I AM calm!

I have learnt that it is usually a good idea to sleep on it after reading a Christopher Booker article, and not to write in anger. I have slept on this one for a whole week (force majeure) so I am positively serene as I write. Honest.

This time it is a piece beginning with the rather understated headline :

The most sinister court in Britain strikes yet again

The shadowy Court of Protection’s treatment of a 72-year-old grandmother is a national scandal, says Christopher Booker

Beneath it is a picture of a sweet old lady rejoicing in her liberation, her red coat conjuring up muddled memories of red riding hood and her escape from the wolf.

In the interests of balance, we also have the Daily Mail’s effort :

Grandmother is arrested at Ken Dodd show and held in the cells… just for hugging her teenage granddaughter: Fury as secretive Court of Protection sentences 72-year-old to three months for contempt

 

I’m not going to unpick these line by line. I only really want to gather for you the fuller information that is publicly available – and that was publicly available at the time of publication – in order that you might form a view for yourselves about the accuracy and completeness or otherwise of Mr Booker’s (and others) account of this case – and in order that you might also form a view as to how much you want to rely upon his accounts in futures.

It worries me that people swallow what they read without checking the sources. And it worries me that the mainstream media still insist on reporting things without doing the public the courtesy of linking to the source material where available.

So here goes. Some key documents that Telegraph and Mail readers are unlikely to have seen. I’ll summarise their contents as I go. You can go back and compare them with what Mr Booker sees and says.

The first judgment : A Local Authority v B, F & G [2014] EWCOP B18 (21 March 2014) 

HHJ Cardinal in Court of Protection. Tells us that the proceedings were ongoing because the LA sought “an order providing for the long-term residence of B, a young woman who has not long ago attained the age of 18, and who resides in a residential care home at a confidential address…since 2007” and “orders regulating the father’s and the paternal grandmother’s contact with B [that's Mrs Danby], and secondly, injunctive relief so as to prevent direct contact and the removal of B from her present address, and …to prevent any further inappropriate contact with her.

 

The judgment tells us that there have been care proceedings and inherent jurisdiction (High Court) proceedings ongoing for years and that there have been “disputes between this Local Authority and her father for very many years“. Final High Court orders appear to have been made, including injunctions in June 2012, and these were continued on 26 June 2012.

The judge states that “What is concerning about this case is that the continued litigation is proving to cause stress, anxiety, upset and confusion to B. It is therefore very important that finalisation takes place and she knows her future. I intend to ensure that her wishes and feelings are taken careful notice of and taken into account when I come to dispose of this matter finally in early April, and I shall bear in mind what she says, but I also note that her wishes and feelings fluctuate from time to time. B will have the opportunity of meeting me if at all possible.

It is clear from the judgment that B lacked capacity to make her own decisions on the issues at hand, and that the court had concluded this after receiving the evidence of an independent expert. She was represented by the Official Solicitor throughout the proceedings. Whilst the Father disputed that conclusion “he has failed to file any evidence contradicting that which Dr. Halstead has said“.

The application at that hearing was for a Hadkinson order (an order preventing any application to the court by a person who is in contempt of court until that person has purged himself of his contempt). The family did not attend, but the Father opposed the application by letter, in which he said “I am not prepared to expose myself to possible imprisonment by travelling south to attend any hearings.” This is a reference to the fact that the Father was “currently in contempt of court and faces a substantial sentence of imprisonment“.

On 13 September 2012 the court had found beyond reasonable doubt that F had twice arranged to meet covertly with B earlier that year, and in breach of the injunctions in place. The Father had been given an opportunity to attend for sentence but declined and was sentenced in his absence. Significantly, on that occasion the court found that “he will continue to seek out B in defiance of this order, and thereby causing her distress, unless and until he serves a significant period in prison. He was sentenced to a twelve month period of imprisonment“. It is clear from reading the judgment that there was no indication that the Father was prepared to comply in future with the order.

