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Secret Jail

April 25, 2013 permalink

Wanda Maddocks briefly rescued her father from a nursing home where he was committed against his will. For the rescue, and distributing leaflets drawing attention to her case, she was sentenced to five months in jail, but with her identity to be kept secret. Determined journalism by the Daily Mail has disclosed the facts, and secured her release after serving only six weeks. Christopher Booker follows the article with his commentary and a separate article in the Telegraph.



Jailed in secret - for trying to rescue her father from care home where she believed he would die

  • Wanda Maddocks is first person to be imprisoned by Court of Protection
  • It settles the affairs of people too ill to make their own decisions
  • Jailed because she ignored orders not to try to remove her father from home

A woman was jailed ‘in secret’ for trying to remove her father from a care home where his family thought he was in danger of dying.

Wanda Maddocks, 50, is the first person known to be imprisoned by the Court of Protection, which settles the affairs of people too ill to make their own decisions.

A judge ruled that she should go to prison for five months for contempt of court even though she was not present or represented by a lawyer.

Details of the case were made public for the first time yesterday and provoked a fresh row over behind-closed-doors justice.

Wanda Maddocks John Maddocks
Secret 'justice': Wanda Maddocks, left, was jailed for taking her father John, right, out of his care home against the instructions of a court order that he should not be moved

Miss Maddocks, who served six weeks of her sentence, was jailed because she ignored the court’s orders not to try to remove her father John from Park Hall care home in Bentilee, a suburb of Stoke on Trent.

She was condemned for incidents including taking the 80-year-old dementia sufferer to a court hearing and to see a solicitor.

She was also censured for producing a leaflet to try to publicise details of the case and giving her father a wooden cross ‘to ward off evil’ in the care home.

Her family said Mr Maddocks, a retired painter and decorator from Stoke-on-Trent, had been held ‘like a prisoner’ on the orders of a local council.

Miss Maddocks was initially not allowed to be named after the hearing and was identified only by her initials WM.

And the court’s ruling containing details of her sentence was not published.

The Court of Protection is a branch of the High Court and its hearings are always conducted in private.

Judge Martin Cardinal merely went through the motions of observing open justice when he handed down his sentence.

He ordered the doors of his courtroom in Birmingham to be unlocked and told ushers to announce in the corridor that members of the public were free to come in.

Foston Hall
Miss Maddocks was jailed on September 11 last year after the sentencing in her absence by the Court of Protection in Birmingham, and sent to Foston Hall prison in Derby

But there was no wider announcement of the judgment and no-one who was not directly involved is thought to have attended.

The ban on naming Miss Maddocks was lifted because there was no reason for it to remain in place after her release. Mr Maddocks has since died.

Closed courtroom: Judge Martin Cardinal jailed Ms Maddocks for five months and merely 'went through the motions' of observing open justice when he handed down his sentence by ordering the doors of his courtroom in Birmingham to be unlocked

He separated from wife June more than 30 years ago. She remarried but now suffers from Parkinson’s Disease.

The extraordinary case began when the grandfather-of-one was found collapsed at his own home last year.

He was placed in a care home and the local authority applied for a legal order which said he must stay there.

These are introduced when officials believe someone could be at risk of harm, and put the Official Solicitor in charge of their affairs.

After a few months Miss Maddocks’ brother Ivan took him out of the care home for lunch.

Miss Maddocks was alerted and flew her father to Turkey, where she owns a number of properties.

They stayed for 13 weeks before returning to Britain, and her father went to a different care home.

Mr Maddocks said: ‘Wanda was certain she could care for him herself but the social services said he had to be put in the home. Wanda was very angry that they were taking Dad away from us.’

Miss Maddocks, a former buy-to-let landlord, was jailed on September 11 last year after the sentencing in her absence by the Court of Protection in Birmingham.

She was freed from Foston Hall prison in Derby on November 1 after returning to the court to purge her contempt by apologising to the judge.

Judge Cardinal said in his ruling that ‘there is a history of the family being difficult with the local authority’ and that Miss Maddocks knew she had been ordered not to interfere with her father.

He said she had done so on a number of occasions. On one she took him from his care home to attend a court hearing. On another she took him to Birmingham to talk to a solicitor.

The judge recorded that she also gave her father a wooden cross ‘to prevent the evil in the home from hurting him’.

Miss Maddocks also ‘produced and distributed a leaflet prior to and during the final hearing giving details of the case, containing a photograph of her father and other information so as to identify him and that is in breach of Court of Protection rules.’

Miss Maddocks was said to have left a long and abusive message on a social worker’s voicemail describing ‘you in your tarty little stuck up voice’ and to have called council staff names including ‘arrogant little cunning b*******’.

In one message she said: ‘I hope you all end up where my Dad is and I hope you all end up cursed.’

Judge Cardinal said she had ‘the attitude of someone who is simply not going to obey court orders’.

He said Miss Maddocks was causing her father ‘very considerable grief’ and ‘it seems to be only right she should go to prison’.

But the whistleblowing MP who first learned of the case, Lib Dem John Hemming, said: ‘The jailing of people in secret for contempt is not supposed to happen.

