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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

15 JUL 2014

London Borough of Waltham Forest v F and Others [2014] EWFC 13

London Borough of Waltham Forest v F and Others [2014] EWFC 13
(Family Court, Keehan J, 24 June 2014)

Care proceedings – Mother killed by father – Special guardianship – Proposal for child to be placed with family in Rwanda – Best interests

The full judgment is available below

The father stabbed the mother to death in the family home in front of the 3-year-old child. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a 21-year minimum term.

The child was taken into police protection and placed with foster carers. A number of family members living her and in Rwanda put themselves forward as potential carers. The local authority supported by the guardian sought the placement of the child under a special guardianship order with the maternal aunt and her husband in Rwanda.

The father initially opposed the application and sought the child’s adoption by the current foster carers but just prior to the hearing he informed the court that he now supported the local authority application.

The judge applied the guidance given in Re A & B (One Parent killed by the other – Guidance) [2010] EWHC 825 (Fam) and took into account evidence from a child and adolescent psychologist as well as the evidence of an independent social worker who had conducted an assessment of the maternal aunt and uncle in Rwanda.

It was accepted that the child would need ongoing therapy for years to come and a suitable psychiatrist had been identified in Rwanda. The independent social worker reported that the child had a large supportive family in Rwanda including her three cousins and her maternal grandmother.

There was no doubt that it was in the child’s welfare best interests for a special guardianship order to be made in favour of the maternal aunt and uncle.


The fully referenced, judicially approved judgment and headnote will appear in a forthcoming issue of Family Law Reports. A detailed summary and analysis of the case will appear in Family Law.

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.

Case No: UO13C00129

Neutral Citation Number: [2014] EWFC 13
IN THE FAMILY COURT
SITTING AT THE ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 24/06/2014

Before :

THE HONOURABLE MR JUSTICE KEEHAN
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Between :

LONDON BOROUGH OF WALTHAM FOREST Applicant

- and –

(1) F
(2) C (By her Children’s Guardian)
(3) MU Respondents
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Ms Barbara Mills (instructed by London Borough of Waltham Forest) for the Applicant
Ms Sarah Branson (instructed by Aitken Harter) for the First Respondent
Ms Sylvia Allen (instructed by CAFCASS) for the Second Respondent
Mr Cyrus Larizadeh (instructed by Burke Niazi) for the Third Respondent
Ms Rebecca Mitchell (instructed by Goodman Ray) for S and R

Hearing dates: 9th – 24th June 2014
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Judgment

Mr Justice Keehan:


Introduction

[1]  On the 31 July 2013 F stabbed M to death at her home in a violent attack. Tragically, their little daughter, C was present and witnessed the assault on her mother; her screams were heard by the neighbours who called the police.

[2]  On 21 May 2014 the father was convicted, after trial, of the murder of the mother. On 23 May 2014 he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term imposed of 21 years.

[3]  C was born on 28.9.10 and is 3 years of age. She was taken into care under a police protection order and placed with foster carers. She has remained living with them since and I am told and accept that they have provided her with an exceptionally stable and caring home. They are well aware of the complex needs of this young child who has suffered so severe a trauma at such tender years.

[4]  A number of family members, living here and in Rwanda, have put themselves forward as carers for C. The local authority, supported by the children’s guardian, invite the court to make a special guardianship order in favour of the mother’s sister, S, and her husband, R. They live in Kigali, Rwanda with their three children.

[5]  The father initially opposed that application. He invited the court to favour the placement of C in an open adoptive placement; preferably with her current foster carers.

[6]  The father’s stance was supported by his relative, PU, who withdrew his application to care for C in light of his partner’s poor health.

[7]  The plan to place C with S and R is supported by a maternal uncle, MU, who had previously put himself forward as a carer. He was assessed by the local authority and then by an independent social worker as a potential carer but neither supported a placement of C with him.

[8]  On 16 June, day 6 of this final hearing, the father and PU changed their positions. The father, supported by PU, told me through counsel that, having read the statement of S, which had been filed and served that morning, he now agreed to the placement of C with S and R in Rwanda.

[9]  Thus I am invited by all of the parties to make a special guardianship order in favour of S and R.

Background

[10]  The father, F, is a Ugandan national. He came to this country in 2002 and was granted indefinite leave to remain as an asylum seeker.

[11]  The mother, M, was a national of Rwanda but was born in Uganda. Her family returned to live in Rwanda shortly after her birth in 1983. She came to the UK in 2006 and sought asylum.