Whats more there was a history of what sounds like at least two abductions by F: “there was an occasion when father retained B as a child in Scotland and did not return her, and there was an attempt in the past to remove B from her foster care, all apparently in defiance of court orders“.

The judge does make the Hadkinson order, saying “This is an extremely serious case, where the father has repeatedly breached Court orders, it seems. This Court cannot sit idly by if he chooses to stay out of the jurisdiction, to make representations that are unhelpful and do not answer the questions at large and then does not attend to be tested by cross-examination.

He directs publication of the judgment “for all to see”.

 

The second judgment : A Local Authority v B & Ors [2014] EWCOP B21 (07 April 2014) 

Again, HHJ Cardinal in the Court of Protection. Again the family did not attend, the Father still had a warrant outstanding for his arrest, and by this stage a committal application had been launched against the Grandmother.

Here he gives us some more of the back story, saying

Her life story is a very sad one. Social Services were involved with her shortly after her birth, and she was made the subject of a Supervision Order. In due course her parents separated and litigated over her contact arrangements. In 2005 she went for contact purposes to see her father in Scotland, and she was retained by him, making allegations against Mother’s partner. However, he grew unable to care for her and asked his local authority for assistance. In due course there was an occasion when he was charged with assaulting her. It was as a result of that that she was placed in foster care, although I note with regard to that assault, that even now and quite inaccurately, she blames herself for the assault that took place.

This “assault” must correspond (very approximately) I think with Christopher Booker’s “roughly grabbing her and taking her to safety”.

In October 2010 when the father, in concert with a friend who purported to be his McKenzie Friend, abducted B. Separate proceedings were taken then against G, the paternal grandmother [Mrs Danby]” leading it seems to the granting of injunctions against the father from June 2011, prohibiting all forms of contact. We already know that the care / High Court proceedings concluded in summer 2012, and from this judgment we are told the Court of Protection proceedings commenced in August 2013.

We also get some information about B herself. “She suffers from a lack of capacity owing to an attachment disorder and mild learning difficulties…she exhibits from time to time difficult behaviours and that she has problems in controlling her temper on occasions.” Of her wishes and feelings we are told “I note that she continues regularly to see her mother, her mother’s partner and her two half-siblings, and she tells me that that is “alright” and that she wants that arrangement to continue.

There is a long passage setting out how the Father and grandmother have behaved unhelpfully over a period of time, and in particular it is said “I have today been shown Facebook entries in which it seems that father and grandmother are campaigning against the local authority and disclosing photographs of B of a worryingly recent nature which reveals, of course, that they have been in contact with her when they should not have been.

It is said that through the covert contact “this father and this grandmother appear to have caused significant emotional harm to B“. The judge goes on to spell that out in detail :

The evidence points unequivocally to me to the effect that whenever the father or the grandmother interfere in her life, B is disturbed and distressed. A recent example suffices. Only recently, she ran away from the home where she lives for a period of five hours. She broke a window in her bedroom, threatened staff with a broken glass and smashed mugs. She scratched herself on the arms and threw coffee all over the ceiling of her room. I am told that when she is distressed, she blames the other young woman who lives in the accommodation with her, but her behaviour seems to relate not to the other young person so much as events in her own life. These are plainly the actions of an emotionally upset young lady. I am even told that she has recently been arrested and indeed cautioned, though of course the Official Solicitor will pursue and has my leave to pursue the validity of such Police action.

Dr. Halstead reports that she is unable to translate distress into emotional anguish, hence, perhaps, her behaviour. Sadly, she continues to have an idealised view of her father, who had promised her she could leave care at the age of 18 and come and live with him. I am satisfied, on the evidence I have seen, that she has regressed to an extent. She no longer goes to college and has ceased doing volunteer work. She is in desperate need of resuming education, learning life skills and receiving therapeutic help, with which she will not presently engage…

Last Friday I had the privilege of meeting B at her care home in the presence of Ms. McFarlane, the solicitor agent for the Official Solicitor. I noted particularly she said this of her father. “If he really wanted to see me, he would come to Court”. So from time to time she does exhibit a degree of insight. I believe that could grow if she had the period of peace that I am going to provide her with. For, after two years of therapy and education, the local authority could devise a transition plan for the future

It is essential that B has that period of peace from litigation, and I believe that this [the four year order made] is the best way of securing it.

