Met Police pay £138k damages for assisting child abduction

The English High Court has ordered the Metropolitan Police to pay £137,999.49 in damages to a father whose former wife abducted their son to Brazil. The court found the police had assisted and enabled the mother to carry out the abduction.

Not only did the police officers fail to act when informed by the father that his 3-year old son was about to be abducted, they handed back the son’s passport to the mother and failed to put in place protective measures such as a port alert to stop her leaving the country. The child was taken to Brazil in 2013 and has not returned to the UK.

The Judge, Mrs Justice Hill, found that the police officers violated the father’s rights to family life under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. They failed to follow the Standard Operating Procedure on Child Abduction, which states that the police MUST instigate counter-measures to run in parallel with any civil proceedings brought by a parent. The officers who had dealt with the mother and separately with the father had misunderstood the relevant law and their obligations under it. The father had contacted Reunite to seek their intervention on his behalf. The CEO of Reunite gave evidence in the case that the officers “did not understand the law properly and were dismissive of the advice she tried to give them.”

In making the award, Mrs Justice Hill, said: “It is hard to imagine the Claimant’s [the father’s] distress at the loss of his relationship with his young son. It is clear it has had wide-ranging impacts on his life and will continue to do so.”

While the Child Abduction Act 1984 is UK legislation the Scottish sections of the Act are significantly weaker than those that apply in England and Wales. It isn’t a criminal offence in Scotland for a person connected with a child to remove that child without the appropriate consent unless there is an existing court order.

In England and Wales there is no requirement for a court order to be in place, making it possible for the police to act immediately to prevent abduction. Scottish Child Abduction Reform is a campaign on this issue started by parents whose children have been abducted from Scotland.

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on whether this law should be changed.

Shared Parenting Scotland feels this change is long overdue and further suggests that “unlawful retention” should also be a criminal offence. Unlawful retention describes the situation where a parent takes the child for an agreed “holiday”, but doesn’t return. The recent incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scottish Law strengthens the case for these changes.

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