Cafcass and the Ombudsman
Some stories are easier to tell than others and some are just plain boring no matter how you try polish. Unless you are involved in some way with family law or Cafcass this story could go either way. There are many little twists and turns that may or may not be relevant or even interesting so this is no more than a record of events, of interest only to anyone involved in British Family law disputes.
In the hope of keeping your interest I will present just the key points in the belief that there is an important aspect to this story that speaks to a rot at the heart of British Family law and a staggering level of incompetence in the appointment of Government employees to responsible posts addressing children’s best interests in broken families. In my case, and that of my son, incompetence that can all too easily be exploited by anyone familiar with the working of British family law.
There is a brief background to events leading to my son becoming separated from me, attempts at visitation, expensive family court hearing for visitation, how easy it is to get Cafcass to deny visitation by answering no to ‘Do you think the child will be safe with the (non residential) parent’, how Judges in family Court do not make any judgement, but instead defer to Cafcass decision making, meaning when you pay tens of thousands to have a visitation case heard in court the person who decides is the Cafcass official. After that, if you unhappy with British family law, you can refer to the Ombudsman’s office. I include my correspondence with this Office which speaks for itself. Secret courts go about their business in secret.
I raised a young boy as a stay at home dad for the first four years of his life. On Fathers day, 16th June, 2013, my sons mother, a British Family law solicitor member of the Law society, told me she wanted to separate with immediate effect. We were not married and in these circumstances, with both names on the child’s birth certificate, he should have been entitled to 50/50 between both parents.
After the Mother moved out of my home with the child, I had difficulty seeing him. The mother relocated to a rental property and with-held the address. Unless I met her financial conditions I would not be able to know where my son was. I had to take legal advice, hiring a Cobham Lawyer whose charge with VAT was around £400 per hour. Two weeks of expensive letter writing later, one hour before the hearing to disclose the address where the child was being held, the mother emailed the address through. £2,000 legal bill for me.
Then came the attempts at visitation. After some 13 consecutive weeks of having overnight visitation cancelled at the last minute, invariably linked to financial demands, I took legal advice and brought proceedings for contact.
My application at the Principal Registry was for alternate Saturday nights. That is to say, two nights a month. This modest amount of visitation was put this low to be absolutely certain that no judge would find my request unreasonable and ensure I could see my son without further delay.
Bearing in mind by the time the hearing came around I had not seen the child I was with for every single day of his first 4 years, for over three months. I knew in all certainty that he must be missing me terribly and this motivated me to meet the astonishingly high cost of bringing proceedings against a member of the law society and prcatisinf Family law solicitor. (The overall cost of these proceedings alone approached £50,000.)
Eventually, at the time of writing, the Mother, a member of British Family law practicing as a solicitor, would go on to escalate this cost for me to over £300,000. By his 7th birthday less than 3 years later, I went on to see him for a single 3 week visit and a handful of nights, which when calculated by legal costs worked out to £10,000 for each night he was able to spend with me.
The details of what happened in Court that day are on my Cafcass Blog. (Readership of over 100,000). In the subsequent Ombudsman inquiry the Cafcass officer lied. These were not ‘untruths’ or ‘falsehoods’ or even ‘economy with truthfulness’. I recorded him on my iPhone and as events unfolded he was required to make a statement on record to the Ombudsmans investigator, Gillian Lowden where he lied on record.
All it took to stop my son seeing his father was the Mother telling Cafcass that she felt it would not be safe for him to stay overnight with the father. And that was enough for the court. During the preliminary talk I was asked the same question. ‘Do you think the child is safe with the Mother.’ Irrespective of the truth, had I answered no that, knowing she may well use the opportunity to ‘win’ her hearing by making this allegation against me, I was aware the child may have been at risk of being taken into care.
Of course there is simply no truth to her suggestion that he child would not be safe for overnight visits with me. I raised him for the first 4 years of his life. A happy confident, inquisitive and thoughtful boy.
