs V very soon recognised was wrong. Mrs V had changed the way she disciplined L before the local authority investigated. Other complaints about food, her home environment, the family pets and physical care were found to be without foundation.

45. Although the s 47 investigation resulted in L being left in the V's care, it must have had an undermining effect, at least to some degree. This can be seen in the statement of Ms McEleny, referred to below, which mentions the confusion that L felt about social services intervention. This intervention raised with L the possibility of being moved on from the Vs who had already reduced the amount of contact she had with her siblings on the advice of social services. The social worker allocated to the case, Ms McEleny, filed a statement dated the 19th February 2015, in which she accepted that Mrs V had tried to support L to keep in contact with her siblings but that she had advised her to stop contact with the elder siblings living in C's home.

46. Ms McEleny had interviewed Mrs V in February 2015 and described her as being open and honest with the social worker and that Mrs V had admitted that she had not realised what it would be like to care for a child with such emotional difficulties. She accepted that she had chastised L inappropriately.

47. At the time L fluctuated between calling Mr and Mrs V 'mum and dad' and by their first names. Mrs V said that she had been introduced to L in Romania as her 'new mother' and it had continued from that introduction which Mrs V came to understand was confusing for L and accepted that they should not have done it. It is clear to this court that this introduction was clumsily handled and would not have helped L, however, there is no doubt that it was well meant, if mistaken, and that the genesis of L's difficulties was not in the manner of her introduction to Mrs V.

48. As a result of the complaints made by C on 30th January 2015 L was interviewed at school by a social worker, Iris Renner. L is reported (in the social work records) as saying that she had been hit by a spoon. Mrs V was quite definite throughout her evidence that although L had lied at home and at school this was only when she was caught out doing something disobedient. In the social worker's notes of the interview L is recorded as speaking about her sexual abuse by C "out of the blue". L said that this has happened when she was in Romania and that "[C] would come to her room at night ensure the door was closed and began to take of [sic] her trousers as well as his and in her words 'did a sexy thing to me, you know' and I replied I did not under stand what she meant. L than started to gesture what her father did to her and pointing to her private area. L stated that she hated the word 'SEX' and said that her father did it to her several times. She then said that she is aware that her father is now sad but she believes he is just pretending and only does it when there are people around."

49. Mr and Mrs V were assessed by the local authority in early 2015 and the Regulation 27 (Family and Friends Fostering Assessment) report is attached to the statement of Ms McEleny. The s 47 (CA) concluded that L received a good standard of care in the V household; this was reinforced by the more comprehensive Reg. 27 report which recommended the Vs as carers. There is no need for me to rehearse the report in full, it is not challenged and the court is not being asked to consider Mr and Mrs V as long-term carers any more, but it was the author's assessment that they were "a religious couple and believe in helping others. In my professional opinion, I do not see L as a substitute for not having their own child; however this can be viewed as rescuing [L] from abusive situations." This is a view with which this court explicitly concurs.

50. Mrs V filed a statement dated 1st June 2015 setting out what had been happening to L since the hearing in March. By then L had been seen by Dr Julet Butler, the consultant psychiatrist instructed to report on L by the court. She said "the last few weeks have been very unsettling for L following the work done by her social worker and by Dr Butler. This has brought back memories, both good and bad, about her family in Romania. She was very upset around her birthday because she remembered that in 2014 nobody from her birth family called to say "happy birthday". This year she asked if she was allowed to call them to remind them that her birthday is on the 18th of May. We reminded her that [the social worker] was going to let her know when it will be safe to contact her siblings in Romania. L struggled to understand how a phone call would not be safe."

51. Mrs V explained that between September 2013 and July 2014 they had called Romania regularly, and after July until January 2015 less frequently; telephone contact had ceased at the behest of the local authority in January 2015. They were allowed to keep in contact with L's sister in Germany. The local authority, by this interdiction, had in the view of the court, created a vacuum for L and left the Vs to deal with it without any appreciation of the affect that it would have on L and her placement.

52. Mrs V said that L compared her life in the UK with them to her life in Romania. Some of the comparisons were positive, mostly those relating to her physical and emotional care, particularly the care and affection shown to her by Mrs V and Mr V. Some were negative largely those concerning material gifts or possessions; L had received two birthday cakes from the Church in Romania as against the one from the Vs. Their flat was smaller than C's flat, which had been decorated and renovated by donations from the church when her mother died. The Vs only had a one bed-roomed flat and had given L the bedroom. Naturally she missed her siblings and said she felt sad because she could not live there with them because she would not be safe.

53. L spoke about her mother more than she had before. Mrs V said that L became tearful and upset and told them she felt angry with C as he is the main reason that she would not be able to live with her brothers and sisters and that if she was safe she would return to them anytime. L said that her love for them would never stop whether they love her back or not. Mrs V's statement was sad and her empathy for L and her unhappy situation away from her family was undeniable.  Although, L had developed an attachment to the Vs, Mrs V in particular as has been observed by the local authority social workers, she missed her siblings.

