Mrs Belinda McKenzie
McKenzie Friend, ‘Public Interest Advocate’ (voluntary)
TO: THE HON. MRS JUSTICE PAUFFLEY
via her Clerk, Barry Clark, 16 February 2015
LB Barnet v. Draper and Dearman and Child A & Child G
Case No. ZC14c00315
Following the hearing of 26 January at which I acted as McKenzie Friend to the 1st Respondent, the mother in this case, I informed her that my initial trust that she would get a fair hearing of her issues before your Ladyship had evaporated and that, being unable to redress the situation as a McKenzie Friend, I was standing down from this role.
My reasons for withdrawing were
a) what we in the Association had perceived as collusion between the Local Authority and you, the judge
b) your endorsement of the Local Authority’s favouritism towards the father over the mother regarding frequency of contact.
In view of the fact that there are very serious allegations of abuse against the father which have not yet been properly investigated yet none such against the mother, it seemed to me/us grossly unfair and indeed wrong that the father has been granted weekly contact-time with the children while the mother may only see them fortnightly. There should at the very least be a level-playing field between the 1st and 2nd Respondents at this stage and the mother and I looked to you to iron out at least this anomaly on 26 January. However you chose to leave everything that Barnet Council have arranged in place, the only explanation being that the father has been more ‘cooperative’.
In withdrawing from the case I suggested to the mother, therefore, that she should reconsider seeking a more professional level of assistance than I and the Association of McKenzie Friends is able to provide. She agreed, so we began searching for a suitable solicitor/barrister, however so far we have been unsuccessful.
Therefore, I am requesting your permission to appear tomorrow before your ladyship once again as her McKenzie Friend and also that of the mother’s parents who are very anxious to join these proceedings. We are in process of attempting to find a Russian interpreter.
In the meantime, as you are fully aware, matters generally have escalated drastically, due to details of the case having leaked onto the internet. The Local Authority appears to have presumed the mother and/or my colleague Sabine McNeill to be liable for this and on 10 February persuaded your ladyship to issue an Order specifically constraining them to remove all offending materials from the internet by 16.00 on Friday 13th February 2015, as well as to refrain from any further harassment of the 2nd Respondent/the father.
I wish to say to you and will say publicly, that the mother herself is entirely innocent of publishing materials online since the case has been the subject of family court proceedings and has repeatedly requested throughout the period that the Association of McKenzie Friends has been involved in her case for stringent confidentiality to be maintained regarding her children’s identities. So she is naturally extremely shocked and disappointed that their faces are now all over the internet.
For her part, my colleague Sabine McNeill maintains that it cannot be proven how the leaks have occurred or that she is directly liable and she claims she is not. Nevertheless, as you are aware and she herself would confirm, she has over the months made attempts to engage various highly-placed individuals to take action and has sent them the information, trusting they would exercise appropriate discretion. One such individual is the Home Secretary herself who, like all the rest, has failed so far to respond.
It should at this point also be remembered that certain of the materials began to circulate albeit at a discreet level even before these proceedings commenced, including in Russian circles. In the first hearing before your ladyship on 13 January you yourself observed regarding the publicity issue that “the genie is already out of the bottle.”
There are too many hands by now possibly involved in the distribution of this information for any one single person to take the entire blame for what has happened. At the same time, in this kind of situation a scapegoat is obviously needed, hence the official finger pointing at Sabine who is/was conveniently to hand and well known to be highly-active on the internet. On Monday 9 February she received a tip-off from an assistant in John Hemming MP’s office that “something bad could be about to happen” hence her deciding to leave the jurisdiction.
Indeed it is as well Sabine is no longer in the UK as for very sure she would have been arrested by now, just like there has been an attempt to arrest the mother, forcing her also to flee this jurisdiction. On Thursday afternoon, 12 February, just as she was in the process of instructing a barrister we had found for her, 10 police officers arrived on her doorstep and attempted to force entry. They were deflected however by the barrister who advised keeping the door closed and demanding to see their warrant. Since obviously they had arrived without the necessary document they were obliged to discontinue the operation. In the general commotion the mother fled the house via the back and boarded a plane out of the UK early the following morning. Hence she will not be appearing before your ladyship this coming week.