Directly after recovering from the shock of seeing all that money spent on a Court hearing adding up to nothing more than a wrong decision by a Cafcass officer I became concerned that it is possible for a palpably incompetent and under-qualified individual not even culturally familiar with the area in which he finds himself, to be left as the sole arbiter in a British Court of a child’s future. There was no input from the Judge. No considerations from any barrister or lawyer. Not even any representations by either parent. ‘The Cafcass officers word is final and whatever he decides is how I will rule’ said the judge, not in any way concerned by the Cafcass officers phone going off in court, which I would have thought was a clue as to this mans familiarity with the Court system and therefore a reason for the Judge to at least listen to what my barrister had to say.
To recap to cafcass blog,; I spent £17,000 in one single day, October 2013, where I was subjected to offensive prejudice by a Cafcass officer who then decided I should not see my 4 year old for 2 nights a month in a court where the judge said nothing and in fact stopped my expensive representation from saying anything as well. Days after this so called ‘Hearing’ where no case was heard, I began a complaints procedure with Cafcass. You can read about that on my Cafcass Blog.
Eventually that led me to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. I had to contact my MP, Dominic Raab and following his approval, my case was eventually taken up by Investigator Gillian Lowden. The process was painfully slow and you can read about that on my Ombudsman Blog Here.
Summarised. I made a statement of the facts and included the details of the recording. It seemed so straightforward. How could anyone not be shocked by what happened to me, not least of which that any court service purporting to represent children and their best interests, should rule that my 4 year old could not see his father 2 nights a month. It seemed pretty clear to me that the Cafcass guy had made a series of poor judgements and that an apology would follow and my son would be able to spend alternate Saturday nights with me.
In the interim, while I waited for this investigation to run its course the months dragged by without any contact with my son. I became a little concerned when I saw that initially Mrs Lowden made no reference at all to the recording and when I brought this to her attention, told me it could not be considered because it was made without the Cafcass mans knowledge. But more about that later.
Another concern for me was the delay. If the Ombudsman’s office is concerned over a 4 year old missing his father terribly, why let months drag by without any activity, indicative as it is of a low priority for the matter in hand.
Eventually the draft report arrived from Gillian Lowden. In it she found that Cafcass were not at fault at all and that Cafcass had no case to answer. The draft report included a statement by the offending Cafcass officer in which he explains that he did not say any of the things I said he said. She made no mention of his taking a phone call in court and no explanation of why a Cafcass officer is made the sole arbiter in court for a child’s future. No mention that maybe the decision to stop my son spending 2 nights a month with me might not have been in anyone’s best interests. Seemingly no more than the system protecting the system.
My reference to Cafcass mans Ghanaian origins was deemed offensive although entirely relevant as events in Rotherham, where fear of being branded racist led to cover-ups has shown, and should not have been dismissed so conveniently because when you place the entire responsibility for a child’s future in a British Court in the hands of one individual, they should at the very least be familiar with British Culture. That they should be able to speak English and read and write properly is a separate concern.
This mans reliance on his Ghanaian culture, where men go out to work and women stay at home to raise the kids is not in line with the values our government seek to promote and profiling me in this way was offensive on many levels, as well as an indication of his lack of familiarity with the dynamics of the post he was occupying. Curious then that my request for sight of his qualifications was never directly answered.
Especially worrying in Mrs Lowden’s report was the reference to confidentiality. That if I should show the document to anybody then I would be in breach of some special powers her office wields to bring untold and unspecified but terrifying harm to me. Clearly the law is not transparent and a Government office like the Ombudsman need confidentiality to protect their actions from public scrutiny.
The inherent problem in British family law and the Ombudsman’s office tasked with monitoring abuses of position is that closed proceedings, in which the courts are empowered to interpret laws as they deem appropriate secure in knowing there is no prospect of accountability because closed proceedings mean exactly that. Closed to any accountability.
After reading the deeply disappointing draft finding which failed to address my concerns I replied to Mrs Lowden on the content that follows and in the correspondence, it is clear that Gillian Lowden contradicts her own position:
Dear Mrs Lowden,
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on your findings which I will do in point form.
14. The officer did not introduce himself.
I have already mentioned to you that I was recording the conversation with my barrister when the Cafcass officer interrupted us. My iPhone recorder was still running. Consequently I am able to confirm that the Cafcass officer did not introduce himself. I have no idea why the Cafcass officer would be disingenuous on this point other than to suggest that as he did not know I was recording our conversation he assumed that there is no evidence to challenge or disprove his version of events. I can further confirm that I never met the district Judge, (DJ Robinson) before we went into the courtroom and that he made no introduction of the Cafcass officer. This too is a falsehood easily exposed. You could simply ask DJ Robinson.