54. Ms McEleny filed a statement dated the 25th June 2015. She had spoken to L specifically about her brothers and sisters on 24th April 2015. She said of S that she was her "best, best sister. I would love her to live with me and to see her." L said that S and she had had to wash C's feet when he was in the bath. She did not say as much about her brothers but spoke of A. A had saved her from C two times… "[C] had been on the toilet and I prayed that he would not come to hurt me. [A] had come and pulled me and helped me" L went on to say to Ms McEleny, "I had to wash his feet again; he had no clothes on in the bath…[C] bought the children things for hurting them with the 's' word". And on being asked what word "You know …with the 'X' in." Ms McEleny said that L was safe to use any word. "I feel embarrassed…sexy".  L told Ms McEleny that C had bought her a dress with a bow on it. Then she said that she would like to see A again but would be worried that E and A "would give me to [C] for money." L was asked about seeing E again and said "I would be worried about seeing her because she might give me to [C] for money and I don't want to see him. But I would feel a little bit happy to see her."

55. L said that she would be happy to see some of her brothers particularly I who lives in Germany but that she would not want to see her brother Ap because "[Ap] so so shake me. He hit me and the little children in the face…He was looking after the little children, D, I, S and me . He hit D, I and S and me in the face. We were crying and sleeping on the floor and it was cold." L did not want to see Ap and would feel sad if she did. L went on to describe some details of her mother's death. She said "There was a horrible smell coming from my mother in the box and I was scared that she was going to get me from inside." She told Ms McEleny she would like to see all of her siblings except Y, E and Ap.

56. At the time L wrote a letter to me which was exhibited to Ms McEleny's statement. L said that she wanted to stay here with her family (the Vs) and she did not want to go to Romania. Ms McEleny handed the case over to Julie Karume in June 2015. Ms McEleny concluded in her statement that L was confused about her relationships with her siblings and that she was desperate to stay in the care of the Vs.

57. Dr Butler saw L on the 11th May 2015 and her report is dated 23rd May 2015. Her report is not challenged, nor are her conclusions. In addition to the effects on L of the abuse she complained of Dr Butler identified indicators of significant neglect, specifically the fact that L did not know how to brush her teeth and had dental caries; that she had a poor eating pattern and was not used to regular meals; and, the fact that L was quite focussed when Dr Butler spoke to about the importance of warmth and food indicating that there were times when these were lacking and that they are more valued now than would be expected in a child of her age who had not been neglected.

58. It was her assessment that L "presented with the following issues: attachment disorder; unresolved trauma relating to her father and the anticipated trauma regarding a potential return to Romania; unresolved loss relating to the death of her mother; cognitive delay and a history of language delay and disorder. Overall it was Dr Butler's view that L "is a nine year old girl who is presenting with complex trauma and loss related to her experience in her birth family. But she also has disordered attachment development because of the lack of nurturing care she received from infancy."

59. Dr Butler found evidence that L is presenting with disordered attachment development which had developed from infancy as L appears to have been parented largely by other siblings and had no primary attachment figure or figures. As a result L uses an extreme level of compliance to ensure that she has a relationship with an carer/adult; the observation by the guardian and social workers of L always smiling, sometimes in inappropriate situations (such as when she is describing abuse) is, in the opinion of Dr Butler, a manifestation of the anxiety the child is feeling. Dr Butler gave further examples of L working very hard to make sure that the adults are okay to keep herself safe; when L did not understand a question she did not feel free to ask the doctor to repeat it, instead she continued to smile while looking worried. 

60. In Dr Butler's view L has distanced her self from her own feelings and she was unable  to identify anything that made her sad or angry. It was a positive sign that she was now able to start to show her negative feelings towards her carers and was able to look upset or irritated in an appropriate way. She was aware of something of the role of the local authority and social services as she would say that if they annoy her she will tell social services. While it showed that she felt safe in their care Dr Butler identified the big issue for her as being that she did not know if she was going to stay there or be returned to Romania which meant she could not let go of her maladaptive strategies. This opinion of Dr Butler proved to be only too accurate.

61. There were two areas of unresolved trauma identified by Dr Butler, the main one being in relation to C and the impact of his parenting on her. The first thing that L talked about was her abuse by him. Dr Butler  wrote that the first thing L did was

"...to spontaneously describe him sexually assaulting her. Even though it was clearly stressful and her narrative broke down (her sentences became less coherent) she still tried to smile to please me and not display her distress.
She gave me unique details about her physical interactions with C which I found concerning. She described him making her wash his feet and his back. She also described an episode where her sisters were trying to pull her arm to get her away from him. She described trying to hide by saying she wanted to go to the toilet, but he still found her.

