12th June 2015

The case of Ethan Minnock

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12th June 2015

The case of Ethan Minnock


Rebecca Minnock is a 35 year old mother to 3 year old Ethan. She has hit the headlines recently having literally gone on the run with Ethan. Miss Minnock is separated from Ethan’s father, Roger Williams.

Miss Minnock’s decision to hit the panic button and abscond came in the midst of Children Act 1989 proceedings regarding the care and living arrangements (known as child arrangements) for Ethan.

Following their separation, Mr Williams applied to the Court in March 2013 and has been seeking to establish routines and definition in arrangements for him to spend time with Ethan. This has been generally obstructed and opposed by Miss Minnock over the course of the litigation. Children Act proceedings often take a long time to run through from start to finish and it is not particularly surprising that these proceedings have been lengthy covering a significant period of over two years since the Court process was started. Not all cases take quite that long but complex cases like this one often do.

What has Miss Minnock done wrong exactly? Of course, it is true that Miss Minnock is free to travel or relocate as she sees fit – but only by herself and provided only she is not doing so in order to avoid the authorities or Court summons obligations for example. The trouble arising is that she has taken, or removed, Ethan against the Court’s judgment and without respecting, it would seem, Mr Williams’ parental responsibility rights where he should be consulted over Ethan’s planned movements. He has a right to know where Ethan is and that information is missing not only to him but, seemingly, to the whole world at present. In the circumstances of this case and the legal rights of Miss Minnock and Mr Williams relating to Ethan, no decision could be made by just one of them to go into hiding (or to take Ethan away) as Miss Minnock has done. Furthermore, the Court process (and requirement to attend Court hearings and keep to interim Court orders) cannot just be ignored as Miss Minnock has done ultimately to her own detriment.

After several months of building up Mr Williams’ contact and relationship with Ethan following the start of the proceedings, the Court determined in February 2015 that Ethan should spend four days of the week with Mr Williams and three days with Miss Minnock. Miss Minnock’s reaction has generally been in opposition to that arrangement. She has refused to adhere fully to the February Court order, again only to her detriment ultimately. The final hearing was on 27 May. Miss Minnock did not attend and has been in hiding since just after that time. She is seemingly convinced that the allegations she has made in the course of proceedings against Mr Williams are true although it appears that there is no substantiating and cogent evidence with which to back up her claims. The allegations have not fallen on deaf ears; rather, they are just not considered by the Court to be meritorious on the basis of the evidence (or lack of it) to support those allegations.

Not only has the Court in Miss Minnock’s absence now determined that Ethan shall, eventually, live fully (i.e. 7 days and nights a week) with Mr Williams, but it has also established that the risks Miss Minnock poses to Ethan – not helped by her recent conduct in going into hiding and breaching Court orders – mean that she can only see Ethan for limited periods in the future and only under supervision. Such have been the problems with Miss Minnock’s approach to the case since February (if not before) that social services were brought in to investigate the family circumstances of the case, a child psychiatrist was ordered to prepare expert opinion for the Court and Ethan was allocated a Guardian (to represent his welfare and “voice” in the proceedings). These are quite drastic measures to be taken in the latter stages of Children Act proceedings and are indicative of concerns and problems with the way in which the care and arrangements for Ethan were being conducted by Miss Minnock. The involvement of experts and agencies in the continuing court process uncovered the detrimental impact on Ethan’s welfare arising from the manner of his care by Miss Minnock. The emotional harm that Miss Minnock’s actions are causing to Ethan, as perceived by the Court process and the professional opinion and evidence produced in the case, far outweigh any detrimental impact that she believes is at play by virtue of Ethan living with Mr Williams or spending long periods of time with him.

Having been missing for the best part of a fortnight, a message trickled through to the press via Miss Minnock’s family on 11 June to say that Ethan was safe and well. Whilst that is obviously a relief, it is surprising that, after lengthy litigation, which would have involved countless references to the legal principles governing Children Act cases which centre around Ethan’s welfare, best interests and safeguarding him from harmful actions or omissions of action, Miss Minnock’s approach has been synonymous with an ill-founded belief that the best course of action was to effectively cut Ethan off from the rest of his family and, indeed, the rest of the world through disappearing. That flies entirely in the face of the welfare principle and the wider risk assessments and considerations as to what is in a child’s best interests; these legal concepts are enshrined in the Children Act 1989 and govern the Court’s approach in assessing cases like this one. The harm caused to Ethan in this case, and to Miss Minnock’s own prospects in the case, are self-inflicted by her trying to do what she thinks is best without accepting the authority and decision of the Court.