I trust that your ladyship will be concerned that this police action preceded the cut-off time for your 10 February Order to be fulfilled by 24 hours and the police were therefore in breach of your Order.
For my own part in these matters, such as it has been, having as said withdrawn from the case as the mother’s McKenzie Friend following the 26 January hearing, on 9 February I took the further precaution of standing down as Chair of the Association of McKenzie Friends, any confidence I had had at the outset that I could control my colleagues in that role having by now evaporated. Indeed, with Sabine now absent I have been considering dissolving the Association altogether – you will have noted that I am writing to you today in my private/individual capacity.
Be all that as it may, in view of the ‘internet storm’ now raging it does seem to me that it is going to be difficult if not impossible for your ladyship to maintain the degree of confidentiality you asked for at the commencement of these proceedings. With my ear as ever to the ground, the impression I get is that people are very sceptical that these highly-sensitive matters can be dealt with competently in the family court at all and that they should have been straightaway made the subject of criminal proceedings when the children first reported their abuse last September.
Then, it doesn’t impress the public that the children were taken away from their mother and placed in Local Authority care with their father, whom they claim abused them, being granted more contact-time with them than their mother, nor that the innocent mother and her McKenzie Friend have been forced to flee the jurisdiction to escape arrest. The case is already widely perceived as having been ‘rigged’ in favour of protecting the alleged abusers rather than protecting the children, not just the two who have blown the whistle but all the others still possibly at risk of abuse of the most grotesque kind imaginable.
With respect to your Ladyship, looking at the situation from the broadest perspective, how can it be down to one judge in the notoriously lax family court to decide where the criminality in this case really lies? Clearly what is needed is for these civil proceedings to be transmuted to criminal ones, in view of their extreme gravity. Given the numbers of people whose identities are now public, however deplorable that is, a special Tribunal needs to be set up, underpinned by police powers of interrogation and forensic examination and with statutory powers of prosecution.
That is how I and those immediately around me view the situation as it stands today, on the eve of the fact-finding hearing before your Ladyship. I felt it was only fair on my part to inform you where I stand in relation to these proceedings and that having been no longer, as I thought, the mother’s McKenzie Friend not Chair of our Association I have resumed my normal public campaigning activity in order to help allay public disquiet about this case and focus energies on pressing for what should be happening at this stage, namely the return of the innocent victims, the whistle-blower children to their entirely innocent mother and Russian family and for the very serious allegations the children have made to be properly investigated. I also intend once this case is over to continue campaigning along the lines that the secrecy of the family courts should not be utilised to cover-up the most serious and heinous of crimes against children, of which this case is the latest glaring example and it is my aim to ensure that abuse of children in our society is a prominent issue in the forthcoming General Election.
In addressing your Ladyship in this manner, being deeply concerned as are huge numbers of the public for the welfare of the two children, indeed of all the other children possibly still at risk, and as an ‘amicus curiae’, I do urge you to re-consider your own position as honour-bound and duty-bound to judge this case fairly, and, having by now examined the materials for yourself, to question whether, in the interests of justice and the full protection of all these children, which should be the paramount consideration, it would not be wiser to withdraw from the case and hand it over to the more appropriate authority? Indeed I very much hope you will have already reached this conclusion.
Whatever else happens or does not happen at this stage I do not see that some kind of witch-hunt to identify those involved in leaking the information is going to help matters as the information is now out there, streaming in all directions in an unstoppable tide. Wasting yet more court time on trying to identify and prosecute the miscreant whistle-blowers will serve no good purpose at all at this stage when what the public wants is to see a proper investigation of the children’s allegations and for the right action to be taken, with all possible speed after this already prolonged delay.
Having said all of which, in the absence of the mother or a professional legal representative I repeat my request to your Ladyship to readmit me as a McKenzie Friend to your courtroom tomorrow, alongside the Russian grandparents.