15. Once again the Cafcass officers reply is not accurate. I did not meet the judge prior to entering the court room and most certainly did not have any discussion with the judge regarding an agreement to keep the meeting as brief as possible. During our meeting the Cafcass officer did not once mention ‘making me aware of keeping the interview focused on the issues before the court.’ This is clearly absent from the recording of our conversation. It never happened. The Cafcass officer is not being truthful in this statement. If you wish independent corroboration please ask DJ Robinson. Alternatively, ask my QC.
16. I am not complaining that he had trouble with my name. My name is Greek and Andrew XXXXXXXXXXX can be a bit challenging to some. I am observing that on the tape four minutes (4 minutes) of an interview he has now claimed he intended to be kept brief was spent trying to spell my name. This represents some 30% of the allocated time for the interview. I suggest that anyone reasonably familiar with reading and writing would not have required this amount of time to write a word with 11 letters. I make this point in support of my impression that he lacked the basic language skills I would have expected of a qualified professional giving rise to my impression that he lacked sufficient cognitive skills, which you evidently agree is vexatious and grounds for discarding my complaint. Think about how long it would take you to spell. XXXXXXXXXXX. (Name omitted). If you can do it successfully in under four minutes you may understand the point I am making.
17. I have a pretty good idea why the Cafcass officer would be disingenuous on this point. Quite clearly he did not know I was recording our conversation and therefore hopes you will assume there is no contemporaneous or independent evidence to expose him. I am in NO doubt that I was racially profiled. This is not something that one forgets or imagines. His tone of voice can be heard rising appreciably on the recording. He has said the words ‘you are from Johannesburg’ in the course of the interview which negates comment that he did not know I was South African. Please consider that in 53 years there is no evidence of me ever making up any stories about being racially profiled. I have no motive in doing so now. The Cafcass officer though has a very strong motive in denying it. I would further say that his claim to having no idea of my South African accent, when it would be clearly apparent to the vast majority of the nation’s population, is extremely implausible at best. However it is totally implausible for someone of African origin, as is the Cafcass officer, to argue his defense against racial discrimination on the non-recognition of a strong South African accent.
18. This claim is born out by the recording. I have nothing further to add. He interrupted repeatedly before I got to the point I was making with the words “In your opinion” cutting across me and preventing the point being made.
I would have brought it to the attention of the court if the Court had offered any opportunity for me to speak. There was not. The judge made it clear he would hear no arguments and would rely on the Cafcass officers opinion. Then the Cafcass officers phonerang while the judge was speaking. Although I would have expected some form of admonishment from the Judge, there was none. In the context of what I witnessed in the court on that day, there was no opportunity to raise this matter at the time. However, I took the first opportunity to raise this point just days later in a written complaint to Cafcass.
19. You say ‘again we do not see this as unreasonable’ which presupposes that you believe what the Cafcass officer says and that you do not accept what I have said. This is unfortunate. Despite the fact that there is a recording of this interview showing that the officer did in fact interrupt me in an aggressive and hostile manner without listening to the key points I was attempting to make in response to his question. Please will you explain how you arrive at this conclusion other than the inference that you believe I am lying and the Cafcass officer is telling the truth.
20. Firstly, I did not tell the Cafcass officer I was a stay at home dad. That is clear from the recording and is the first of many inconsistencies in his reply. He labeled me as that from his notes before he started the interview. The quote that you present here from the Cafcass officer is entirely made up. It never happened. The quote that I referred to in my complaint letter is transcribed word for word from the recording of the conversation. You need only ask yourself in the name of common sense how the Cafcass officer is so readily able to quote so extensively what he said in the meeting without the benefit of a recording. The answer is, he is making it up. My version of what happened is transcribed word for word from a recording of the conversation. His version is copied from a handbook, almost certainly with guidance from a Cafcass lawyer. If he is allowed to get away with a lie on this magnitude here then what other lies has he relied on, or will go on to rely on, in the discharge of his duty.