[12]  The parents met in 2009. Shortly after the relationship began the mother became pregnant and gave birth to C. The documents and records suggest that it was a relationship interspersed with varying degrees of domestic violence by the father upon the mother which was from time to time, witnessed by C. The amended threshold and schedule of findings of fact dated 31 January 2014 sought findings in respect of numerous episodes of alleged domestic violence.

[13]  The father maintains his denial of all of those allegations. In light of his conviction for murder, the local authority have, rightly in my view, further amended the threshold and schedule to rely on the fact that the father killed the mother. On that basis it is agreed by all parties that the threshold criteria of s 31(2) of the Children Act 1989 are satisfied. I agree.

[14]  Nevertheless it is plain from the papers that the parent’s relationship was a tense and difficult one. The mother moved houses on a considerable number of occasions. Accordingly, C did not have a stable upbringing when in the care of her mother.

[15]  On 31 July 2013 C was placed with foster carers. The local authority issued these proceedings on 15 August 2013. C was subsequently made the subject of an interim care order in favour of the applicant.

[16]  Various maternal and paternal family members put themselves forward as potential carers for C. None were assessed as capable of meeting C’s complex and demanding needs, save for S and R. No other person now puts themselves forward as alternative carers for C.

[17]  There were very considerable and, in my judgment, unnecessary delays in bringing this matter to a final hearing. I do not propose to lengthen this judgment by setting out all of the causes and consequences of those delays. I refer to my judgment given on 24 January 2014 A Local Authority v DG [2014] EWHC 63 (Fam).

[18]  C has been to Rwanda. She travelled there with her mother for a three month holiday in Kigali in December 2012 when they stayed with the maternal aunt and uncle.

[19]  S visited the UK to attend the father’s criminal trial. During that time she had contact with C.

Law

[20]  In the case of Re A & B (One Parent killed by the other – Guidance) [2010] EWHC 825 (Fam) Hogg J gave guidance on the approach to be adopted by the court, local authorities and professionals in these rare but tragic cases. For the purposes of this case the pertinent passages are:

Preamble
Cases where one parent has been killed by the other are relatively rare but raise particularly difficult issues. The following guidance is intended to provide a framework in order to avoid compounding the very significant harm which the children involved in such cases have already suffered by poor management and unnecessary delay.

Threshold
1. In all cases where one parent has been killed by the other the threshold criteria will be met.

Intervention by the local authority
2. The local authority should give immediate consideration to the issue of proceedings and, whether it considers it appropriate or inappropriate to issue proceedings immediately, it should appoint a social worker specifically for the affected sibling group who should offer immediate practical help and keep the decision under constant review in conjunction with the local authority's legal department.

[21]  I bear in mind that my paramount concern is the welfare best interests of C: s1(1) Children Act 1989. I take account of those matters set out in the welfare checklist of s1(3) of the 1989 Act.

[22]  The article 8 rights of C and her father are engaged and I have paid full regard to them in my evaluation of the evidence. Where there is a tension between the article 8 rights of the child, on the one hand, and of a parent, on the other, the rights of the child prevail: Yousef v Netherlands [2003] 1 FLR 210.

[23]  A Special Guardianship order would vest parental responsibility for C on S and R. While the order remains in force they may exercise their parental responsibility to the exclusion of any other person with parental responsibility; in this case the father (see s14A and 14C Children Act 1989).

Evidence

[24]  I have read all of the statements, reports and documents the parties invited me to read.

[25]  I have heard oral evidence from the following witnesses:

i) Dr J, a consultant child and adolescent psychologist;
ii) Mr M, an independent social worker who undertook an assessment of S and R in Rwanda;
iii) JB, the former allocated social worker; and
iv) CK, the local authority’s team manager.

[26]  After hearing the evidence of Dr J in chief, I was notified of the father’s change of stance. Ultimately it was agreed by all parties that I did not need to hear any further oral evidence.

[27]  The father filed and served a statement on 18 June setting out the reasons for his change of position and his view on C’s need for a stable home. The matters set out in his statement, including his acceptance that he killed the mother and the consequences for C, will be of some comfort to members of the maternal family and, in due course I am sure, to C. His support for C’s placement followed his reading of the comprehensive statement recently filed on behalf of S.

[28]  The parties sent me a photograph of C. She is clearly an absolutely delightful child who brings, I have no doubt, great joy to those who care for her and those who have contact with her. Given the tragic death of her mother, however, she can be challenging at times. That behaviour is wholly understandable but C requires exceptional carers who will set clear boundaries for her with love and tenderness.

