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Sunday, 10 May 2009

Sunday Times - Daniel Foggo - 10-May-2009 - Mum Jailed

Sunday Times - Daniel Foggo - 10-May-2009 - Mum Jailed

From The Sunday Times May 10, 2009

Mum jailed for telling son she loves him

A woman has been denied access to her children for three years, accused of trying to turn them against their father

Daniel Foggo

AS the wife of a successful City financier with three young boys, she seemed to have it all.

Yet after a bitter divorce and a protracted battle with Britain’s family courts system, the woman now finds herself bereft. She no longer lives in an imposing home counties farmhouse and for the past three years she has been denied any direct access to her children.

Barred from approaching them in any way, she has been repeatedly arrested for breaching the terms of the injunction against her.

She was once even jailed after encountering her eldest son in the street and telling him she loved him. Now she faces the prospect of incarceration once more. This summer the woman will be hauled before the courts again for having posted a video of her case on the internet.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has not been excluded from her children’s lives because she presents a physical danger to them. Her failing, in the eyes of the courts, was to have turned the boys against their father.

The remarkable case is likely to prompt fresh calls for more open scrutiny of the family courts system. Although recent reforms allow limited reporting of some hearings, most remain secret.

The family began to break up in 2004, when the eldest child was nine. The woman, in her forties, said: “Looking back, I think I was still suffering from post-natal depression and I was unhappy with the way my husband was talking to me and towards the children. The rapid expansion in the size of the family was quite stressful and our marriage just disintegrated.”

When she made it clear she was considering a divorce, the fallout affected the children’s behaviour and social services were called in. The boys were placed on an at-risk register for the possible emotional abuse they were suffering. It was agreed that the mother would care for them during the day but vacate the family home in the evening and stay with her own mother. “I was told by the social services that if I did not agree to that, then they would take the children away from me,” she said.

“When they asked me about my drinking, I naively thought honesty was the best policy and told them I was drinking two or three glasses of wine in the evening.” Before the marriage broke up, she had asked her GP for help over her alcohol use.

She subsequently agreed to attend a clinic for treatment but stayed for only a short time, emerging to find that the police wanted to arrest her over an allegation by her husband that she had scratched his arm.

She was convicted of assault and given a conditional discharge, while the husband applied for a non-molestation order to prevent her from going back to the family home.

Although the children were removed from the at-risk register, the couple’s relationship deteriorated further, with the husband reporting her for breaches of her bail, such as living at the wrong address, while she made a number of serious allegations about him that the authorities considered groundless.

While the children were in their mother’s care they were also noted by a social worker to be making serious allegations about their father’s treatment of them. However, the social services team came to the opinion that the mother was encouraging them to do so.

Questions were also raised over her willingness to discipline the children when she saw them.

The wife said: “They said I was not strict enough, but I was seeing them for an hour a week, and telling them off for minor things was not the foremost thing on my mind.

“When they said things about their father I was alarmed and wanted them investigated, but when I realised how the social workers were viewing things, I tried to restrain them from talking that way.”

A report from a psychiatrist brought in by social services said: “[The mother’s] willingness to listen and agree with the children’s complaints . . . has undermined any attempts made to provide better management of the children.

“Consideration should be given to terminating [the contact], unless [the mother] has completed in a satisfactory way a suitable parenting course and has accepted responsibility for the confusion caused the children by her permissive approach and other actions.”

The wife completed a parenting course, but it was felt that she was still allowing the children to “run riot” when she saw them, treating them in an “infantile” way and “encouraging them to make complaints against their father”.

The wife said: “When I held my three-year-old son on my hip and hugged him they said I was treating him in an infantile way. I couldn’t win.”

Matters came to a head in August 2006 when a family court judge ruled that her contact with the children should be stopped, even though it was conceded that all of them had a “constant wish” to see her.

The wife, now divorced, had made her own case more difficult by trying to see one of her children outside the supervised sessions and calling the police after another contact meeting descended into an unseemly squabble with the social worker.

Judge Isobel Plumstead said the woman could have no direct contact with the boys for two years in order to “give them a break”.

Although that order expired last year, the court has continued to stop the ex-wife having any direct access. She is permitted only to write to the children and send them presents worth up to £25.

The husband, who has an injunction preventing his former wife from contacting him or the children or even going near their village, has since repeatedly reported her for breaching it.

In October 2007 a court jailed her for a month after it heard that she had approached the eldest child in the street. When he ran off, she went after him, pleading that she loved him and only wanted to help.

She also sent her former husband text messages, which each resulted in a one-week jail sentence. One of the texts, which Plumstead said was “harassing or pestering”, read: “Why are you doing this to my kids? I will do whatever you say.” Another said she was sorry and offered to look after the children for free as her former husband was employing a nanny.

She has another hearing to re-new her plea for access to the children, but her former husband has applied to have her jailed for posting a video about the case on YouTube.

A solicitor for the former husband said his client declined to comment. The council’s social services department said it could not comment.

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