She was able to describe him physically assaulting her. She described to me the lines on her skin after an alleged beating, how he would pull down her pants to hit her. She was able to demonstrate how she would be sobbing and checked I knew the right sound and word to describe it. She often became distress and more aroused physiologically talking about her father. Her sentences were less coherent, she often repeated words and at times she struggled to maintain her smile.

She is clearly traumatised by the idea of him turning up and taking her. He did try and snatch her in July 2014. Mr and Mrs V say that anyone who looks like her father, an elderly man with a moustache, makes her incredibly anxious. She seeks safety either from them or the time she was in a museum on a school trip when she sought safety from a teacher…

…In my opinion all of this is indicative of ongoing traumatic symptomology, relating to her experience of C. She remains hyper-aroused when speaking about him, she is constantly monitoring to see if he is going to turn up and she is having nightmares about him. Although she didn't describe flash backs I think that it is likely that at times that memories of the alleged abuse overwhelm her."

62. Dr Butler considered that the other area of trauma for her was the anticipated return to Romania and the loss of the relationship with the Vs. Dr Butler observed that L was driven to be completely positive about the foster carers and was unable to think anything negative as she may be sent back to her family in Romania. L was really struggling to be in control of the situation. Dr Butler said, presciently, that children who use a compliant strategy can become controlling if they feel at risk in order to make sure that the adults they are focussed on are safe.

63. In addition Dr Butler spoke of the unresolved loss felt by L in relation to her birth mother. This was complicated by her need to prioritise the needs of the Vs which made it difficult for her to speak about her mother. L did, however, give Dr Butler lots of details about her mother's death. L would need specific help about her mother and her death.

64. Dr Butler had some question about L's cognitive functioning as well as concerns about her language delay. The hyper vigilance and inability to focus which is a result of quite significant levels of trauma in early life make it difficult for children such as L to concentrate. L will need a specific assessment to look at these issues in some depth. Dr Butler recommended individual child psychotherapy and an Education and Health Plan (SSEN) as there is a risk that she may have some learning difficulties. She recommended placement with the Vs with this support in place. Unless there was a forensic assessment of C she would not recommend any contact with him. Contact with her sister in Germany would be positive for L. Contact with her siblings in Romania would have to be indirect and monitored so that they did not place pressure on her on behalf of C.

65. On the 14th July 2015 Mr V told the supervising social worker Arek Ksiazek that L had told Mrs V that she had seen him watching sexually explicit material while L was pretending to be asleep. She said he was watching two girls kissing each other on his mobile phone. Mr V told Mr Ksiazek that he understood that it would need to be investigated and that he and Mrs V would make themselves available. Mr Ksiazek and Ms Karume met L and Mrs V; L went with Ms Karume and Mrs V with Mr Ksiazek. They have filed a joint statement dated the 7th August 2015.

66. L told Ms Karume that she was missing her siblings in Romania and that she wanted to go and stay with A and E but away from C. She said she wanted to see some of her siblings but never mentioned C. She then told the social worker that she had seen Mr V watching something on his mobile about two years ago when they had been visiting Mrs V when she was caring for an old lady and Mr V had checked she was asleep and then started watching something on his mobile, girls kissing and taking clothes off. L then asked Ms Karume what will "happen now that she had told me this. Will she go or stay. I asked  her what she thought would happen and she said 'I will go to  A and E to live with them or go and live with S, I, D or T.' L asked if I could go and tell the judge she had changed her mind and wanted to go back to Romania and would feel sad if she stayed with Mr and Mrs V."

67. Mrs V had explained to Mr Ksiazek that on the 13th July 2015 when dropping Mrs V off to work she and L went to central London for the day and that while they were there L saw two boys and claimed that they were her brothers T and D. L insisted that they were despite what she was told by Mrs V and became quite upset. Later that evening she brought it up with Mr V and went on to say that in Romania she was sleeping in the same bed as her brothers, when he said it was not appropriate for siblings to share a bed L became annoyed and said that if the Vs had a baby it would not be her sibling as she had the family she loves in Romania. Later she complained to Mrs V and went on to say that Mr V watches naughty things too. Mrs V described the incident in detail to Mr Ksiazek which had ended with L confronting Mr V insisting that he had been watching a naughty movie. L then went to bed and got up the next day as if nothing had happened. Mr V had not slept and contacted the local authority the next day.

68. Mrs V said that she believed that L saw Mr V watching something on his mobile but that she had misinterpreted what it was. She believed that L was telling the truth but that Mr V would not watch something like L described and the child must have interpreted what she saw in the wrong context. Mrs V said that lately L had been saying horrible things about Mr V like that he did bad things to their pet dog and that the dog is not safe with him.

