We wrote about this case whilst Samantha Baldwin and her boys were still missing. Here :
At the time, we were hampered by a lack of information and restrictions on reporting some of the unverified information that was publicly circulating, which we could not refer to.
The children were found safely last week and today there was a hearing from which further information has emerged. As predicted, there are (at least) two sides to this story, and today some hitherto unheard aspects of the story were summarised by His Honour Judge Lea.
On enquiry, we have received two documents today – one is the text of a judgment read out today in open court (and which we can therefore report), and the other is a public statement from the children’s father, David Madge. We reproduce both in full at the foot of this post so that they can be accessed by the public. As far as we are aware, they have not been published elsewhere in full (although as we are about to hit publish we’ve noticed the full judgment is published here). It’s unclear why the father’s statement has not made it’s way out there – either the press are uninterested in the father’s story or they don’t want to be constrained by the request to publish it only in full.
We made written submissions to the court today, in the hope that a clearer picture would emerge. It has, although we don’t know whether our submissions were considered or what impact they may have had (possibly none!). We have asked for confirmation that no objection is taken to the publication of our submissions, the gist of which was that the reporting restrictions didn’t seem to be preventing the dissemination of information but were preventing us and other responsible reporters from contextualising the information that was circulating. If we can publish those submissions we will.
So, how has the shape of things changed?
Pretty radically actually. To date, the only information about what was behind the police search was the bare statement that children were “at risk” in the mother’s care, but with no clue given as to why that might be. It is now known that :
- the mother made allegations of sexual abuse of the boys by the father, and others, some years ago;
- these were the subject of a lengthy fact-finding hearing very recently (12 days, which is a significant duration for a trial in a private law case), but it seems likely that any criminal investigation associated with this hearing did not lead to charges against the father;
- after 12 days of evidence from the parents, and a host of other witnesses and consideration of more than 2,000 pages of documents, the judge decided that the mother had failed to prove that it was more likely than not that her allegations were true, although she did genuinely believe them to be true;
- more than that, he found that she was so convinced that the allegations were true that she had gone to the lengths of drugging the boys in order to bolster the case that the children were victims of abuse – in essence she fabricated evidence in the hope of securing the finding she believed was justified;
- and the judge found that when the mother realised the writing was on the wall, she made a plan and then whisked the children away to her chalet in the Sherwood Forest to prevent the court from acting on its judgment.
- The children are now temporarily in foster care – the reason given for them not returning immediately to the care of their father is that as a result of their mother’s own irrational belief, they may now have a false belief that they were in fact abused by their father. It also appears that they have not had contact with, let alone been cared for by their father for some years.
So it’s now clearer why – on that basis – the sudden disappearance of the mother on the day judgment was delivered left the judge very worried. The mother had a history, he had found, of drugging her children in order to “prove” abuse that she could not otherwise substantiate. What else might she do? The mother’s own irrational belief had potentially left the children wrongly believing their own father had abused them. So, on the facts as found, the children were at clear risk of emotional and physical harm.
We are aware that some continue to dispute the accuracy of the findings made by the judge. But as a matter of law, those findings stand unless they are appealed. Courts do sometimes get things wrong, even after 12 day trials. That is why we have a system of appeals – as the judge himself states in his judgment, the proper course of action for the mother would have been to appeal his judgment, not to disappear with the children. It is reported that the mother suggests that the judge had a conflict of interest and should step down. That is a surprising point to hear raised after he has conducted a 12 day hearing – but if it were a good point (and it is not our role to offer a view on that) it could potentially be included as a ground of any appeal.
Recent press coverage of the case
Examples are :
Since our last post but before today, Daily Mail : A secret court prevents us knowing the truth about the missing mother who has been arrested after running off with her two boys – but her loved ones say she is a great mum as they reveal they were thrown in cells and had their homes raided
The reports from today that we’ve seen, so far, are accurate as far as they go, and are primarily based on the judgment below. Although they do mention the 12 days of evidence, readers may not appreciate that a 12 day trial in a private law case is very unusual, and is a reflection of the careful attention the court paid to the allegations before dismissing them. We think this is important because, as the tweet we’ve screen grabbed illustrates. not everyone is willing to accept the summary provided by the judge at face value, and it is important for the public to understand that the mother’s allegations have not been discounted out of hand and that she has had her say through the court process over 12 long days of evidence.
Here it is also worth remembering that whilst the mother has (or at any rate those supportive of her have) had her say in public, via assorted twitter accounts and widely shared Facebook posts, which set out a version of events which, as a matter of law is false and highly defamatory of the father (not to mention damaging for the children) – the father has had to remain silent in the face of being widely accused of something that has been hanging over him for years, which he has finally been cleared of, whilst he had no idea where his children were. As the father’s statement identifies :
The Court order with regards to press restrictions was made to protect the privacy of the children and their right to a safe and happy childhood. This was flouted on a number of occasions by the mother’s family and friends.
The father was not silent as a result of guilt (as some had suggested), but was prevented himself by the reporting restrictions, and at the request of the police, from speaking out.
The Daily Mail’s article about what a great mum Samantha Baldwin is, now seems somewhat hollow. Whilst at the time the Daily Mail were unable to publish the fact that the court had considered the allegations but found them to be false, they must have known that this was the case, and that the unwavering support of Sam Baldwin by her family and friends was either offered in ignorance or in denial. Whilst those individuals whose views are set out in the Mail are entitled to them, the presentation of their views in this way, as if they represent the whole picture, now looks somewhat distorted.
Unless and until the family court findings are appealed, those who wish to continue to publish allegations about the father might want to do a crash course in defamation law. And those who continue to assert corruption may be well advised to wait to see if the full detailed judgment from the February hearing is published in due course, or what the outcome of any appeal is. Our role is not as apologists for the court, but the balance of information has shifted somewhat since the case first hit the headlines and social media, and a twelve day trial is not something to be discounted on a mere suspicion.