‘No records have been collected. I believe the judges have broken the rules of their own courts, but nobody is doing anything about it.’

‘One of the charges against the woman was that she took her father from his care home to see a solicitor. We now live in a country where ordinary people get locked up for taking their father to see a lawyer. Even in Iran they do not jail people for taking legal advice.’

Councillor Gwen Hassall, Stoke-on-Trent city council cabinet member for social services, said: ‘This is clearly an extreme case, but one that the Court of Protection supported the council on. It was the court’s decision to issue a custodial sentence to Wanda Maddocks.

‘Our chief concern was always centred around the welfare of her father, who was suffering from a deteriorating condition and required 24-hour supervision in a stable environment.

‘This was a decision reached by medical consultants, geriatricians, social workers, community psychiatric nurses, dieticians, consultant health and nursing professionals and others who were involved in assessing his needs.’

She added: ‘This decision was also ratified by the Court of Protection, which carried out its own independent assessment of his needs.

‘Unfortunately safeguards had to be put in place to ensure he had the support of a stable environment because there were no signs that this could be provided otherwise.

'Safeguards also had to be put in place to protect the care professionals who looked after Mr Maddocks.’ Court Thats Dogged By Controversy They Treated Our Dad Like A Prisoner

The sinister spread of justice behind closed doors, writes Christopher Brooker

Today’s revelations in the Mail about Wanda Maddocks, the woman imprisoned by a judge for trying to remove her 80-year-old father from a care home where he was being held against his family’s wishes, are truly shocking.

Most disturbing of all is that it is only thanks to persistent inquiries by the Mail that we know of her fate at all — for the court heard the case in secret and chose not to publish the ruling containing details of her sentence.

The court that conducted itself in this manner is the mysterious and secretive Court of Protection, set up in 2005 under the Labour government’s Mental Capacity Act to give state officials quite extraordinary powers over the lives of people who are deemed no longer fit to handle their own affairs.

Miss Maddocks was found guilty of contempt because she ignored the Court of Protection’s orders not to interfere with her father’s life in the care home.

What angered the judge and the council involved, Stoke-on-Trent, was not just that she took her father away but that she desperately tried to publicise what was happening to him by writing a leaflet about it.

Of course, the case is complicated and highly emotive — one in which family members concerned for their ailing, elderly father are pitted against professionals and state employees who insist they know better.

But it is also part of a deeply worrying trend of secret justice taking hold across Britain, where journalists, the public and even defendants are barred from hearing evidence, while those in the dock often have no legal representation.

The Court of Protection is making huge numbers of judgments in secret which devastate families such as that of Wanda Maddocks.

Only this week, there was the tragic case of a 64-year-old mother from a working-class family who left her husband and ran off with her neighbour to the Midlands, without an explanation.

The family spent months trying to track her down, and finally found her in a nursing home after she had suffered a massive stroke that left her needing 24-hour care. When they called to see her, the nursing home — claiming she had written letters saying she wanted to break off contact with them — called the police.

After hearing the evidence in secret, the judge decided the family should no longer have contact with their mother — even though an American forensic expert who used computer analysis on handwriting testified that he was ‘99.9 per cent’ certain the letters were written by the man she ran off with.

For months I have been following a terrifying case involving a council which cannot be named, and which has similarly been hidden away from public view by another judge of the same Court of Protection.

The story would make your hair curl. But because it is under the aegis of the Court of Protection, I am forbidden from reporting on it at all. None of its details can be made public.

Local press that did cover the story so irked the council and the judge that other media were told that any further reporting of the case would be a contempt of court, punishable by imprisonment.

Like the case of Miss Maddocks, it highlights a tendency to allow Britain’s courts to hide their workings from public view behind a wall of secrecy.

The Mail mounted a hard-hitting campaign for open justice after the Government proposed last year that judges could be allowed to hold secret hearings in terrorist cases, on the grounds that allowing these to be reported might be damaging to ‘national security’.

Similar concerns have been expressed over the fear that the Leveson inquiry might trigger a massive extension in the powers of judges to throw up a blanket of secrecy around other types of cases they are hearing, such as those involving celebrities keen to preserve their reputation.

But the terrifying fact is that we already have a whole swathe of secret courts in this country, where judges are allowed to exclude the public and the Press, and to issue draconian gagging orders to prevent anything being reported of what goes on.

Any breach of those orders can be ruled a contempt of court, punishable not just by imprisonment but by the confiscation of an offender’s possessions.

One of the most glaring examples of justice behind closed doors is to be found in the extraordinary goings on of our so-called ‘child protection’ system, where social workers using family courts can too often tear families apart for the flimsiest and most dubious of reasons,

In such cases, all the normal principles of British justice can be turned on their heads. The rules, which in criminal courts require evidence to be put to a proper test, can be routinely ignored.

Social workers and lawyers can trot out hearsay allegations which are accepted by the court as if they were proven fact, ‘expert psychologists’ are paid thousands of pounds to come up with patently ridiculous reports, which parents fearful that they may lose their children for ever are not permitted to question.