69. Mr V felt very aggrieved by the way that the local authority had dealt with the complaint in part because no-one had contacted him after he stayed at home all day and in part because the local authority instructed them that he was to leave their home that night. Although Mrs V offered to go to a friends for the night with L in the end she did not as she felt unwell and tired by the day's events; she and L had not arrived home until 11pm. She and Mr V discussed what to do and decided that they would no longer be able to look after L long term and that she needed a specialist placement. Mr V felt very strongly that they had not been supported by the local authority. 

70. In the event the local authority decided not to take any further action in relation to the allegation as the Vs had given a plausible explanation, and one which this court accepts. L had seen something that Mr V was watching on his phone and her perception of what she had seen was influenced by her own early life experience. L was to be told she would be remaining with the Vs and that no action would be taken. On the 15th July 2015 Ms Karume met L who insisted that she wanted to be moved away to her siblings in Germany, or in Romania or any other family in the UK that has a child or children. According to Ms V L told them that the social worker was going to look for another family so the Vs assumed that she knew about their decision to end the placement. According to Mr V L was then excited about moving and rejecting them as a result of which Mrs V was very upset and crying. Mr V felt that the social workers had, in effect, allowed L to manipulate the situation and that they had undermined the placement to the extent that the Vs could no longer sustain it.

71. The placement with the Vs was no longer viable and the local authority looked for another placement. Before L moved Mrs V discovered that L had been masturbating herself and recording a video of it. The Vs contacted the police and social services. Naturally they were very worried. The police took the iPad which was L's and concluded that there was no-one else involved in making the video. The social worker visited L to tell her what was happening about her move. L admitted making the video and said that she had done it only once. She told Ms Karume that S also did it (masturbate) and that C had shown them how to do it. L said that she had started thinking of C when she had done it and she knows it is not good to do it. L remained smiling throughout the conversation.

72. Ms Karume concluded that L was exhibiting the behaviour of a child that has been sexually abused and suffered a traumatised childhood. She took the view that L was a confused child that had mixed feelings about her placement and that L missed her siblings and wants to live with them this desire having been triggered by seeing other children who reminded her of her siblings. The local authority did not take any further action regarding the allegation made about Mr V. Ms Karume accepted that L needed "intensive therapeutic input" and accepted that no work had been commenced. As Mr V said in his final statement it is unsatisfactory that the proceedings have taken so long and that they had to manage the challenges without adequate therapy in place for a child affected by bereavement and abuse.

73. L is now placed with a foster family who will care for her until the court has reached a decision. A specialist foster placement has been identified and the local authority will make an initial referral to ARC and CAMHS for the provision of therapeutic work with L and to provide support to the foster-carers, in keeping with their care plan as approved by the guardian and by Dr Butler.

Evidence 
74. In addition to the evidence I have already outlined above I heard from Mrs V, A and from C (who both gave their evidence by video-link).  I heard the oral evidence of Dr Butler, the expert instructed in the case. I heard from the social worker and from the guardian about future placement and about contact.

75. A's evidence  A has in the past made and retracted complaints of sexual abuse by C. It was the complaints that she and her sister E made regarding C that had led to the intervention by the church after the death of her mother. Subsequently she denied the allegations she had made after returning to live with C, in particular to Romanian social services when they reported for CFAB. In June 2015 CFAB had further information from Romania; this time A had been seen away from C's home as she had moved out and she told them she was sexually abused by C from about the age of 12. They no longer supported a placement of L with C.

76. A made a statement which was translated and sent to the local authority. It is dated the 1st October 2015 and in it A said that in the summer of 2007 when her mother was away C came into her room, took her from her bed to his room where he undressed her, set her on the bed and sexually abused her. A says that she started to scream and cry and that he threatened her saying if she did not shut up he would hit her. He warned her not to tell anybody especially her mother. A said that it happened again after two days and it was then repeated in the following months. At the same time he abused her sister E, but that they did not know about each other's abuse until after a few months when they spoke to each other about it. The abuse lasted for about 1 year.

77. A went on that in 2011 she had seen L leaving C's room crying and that was when she suspected that something horrible had happened. She asked L why she was crying but she did not want to say. "We (me and E) insisted that she tell us, moment in which she confessed that she was sexually abused by her father. L told us the same day that it stings when she pees, in that moment I noticed that she was red down there, a clear sign that she was abused. Also at that moment L told us that our sister S was also abused, most of the time the two of them together."

78. A said in her statement that they told their mother who confronted their father which stopped the abuse. After their mother died the girls were taken into foster care in Germany and England and had started "telling about the atrocities they lived. These families contacted the Reverend P…" P then called A and E to his office and they confirmed that the stories told by the children were true. P informed C that he was expelled from the church. A said that C was a very violent man who beat them often when they were children and that C behaves as if nothing has happened.

