B e f o r e :
Sitting at the Queen Elizabeth II Law Courts, Liverpool
|LANCASHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL||Applicant|
|(by their Children's Guardian)||Respondents|
Jeremy Weston QC and Zoe Bruce (instructed by Duncan Lewis Solicitors) for the Mother
Karl Rowley QC and Elizabeth Morton (instructed by Stephenson's Solicitors LLP) for Mr A
Paul Hart (instructed by Birchall Blackburn Law) for Mr B
Gillian Irving QC and Kathryn Korol (instructed by Waddington and Son Solicitors) for the Children
Hearing dates: 19-22, 25-28 January 2016 Judgment date: 4 February 2016 Publication date 13 September 2016
JUDGMENT: Lancashire County Council v M and others
Crown Copyright ©
The order prohibits the publishing or broadcasting in any newspaper, magazine, public computer network, internet, sound or television broadcast or cable or satellite programme service of the following:
a. The names and any current or previous addresses of any of:
i. The four children;
ii. Their mother;
iii. The father of the two older children (known in these proceedings as Mr B).
b. The names of any current or previous school or nursery attended by any of the children.
c. Any picture being or including a picture of either the children, the mother or Mr B.
IF, BUT ONLY IF, such publication is likely to lead to the identification of:
d. The children as being the subject of wardship or care proceedings;
e. The children as being the children or step-children of the man known in these proceedings as Mr A;
f. The mother as being the mother of children of Mr A;
g. Mr B as being the father of step-children of Mr A.
The order does not prevent the naming of the man referred to as Mr A or the reporting of the criminal proceedings concerning him.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson:
1 Problems at school
2 Mr A's behaviour and the mother's weakness
3 Mr A's extreme views
4 The risk of Mr A taking the children to live outside England
1) Both children, and particularly A, are seriously behind at school.
2) Changing schools so often is not the only reason for the children's difficulties but it has certainly harmed their progress.
3) H has attended six schools in the last five years.
4) A has attended four schools in the last five years.
5) H's change of school in June 2013 meant that H and A could not go to the same school any longer, because there was no place for A at H's next school.
6) Two of H's school moves (in June and November 2013) were due to Mr A's behaviour, which the mother did not stand up to even though he is not H's father and has no rights over him.
7) The number of moves has made it difficult for H to feel good about himself and to make friends. Losing his school place in November 2013 was particularly sad.
1) Mr A says that he knows he's not everyone's cup of tea, but that people are lying and exaggerating about him.
2) I have heard from eight people – three headteachers, one deputy headteacher, one senior teacher, one health visitor, one police officer and one social worker. They were all just trying to do their jobs. They all had moments when they were scared of Mr A. The mother could see that but she did nothing to control him. All this meant that the children missed out on getting help at school and at home.
3) In the summer of 2011, Mr A, who then called himself a born-again Christian, accused Mrs B, the headteacher of the children's school, of teaching the children witchcraft. Mrs B was very frightened by Mr A and had a panic alarm installed in her office the same day. She has been a teacher for 22 years and has never experienced anything like that from anyone else. She gave the mother a job as a dinner lady because she felt she was a nice person who needed support.
4) When H and A were babies, the mother agreed to them getting their childhood injections. She would probably have agreed to N and R having their injections too (it is up to the parents) but Mr A was not having it. In February 2013, he was so unwelcoming to the health visitor Mrs S that from then on the health visitors would only visit in pairs.
5) In 2013, Mr A posted trespass warning notices on the gate and the front door of the family home. He says it was his right to do this. I suppose it was, but he didn't care how it would make the family look to the neighbours or to other people.
6) There were worries, which the mother and Mr A did try to deal with, that H was getting into trouble when he went out to play locally. In April 2013, a police community service officer visited the home to talk about an incident that might have involved H. Mr A refused to discuss it. He filmed her and put the film on the Internet without caring about the effect on the family. I'm not surprised that the officer, who was only trying to help, felt shocked and upset about this.
7) In June 2013, Mr A came into school to complain that H had been given an Individual Behaviour Plan to help him behave better. H didn't mind, but Mr A was so aggressive to the headteacher, Mrs A1, that he had to be excluded from the school. Mrs A1 has been a teacher for 35 years. She has never had to exclude anyone else.
8) In November 2013, Mr A went into H's next school to complain about a story the children had been studying. He became so angry that the headteacher, Mrs A2, had to call the police because she was afraid for the safety of the teachers and the children. Another teacher, Ms H, who was present, said that Mr A frightened her to death. Mr A was then excluded from that school as well. Mrs A2 has been a teacher for 33 years. She had never been put in that position before.