As this is a matter that goes before the court, surely lying to your investigation as is the case here and as can be demonstrated by a recording that is contemporaneous and independent as well as by my word, is a form of perjury. I will almost certainly consider my options with a civil action against Cafcass in the event that the Cafcass officer is allowed to lie his way out of this investigation.
I do not accept that he has the right to claim protection from what he said on the basis that he might not have known he was being recorded. Please consider the legal implications ofallowing him this protection. Clearly he did not know he was being recorded as he would almost certainly have mitigated his racist sexist agenda otherwise. As his actions led to the end of my very close relationship with my son, something which I regard as an abuse of my son’s rights, should he now be protected from the consequences of his actions by claiming the evidence contaminating his credibility is inadmissible because he never knew he was being recorded? If so can you consider the consequences in law of such a dangerous precedent being applied to child abusers? His incompetence led to serious harm to my child. The recording demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt not only his incompetence on the day but also the extent to which he is relying on invention and falsehood in his answers to your questions here.
21. You cannot reach a finding due to lack of evidence.
The Cafcass officer has answered virtually all of your questions in this complaint with falsehoods. I have the digital recording demonstrating this beyond any doubt. The Cafcass officer took a phone call in court, interrupting DJ Robinson. Why not ask DJ Robinson if you cannot find any evidence of this. Common sense should also tell you who has the motivation to lie here.
22. The officer’s decision was the courts decision. I did not agree to phased-in contact. That is why I was at court that day, because I did not accept it, whatever your understanding of ‘unfit for overnight visitation ‘ might be. My child’s mother is a divorce lawyer and I am quite clear on the motivation behind her insistence on ‘phased-in contact’. This is part of a wider strategy in distancing the child from his father and is the reason why I came to court. The decision by the Cafcass officer has eroded the relationship with my son, certainly from a weekend visit opportunity. I have seen him 4 nights in the first year and due to vindictive litigation by his mother the prospects of any improvement in contact has gone.
The cost consequences of trying to see my son through the courts, the £17,000 it cost to hear the Cafcass officers decision is that I now am assessed by the Child Support agency as having no means with which to support my son and no means with which to return to court. My only hope of winning my son’s right to see me in the face of hostile objections by his lawyer mother lay with the Court. Thanks to the system that allows a Cafcass Officer to be the sole arbiter of a child’s future I now wonder if there is any point in going back to court to see my son as you confirm that Cafcass Officers operate with impunity and no accountability, even when they are caught on tape. They can take personal phone calls in court. Can fob of legitimate complaints to Cafcass by citing ‘Vex’ and can then respond to an investigators questions with a string of falsehood and invention in the knowledge that when it is ‘his word against mine’ the Investigator will cite ‘we cannot reach a finding due to lack of evidence.’ Even after being caught out on a recording of the conversation.
You may already know this is exactly how the ‘Plebgate’ matter started – initially police officers lied and then were supported by very senior officer before finally video evidence was produced. I would ask that you consider my predicament in the same light and afford me the same opportunity for the delivery of evidence that was enjoyed by Andrew Mitchell.
23. In the absence of any legal costs I cannot return to court to enforce any contact and so my son has very little prospect of seeing me again until he is old enough to do so himself. This does encourage me to raise the court fees by selling the story and the highest paid offer I have had in this regard is from the Daily Mail. I need the £17,000 to return to the legal position I was in before the Cafcass officers decision if I am to apply for visitation through the courts
24. The judge directed the court exactly as I outlined in my complaint. No arguments were heard. He made it clear he would go with the Cafcass officers decision and that no arguments would be considered from either sides counsel and that is precisely how events unfolded. My QC did not say one word on that subject. He spoke later as to the issue of costs, but in the decision on overnight access; not one word. This is the truth and quite why you as an investigator are unable to get to the bottom of it is surprising. You have only to call DJ Robinson and ask him. You could call my QC and ask him.
26. Evidently you consider that I am being unreasonable asking for sight of the Cafcass officers qualifications. Why is that? I can look up the qualifications of any Judge, barrister or solicitor. Why not any officer who can wield considerable power in a British courtroom such as a Cafcass officer. Is it unreasonable to seek the truth? It is a long-held basis of the English justice system that justice is blind – something upon which we all rely. The system demands total transparency. Surely mine is an entirely reasonable request as well as a legally binding one under the freedom of information act.