79. In her oral evidence A confirmed the contents of her statement as the truth and that she had told Mrs V about the abuse. She accepted that in April 2015 she had told the Romanian social worker it was not true when she was living in C's flat. She said that S had told her about being abused as well. She was no longer living with C and did not speak to him because she feared him and his reaction (to what she had done). A said that C had beaten all of them, "sometimes with his belt and sometimes he would slap us"…  she did not know how often, "whenever he was angry…I think monthly." In cross-examination she said that C stopped beating them when they grew up, when they were 17. She again accepted that she had told the social worker it was not true but said… "Because even if I said something was not true C told us to say these things…I remember it was that way in C's house" A said that she decided to move out as she had often remembered what had happened and did not feel herself; and more than that she left because she wanted to tell the truth.

80. I accept the evidence of A. She was quite open in her manner and readily answered all the questions she was asked by counsel. The only time that she has not been consistent in her complaints about sexual abuse involving C was when she was visited in his home. It is hardly surprising that she felt constrained by him as she has said in her own evidence. I find it much more surprising that social workers saw fit to interview a possible victim of abuse in the home of the alleged abuser.

81. Mrs V's evidence I have already made reference to the written evidence of Mrs V which she confirmed in the witness box. I found Mrs V to be open and insightful, in keeping with the way she is described by the social workers who worked with her and by Dr Butler. She came across as genuinely caring about L and was obviously very fond of the little girl who she took into her home. She described her connection with P through one of his daughters whom she had gone to secondary school with, and later kept in touch through social media. She told me, and I accept that it was C himself who first raised the issue of sexual abuse with her on the telephone.

82. Mrs V denied asking L about the abuse although she had asked her why she was uncomfortable around C. Mrs V said that L had first spoken about it when they were out in the street walking, L had her head down and started to speak about C " - she was keen to tell me something but found it difficult  - she eventually told me that he touched her in intimate areas." Mrs V said that she was convinced that L was telling the truth about the abuse. L was in the habit of telling lies about minor things especially if she was caught doing something wrong, everyday things typical to children. She had not said or thought that L was lying when she had spoken about seeing Mr V watching something on his phone, rather it was something L had misinterpreted. Ms V again, as in her statement and in discussion with social workers accepted that she had chastised L inappropriately by hitting her with a wooden spoon, and, again she accepted that she had sometimes let her feeling get the better of her and spoken to L about the proceedings when she should not have.

83. In cross-examination Mrs V denied coaching L. She said that nothing she had said made it necessary for L to make things up for Mrs V accepted that L would have left the next day if she could to go back to her siblings the main reason L wanted to be away was to escape abuse. She said that the first year was easier with L as she had telephone contact with her siblings but that when that had stopped L found it very difficult and missed them even more. Mrs V said that L was not happy at the idea of meeting C at McDonalds and had not wanted to go. I accept the evidence of Mrs V. She had nothing at all to gain by getting L to lie and the independent evidence of L's elder sister supports Mrs V's evidence and the complaints made by L. The placement was a difficult one and the only motivation of the Vs was altruism. C's claims that they were in league with P and his family is based on his own self-obsession and has nothing to do with the evidence before this court. There is not a single piece of evidence to support his claim that the Vs stood to gain financially or otherwise by L living with them. The V have been assessed by the local authority on more than one occasion and the wild accusations that they and P were involved in trafficking is as groundless as it is offensive.

84. C's evidence  The evidence of C amounted to not much more than a blanket denial and an attack on those who reported on what his children had said. At no time in his statements or his oral evidence did he betray any concern for L or any of his children. The reasons that he gave for saying that L and the other children had been coached became more and more outlandish and included a claim, not mentioned until he gave oral evidence, that P was attempting to divest him of his property in that flat he currently occupies by inducing a heart attack so that he would die and P take the flat. The explanations that he gave for the P and the Vs conspiring to get the children to lie culminated in a claim that they intended to traffic his children for material and financial gain. Most if not all of these allegations against P and the Vs emerged for the first time in his last statement dated 29th September 2015. There is no objective evidence at all to support them.

85. C has mislead the authorities in Romania, as alluded to above, by claiming that  L had been removed from the Vs in July 2014 at his instigation. He has failed to take up the opportunity when he had it of meeting with social workers in England. He took no action through the courts in this country or in Germany for the return of his children. His complaints about the Vs were not made until after he was aware that sexual abuse complaints against him were a live issue in these proceedings in January 2015 not in July 2014 when he says they were brought to his notice. He was impassive in his evidence and during the proceedings and showed no concern for and betrayed no emotion over L or any of the children. The only change was when he laughed at Mrs V's evidence about what he had told her about his wife and again when he was asked about L being made to touch his penis.

86. I found his evidence unconvincing and at times he seemed to indulge in the fantastical allegations he complained of in others. He gave no coherent or  credible explanation for why his child would make these serious complaints against him and I do not accept his evidence.