Those paragraphs are, for me, the crux of it.

 

The third judgment : Derbyshire County Council v Danby [2014] EWCOP B22 (15 April 2014) 

This is the first of the two committal judgments. Again, HHJ Cardinal in the Court of Protection.

In the last month or so her behaviour has become more distressed, angry, violent and she has even self-harmed. The local authority would say she was improving in her behaviour for a considerable period of time following final orders in the High Court in the summer of 2013 and it is because of the events that I shall hereinafter relate that her behaviour has so deteriorated.

This sets out the injunction made against Mrs Danby in January 2014 :

The Second Respondent Kathleen Danby is forbidden to do any of the following, either by herself or by instructing or encouraging another person to do so. 

“(a) From approaching or attempting to approach B personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person so to do. 

“(b) from communicating with B in any way whatsoever, whether in writing or by post, telephone, fax, text messaging, e-mail or any other form of telecommunication or information technology, including internet, video calling (i.e. Skype), whether directly or indirectly through another, save that she may receive a single telecommunication call from B on a loudspeaker and supervised by the local authority their servants and/or agents to take place on the first Wednesday of each calendar month between the hours seven o’clock p.m. and eight o’clock p.m. only in strict compliance with the declarations on the face and the schedule of the order of Her Honour Judge …” (it says “Taylor”) that should be “… Thomas of even date (annexed hereto). 

“(c) For attending at, entering or attempting to enter or go within J town (the town in which B’s placement is situated) either personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person to do so. 

“(d) From attending at, entering or attempting to enter or go within 100 metres of XCollege, either personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person to do so. 

“(e) From loitering within a radius of 100 metres of Y placementeither personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person to do so. 

“(f) From loitering within a radius of 100 metres X College, either personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person to do so.

The breaches are said to be arranging to meet with B, meeting with her and passing her a package on 28 February (after personal service of the injunction). The breach is captured on CCTV. B has told staff at her placement about it. The package was a family DVD. The breach was foreshadowed by a period of disrupted and odd behaviour on the part of B. The judge is satisfied that not only did they meet, but that it was prearranged and therefore a quite intentional breach. Following these events B’s behaviour deteriorated and was said to be out of character, including an incident of absconding :

I am sure, too, that the deterioration in her behaviour results from these meetings with her grandmother. Her behaviour has deteriorated; she has self-harmed; she has assaulted staff; she has threatened her co-resident and she has run away. Not in a sense that she disappears by being an hour late, which she does from time to time as is perhaps typical late teenage behaviour, but because she literally runs away and has to be found with the help of the police.

The judge says “This is a public hearing to which all could have attended and a proper notice has been placed outside this court and downstairs in the court’s reception area complying with the Practice Guidance of 4th of June of last year. Anyone who wanted to could have attended this hearing if they wished.

He sentences Mrs Danby to a three month term of imprisonment and says that “I shall direct that this lady can come before the court, mitigate and try to persuade me to take a different view if she can justify her behaviour and explain to me what she has done and why it is not as bad as I see it to be.” We know from judgment number 4 that she did not do so.

 

The fourth judgment : Derbyshire County Council v Danby [2014] EWCOP B26 (16 July 2014) 

This a short judgment :

Today was listed to give Mrs Danby the opportunity of persuading me that the sentence I imposed in April was wrong, that I should reduce it, mitigate it or even quash it, and she has failed to avail herself of that opportunity. So, in the circumstances, I have no alternative other than to leave the sentence outstanding, together with the warrant of arrest. If Mrs Danby is arrested pursuant to that warrant she can apply to purge her contempt and I will see her as soon as is possible to look at the matter.