Over nine months have passed since these events took place and although I have presented a series of worrying disclosures about the workings of Cafcass and the family court system I have still not had my concerns adequately addressed.
I believe it is wrong that a Cafcass Officer should be the sole arbiter of a child’s future in Court. This has not been considered in your summary although this is what happened to me; an incompetent Cafcass Official made a poor decision, took a phone call in the court room and then lied transparently in the investigation and in so doing has caused tremendous harm to my son’s right to spend time with his father.
Your investigation finds no case to answer, effectively endorsing a system where a Cafcass official has unilateral power to make a decision in court on a child’s future without any checks or controls. In my case, this ability was based on a 15 minute interview in which the first 4 minutes were spent trying to write an 11 letter word. I am seeking justice for a 5 year old child, nothing more, and with all the evidence I have supplied I cannot see how you have decided to support the charge of vex.
Evidently you are choosing to believe one side over the other even though there is hard evidence that every assertion I have made is the truth as compared with nothing but the word of the Cafcass officer. Although hard evidence exists which confirms not only that my complaint is entirely accurate in its foundation but also that the officer has been untruthful in his reply to your investigation, it appears that you are discounting this evidence on the basis that the officer never knew he was being recorded. I believe this is not reasonable or legally prudent and am determined to take this point forward in law.
As a result of this sequence of events my son continues to face the prospect of growing up without his father. The turning point in this eventuality was when the Cafcass officer made the ruling he did in a system that allows, what I believe to be, an under-qualified individual to make such an important decision entirely off his own back. You have observed in this correspondence that ‘there are no safety issues’ in the Cafcass preliminary report. On what basis did this officer then find that the child should not be able to overnight with his father, who raised him for the first four years of his life? That I was then charged with being vexatious with my observations of the Cafcass officers conduct considering what is at stake, my sons future, and that you agree that this is the case by saying Cafcass have no case to answer is disappointing. Especially when there is hard evidence available to you as an alternative to blindly believing what the Cafcass official says, which I believe falls quite clearly into the ‘well he would say that’ category, especially if he knows he cannot be exposed by the recording of the conversation because there is some curious and unspecified law which you are using to prevent the recording being considered.
I shall relay my experience of the process to Dominic Raab and enquire after the legality of your position in ignoring the recording and relying on the word of the Cafcass official, making no reference to his phone call habit in the court and his quite obvious use of invention in his rebuttal of the two charges of sexist and racist profiling.
I will recommend to Dominic Raab that in future all Cafcass interviews at the Court of this type be recorded as a sensible and practical way of monitoring under qualified, incompetent, negligent officials and discouraging them from allowing racist and sexist profiling to damage a child’s future relationship with his parent.
I hope that following the conclusion of your investigation I will be in a position to recover some of the £17,000 I need to go back to court in the hope of seeing my son by pursuing interest in my story of ‘Britain’s broken family law system’ from the Daily Mail to which I will be able to add my personal review of the Ombudsmans service.
As I have already told you I am not in the UK at this time, following the flood in my home in February and so will be grateful for either email communication or postal delivery to my US address.
I note that despite your offer to email me the draft summary, copied below, this has not arrived by the time of writing. I will therefore be grateful if you will confirm receipt of this email by return.
To which Mrs Lowden replied: Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 15:25:33 +0000
Subject: Your complaint to the Ombudsman
Dear Mr XXXXXXXXX
We intend to discontinue our investigation of your complaint about Cafcass on the grounds that you have not co-operated with us. You have told us that you have evidence which would enable us to make findings in your case but have not provided us with that evidence.
The Ombudsman has wide powers to initiate, continue or discontinue an investigation. The decision on whether or not to discontinue an investigation rests with the Ombudsman and not any of the other to the complaint parties.
Should you provide us with your recording of your meeting with the Cafcass Officer then we will complete our investigation. We would ask that if you decide to provide this evidence that you do so by 7 August 2013.