87. The Expert Evidence As set out above L has been assessed by Dr Julet Butler, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, who was instructed by the parties to prepare an assessment by order of the court to provide expert evidence regarding her emotional and mental health and welfare as it was clear that she had suffered trauma because of her behaviour at home with the Vs and at school. Dr Butler met L and Mr and Mrs V while preparing her report which was dated 23rd May 2015. After she reported the placement broke down and Dr Butler advised again in writing in a letter dated the 24th August 2015. Dr Butler's advice and assistance has been of great assistance to the court; she has given oral evidence and was not cross-examined by counsel for C as her recommendations were accepted by him.

88. L has been assessed by Dr Butler and by the other professionals in this case as displaying profoundly disturbed behaviour including sexualised behaviour. The complaints that she has made of sexual abuse by her father have been repeated and corroborated by her sister A. Their pastor in Romania corroborated the fact of the complaints being made in the past. This court has to decide whether, on the evidence before it, the findings of sexual abuse set out by the local authority are made out to the requisite standard of proof.

Law
89. Fact finding. There has been little if any dispute as to the law in this case. The burden of proof lies with the Local Authority.  It is the Local Authority that brings the case and they have identified the findings they invite the court to make.  The burden of proving the allegations rests with them. All of the facts that the local authority seek to prove regarding C's abuse of his daughter L is denied.

90. The standard of proof is the balance of probabilities, as set out by the House of Lords in Re B (Care Proceeding: Standard of Proof) [2008] UKHL 35, [2008] 2 FLR 141. If I accept that the evidence relied on by the Local Authority proves on the balance of probabilities that L was sexually abused by her father those facts will be established for the purpose of these proceedings and all future decisions concerning the child. I have reminded myself of the words of Lord Hoffman in Re B which apply to sexual and physical abuse as they would to any finding of fact:

"If a legal rule requires facts to be proved, a judge must decide whether or not it happened.  There is no room for a finding that it might have happened.  The law operates a binary system in which the only values are nought and one."

91. Any finding of fact in care proceedings, and indeed in all civil cases, must be based only on the evidence.  As Lord Justice Munby (as he then was) has said in Re A (A child) (Fact Finding Hearing: Speculation) [2011] EWCA Civ. 12: "It is an elementary proposition that findings of fact must be based on evidence, including inferences that can properly be drawn from the evidence and not on suspicion or speculation". I reminded myself of these words as I consider the evidence of L, in particular suspicion and speculation about her evidence cannot and must not form part of my analysis and decision making. In respect of the witnesses and in particular C and the reported words and complaints of  L herself, I have kept in mind that people lie for a variety reasons and the provisions of a Lucas direction (R v Lucas [1981] QB 720); I refer to the direction that I must keep in mind from the Lucas case, namely that people lie for many of reasons some of which are more easy to discern than others and that the fact that they have lied does not mean that it follows that they are responsible for the act or acts alleged. Thus the fact that C lied to the authorities in Romania about the whereabouts of L saying she was placed by the English local authority with an unidentified foster-carer when she was in fact still with Mr and Mrs V does not mean he is lying about other matters.

92. Although L has been described as lying frequently at home and at school when caught out or when naughty, this is quite different from spontaneous complaints about her father repeated to different people in different roles and settings. She has been consistent in the nature and details of her complaints and I find that they are convincing when taken with all the other evidence: her constant rejection of a return to C, her need to be safe, the nightmares she has about C, her recent video recording of herself and her explanation for it to the social worker and her acceptance that she cannot be with her siblings if C is there.

93. In this case, as in other cases of possible child abuse, I take into account all the evidence before me and consider each piece of evidence in context of all the other evidence as a whole.  As Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, President observed in Re U, Re B (Serious Injuries: Standard of Proof) [2004] EWCA Civ. 567 the court "invariably surveys a wide canvas". A point further amplified by her in Re T [2004] 2 FLR 838 at paragraph [33]:

"Evidence cannot be evaluated and assessed in separate compartments.  A judge in these difficult cases must have regard to the relevance of each piece of evidence to the other evidence and to exercise an overview of the totality of the evidence in order to come to the conclusion of whether the case put forward by the Local Authority has been made out to the appropriate standard of proof."

94. The evidence in this case is largely based on the reported oral complaints of the child herself which is supported by the written and oral evidence of her elder sister A. Their complaints are about matters that took place a few years ago and there is little by way of documentary evidence, and no physical forensic evidence. Their credibility and the credibility of other witnesses are central to the case. The fact that L has complained of sexual abuse is not of itself a matter of dispute but C claims that she has either been put up to it or been abused in England. The level of disturbance so evident in this child  could not be manufactured by coaching to tell a story alone. There is, in addition, the evidence of long term neglect and emotional deprivation as set out in Dr Butler's report. The allegations of abuse arose soon after she arrived in England as did the evidence of her distress and trauma there is no evidence to suggest that this all occurred while she has been here and, it is not consistent with what the child herself says about her own experience of life in Romania with C and her family.

