Re AA & 25 Others

October 29, 2019

Judgment has been handed down in Re AA & 25 others [2019] EWFC 64  – the largest known family law case to be heard – in which 17 members of St John’s Buildings were involved.

The case arose from a police investigation into a potential paedophile ring. At its core were allegations of sexual abuse made by three sisters against their grandfather, step-grandmother and 20 family members and their friends.

A team of 44 police officers undertook the investigation. Children’s services in four local authorities became involved, leading to there being 15 linked cases which the high court determined should be heard together.

The trial was listed for 15 weeks. The materials amounted to in excess of 42,000 pages and the court had to seat 120 people.

In his judgment, Sir Mark Hedley states “This was the most complex trial in which I have ever been involved.”

The court found that no paedophile ring existed. The grandfather’s behaviour “…frequently and increasingly crossed the line from spontaneous affection to sexual gratification” with the eldest girl and he had begun to act in this way to the younger two. However the court found that the two younger girls had been subjected to penetrative abuse “not remotely to the extent suggested by their disclosures” but that he could not identify the perpetrators  “[a]ccordingly, we are left in the position of having two girls who are undoubtedly victims of child sexual abuse. However, the extent to which they have been abused, when, where and by whom they have been abused, remains unknown. It could just be an isolated act, or, more likely, something rather more extended.”

Sir Mark “found that much of what is alleged is fantasy and it is not possible to identify the dividing line between fact and fantasy in this case. That is in part because, whilst I have found there has been an exposure to pornography, it is not possible to say what or how much, and, therefore, it is not possible to define the part it has actually played in these allegations or the extent to which they have extrapolated pornographic information and applied it to other parts of the body.” Beyond the court making no findings of fact against the family (beyond the grandparents) Sir Mark specifically exonerated 15 people.

He went on to say: “I hope I may be allowed specifically to address my gratitude to counsel… All this has been achieved without in any way counsel compromising their duty to safeguard and promote the interests of their individual clients. All that I wish to acknowledge and I am grateful for it.”

Karl Rowley QC represented the lead local authority together with Lorraine Cavanagh QC and Eleanor Keehan. Also involved were: Frances Heaton QC, Frances Judd QC, Clare Grundy, Shaun Spencer, Clare Porter-Philips, Damian Sanders, Ginnette Fitzharris, Rachael Banks, Kate Burnell, Peta Harrison, Lucinda France-Hayhurst, Mark Senior, Linda Sweeney, and Neil Christian.

The full judgment can be read here.