Gillian Lowdon Investigator
To which I replied:
Dear Mrs Lowdon,
Thank you for your letter of 31 July in which you advise me of your intention to discontinue your investigation on the grounds of my ‘non co operation.’
Please explain how I am not co operating.
In your letter of 22 July, 2014 you have said:
I have sought legal advice on the iPhone recording of your conversation with the Cafcass Officer on 30 October 2013.
I have been told that we would be able to listen to this recording and rely on this evidence. However, before we did so we would have to make the Cafcass Officer aware of the recording and also given him an opportunity to listen to, and comment on, it. I am sorry that this is different from my previous understanding which I conveyed at paragraph 20 of the draft report.
If you would like us to use this recording as part of our considerations, please forward it to me.
July 22nd was the first time you showed any interest in the recording and by this stage I chose to decline using the recording as a part of your consideration. This cannot in any way be interpreted as being ‘non co operative.’ You asked if I would like to use the recordings as a part of your consideration and I replied that I would not.
On 29 July you wrote:
We can only consider the recording if you provide us with a copy of it. If you would like us to consider this recording, please provide me with a copy of it as soon as you can.
If we do not receive a copy of it by the end of next week (9 August 2014), we will issue the final report. Please note that we will not be able to make findings on the content of the recording without listening to it.
I confirmed on the same date that I do not wish you to consider the recording. After having not shown any interest in the recording for the entire duration of your investigation leading up to the delivery of your draft report I did not level any charges against you for this omission. You confirmed that if the recording was not received by 9 August 2014, you would issue your final report and I confirmed that I was in agreement with your timescale.
I consider that I have been exceedingly co operative in your investigation. I have detailed events such as the phone call in court and the directions by the judge, DJ Robinson, that the Cafcass officer be the sole arbiter of the child’s future, corroboration of which surely cannot have presented much of an investigative challenge. I have detailed all events relating the the hearing on 30 July exhaustively on a web page to provide an accurate and detailed timeline with names and dates and quotes which provides a comprehensive demonstration of the extent to which I am co operating with your investigation.
All the evidence in support of my complaint is there, sufficient for you to arrive at the draft report of your findings, delivered by post on 3rd July, which, if the investigation ends now will represent your final report in the matter of what happened to my 4 year old sons right to see his father. I am sure you will agree that this represents an unsatisfactory outcome for all concerned.
I look forward to your explanation of how you have arrived at your conclusion that I am not being co operative, when so clearly I brought the complaint in the first place and along with Dominic Raab, have considerable interest in seeing you complete the investigation as you have undertaken to do.
And her reply, which I think considered my reference to a Daily Mail story:
21 August 2014
Dear Mr XXXXXX
Your complaint about the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass)
We shared the draft report of our investigation with you on 3 July 2014. In your comments on this report you made references to a recording you hold of your meeting with the Cafcass Officer on 30 October 2013. Having sought legal advice, I asked you to provide us with a copy of that recording.
wrote to you on 31 July and 7 August 2014 explaining that we proposed to discontinue our investigation of your complaint about Cafcass unless you provided us with this recording. This recording would enable us to make evidence-based findings in our investigation. Without it, we cannot make such findings. Given you brought your complaint to us, it seems reasonable to presume you wanted us to make such findings.
We asked us to provide us with this information by 14 August 2014. You have not done so. We have therefore discontinued our investigation of your complaint.
Please note that the draft report and the letter accompanying it that we shared with you contained confidential information. By law, our investigations must be carried out in private and there are legal restrictions on sharing with other people the information that we give you. This means that you could share the draft report with those you needed to (for example, a representative or someone helping you) in order to dive us your comments on it. However, the information enclosed in the draft report and accompanying letter must not be made public by you or by anyone you show it to.
I then wrote to MP Dominic Raab:
Dear Mr Raab,
I write further to Mrs Lowdens letter of 21 August in which she makes a series of inaccurate points which I would like to address in turn, along with the substantive correspondence copied below.
- That in my comments on the draft report of 3 July, I made reference to a recording.
This suggests that on 3 July Mrs Lowden first became aware of the recording. In fact the recording formed a central part of my original complaint. Mrs Lowden knew from the outset that I was recording the conversation with my barrister when the Cafcass officer interrupted us to commence his hurried interview. The recorder was still running and the transcript of that conversation was a part of the evidence that Mrs Lowden investigated. To imply that she became aware of the recording only after the reply to her draft report is misleading.