I do hope that she sees sense and avails herself of the opportunity of reducing the sentence I have imposed as quickly as possible.

I need hardly add that other members of her family are seeing the young lady concerned with no difficulty whatsoever.

 

And of course the next thing we hear is that she has been arrested…

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I’d like you to go back to those headlines at the top of this post now, re-read them and think about how accurate, balanced and fair you think they are.

 

What is missing (apart from any judgment regarding the purging of contempt, which I expect will be forthcoming soon), and is likely to remain missing is the judgment(s) from the original care proceedings. If such decisions were made today they would be covered by guidance requiring them to be published – but although only a couple of years ago this was not common practice at the time, and it is quite possible that no publishable judgment exists or that there are perfectly proper reasons for the non-publication (I am keen on publication of judgments where that can be done without risk to the child but am prepared to accept bearing in mind the contents of judgments 1-4 that there may well have been such good reasons). We also don’t have all the judgments from the original making of the injunctions – although they appear to have been uncontested by the family at the time so that is unsurprising.

I was – and am – very cross at the insistence that this is an illustration of a shadowy secret court at work when the key judgments in the proceedings have been contemporaneously published and must have been available to the journalists who failed to mention their existence (apart from quoting selectively from the April judgment, without attribution or link). If journalists are so keen on transparency why are they not keener on opening up their own writing to the informed scrutiny of the public?

When I tweeted my irritation at these matters last week some suggested that these inaccuracies were not the real point. And undoubtedly there are other points worthy of consideration – for example if Mrs Danby were treated as is suggested by Booker by the Prison Service or G4S then that would be a matter of concern. By way of further example, legitimate questions are asked about the detailed basis for removing the child in the first place.

As to the behaviour of the authorities whilst Mrs Danby was detained, I am afraid I don’t have very much confidence that the account we are given is anything more than journalistic licence in order to make a story about a competent adult who has decided to disobey a court order knowing the potential consequences, into a story about a brutal state bullying a poor little old lady who just wanted to watch a Kenn Dodd show (a talisman of cute old lady) and to hug her granddaughter.

As to the basis for initial removal – well it would be nice to know more, but ultimately we have quite a lot of background facts. There was (it appears) no appeal from any of the earlier decisions. There was / is (it appears) no live application to discharge the care order / any orders in the CoP or live appeal. And for me the current circumstances of an adult who has been in foster care for many years are far more significant - and we have quite a lot of information about those circumstances. To my mind the judgments amply set out why it was necessary to control the contact between the subject and the paternal family – and the fact that B continues to have contact with her maternal family is an indicator that this is more to do with the behaviour of the paternal family than an attempt to prevent this young woman from having contact to her family without justification.

When Regulated Worlds Collide

I am a family lawyer. My brother is in the financial services industry. Sometimes, when we meet for lunch on a wet weekday and talk about our jobs to one another, we look across the table and realise its not just that we are talking different languages but that we come from different worlds (professionally speaking – if you met us you would see how closely we are related). Some things are so familiar, whilst other things are just anathema. Both of us deal with process and propriety but our respective colleagues deal with them so differently. So we go back to our dim sum and to entertaining ourselves with mild griping about our respective spouses and gossip about mutual schoolfriends, where we are on familiar and safe ground. And then we go back to work.

I should probably also mention that my dad was a bank manager before his retirement. Not your modern day “computer says no” bank manager, and not your pinstriped champagne quaffing wheeler dealer commercial banker, but a real high street bank manager, with a significant discretion to lend based upon proper and personalised face to face assessment of risk, reliability and affordability, and built upon relationships. Not a “relationship manager” jobsworth, but a professional with a service ethos and a genuine care for his clients and his employers’ businesses and interests. A bank manager who worked his way up from the paper bag in the middle of the road and wanted to help hard working people make good too. So I didn’t know much back then about the deregulation of the banking market, but I remember the 80s and the 90s from the perspective of a sleepy eyed little girl whose daddy came home late from work, stressed about lending targets that could not be met without foolish lending, and sales targets (for products made necessary to meet the risk of the lending) that could not be met and about change that made no sense, and about the unseemly scramble to promotion by younger colleagues with a different compass…and from the perspective of a teenager who heard her father worry about how he could make his bosses listen to sense whilst still making sure that the mortgage was paid. The mortgage was paid. The banking industry changed. My dad was one small man left behind. And we all know how the bigger story ended.