Clearly, the Court has had the benefit of a wide range of expert and professional opinion to assist in the determination of the case. Indeed, the professional opinions sought were in consensus that Miss Minnock was potentially causing emotional damage to Ethan by virtue or her deep hostility towards Mr Williams arising principally as a result of a raft of allegations against him which it is understood were held by the Court to be spurious. Further, the obstruction of the Court ordered child arrangements which were supposed to be taking place in the interim period between February and the final hearing on 27 May added further damage to Miss Minnock’s own prospects. This has now led to the Court’s final view that Ethan’s best interests will be served most appropriately and suitably by him living with Mr Williams.

Miss Minnock will be in contempt of Court and subject to criminal sanctions once she is found and this whole episode will only serve now to harm her position as an active parent for Ethan in the future. She will be rather on the outside of his life at least in the short and medium term. Going back to the four days and three days arrangement (which she was deeply opposed to) will suddenly look attractive to Miss Minnock in due course but there will be no going back to that level of arrangements in her favour, at least not in the foreseeable future. That opportunity has come and gone. The Court has already, as a result of Miss Minnock’s actions, determined that Ethan shall now live with Mr Williams fully and that Miss Minnock’s contact with Ethan shall be supervised. It is a significant vertical fall by Miss Minnock; the implications of her actions were likely not thought through. If the Court’s decision is to place Ethan under the care of his father then that is what is going to happen, subject to any appeal – the legitimate course of action to consider when in opposition to a Court’s determination. Taking things into her own hands was absolutely the wrong way to go about the matter with devastating and long lasting effects now on Miss Minnock’s position as a party to Court proceedings and parent. She should be encouraged to begin repairing the damage by coming out of hiding and stopping the harm that she continues to cause Ethan. She will need to work with support professionals, the Court and, hopefully in time to come, Mr Williams, in rebuilding trust and her parenting role.

The actions of Miss Minnock have also resulted in wider trouble for her family. Ethan’s grandmother and partner together with Ethan’s aunt and uncle have all been arrested in connection with failing to disclose Ethan’s whereabouts and assist in his recovery. One of them faces contempt charges for allegedly assisting Miss Minnock’s getaway. The case was transferred to the High Court in order to gain powers under its inherent jurisdiction to exercise a range of measures geared towards serving justice, the recovery of Ethan and the compulsion of others to assist reasonably by way of Collection Orders (these orders are designed to compel said individuals to provide information as to Ethan’s whereabouts or assist in the locating of him without withholding that information). The ordinary press restrictions have also been lifted in this case to enable publicity so as to help locate Ethan. As can be seen, Miss Minnock’s actions have led to many legal complexities and complications which affect many people; she cannot hide from these legal issues no matter how long she runs for. As many press outlets have headlined, she is going to be rather in a spot of bother about this when she is eventually tracked down.

As with many family cases of this nature, there is never a winner and a loser. Readers may think Mr Williams has won but has he really? He will be tasked with parenting Ethan virtually 100{ba3215b0bf35eaeb06be458b3396ffbfc50bb9db10c9ff1594dfc3875e90ea48} alone in the future (given the restrictions on Miss Minnock’s contact and subject to any changes to this over time). He will have to one day manage difficult questions about Ethan’s upbringing. Most of all, Mr Williams will be missing the next best person in Ethan’s life who could have contributed so much more in a different world where separated parents do not bring their deep hostilities to Court in cases like this and instead focus on a positive – even if at arms length – co-parenting relationship so as to bring the best out of a child’s future. If there are significant allegations, risks or concerns arising in the context of Children Act proceedings, the Court and other agencies will investigate these and make findings where appropriate which will influence the outcome of the case. That process seems to have been followed without any outcomes supportive of Miss Minnock’s views. For Ethan and thousands of other children with separated parents, it can only be a valuable benefit to them to grow up and understand that whilst their parents no longer live with each other, they are able to communicate and work together as parents for the rest of their lives and not make rash or reckless decisions which will drive a wedge in the co-parenting relationship and, potentially, their own relationship with their child.

Emotions will run high and decisions may be made which are not well-received by all parents in Children Act proceedings. As this case demonstrates, it is best to work with the system that governs disputes between parents over the their children, rather than to take matters into their own hands. Above all however, these cases concern vulnerable and sometimes, as in this case, very young and entirely oblivious children who must be protected and safeguarded from harm. Emotional harm risk assessments fall hand in hand with other types of risk assessments undertaken in Children Act proceedings and this will involve, for example, a consideration of the conditions of the home life, the manner of one’s parenting and the things said, done or omitted in a parent’s actions. An overly hostile approach towards, and opinion of, a child’s other parent is often a doorway to the exposure of emotional harm. Breaching Court orders and not following the guidance of professionals who may be involved in a children case will lead towards a withering away of a parent’s prospects and credibility in the Court’s eyes.

The sooner Ethan is located and the sooner that Miss Minnock can begin the long journey back towards regaining everyone’s trust, and in building her future relationship with Ethan, the better for everyone concerned in this case.