What is so shocking to parents who fall foul of this system — as I have learned from talking to scores of them over the years — is how they can find themselves being treated, without any need for proof, as criminals, having to listen to any kind of allegation being made against them without being given a right of reply.

The point is that none of these abuses could take place if the judges had not been allowed to hide away the workings of these courts behind a far greater wall of secrecy than anything intended by the politicians who passed the supposedly well-meaning Acts of Parliament which gave them their powers in the first place.

The overwhelming moral of all this is that wherever courts are allowed to operate in secret, the system is likely to be corrupted.

Few things are more sinister in Britain today than all those pressures to extend even further that suffocating blanket of secrecy, for we can already see — as in the frightening case of Miss Maddocks and the Court of Protection — how easily it can lead to any sense of justice being thrown out of the window.

Source: Daily Mail

The opposition to secret courts is gathering pace

Justice should never been conducted in secrecy. Just look at the family courts

sinister preview of secret courts
Family courts give us a sinister preview of how secret courts would operate
Photo: ALAMY

Two days running last week another newspaper gave huge space to the shocking story of Wanda Maddocks, a middle-aged woman sentenced in her absence to five months in prison for removing her aged father from a care home where he had been placed against his family’s wishes by Stoke-on-Trent social workers.

What made this story still more disturbing was that, until her father died, the entire case, including her imprisonment, was shrouded in secrecy by a mysterious body known as the Court of Protection. This was set up under the 2005 Mental Capacity Act, giving the state draconian new powers to take over the lives and property of those deemed unfit to look after their own affairs. The newspaper that reported this has been running a campaign against the Government’s proposals to allow judges to sit in secrecy on cases involving “national security”.

More than once I have argued in The Sunday Telegraph that it is all very well to protest at the implications of future proposals, but what of the terrifying evidence we already have that allowing courts to sit in secret can lead to all kinds of abuse? It is precisely this that has led to the mockery of justice that takes place behind the closed doors of our family courts, where parents whose children have been removed from them by social workers for no good reason routinely find the most basic principles of British justice stood on their head.

When the newspaper broke its story about Maddocks, I was pleased to be asked, thanks to my reporting here in The Sunday Telegraph, to add a commentary explaining how the need for its campaign against secret courts is confirmed by what already goes on in our family courts. I was even able to give a similar story to the Maddocks case – and just as horrifying: a Court of Protection judge has been able to prohibit reporting of a case involving an old man being held by social workers in a care home apparently against his and his family’s wishes – apart from a disgracefully one-sided account, written from the viewpoint of the social workers and merely based on the court judgment.

Delighted as I am to see another newspaper adding a powerful voice to this campaign to expose what goes so hideously wrong when courts can hide their workings from public view, we have a mighty battle on our hands. New examples come up every day of how this secrecy allows abuse of the Human Rights Act, which judges are supposed to uphold. One of these involves Vicky Haigh, the former racehorse trainer and mother of a two-year-old child, who was again, last Wednesday, arrested and sent back to prison, for what appear to be very odd reasons indeed. On this I shall report next week.

Source: Telegraph (UK)

John Hemming notes that 237 words from a social worker can get a man deprived of his liberty. The court hears only one party, and sometimes the event takes place over the phone.



Court of Protection: Out-of-hours process is one-sided and inherently unfair - and it must change

It only takes 237 words written by a single social worker on form COP3 (a Court of Protection “Assessment of Capacity” application) for a judge to decide to imprison someone in a care home. I know because I counted the words in the assessment relating to case I am involved with.

What The Independent has uncovered is that many of these decisions are taken without a court hearing. Instead, they are made on the phone, and often with only one side present. Single-sided hearings are inherently unfair, as it is difficult for the judge to refuse what is requested.

Obviously, there are situations where people’s liberty does need to be constrained for their own good or for that of others. But as it stands, the system is currently very one-sided.

I welcome the fact that one judge spoke to someone who was said not to have capacity and decided on the basis of the phone call that they did have capacity. It is difficult for the judges to challenge the experts and expert witnesses come under a lot of pressure from local authorities to come up with the conclusions that the councils want.

Because people on a low income don’t have to pay for care at home, but can have their home taken if they are in a care home, local authorities may find a financial advantage in caring for such people in care homes.

John Maddocks, whose daughter Wanda was imprisoned in secret for taking him to see a solicitor, died from “poor oral intake” and dehydration weighing only 48 kilos (7st 6lb) with a BMI of 16.8 in a care home.

Previously “on the run” with his daughter in Turkey he had been 85 kilos. He was a “self-funding” resident because he owned his own home.

The Government, however, turns a blind eye to all of this. It is complacent about the fact that it doesn’t know what is going on. It uses the lack of evidence as to what is happening to justify not collecting any evidence.

What is needed is for the Justice Select Committee to investigate what happens in individual cases. I am tabling a motion to call for this today.

Select Committees have generally refused to look at individual cases, but without that it is not possible to understand what is happening.

John Hemming, MP is chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Family Law and the Court of Protection

Source: The Independent (London)