9) Mr A then insisted on taking H home straight away. He shouted at the mother in the street and on the bus. He didn't care that H and baby N were there, or that his behaviour was so bad that members of the public and the deputy headteacher, Mr T, were worried about whether the mother and the children were safe with him. He only cared about telling people what he thought.
10) In November and December 2013, Mr A filmed social workers on two more occasions and police officers on another occasion, and would not let them into the house. He then posted the videos on the Internet as usual.
11) After that, there was a time in early 2014 when the mother and Mr A cooperated with social services up to a point. Mr A was not felt to be hostile by the social worker Ms W and then and in early 2015 there were some good reports about the family. However, nothing had really changed. One way the mother and Mr A kept social services off their backs was by pretending that they had separated when they hadn't. This was possible because Mr A was working away a lot in 2014 and 2015.
12) I have been working in the courts for 36 years. I've never seen anyone give evidence the way Mr A did last week. When he became agitated, he pointed at people and snapped his fingers at them. Towards the end he just shouted at us all for about three minutes. If he hadn't been safely behind a glass screen, it would have been alarming.
13) I want to praise the social workers, and K in particular, for the steady way they have worked with the family in such very difficult circumstances. It would have been easy to lose focus but they have not let that happen.
1) In this country, the law protects our right to express our beliefs freely, so long as they do not harm children or break the law in some other way. It does not give people the right to force their beliefs on anyone else.
2) Mr A says that he is being persecuted because he is a Muslim. That is nonsense. There are 2½ million Muslims in England. Except for a few extremists, they have nothing in common with Mr A.
3) Mr A is not an ordinary believer. He is a bigot. A bigot is someone who doesn't tolerate people of different views, races or religions. Mr A uses religion as an excuse to treat other people with contempt.
4) He also hides his most extreme thoughts from the mother and the children, because he knows that they would not agree with them and that it would make it harder for him to control them.
5) In 2012, the police counter-terrorism unit received three referrals about Mr A: one from fellow Christians, one from fellow Muslims and one from his Christian congregation.
6) Around this time, Mr A left Christianity behind. About six weeks later, he announced that he had become a Muslim.
7) He and the mother entered into an Islamic marriage in February 2012.
8) In fairness to Mr A, he did not force the mother or H or A to become Muslims. The mother did not care either way so long as Mr A was happy. H became quite interested in the faith and there is no sign that this was a problem.
9) However, in 2013, there was an occasion when H was going swimming with his father. Mr B heard Mr A speaking angrily to H about swimming in the river because it was against his religion to swim in water where dogs had been. Mr A says that he was talking about safety, not religion. I believe Mr B's version of this conversation.
10) In the spring of 2015, Mr A stopped attending any of his local mosques because he does not agree with the way they follow Islam.
11) For several weeks before Mr A was arrested in November, he was being secretly recorded by the police. I have read a lot of those recordings. They show what Mr A really thinks and how he hides it from the mother and the children.
12) In the recordings, Mr A says that that he would sacrifice his life for his religion. He shows his hatred for this country because we are unbelievers who do not live under sharia law. He says that Islam is against democracy and voting. He pulled down posters encouraging people to vote that had been put up in one of the mosques. He wants Britain to be a Muslim country. He wants Muslims to be above non-Muslims. He wants men to be above women. He hates gay people. He says that Mr B is not fit to be a father because he has used drugs.
13) Mr A agrees that he said these things but says that he didn't mean them, and that he was desperate because the children had been taken away for no reason. I do not believe that. His explanations were ridiculous. And I don't accept that he only started to hold those views after the children were taken away.
1) Mr A is interested in what is happening in Syria.
2) In July 2014, he tried to go to there on his own. He was stopped at Manchester Airport. His luggage contained things that would be useful in a war zone. When he was stopped, he at first lied about where he was going, and then said that he was going to Syria to help people who were caught up in the war. After more questioning, he was released. He was not accused of any crime.
3) I believe the mother when she says that she thought that Mr A was going to do charity work rather than to fight. She doesn't seem to think that she had any say in whether he went or not, or how it affected the family. It shows how helpless she is.
4) I do not know what Mr A would have done if he had got to Syria. I will assume that he would probably have come back that time.
5) After his return, Mr A had the opportunity to work with the Prevent team, which helps people who might hold extreme views. He was not really interested in this, but he was perfectly polite to several police officers who talked to him about it.
6) From early 2015, Mr A was telling the mother he would like to go on holiday to a Muslim country.
7) Around May 2015, Mr A and the mother started talking about the family having a holiday abroad. They discussed this with the grandmother and looked at various places online.
8) In May 2015, the family moved from their home into temporary accommodation in a caravan park. The mother wanted a proper house, but Mr A persuaded her that a caravan would be better for the time being.