Mrs Lowden for reasons of her own decided not to include the recording in her investigations. She had a copy of the transcript and could at any time have agreed to include it in the investigation. Instead she took a statement from the Cafcass official which is at odds with what happened in the interview. Rather than agree to consider the recording which would place the Cafcass officer in a position of perjury, lying on record, Mrs Lowden chose to make her findings in favour of Cafcass, saying there was no evidence to support my claims.
Consider that this finding includes not only the two serious offences committed by the Cafcass official during the interview, but also two further events which should have warranted explanation, but which Mrs Lowden failed to consider. Namely; the Cafcass officer interrupting the Judge to take a personal phone call, which I believe goes to the character of an unprofessional and sub standard Government employee and secondly the fact that in a family court the final say on a child’s future is left by the judge, in this case DJ Robinson, to the Cafcass official. Is it right that a Cafcass official should be the sole arbiter of a childs future in family court? Mrs Lowden had only to call DJ Robinson to ascertain whether this is the truth of what happened on 30 October 2013, however she chose instead to limit her findings to the Cafcass officials word against mine.
It was only after my letter of 31 July, 2014 in response to Mrs Lowdens draft report that Mrs Lowden took legal advice and recanted her position in respect of excluding the recording. The reasons she did so are in that letter, copied below.
- 2. ‘I wrote to you on 31 July and 7 August explaining we proposed to discontinue our investigation unless you provided us with your recording.’
This is simply untrue. Mrs Lowden wrote on those dates saying that subject to legal advice she was now prepared to consider the recording. She wrote ‘We can only consider the recording if you provide us with a copy of it. If you would like us to consider this recording, please provide me with a copy of it as soon as you can.
If we do not receive a copy of it by the end of next week (9 August 2014), we will issue the final report. Please note that we will not be able to make findings on the content of the recording without listening to it.”
This is not a proposal to discontinue an investigation unless the recording is supplied.
At this late stage of the investigation and having already read the conclusions of Mrs Lowden’s draft report I took legal advice which was that I allow Mrs Lowden to complete the investigation on the terms she had already outlined. The reasoning was that it was clear Mrs Lowden intended letting the Cafcass official hear the recording, recant his reply and offer an apology. This would change nothing in the system and did not offer me any measure of confidence that proper accountability would follow. The Cafcass officer should tell the truth because that is what he is required to do in law. Not recant because he had been found out on a recording to be making an untrue statement.
Clearly Mrs Lowdens letter does not say ‘We will discontinue the investigation unless you supply us with a copy of the recording’. It is an invitation to submit the recording if I wished it to be considered. I did not for the reasons I outlined in my email replying to Mrs Lowden’s mail of 31 July, 2014. (Copied below.)
This cannot in any reasonable light be seen as uncooperative.
- 3. ‘Please note the draft report and the letter accompanying contain confidential information … must not be made public.’
This is the reason Mrs Lowden has cancelled the investigation. Mrs Lowden delivered a report which contains falsehoods which can be shown in law to be falsehoods. I have enclosed my reply to her draft report, dated 15 July, 2014 (copied below) which I believe makes clear that she recanted her position on excluding the recording knowing that I was in a position to bring a legal action arising from the untrue statement by the Cafcass official. It is equally clear from that correspondence that once Mrs Lowden completed her report there would be press interest as well as the likelihood of the Cafcass official being guilty of a criminal offense for lying on record.
Instead, Mrs Lowden chose to end the investigation and to prevent my publication of the story by suggesting that her draft report is confidential despite the fact that the law is transparent and must be seen to be so, and despite the absence of any confidentiality agreement preceding her correspondence. I have already made my position clear in this regard to Mrs Lowden. The draft report is her finding on the matter. It was Mrs Lowden’s decision to not progress the investigation when all the facts are in plain site. The statement by the Cafcass official is on the draft report and that is his word on record.
I have enclosed below my letter of 31 July, 2014, replying to Mrs Lowdens draft report which led to her changing her position on the legality of using the recording in evidence and outlining my intentions following the issuance of her report. This letter makes it clear why Mrs Lowden chose instead to cancel the investigation, and try to prevent publication of the story.