Anyway, I took the opportunity over the Xmas break to attempt to complete a lengthy list of tasks that are utterly impossible to complete whilst holding down work. One of them was to “sort the mortgage”. Oh how naive of me.

Now I knew as an adult that the world of financial services is pretty tied up in regulation because once upon a time a long time ago I got a mortgage. And I knew that things had gotten a little but more tied up in regulation because of the stuff that was going on whilst I was growing up, and whilst I was benefiting from too much accessible credit as a student (hic). And when I last remortgaged it was in the middle of a hideous swirl of post-baby crisis and both micro and macro credit crunches – and I thought it would be better this time round.

But my god. It is like TORTURE getting a mortgage these days! Hoop-jumping tick-boxing choose-the-least-inappropriate-of-an-exhaustive-list-of-inappropriate-answers fricking torture!

I’m sorry, but this is arse covering on a grand scale dressed up as consumer protection. And the costume is about as convincing as Widow Twanky (sorry, freshly back from Panto).

So. You ask a bank for advice about their mortgage products. But their “advice” about their mortgage products cannot extend to a comparison of how those mortgage products will apply to your circumstances. Nah ah. Because that would enable you to weigh up the pros and cons, the risks and the benefits, in the short and long term – and to genuinely make an informed decision as a consumer. So clearly – that must be prohibited.

Far better, say the powers that be, that at the outset of the three hours of telephone calls (during which they ask you for the SAME information that you have provided on first enquiry, and obliging entered for a second time into a glitchy web app in advance of the telephone appointment for the express purpose of shortening said three hour telephone call, of which they already hold about 90% in any event as you are an account holder) – at the outset of the telephone call they ask you how much you want your mortgage to cost, how many years you want to repay it over, and how much would you like your fee to be (amongst other fatuous questions)? To which the answer of any rational human being will be 1) as little as possible 2) as little as possible and 3) as little as possible. BUT I’d like to see all my options so I can assess whether I’d like to pay a little more now to reduce my risk later or whether this is the best option all things considered.

And you’re trying to work out what the hell the questions mean and how you can possibly give an honest answer to a question predicated upon your attitude to the risks of a hypothetical scenario the facts of which are unknown. And they’re trying to be empathetic without ever acknowledging their script is a load of codswallop. And you’re trying to give the answers that you know they need to make the computer move to the next screen, and they’re trying to stick to the script. It’s like the lobster quadrille.

BUT, you plead : BUT I’d really like to see all my options so I can assess whether I’d like to pay a little more now to reduce my risk later or whether this is the best option all things considered.

But no.

BECAUSE, GOOD PEOPLE OF THE PLANET FAMILY LAW (Brace yourselves) : HOLISTIC EVALUATION OF ALL OPTIONS IS BANNED ON PLANET FINANCIAL SERVICES! [I Pause here to note for the benefit of "foreigners" from other planets holistic evaluation is a cultural phenomenon which is explained at the foot of this post. See *]

What kind of insanity is this?

The kind of insanity that will not let you get to the next question by answering “well I can’t really answer that without knowing a bit more” or “well the answer to that depends on how much it will cost me” and which forces you to answer in a specified format in order to progress to ind out the actual cost of any single option.

The kind of insanity which then, when it actually spits out an answer of “mortgage x over y term at z rate of interest will cost you £x per month and £y overall” – will not let you ask the question “Okay, so what if we extended the term?” or “Okay, so can you tell me what the options are for a shorter fixed term?”. Or, to be pedantic, you can ask the question Madam, but you’s talking to the hand.