9) In June 2015, Mr A got new passports for the whole family.
10) Between 16 and 25 July 2015, the family set off on a trip from Lancashire that took them to Paris, Morocco and Turkey. H and A were taken out of school several days early.
11) The mother and H and A thought they were going on holiday. The mother had always wanted to go to Paris and liked the idea of a holiday somewhere sunny. She thought they might go to Spain. The children were told they were going to Euro Disney, which was exciting.
12) Mr A had different ideas. He wanted to go to a Muslim country. He made all the arrangements. The trip cost about £4000, even though the family had been so short of money that they couldn't afford to rent a proper house before they left.
13) The mother left a message in the caravan for the father's sister, who I will call the aunt. It told her how to look after the family's pets. The message said that the family would be back on 3 August. It has a ☺ beside the date. After the family left, the police searched the caravan. They found the message and say that the ☺ is winking, meaning that the mother knew they wouldn't be coming back. I don't agree that the ☺ is winking. It is just a ☺. The police are wrong about that, and anyhow they didn't find anything else when they searched the caravan.
14) The arrangements for the trip were odd. N was aged 19 months and R was just three months old. But Mr A didn't look for cheap flights out of England. Instead he booked the family onto a Megabus to Paris. The bus left at 2:00 a.m. on 16 July and arrived in Paris at 9:00 that evening after a 19 hour journey. The real reason why Mr A booked a bus was because he knew that he would probably be stopped if he went to an English airport.
15) The family was only in Paris for 34 hours, including two overnight sleeps. Mr A booked them into a hotel near the bus station when they arrived.
16) The mother says that it was only when they got off the bus in Paris that Mr A told them that they would be going to Morocco and Turkey. This was a surprise as she had been expecting Spain. She had been to Turkey before and had enjoyed it. It seems peculiar that a grown-up person would be so naïve and trusting about holiday arrangements, but that is what the mother is like.
17) The family spent the next day in Paris but they didn't go to Euro Disney. Mr A says that someone on the bus told them how expensive it was so they changed their plans. I don't believe him. He never had any intention of going to Euro Disney and it was unkind to H and A to have promised it to them. They did not even see the Eiffel Tower, which Mr A told me is "a lump of scrap metal".
18) The truth is that for Mr A Paris was only a starting point for the trip because the family could fly on from there without being stopped. Before leaving England, he had booked (1) one-way flights for the family from Paris to Morocco (Marrakech) on 18 July, and (2) one-way flights for himself, the mother and the children from Morocco (Casablanca) to Turkey (Istanbul) on 24 July.
19) When the family was in Paris, Mr A booked a return flight from Istanbul to Manchester via Athens departing on 1 August.
20) When the family was in Morocco, Mr A booked an apartment in Antalya, Turkey, for a week from 24 July. Antalya is a holiday resort 700 km from Istanbul.
21) A very large number of British people visit Turkey for their holidays. A very small number of people go to Turkey because it is the best way of getting into Syria. Some of them book return flights to make it look as if they are going to be coming back.
22) Between 18 and 24 July, the family had a holiday in Casablanca. I have seen the holiday pictures, showing that everyone was having a good time.
23) I've also seen WhatsApp messages between the mother in Casablanca and the aunt in England which show that the mother said she was having a good holiday and was about to go on to Turkey, and that she was looking forward to getting a house when she got back to England.
24) On 24 July, the family boarded a flight from Casablanca to Istanbul. While they were in the air, the social workers asked a judge to order that the children should be brought back straight away, and he did. I will say something at the end about the way in which that happened.
25) When the family arrived in Istanbul, they were sent back to Morocco, and then from Morocco to London. At some point, their luggage was lost.
26) On arrival in London on 26 July, the parents were arrested and the children were taken into foster care. The mother did everything she could to settle them when they were handed over to social workers for the journey back to Lancashire. The children were upset but H and A were very brave and looked out for each other and for N and R.
27) The parents were questioned by the police. They said that they had been going on holiday. The mother said that they had both chosen the places they would go. She was covering for Mr A. The parents were not accused of any crime and were allowed to go home.
28) So what was this trip about?
29) H and A thought that it was a holiday and said so when they were interviewed three weeks later.
30) The aunt also thought that it was a holiday, though she hadn't know where they would be going. The same goes for the grandmother. Mr B didn't have the chance to have a view as no one told him they were going anywhere. When he found out they had gone, he was alarmed because he thought Mr A wanted to have another go at getting into Syria.
31) I believe the mother when she says that she thought that this was just going to be a holiday. I am sure that she would not deliberately take the children somewhere dangerous. She is not interested in what is going on in Syria and would not willingly take the children into a war zone.