There may yet be an appeal or a successful recusal application (an application for the judge to step down) – if there is we will report it.
The #support4s campaign
There have been various attempts to fundraise for Samantha Baldwin’s legal expenses. The first was taken offline, probably because Justgiving were served with the Reporting Restriction order and the blurb on the fundraising page contained information that was not permitted. Subsequently some people have started up an “anonymous” hashtag and campaign page to raise funds, in the apparently mistaken belief that simply using initials would “get round” any reporting restriction order, even though it was plain and obvious from the background information that the “S” in question must be Samantha Baldwin.
The irony is that now that the children are in foster care, it is likely that through the vehicle of care proceedings their mother will qualify for legal aid – automatically and without having to raise funds. It’s not quite clear whether or not the proceedings were care proceedings before 27 March when the children first went missing, but if they were, that entitlement to legal aid (including for an appeal) will have existed before she left.
Judgment of HHJ Lea 10 April 2017
The strong presumption in favour of open justice which applies generally to Court proceedings does not apply to proceedings which are held in private and relate to children. The default position is one that by statute and rules prohibits the dissemination of any information relating to the proceedings unless the Court directs otherwise: (In Re W) (children) EWCA Civ 113. In this case I exercised my discretion to allow a controlled degree of publicity to assist the children to be found. That does not give the media a licence to report generally about this case.
There has been much ill-informed speculation in some sections of the media. I give this short judgement, as to the essential facts.
This began as a private family law case between a mother and a father. They had separated. They had been in dispute over the amount of time that their two boys should spend with the father.
In December 2014, the mother alleged that the father had sexually abused his sons. The father adamantly denied that he had done so. The police investigated. Given the seriousness of the allegations, all contact between the father and his sons stopped. There was a fact-finding hearing to decide whether the allegations were true before me in February 2017. I heard evidence over twelve days. I heard from the mother and the father who both had experienced senior Counsel to represent them and fourteen witnesses. I had regard to over two-thousand pages of documents. I heard oral submissions from the advocates on the evidence I had received. I made a prohibited steps order against the mother with her consent that she would remain living at her stated address with the boys.
I reserved judgement to Monday the 27th of March.
In the middle of delivering my judgement on that morning, the mother abruptly left court. It is now apparent that she picked up her sons from an unknown location and disappeared with them. This put her in breach of the Court order.
The police are investigating how she did this and I make no further comment save that it is my assessment that was plainly pre-planned and carefully executed.
The mother intended to prevent the court from taking decisions as to the arrangements that should be made for the boys in light of my findings.
I made a number of specific findings in my judgment.
At the beginning of that judgment, I set out the respective positions of the parents in these terms: “This is a calamitous case. The two boys that I am concerned with have either been grossly sexually abused by their father, members of the father’s family, and a number of his male friends. Or, in all probability, they now have a false belief that he, his family and friends have done so. On either basis the consequences for the emotional and psychological wellbeing of these boys may well be catastrophic.”
In my judgment I found that the father had not perpetrated sexual, physical or emotional abuse against the boys as alleged by the mother, or at all and that the allegations made by the mother were false.
I also found that the mother genuinely believed that he had done so, but that her belief was irrational and that the evidence of abuse was unreliable.
I also made a finding that in order to try to prove her case against the father the mother had caused the boys to ingest substances that would give rise to a positive testing for benzodiazepine products and zolpidem.
It is not uncommon in contested family proceedings, that one side, and occasionally both sides, are of the opinion that the judge’s decision was wrong. It is open to such a party to ask the judge himself or the Court of Appeal to give permission to appeal against the decision. What is not acceptable is for a party to attempt to obstruct the court’s decision by removing children, as I am satisfied that this mother did.
There was understandable concern given my findings as to what the mother might do. I made a recovery order empowering the police to find and keep safe the children. I authorised the release of the names of the mother and the boys to assist the police to find them. The mainstream press and media gave some very helpful coverage. As a result a tip-off from a member of the public enabled the police to find the boys. They are now in the interim care of the local authority. I now have to decide what care arrangements should be made in the best welfare interests of these boys. They could not immediately return to their father. I am very concerned as to the impact of continued press and media intrusion into their lives. They need to be protected from much of what has been inaccurately reported about their parents and about what has happened to them.
I deliver this judgment in open Court to summarise my principle findings.
Any reporting should be limited to the facts set out in this judgment.
HHJ LEA FAMILY COURT NOTTINGHAM 10//4/2017
Statement of David Madge 10 April 2017
This is the only statement David Madge will be making to press and it is to be published in full.
I would like to thank the police, the media and members of the public who assisted in the safe recovery of Louis and Dylan. I did not speak to the press during the search on the advice of the police and could not speak about the family proceedings due to the restrictions of the Court.
I wish to thank the Court for its judgment given today. I have fought for two and a half years for this. It is a huge relief that the truth, with evidence thoroughly tested by the Court, can now emerge. I hope, with the conclusion and findings out in the open, that those in the media who are able to publish the facts continue to act responsibly and sensitively with all involved.
My reputation and that of my family and friends has been wrongly and unfairly tarnished with the most distressing and false allegations. The effect of this on Louis and Dylan, however, has been much greater and we now have to focus on piecing our lives back together.
The Court order with regards to press restrictions was made to protect the privacy of the children and their right to a safe and happy childhood. This was flouted on a number of occasions by the mother’s family and friends. The overriding priority now is to try and restore a sense of safety and stability to the lives of Louis and Dylan. Everything else is secondary to that.