Because. (have to pause here, I’m hyperventilating). Because. I have recommended you a product on the basis of your answers about your attitude to risk and I cannot recommend you a product which does not match your preferences.

Oh, you mean the phoney preferences forced out of me by your insanely restrictive backside covering compliance machine in order to get any information from you at all? The ones that I know you are painstakingly noting down on your system and reading back to me like a script as a basis for your “recommendation” and will rely upon if I ever complain about miss-selling and the FSA or FSO ever come to town on your ass? The ones which serve no possible purpose for consumers at all other than to confuse, irritate and obsfuscate.

Yes. We are too stupid to have and assess the information and yet should we complain we have been missold it will be our own answers we will be hung out to dry with. Or perhaps it is just that by maintaining a stranglehold on information and bringing us to the point of emotional exhaustion we are less likely to find the energy to shop elsewhere having invested the better part of a day of our Christmas holidays in extraction of the nugget of truth that is *the recommendation*. In for a penny, in for a couple hundred grand, eh?

Yes, those dudes in Financial Services could do with some holistic evaluation. More Re B-S and less BS.

It is linear analysis gone made in the world of financial services. And even worse than that it’s linear analysis without the facts being found first. And without the analysis either. Straight stupid.

 

 

 

* Holistic evaluation for not-family-lawyers

In 2013 the Court of Appeal handed down several judgments which emphasised the need to holistically evaluate the available options before reaching a decision on important matters (in this case the possible adoption of children). In Re B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146 the court said this at pa 44 :

We emphasise the words “global, holistic evaluation”. This point is crucial. The judicial task is to evaluate all the options, undertaking a global, holistic and (see Re G para 51) multi-faceted evaluation of the child’s welfare which takes into account all the negatives and the positives, all the pros and cons, of each option. To quote McFarlane LJ again (para 54):

“What is required is a balancing exercise in which each option is evaluated to the degree of detail necessary to analyse and weigh its own internal positives and negatives and each option is then compared, side by side, against the competing option or options.”

Busman’s Holiday

Crept from my sick bed today for a copy of the Times (no, not a hangover, a spot of flu – thanks for asking) as I had seen a headline I wanted to read more of. Got more than I bargained for – pages 19-23 of today’s Times are awash with, variously, irritating and interesting family law new stories.

So, let us begin…

Firstly, the thing for which I paid over my £1.20 to the Murdoch empire : Judge attacked over bid to hold family cases in public [link here for those who have subscription].

First off, although any judge is characteristically referred to as a “top” one by the proper tabloid press, it is most out of character for The Times to promote Munby to “country’s most senior judge” as they do here (it is evidently an editorial mistake as they correctly identify his job title subsequently).

Munby has, it is said, aroused concern and even hostility over his plans to open up the courts. Undoubtedly so. It goes on to say that “children’s groups and family lawyers warned that children will decline to give evidence if they know that the public may attend, even though names would be anonymised, because they fear inadvertent identification”. Undoubtedly so.

But the truth is that very few consultation responses have been published and we do not know what others may have been submitted. The only organisation which is referred to in the article is Resolution, and the views expressed in the article appear to me to be basically taken from their response. It is similar to the article that appeared on Family Law on 27 October simultaneous with the publication of their response.

Incidentally, I have found the ALC response here, the Resolution response here and the FLBA response here. The Transparency Project response is here and I think Suesspicious Minds published his own response, although I can’t immediately lay my hands on the link. NAGALRO published a response here - however that response refers to the response of the Interdisciplinary Alliance for Children which I can’t find published anywhere! The Children’s Commissioner, whilst having been vocal about the issue (through her Deputy Sue Berelowitz), has not apparently published a response, and nor has CAFCASS. David Burrows’ response is here. There may be others, but if there are I haven’t found them.

So yes, there are childrens groups and lawyers who have voiced concern, but I’m not sure that we can yet say that this correctly characterises the views across the board. We will have to wait and see whether that is the case. And more to the point, the fact that such groups have expressed concern does not mean that those concerns are insurmountable or determinative.

