Following ‘So what’s next for Helen?’ Katrin White further explores family legal issues in our occasional series.
Anyone following the cataclysmic storyline around the unfortunate Helen Archer, wife of Rob Titchener and mother of Henry (via donor insemination) and Jack the biological son of Rob, will know that justice both natural and legal has been ‘done’. And seen to be done. The trial of Helen for attempted murder took place 5 months ago and, following her acquittal, Helen returned to the family fold to resume her life as an award winning cheesemaker. Rob, vilified through the court process when late evidence emerged that he had raped his wife in addition to subjecting her to coercive controlling and manipulative behaviour, has spent 5 months dealing with community hostility and ‘fall out’ from the criminal case. And finally on Friday 4 February he apparently fled the country (for the land of the free – Trump’s – America).
Listeners will know that, whilst Rob was not on trial in September through the criminal legal system, the family court has been dealing with contested applications for Child Arrangements Orders (under section 8 Children Act 1989). Helen’s parents applied to court during Helen’s pre trial remand custody in a prison mother and baby unit, to have contact to Henry then in Rob’s care. They also applied to the court for an order to change Henry’s residence to live with them. The family court allowed interim contact however waited until the outcome of the criminal trial to consider residence of both children, Jack having been born and then staying in his mother’s care in the prison mother and baby unit in the run up to her criminal trial.
It is worth noting that placement of a newborn with the mother in such a unit is not automatic, but governed by successful application to the prison board and a social worker’s views can be influential in the decision making. In public law proceedings Katrin represented a mother on remand whose second child was born in prison and summarily removed from her care within a few days of birth. The mother’s application to the prison mother and baby unit had been refused by the prison board. The mother and her baby were successful in subsequent judicial review application of the prison refusal to grant a mother and baby unit place [(1) R (on the application of WB) (2) W (A Child By His Litigation Friend The Official Solicitor) v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC (Admin)].
Back to the Borsetshire fictional family court where the same Judge has dealt with the family and criminal hearings; Helen’s criminal barrister presents her successful case to have permanent care of both children. Following expert evidence (a psychological assessment of Rob) the court follows recommendations that his contact to his biological son Jack is supervised and at a minimum. Monthly contact is a level that can maintain the identity of the parent for the child. There is no contact for Henry to Rob, and Henry misses the only father he has known.
Cases involving trauma to young children often involve social work services, and in this case support to Helen and her family for Henry may have been helpful. Play therapy, for example, may have provided Henry with the space, environment and opportunity to vocalise his loss. It may also have provided means through which to discover the plot that Rob hatches, using Henry, to take Jack from Helen’s care. Helen found the strength of mind and courage to retrieve Jack from Rob at the critical moment of attempted removal. It is a frightening prospect for any parent to fear the unlawful removal of their child from their care and Helen would need to seek urgent legal advice to seek preventative measures, particularly if it had been Rob’s intention to abduct Jack to another country. Options available to Helen would be to secure a prohibited steps order preventing removal from the jurisdiction (and removal from her care) or a port alert, to protect from risk of removal or abduction.
If Helen had not been in the right place at the right time to foil the plan, she may have found herself looking for urgent legal advice as to what to do to find and recover Jack. A family lawyer can advise in respect of emergency applications to court for injunction orders to locate and recover children. These applications are generally made without notice to the alleged abductor.
Happily for Helen and her sons all’s well that ends well. Or does it? Helen has now to help Henry process what has happened to him. Rob refused Henry’s plea to come with him and Jack telling Henry that he is not his real father. The emotional effect on Henry of his own rejection whilst a parent prioritises a sibling during a traumatic incident can only be imagined.
Whether Rob returns to fight another day remains to be seen…