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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

02 MAY 2007

SEXUAL ABUSE: Re W (Sexual Abuse)

(Court of Appeal; Thorpe and Thomas LJJ and Coleridge J; 2 May 2007)

The mother and father had one child, aged 4. The mother had a 9-year-old child by a previous relationship. After the mother and father separated, the father continued to have contact with both children. After some time the elder child described the father as having touched her vagina. Child protection investigations were undertaken, including an assessment of the elder child by a paediatrician. In video interviews the younger child made further disclosures. The police and child protection services concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute, and suspected that the father was innocent. However, at a fact-finding hearing the judge made findings of sexual abuse against the father, relying in particular upon the opinion evidence of the paediatrician that the elder child had demonstrated fear at the top end of the scale.

The judge had been bound to have regard to the experienced view of the paediatrician that the older child was demonstrating fear at top end of scale. There was a huge difference between a criminal conviction for sexual abuse and a finding of sexual abuse by an experienced, but not infallible, judge.

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