Mr Raab, I brought this complaint to your attention because I have experienced a serious flaw in the family law system whereby as a loving and responsible father to a 4 year old I was denied visitation to the son I raised for the first 4 years of his life following a poor decision by a Cafcass official based on prejudice and driven by incompetence. Almost 1 year later I still have no contact with my son and the opportunity for me to remain the loving and responsible parent that I was is now passed. In fact at this time I do not even have Skype contact with my son, whose mother has taken full advantage of the Cafcass decision to attach financial demands to contact and has currently agreed that I can see my son in June 2105. How did that happen? If the Cafcass decision was right, how is it best for my son that he has no relationship with his father?
At this time I have no contact with my son, now 5, whose mother, a divorce lawyer familiar with the legal system has used the Cafcass verdict to ensure I have no further contact with my son. Cafcass has effectively ruined the prospect for my son to have his father in his life. Instead of taking this matter seriously and putting right what was wrong, Cafcass have issued a series of lies in defense of their official while Mrs Lowdens investigation has done nothing more than endorse the Cafcass position as being above the law, even to the extent of trying to scare me off using her draft report with the threat that this is somehow subject to legal restrictions that will punish me if I take it further.
The conclusion I am left with is that Cafcass operate above the law and there seems to be no prospect of change. Protecting incompetent Cafcass officials is more important than defending the rights of a child to see his father.
After the hearing on October 30 2013 when I first summarised my Cafcass experience on my blog I had a readership of 54,000 within months, many of whom shared similar stories with me of Cafcass. There is clearly a problem on a scale that warrants national interest. I believe my experience provides an opportunity to review the way the system works and put in place safeguards and checks to improve the system responsible for safeguarding children’s best interests at a time when they are at their most vulnerable during parental separation.
I am reminded of events in Rotherham, where 16 years of abuse of thousands of children occurred while officials of various Government agencies colluded to ensure that rapists and child molesters did not face the full power of the law because they feared being branded as racist. Their cowardly attitude resulted in the horrific abuse of children for whom they had a direct official and moral responsibility.
Children have a right to be properly represented by the agencies in place for this purpose. That the Cafcass officer was Ghanaian and took against me for my South African accent should not be overlooked, nor should Mrs Lowden’s finding in her draft report that Cafcass were right to not consider my complaint because of my reference to the officials Ghanaian origins which is clearly a factor whether it is politically inappropriate to say so or not.
Above all else, the truth of what serves the child’s best interests should be paramount. We should not allow the fear of being viewed as racist to obstruct the quality of the work we should expect from those employed by the state to protect our children, or we can expect to see what happened in Rotherham as the legacy of Cafcass.
It remains the case that my son, now 5, does not have his father in his life because a semi-literate Cafcass official with a strong Ghanaian accent decided that was best and Mrs Lowden from the Ombudsmans office agreed there was no case to answer.
Following that Mr Raab replied as follows:
“I appreciate your concerns. I understand you are able to you request a review of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s (PHSO’s) decision to discontinue their investigation.”
Of course one year later, having not seen my now 5 year old for some time and with not even any skype contact available to me at this point Mr Raab’s invitation for me to ‘request a review’ presupposes confidence a system that is entirely absent.
The conclusion is:
Cafcass are above the law. They do whatever they want. There is no accountability and no system in place to bring accountability even when they are caught ‘bang to rights’ lying on tape, the Ombudsman’s office first protects them by ruling the recording inadmissible and when they are shown legal reasons why they have to admit the recording they discontinue the investigation and invite me to start over again with the tempting opportunity to waste another year on disingenuous and unconvincing writing purporting to be the work of a professional Government appointed investigator.
Cafcass is not fit for purpose and the DOHO’s position speaks for itself. The children of Britain deserve better.
I have many helpful recommendations through my experience of how the system can be improved and the children of broken families be better served. Instead of inviting my insight into a problem which exists and which is in desperate need of help, the two organisation entrusted with this responsibility have instead chosen the reaction you have seen in this story.
It costs more to fix a broken adult than to spend a little on professional social workers ensuring that children enjoy both parents.