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F v M & Ors [2021] EWHC 553 (Fam)

31st July 2021

Judgment: A fact-finding hearing within proceedings brought under the inherent jurisdiction for the return of two children, aged 8 and 6, to an unnamed country to which the 1980 Hague Convention did not apply. The court had previously refused an application for a summary return of the children to that country, and had set the case down for this fact-finding hearing. Whilst in that country, the mother had come to believe that the father was sexually abusing the younger child. Following the authorities' refusal to prosecute, and an application to end contact being refused, the mother had removed the children from that country to the United Kingdom without the father's permission. Judd J noted that a comparison between the mother's account of what the children had said in her recordings of them with the recordings themselves revealed that, for the most part, the children did not say the words the mother attributed to them, and where they did so, it was after persistent and suggestive questioning from the mother. In Judd J's view, the way in which the questioning was conducted created precisely the conditions whereby false allegations emerge. The mother's perception of what the children were saying in the recordings was so distorted that it made it very difficult to place any reliance on her evidence as to what the children said outside of them. The medical evidence was inconclusive. In all the circumstances, Judd J came to the clear conclusion on the balance of probabilities that the father had not sexually abused the child, but also, among other findings, that the mother's belief as to the sexual abuse had been genuine, albeit misguided. Both parties were encouraged to reflect upon what had happened, and to give careful consideration to what should happen to the children in the future.