32) However, she certainly ought to have wondered what Mr A was up to. He had tried to get to Syria the summer before. He had told her that he wanted to have a holiday in a Muslim country. He was taking her and the children on a holiday without telling them where they would be going. The travel plans were odd. Once she and the children were out of England, they were going to be under Mr A's control. She knows that he usually gets his own way, for example about the caravan. But she just shut her eyes to what was happening.
33) It is hard to say what Mr A would have done if the family had got into Turkey. He might have had a plan already, or he might have made a plan when he got there. He might have decided to return with the family, or stay in Turkey with them, or go on to Syria himself and leave them behind, or try to get all of them into Syria. I am suspicious that he might have tried again to get into Syria, and might even have tried to take the children, but in the end I can't say that he would have done that. There just isn't enough information that shows he was going to try and there is some information that suggests that he wasn't.
34) What I can say is that Mr A is a man who cannot be trusted. He is capable of anything. He might have kept the children out of England last summer and there is a real possibility that he will try to smuggle them out of England in the future if he has the chance. If it suits him, he would take them to a Muslim country and maybe even to Syria. It matters more to him that they should grow up in a Muslim country than in their own country with their mother and Mr B and their grandparents. If he got his way, it would be a disaster.
35) As I have shown, one of the reasons why the children were at risk is that their mother is under Mr A's thumb. This continued even after the family came back to England in July. She and Mr A pretended to everyone that they had broken up and were getting divorced. They said this in August to the judge and to K and M. They said this to H and A and also to the grandmother. They said it to me when I became the judge in October. They were lying to us all. They were keeping in daily contact and meeting up in hotel rooms in Manchester and Liverpool. They agreed schemes to stop people finding out what they were up to. They were only found out because the police had been following Mr A all the time.
36) Those lies were important, because they meant that no one could trust the mother either. So the children had to stay in foster care instead of being able to go home. The mother now says she is embarrassed to have been so stupid. Maybe she is. Mr A says that they shouldn't have had to keep apart and that they were only doing what was natural. It shows that he doesn't care how the children are feeling.
37) On 3 November, Mr A was arrested. He was trying to buy guns and ammunition. He has been in prison since then and if the jury finds him guilty, he will be in prison for a long time.
38) In the conversations that the police recorded, Mr A said that he wanted to take the children to live in a Muslim country such as Albania or Turkey. He would like it if the mother agreed to come with him, but if not he would get another wife instead. He said that if the children were not returned home, he planned to smuggle them out of the country. They would go via France so as not to be stopped. If people asked where they were going, they would say they were going on holiday. He had tried to get away from England twice and failed. The third time, he would succeed. He was asked in court if this meant that he would take them to Syria. He replied: "That's your opinion".
39) In the middle of one of the recordings, we hear Mr A receiving a phone call from the mother. This is interesting, because he completely changes his tune. There's nothing in the call about religion or politics or smuggling the children out of the country. He was hiding his true thoughts from her.
40) When he gave evidence, Mr A was more interested in making speeches than answering questions. He says that there is a plot by police and social workers to smash up his happy family just because he is a Muslim. He clearly doesn't feel responsible for anything that has happened. He accused everyone of being sneaky liars who have taken his whole life from him. The truthful people are locked up and the liars are free. He has nothing to lose: "If you want me to be a terrorist, then that's what I'll do."
41) Mr A is very sorry for himself but I noticed that he never showed he is sorry for the mother or the children. Instead, he wants them to feel sorry for him. They shouldn't be. For him, they are not the most important things. What is most important to Mr A is Mr A and whatever views he holds at the time.
42) It is lucky that Mr A was arrested so that he was not able to go on with his plans to take the children out of England. That is why it is not safe for him to be in the children's lives.
43) The mother has been very slow to realize this. It is extremely disappointing that she could not see it earlier. Before the trip, Mr A was interfering with her children's upbringing but she did nothing to stop it. During the trip, she risked the children being kept abroad. After the trip, her lies meant that the children could not return home. By protecting Mr A, she also put them at risk of being smuggled out of the country. I hope that she now realizes how dangerous Mr A is to her and her children and how he has used her. The time for her to say that she does not understand that is over.
When the proceedings began, the children had suffered and were at risk of suffering significant physical, emotional, educational and developmental harm caused by a combination of:
1) The effect of changes in school on H and A; and
2) Inconsistent parental engagement with services caused by Mr A's hostility towards professionals, and the mother's failure to put the children first and challenge him effectively; and
3) Mr A's extreme beliefs;
4) The likelihood of Mr A removing the children from England and taking them to an unknown destination, including to Syria.