95. I accept what she and her sister A have told others, and this court not only about the sexual abuse but about the physical abuse. They have both been traumatised by it; and I have little doubt that C used physical abuse as a method of control. He is a violent, controlling and unfeeling man. He has shown no feelings of regret about his child except where the results of her being cared for by others may have impinged on him. His statement was a paean to selfishness centred on an imagined web of intrigue with him as its central victim.

Conclusions
96. I conclude that the threshold is met. Dr Butler's analysis of L's difficulties delineate the extent of the significant harm suffered by this little girl which has been caused the care of her parent C and I do not repeat them here. The harm was caused by the sexual abuse of L as she has described. I do not make findings in respect of S or E or any other child as I have not heard evidence from them, but I accept that S was there as described by L when they were abused by C. I have accepted the evidence of A but it does not amount to significant harm to L as she was unaware of it at the time it took place. It is clear that there were no sexual boundaries in the home and that it is likely that other abuse took place but I have to consider the harm suffered by L alone.

97. I accept the version of events given by Mrs V as to the attempt of C to snatch L from McDonalds in Watford and accept that L had nightmares for several nights afterwards.

98. I find that L was sexually abused by C who digitally penetrated her repeatedly; he hurt L when he did so. He would get L to touch his penis and would use a cream that stung and made her itchy. Blood would sometimes come out. C would cover her mouth or put a pillow over her face to stop her making a noise. He put her onto a fridge to abuse her.

99. C groomed L  (and her sister S) by giving them sweets and clothes and shoes when he abused them. 

100. On one occasion C took L into his room and beat her with a belt having first removed her trousers and pants. He then fell asleep and when he woke up he beat her again.

101. L was significantly neglected and had not been taught to brush her teeth, resulting in caries necessitating dental treatment under sedation. She had not been adequately nourished or nurtured and craved warmth, food and security.

102. L has suffered emotional harm both as a result of the sexual and physical abuse and as a result of the emotional neglect she suffered from infancy.

103. L has suffered emotional harm as a result of the brutal treatment of C and is afraid to speak to her own father.

104. L suffers from unresolved trauma relating to C and is traumatised by the thought of C turning up and taking her.

105. After her mother's death she suffered unresolved trauma which C has never taken any steps to alleviate.

106. Welfare. As set out above the burden of proof in this case, as in all public law proceedings, is on the local authority. This local authority has discharged that burden by establishing facts in issue at the fact finding as to the past conduct on the balance of probabilities and I have given the reasons why in my judgment above. To consider future harm, based upon those facts, the test is that there is a real possibility of further significant harm as promulgated by Lord Nicholls in Re H and R (Minors) (Child Sexual Abuse: Standard of Proof) [1996] 1 FLR 80 namely "a possibility that cannot sensibly be ignored."

107. As it now falls to me to consider the matter of L's upbringing and her welfare is paramount and I apply the welfare checklist in light of the facts of this case. Any intervention of the state into family life can only be justified if it is both necessary and proportionate to protect the child. In this case the findings I have already made are of very serious harm suffered by L. Unless that harm could be shown to be significantly mitigated and ameliorated by her surviving parent, the need for intervention would remains high.

108. The guardian and the local authority are clear both in their analysis and their submissions to the court that it would not be safe to return L to C. This assessment is supported by the evidence and views of the social workers, Dr Butler, the revised view of CFAB and the Vs who have cared for C for almost two years. There is no other family member with who she can be safely placed. A  who put herself forward, is herself a vulnerable young woman, and does not have the resources to provide the intensive and specialist care that L so badly needs.

109. The separation from her family is not desirable in itself but that is not the only consideration in L's case. She is a damaged and very vulnerable child and her safety from further abuse is of the greatest importance to her future well being. Dr Butler has had an opportunity to discuss this case with the members of the team from ARC and is satisfied that sufficient support can be put in place to reduce the likelihood of a breakdown of the specialist foster placement. There is no alternative placement for this child which can meet her needs within her family.

110. Contact. Despite the opposition of the local authority and the guardian there will be a contact order in favour of the Vs. The contact that L has had with the Vs at the end of September 2015 proved successful. Mrs V has now embarked on a course of study abroad but Mr V remains in England and she will be returning during the holidays which will coincide with L's school holidays. Mrs V was quite clear that she considered that contact during each school holiday would be an appropriate level of contact. I agree as did Dr Butler. Mrs V was equally clear and certain about the needs of L taking priority and would be guided by the advice from ARC and CAMHS about contact taking place; this, too, concurred with the advice of Dr Butler.