Resolution have questioned whether there is “genuine demand” for more openness - which rather makes one wonder where precisely they have been burying their heads for the last several years : as far as I can see there is a rather loud clamour for greater openness, but it is also clearly a view which is unanimously shared by lawyers or childrens’ groups.

I’m interested in the timing of this article when we are expecting a response from the President’s bunker soon, that suggests that the President may have to have a rethink. Someone is doing some lobbying here, which makes me uncomfortable – this is a topic which has already been sidelined for political reasons in the past and it deserves a proper debate this time around – I’d rather that were via Parliament but that isn’t going to happen, so I’m grateful to the President for having the cojones* to start the debate even though he will (as this article proves) be attacked by one or other camp for so doing. It would be sad if this debate were politicised to the extent that some organisations were briefing the press in an attempt to get traction. And somewhat incongruous if the same portions of the press who were clamouring righteously for an end to secrecy were to be involved in flip flopping on their position for the sake of a good story.

I’m perhaps more tetchy about this article than I might have been, given the rather rubbish reporting of the genuinely interesting and wide ranging debate about this very topic that was hosted by the Family Justice Council and chaired by the President in November, the full transcript of which can be read or listened to here. It was clear from that event that there were a range of strongly held and legitimate views, and the Press seem so far to be focusing on reducing the debate to a story about “judges under attack” rather than the “secret family courts” story of yesteryear. I am thinking in particular of the shameless cherry picking that the Daily Mail engaged in in their article : Opening up family courts ‘will cause child suicides’: Fury at claim by children’s tsar in secret justice battle. It makes me a bit crotchety when the press clamour for more openness on the basis that the public have a right to know, and then do rubbishy lazy reporting which does not add to public information and education one iota.

[coffee break]

Immediately above that article on page 19 is an article about the latest offering from Baroness Deech entitled : Divorce laws make women think all they need to do is marry a footballer. I should have known it would send me into a fit of pique but I read it anyway. Baroness Deech, now freshly released from her chairship of the BSB, is back on the divorce law reform malarky. Which is fine in itself. It does need reform. However, it’s the underlying messages about women that make me so narked. Just to start my dander on an upward incline, the good Baroness is quoted asking the reader to imagine going to an “Islington dinner party, go along to anything you like” (she swiftly adds). Now I once, a long time ago, *technically* lived in Islington (above the Euro Cafe, the flat with the word C**T charmingly graffitti’d on the door), but I don’t think that she is talking about the same type of dinner parties where I have ever been…

For sure, at dinner parties of every sort, and even at other less salubrious gatherings such as pubs and on The Face Book, people have their gripes about divorce. People bend my ears in all sorts of places about their divorce (most recently the bloke advising me about my remortgage who is divorcing his wife..he has no children but it is still taking too long because she is in Pakistan…er. can we get back to my mortgage?). But I tell you what – if Deech came to one of my dinner parties (a highly unlikely scenario for a multitude of reasons) and started banging on about how the law sent me a message that I should just go out and bag a footballer she’d be getting her missisippi mud cake down her frock before leaving. And yes, it would be a mississipi mud cake made by a large supermarket chain.

[Incidentally, during my Xmas clean up I have located enough Tesco crockery tokens to by a set of ramekins for £2.99 a pair - the kind you only ever use for faffy deserts at dinner parties - I was pondering whether it was worth the money since I am highly unlikely ever to get my house in a fit state for guests ever again. I am now going to buy them to prove a point. That's aspirational shopping for ya...]

Anyway, my dander is up because….

Because, Lady Deech, most of us don’t know any millionaire footballers. And, Lady Deech, if we did we would NOT invite them to our dinner parties for the purposes of bagging them. Or even for the purposes of making jokes at their expense to entertain the rest of the guests. Because Lady Deech, we are women with a bit of self respect and an understanding that we are responsible for our own financial futures. And wouldn’t marry a premiership footballer even if he paid us (not even David Beckham though he is LUSH). And because we are not daft enough to marry purely for financial reasons.

