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Lancashire County Council v T (Flight to Ireland) [2015] EWFC 51

Judgment following a hearing to reconsider an existing interim order for five children to be returned from Ireland to foster care in England where independent evidence indicated that it was not necessary for the children to return.

Neutral citation: 2014 EWFC 51

Sitting at LEYLAND

Leyland Courthouse,

27th November 2014


Sitting as a Deputy Judge of High Court level

B e t w e e n:

T (Flight to Ireland) Respondents

Transcribed by Cater Walsh Reporting Limited
(Official Court Reporters and Audio Transcribers)
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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 report 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.

Thursday 27th November 2014

LANCASHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL – v – T (Flight to Ireland)

1. JUDGE DUGGAN:  This hearing has been fixed to reconsider the existing interim order for five children to be returned from Ireland to foster care in England.  In a nutshell, independent evidence commissioned by the court indicates that it is not necessary for the children to return.  As I shall explain, I have had no hesitation in those circumstances in discharging the current order.  It is unusual to publish a judgment which reflects an interim rather than a final decision, a decision reached before the case has concluded. However this is a case which has attracted publicity.  I am aware of the father giving an anonymous interview to ITN in recent days.  In those circumstances it does seem to me appropriate to publish a short judgment. Like ITN, I propose to protect the children by omitting their names.

2. I am concerned with five children aged between ten years and eleven months.  Those five children lived with their mother and father in Lancashire.  All the evidence is not yet in but the picture presented is of a family who were just about coping in Lancashire with extensive support and input from the local authority.  The mother was perceived to be the greatest threat to the children and after violent incidents which appear to have involved the mother, there were periods of time in which she agreed to leave home so that the children could remain in the care of their father.  The local authority described the father struggling with that sole responsibility for the children. 

3. On 8th July 2014 the mother presented the counsellor she was using with diaries which contained very serious allegations against the father.  Those diaries were passed on to the local authority who were understandably concerned as to the safety of the children in the care of a father who faced these very serious allegations.  In fact the local authority rightly say that it is hard to assess the accuracy of those diaries, not least because the mother has been inconsistent in her approach and now seeks to resile from their contents.  Nevertheless, the local authority decided that they would bring court proceedings.  On 9th July they told the parents and in the early hours of 10th July the father fled with the children to Ireland.  The father asserted that this was simply the implementation of an existing plan to relocate the family in Ireland.  This was manifestly untrue and the father was seeking to mislead the court when he made that assertion.  See [2014] EWHC 3321 (Fam). In fact the father never has attended before this court in England.  At hearings prior to this I was persuaded that the serious nature of the allegations made by the mother against the father were such that the children should come home to a place of safety in foster care while the allegations against the father were investigated.  In those circumstances I granted interim care orders and recovery orders providing for the return of the children from Ireland to this country.

4. The father has not complied with those orders.  He has remained in Ireland with the children where they are at the present time.  It became clear to me that an investigation independent of the local authority was needed so I directed an independent social worker to conduct an assessment.  That independent social worker has been to Ireland, her report has been filed and the contents of that report are the reason why the case has been listed on an urgent basis before me this week.  The independent social worker reports that the father appears to be providing a good enough standard of care for the children in Ireland.  He has engaged voluntarily with the authorities there.  Importantly, the paternal grandparents have joined the father in Ireland.  They are all living together which constitutes a safeguard for the children against the alleged risk that he represents a risk to their safety. 

5. This is still an interim hearing.  There is more evidence to come but it is clear to me that the test for the removal of children from the family to foster care is no longer met.  The safety of the children does not require removal from the father. Removal at this point would involve more harm than good.  With the precautions in place in Ireland, it is neither necessary nor proportionate for the children to be removed.  It is important that I indicate out of all fairness to the local authority that they have not sought actively to resist this conclusion now that they are more fully aware of the situation in Ireland than they were. 

6. This case then goes on.  It is necessary that there be a proper analysis of the mother's allegations against the father.  I need to know more about the father's plans in Ireland and the case is listed in early January to address these points.  One of the crucial safeguards in place is the presence of the grandparents with the father and the children in Ireland and I have received satisfactory assurances about that.  It is important that the message goes out that the father and his family must engage properly in this court process.  The attendance certainly of the father at the hearing in January is going to be very important if a satisfactory conclusion is going to be reached for these children. 

7. I finish this judgment with an expression of my personal regret that the father has not fully participated in the process.  If he had attended court from the start, with his current plan for full cooperation with the authorities and an important protective role for the grandparents, the father would have avoided the upset that has ensued.  Instead, the father chose a dishonest midnight flit to Ireland which has been very disruptive to his children.  Proper honest engagement with the court process from the outset would have avoided all these problems. 

8. The parties have assisted me in formulating the terms of directions to bring the case to court in January which I have no hesitation in approving. 

On 6 January 2015, at a hearing attended by the father, the local authority were given permission to withdraw the proceedings.

Approved 5/2/15