[29]  Dr G is a consultant psychologist who has been responsible for providing C with therapy and has provided the court with reports on the progress of that therapy. She and Dr J are agreed that C will need expert and extensive therapy for many years to come to enable her to deal with the traumatic events she has witnessed and with the death and loss of her mother.

[30]  S and R have identified a psychiatrist, Dr R, in Kigali whom they propose to instruct on a private basis to provide therapy for C. Dr J and Dr G are satisfied that she is suitably qualified and experienced to undertake that role. I am grateful to Dr G for making herself available for telephone consultations with that psychiatrist for a period of six months from the time C goes to live in Rwanda.

[31]  Mr M undertook a comprehensive assessment of S and R. He has produced a lengthy and helpful report. Both S and R are qualified lawyers.

[32]  They have three children, Sh, who is 10, F, who is 7 and R (know as W), who is 20 months of age. The two older children attend a private school; C will be educated there with her cousins.

[33]  They live in a large comfortable house in a suburb of Kigali. They employ a maid who cares for Will and the other children when their parents are at work. S and R are plainly very focused on the quality of their family life.

[34]  S has three brothers who live in Rwanda. Two are married and have children. The third brother is single and serves in the Forces. R also has three brothers. The families meet up regularly. The matriarch of the family is the maternal grandmother, MGM, who also lives in Kigali and assists her daughter with child care from time to time.

[35]  Accordingly, C has a large, loving family to care for her in Rwanda.

[36]  I am entirely satisfied that S and R have the abilities and skills to provide C with exceptional care. They are alive to her particular needs and are ready to meet them. I am satisfied they will provide her with a warm, loving, stable, and secure home.

[37]  S is able to take a leave of absence from her employment to enable her to care for C in the UK for a short period prior to her moving to live in Rwanda. Further, she will be off work for up to six months to ensure C settles into her new life in Rwanda.

[38]  The local authority have filed and served a Support Plan and a Transition Plan. They are agreed by all parties and I approve the same. An important component of the plan for C to live in Rwanda is for the order I will make to be executed, recognised and registered in the Rwandan High Court. I have read the advice of Gemma Lindfield dated 19 May 2014, who advised on the procedure to be followed in Rwanda. The procedure will take 14-28 days after the date of filing of the necessary application. Accordingly there is some flexibility in the Transition Plan to accommodate the legal procedures in Rwanda.

[39]  The local authority have agreed to provide financial support for S and R for the next three years. It declined the children’s guardian’s invitation to review the issue of financial provision at the expiration of that period.

[40]  It is proposed that shortly before C departs from the UK a celebratory event will be held to which members of her family, who reside in the UK and in Rwanda, will attend. The foster carers, Mr and Mrs Z, will be there. I cannot leave this case without paying a warm tribute to them for the dedicated and loving care they have afforded C over the last eleven months. I have no doubt that C has benefited enormously from being a valued member of their family.

[41]  C will plainly miss them. She will miss seeing her maternal uncle, MU, and especially, her paternal relatives PU and his partner Ms X. It is agreed C will maintain contact with them by Skype and telephone. It is planned that C will travel annually to the UK to spend time with all of them.

[42]  Unfortunately Ms X suffers from breast and secondary bone cancer. She is currently in remission but the prognosis is poor. It is proposed C would, if at all possible, travel to the UK to see her before she enters the final stages of her cancer. If Ms X should die, it would be yet another traumatic loss for C to bear.

[43]  In accordance with the recommendation of Dr J, there is no plan for C to see her father or to have any indirect contact save for an annual card which he may send to her at Christmas or on her birthday. She does not wish to see her father and avoids talking about him. For the future the issue of contact between C and the father must be led and informed by C’s best interests and her therapeutic needs.

[44]  I am pleased to learn that the rapprochement between members of the maternal and paternal families continues. The maternal and paternal grandmothers are to meet in the near future and it is hoped both will be able to attend the celebratory event. Such improvement in these relations can only be to the benefit of C. It must be a difficult and painful exercise for all concerned, especially the maternal family. I pay warm tribute to the efforts they have made to improve relations between both sides of this family.

[45]  I am in no doubt that it is in C’s welfare best interests to make a special guardianship order in favour of S and R.

[46]  I am grateful to all counsel for the assistance they have given me in this sad and tragic case.
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