Of course, there are women who don’t think that way and who have those Looney Tunes dollar signs in their eyes at the thought of copping off with a rich footballer. But really. Do you think they are representative of women in this country? Because that is, like, SOoooo depressing!

At any rate, most of them are likely to be disappointed on the basis that there aren’t really that many eligible premiership footballers to go around, especially if you discount the ones who have a history of offending, domestic abuse, racism or other unpleasantness (sorry all you footballers who are not like this).

And also, Lady Deech, because I don’t hear you telling my husband, or anyone else’s husband for that matter, that the law tells him to go and bag a rich lad (in point of fact he’s an ex (American) Footballer but I don’t think that counts). And because, Lady Deech, most of us are not really in the premier league when it comes to divorce, and if it came to it we’d be dividing up the debts and the assets based on good old fashioned need, and based on who was going to be working and who was going to be caring, not on the basis of aspirational budgets for manicures, dog grooming and boob jobs. The law certainly wouldn’t do me any favours – should I have gone for a footballer instead?

[Gin break. Make mine a double.]

Right. Onto David Aaronovitch and Abuse inquiry is now a fantasist’s playground.

This is an article in which Aaronovitch expresses his unease at how toxic and hysterical the reactions to the whole CSE inquiry have become, and the risks that the swirling and frenzied debate online and on social media, coupled with encouragement for victims to come forward and report increases the risk that false claims could be made and accepted. I have to say (at my own peril no doubt) that this really rings a bell with me. I have read some really concerning exchanges on twitter and elsewhere recently where there seems to be a complete inability to hold in mind or acknowledge the need for robust scrutiny of allegations and the need for a rigorous evidential approach – it is now totally taboo to suggest that some claims may be inaccurate (inadvertently) or untrue (intentionally) to the point that although I am not suggesting any particular allegation is untrue I feel like I am sticking my head above the parapet to suggest that any might be even inaccurate. Since Saville it seems to be the case that once someone has made an allegation it is somehow outrageous to ask questions. Gasps of horror etc. But Saville was dead. He could not be defamed. He had no right to a fair trial. Many of these alleged perpetrators are alive. And the recent allegations are made amidst a heightened environment which is likely (sadly) to propagate exaggerated or fantasised allegations in some instances. We can’t run this like Saville. And again, I feel I have to say in response to the inevitable comment – no I am not suggesting that Saville was not a sex offender. No I am not an apologist.

Whilst one starts from the proposition in dealing with victims that they are victims, it is quite possible to respectfully and sensitively examine and evaluate the evidence before reaching conclusions about what is and is not sustainable. And more to the point it is essential to do so, in order that valid claims are validated rather than undermined by association. We owe it to everyone involved – victims and perpetrators alike – to calmly and forensically examine allegations to establish their accuracy and to weed out the few that do not withstand scrutiny. Otherwise, if every allegation is treated as de facto, what is the point of an inquiry? And what, frankly, is the point of a trial?

It is that, I suspect, that Baroness [edit : Hale  Butler Sloss – oops!] was talking about when she expressed views (for which she has been lambasted in the Press) about the need to keeping victims at the centre of the CSE inquiry whilst also ensuring that they were not running the show (that’s on page 6 of my Guardian today – Abuse Survivors criticise judge’s hostage claim). She may have been right to resign as chair, but I think she was also right about that (Although I’m not sure if they need to be “establishment” as she suggests, or even what “establishment” means – probably she means someone with sufficient social standing to have the necessary authority but I doubt this is how it will be interpreted). There needs to be some objectivity and I’m struggling to see it at the moment.

And, after that marathon (during which I had a perfect excuse to ignore the children pretending quite convincingly to be werewolves) I feel better. I guess I just needed a dose of ranting…

* thank you Miriam Gonzales Durantes