A father who was falsely accused of abusing his children and prevented from seeing them for two years has been awarded £15,000 in damages.
The case concerned two children – a girl and boy – who at the time of the hearing were aged 9 and 14 respectively. The children were co-claimants with their Father in an application brought under Section 7 of the Human Rights Act 1998 for declarations and damages against Luton Borough Council. Relief was sought under Section 8(3) of the Act.
The parents of the children separated in 2012 following which there were highly contested proceedings regarding arrangements for the children. In September 2013 after these proceedings, the Mother made a number of serious accusations about the father’s behaviour towards the daughter. The allegations were referred to a social worker at Luton Borough Council who investigated the matter, ‘wholly inadequately’ according to the father. At this point, all contact between the father and the children was disallowed.
In September 2014, the mother reported that both children, who the father had not seen for a year, had made allegations about the father’s conduct. She now claimed that the father had sexually abused both children. These new allegations were investigated by Social Services and the children were interviewed. The Police arrested the father who was then bailed while they also investigated. The social worker handling the case reported the inherent improbability of the allegations, and acknowledged there was a risk the children had been coached to make false allegations.
In November 2014, the children’s schools reported growing concerns regarding the mother’s mental health and neglect of the children. Additionally they reported that further extreme allegations had been made by the children. Later in November both children were given full medical examinations which the mother had pressed for, with the support of the Local Authority and the police. The social worker attended the examinations with the mother. The Local Authority later acknowledged that these were both unnecessary and disproportionately intrusive – and that they had failed to protect the children from an invasion of their privacy.
In December 2014 recommendations were made at a Child Protection Conference that there should be formal investigations made into the mother’s allegations to be carried out by children’s services and the police. The father was not included in any decision-making, either at the conference, or generally – neither was he consulted about the investigation or given an opportunity to contribute.
Despite the formal investigation being agreed, there was no formal planning of this or any coherent strategy for protecting the children – in fact, no real investigation took place at all. Following this, a further medical examination was carried out on the daughter in April 2015 due to the mother’s insistence, this time under general anesthetic. Once again, the Local Authority later accepted it should have taken steps to prevent this from happening, given that at the earlier examination there were no diagnostic signs of abuse. It was acknowledged that the children’s mother was, by her actions, causing the children significant harm and each medical examination was a serious invasion of the rights of each to respect for their privacy and unjustified.
A further Child Protection Review took place in February 2015 where the previous Child Protection Plan was discharged and replaced with a Child in the Need plan without consideration of why the previous plan had not been implemented.
In July 2015, the children’s mother died and the children went to live with their maternal grandmother for a few months. Nobody notified the father of this information which he discovered through a third party.
In August 2015, the grandmother applied for a child arrangements order and the father made a cross-application. The opinion of the social workers and other experts at this stage was that the children were being exposed to further harm in the care of their grandmother who was expressing relentless hostile views about the father and was opposed to the father playing any role in the children’s lives.
In late September 2015, the Local Authority finally issued public law proceedings and in early 2016, the children were placed with an Uncle, before ultimately moving to live with the father himself.
Typically a case of this nature should take no longer than 26 weeks to reach its conclusion (Section 32(1)(a) Childen Act 1989). The father claimed that the handling of the case was a breach of his human rights to a fair trial and “respect for private and family life”, per Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
At the time of the hearing, the children had been with their father for a year and were said to be thriving, having settled in well. The father had granted the grandmother supervised access to the children of no more than 4 hours on each occasion which the Court agreed with, with these arrangements to be reviewed over time.
The parties agreed that whilst the father would be unlikely to benefit either from any damages or costs awarded, an award of £15,000 damages would represent “just satisfaction” under Section 8(3) Human Rights Act 1998 for the infringements of his ECHR rights, together with £1,000 towards costs.