Family proceedings can be extremely emotive and those involved may be tempted to defy court orders with which they disagree. A father who prompted a nationwide manhunt after going on the run with his autistic son discovered, however, that the price of disobedience can include loss of liberty.
After long and painful proceedings between the boy’s parents, a judge ordered that he should live with his mother. The father was to have supervised contact with him twice a week. The mother encouraged the paternal relationship and was fully supportive of her son having contact with his father.
During a contact visit, however, the father went missing with the boy. The abduction triggered extensive press publicity aimed at finding the youngster, and the police conducted a week-long search before finally tracking them down to a flat in Scotland. Proceedings were subsequently brought against the father, seeking his committal to prison for contempt of court.
The father accepted that he had breached the contact order and that he had planned the abduction in advance. He said that he was traumatised, having been involved in very difficult family proceedings for three years, and felt that he was being removed from his son’s life. He said that he had made a huge mistake and that he always intended to return his son before the start of the next school term.
Ruling on the case, the High Court noted that the abduction was premeditated and that, in order to evade detection, the father purposely did not answer his phone and took steps to ensure that he disappeared digitally. He must have known that the police were searching for him. He gave no thought to the impact of the boy’s disappearance on his mother.
The abduction had a traumatic effect on his vulnerable son. On his return to her, his mother had never seen him so distressed. Press interest in the abduction had left an indelible mark on the internet and the story would never disappear. The mother continued to suffer anxiety and occasional panic attacks.
The father feared that the abduction would compromise his future contact with his son and his professed apology to the Court was more of an expression of sorrow for himself. He had a history of refusing to listen to others or to accept that the mother and family professionals might know better than him what was best for his son. The Court imposed a four-month prison sentence.