111. I consider it to be in the best interests of L not to lose another "family" and contact with people she has been close to and who care for her it is also the only connection in England with her country, language and culture. The latter connection is closely bound up with L's sense of self and identity as she grows up and is not to be lightly discarded. The contact order is a clear indication from this court to the parties and to L herself that contact is to be maintained and will put the local authority under an obligation to maintain the relationship for L. There has been at least one instance in this case where the need for contact has given way to expediency in respect of her siblings in Romania. There was no attempt to manage it by the local authority it was simply forbidden and I accept the evidence of Mrs V that L found this hard to understand and to bear. It is my judgement that had contact been safely and sensitively managed and maintained with support and advice from the local authority the placement with the Vs may have survived.

112. I cannot understand the objections of the guardian to this order; the emphasis in her evidence and in the submissions of the local authority were on the need for the local authority to be able to refuse contact not on how it could best be safely maintained. This approach, apparently supported by the guardian, is not child-centred but concentrates on the administrative convenience of the local authority. No attempt was made either by the local authority or Ms Wills to try to put forward an order the wording of which would have met the need to put the child's therapeutic needs before the obligation for contact to take place. There is no evidence in this case that there has been any sensitive consideration of the needs of the child to be able to maintain contact with people who are important to her and who she has said she loves or to the affect on her of stopping that contact either by the local authority or the guardian. The evidence is that in this case the local authority has been heavy handed in respect of L's contact with her siblings.

113. As they do not have parental responsibility and are not subject to the provisions of s34 (1) of the CA 1989 Mr and Mrs V are not in a position to insist on contact taking place in the future or even to be consulted about whether contact should take place (there may be a difference of opinion between the foster-carers, the therapist and the social worker for example). The current social worker is unlikely to remain in place over the long term as is so often the case. The order for contact will ensure that the matter of contact for L with the V's is not overlooked or simply ignored in future. In this I am following the judgment of Hale J (as she then was) in Berkshire County Council v B [1997] 1 FLR 171;  the child's welfare should not be subordinated to ameliorate the practical difficulties the local authority may have [in finding a placement].  

114. The local authority is to consider what form of order will be made and to submit a draft order to the court containing a form of words which covers their concerns. The order will give the local authority permission to refuse contact to C pursuant to s 34 (4) of the CA 1989. There are no easily discernable advantages to L in having contact with C. Putting to one side the need for C to have undergone a prior risk assessment and a psychological assessment to provide for contact safely to take place, as identified by Dr Butler in her evidence to the court. L has always been consistent in these matters; she was sexually and physically abused by C; she is very scared of him and of being sent back to him; and, that she does not want to see him. The evidence of the trauma that she has experienced at the thought of seeing him is visceral as can be seen in the descriptions she has given Dr Butler, Mrs V and the social worker. In addition C does not pursue contact through his counsel who accepted the evidence of Dr Butler and chose not to cross-examine her, expressly accepting her recommendations should the court decide against him.

Mr and Mrs V
115. In her report Dr Butler wished to highlight how impressed she was by the care provided by Mr and Mrs V. In my judgment I wish to do the same, notwithstanding the subsequent breakdown of the placement. They showed considerable commitment, care and affection for L all of which had been sadly lacking in her life. At the end the placement was not sustainable as L was unable to withstand the uncertainty and the isolation she felt from the rest of her siblings. The lack of any therapeutic support or even counselling for L cannot have helped and its absence was and is clearly antipathetic to her best interests.

116. Time and again the family courts are informed that CAHMS or mental health providers cannot "start work" until the court has reached its decision, yet, as in this case, this lack of professional emotional support can result in the breakdown of placements as the carers are not equipped to deal with the child's precarious emotional state. The time has long past when the orthodoxy should be challenged and when this approach to therapeutic support can continue to be upheld as being in the long-term welfare of children who then suffer the consequences of yet another move and the emotional damage that results from that move. We are constantly reminded that children need security and stability but any possibility of those two requirements of a healthy childhood are obviously undermined in the cases where emotionally damaged children are left without the therapeutic support they so gravely need. The effects on the carers can be just as devastating; Mrs V and Mr V were obviously hurt and very distressed at what happened and were offered little or nothing by way of support.

Romanian authorities
117. As set out in my previous judgment the local authority was assiduous in carrying out the court's orders to communicate with Romanian authorities and have done so both through ICACU and the Romanian Embassy in London prior to the jurisdiction hearing in March 2015. The court orders dated 18th December 2014 and 30th January 2015 both recorded that the court was satisfied that the Romanian Central Authority has had sufficient opportunity, through email communication with ICACU concluding on 11th December 2014, to make any representations it wishes to make as to the court's jurisdiction and any transfer to Romania pursuant to Article 15.  No such application has been made.

118. The Children's Guardian had previously suggested that there was a need to explore extended family members as possible long-term carers for L and it was in part to deal with this that agreed questions were sent to Children Across Borders (CFAB) and their reports produced; I have referred to them above. C has not put forward names of family members that he wished to be considered as long-term carers other than himself. The authorities in Romania have been alerted to this case by C and have not chosen to take part directly in these proceedings.

119. This is my judgment.