Press one of the expand buttons to see the full text of an article. Later press collapse to revert to the original form. The buttons below expand or collapse all articles.
Happy Birthday (from Secret Jail)
May 31, 2013 permalink
Father Garry Johnson was the subject of an extraordinary gagging order from a British family court. He had custody of his two sons but under supervision of social services. As part of the custody agreement he was not permitted to name his sons in public. The order ran not during the childhood of his sons, but for life. On his son's twenty-first birthday, Garry posted a message to him on Facebook. He was called before a secret tribunal without warning of the seriousness of the matter and immediately jailed. Already in poor cardiac health, he suffered a heart attack from his treatment.
Secret court jails father for sending son 21st birthday greeting on Facebook after he was gagged from naming him
- Garry Johnson breached gagging order stopping him publicly naming son
- 46-year-old brought up his son and still lives with him
- Judge sent father to prison for contempt at a closed-doors family court
- Case certain to fuel concerns about Britain’s network of secret courts
A father has been jailed at a secret court hearing for sending a Facebook message to his grown-up son on his 21st birthday.
Garry Johnson, 46, breached a draconian gagging order which stops him publicly naming his son, Sam, whom he has brought up and who still lives with him.
In a case which is certain to fuel concerns about Britain’s shadowy network of secret courts, a judge sent the former music executive to prison for contempt at a closed-doors family court hearing in Essex at the beginning of last month.
He was not arrested by police or even represented by a lawyer.
The order silencing Mr Johnson – which follows an acrimonious divorce eight years ago – means he cannot mention either of his boys, 21-year-old Sam and Adam, 18, in public, even by congratulating them in a local newspaper announcement when they get engaged, married or have children in the future.
The extraordinary gag is set to last until the end of his life, although his boys are now adults. Last night they condemned their father’s jailing as ‘cruel and ludicrous’.
After their parents’ divorce, the two boys chose to live with their father, following a series of rows with their mother over her new boyfriend.
But within a year of the divorce, Mr Johnson’s ex-wife made allegations to Essex social workers that he was neglecting the children and not feeding them properly at his smart family home.
An investigation by social workers cleared him of any wrongdoing and said the boys were fine.
A year later, in 2006, she made further allegations to social workers that he was mentally unfit to care for the boys.
Medical documents shown to the Mail by Sam and Adam reveal that Mr Johnson was examined three times by a local psychiatrist hired by social workers. The doctor wrote to social workers saying:
‘There is no evidence of mental illness. I cannot understand why there are concerns about Mr Johnson’s mental health.’
Social services refused, as a result, to get involved.
In 2007, the ex-wife started private care proceedings to remove the boys from their father. A judge put the boys under a ‘living at home with parent’ care order.
It meant they would continue to live with their father, but under supervision by social services.
This care order was accompanied by the gagging order to stop an increasingly anguished Mr Johnson talking about the case publicly.
Even naming his sons in the most innocuous circumstances – such as on Facebook – became a contempt of court.
The care order on Sam expired on his 18th birthday three years ago. The one on Adam in October last year when he reached 18. Normally, a gagging order imposed by a family court judge on a parent expires at the same time as a care order on the child. This one did not.
Mr Johnson was imprisoned at the height of the Mail’s campaign against jailings by this country’s network of secret courts.
The secretive family court system, which jailed Mr Johnson, deals with custody wrangles, children’s care orders and adoption.
Mr Johnson received a letter in late April from Chelmsford County Court officials ordering him to go to Basildon Magistrates’ Court building on May 2 for a hearing regarding his children.
He was not warned he might face imprisonment or that the hearing was about his Facebook message, posted on Sam’s birthday a few days earlier on April 23.
On arrival, he was escorted by court security guards to a private room in the building for a half hour hearing under family court rules before His Honour Judge Damien Lochrane.
He was not warned that he might need a lawyer.
At the private hearing, Mr Johnson learned he had breached a gagging order, imposed by the family courts in 2007, by sending the Facebook message.
He informed the judge that he had had four heart attacks and was awaiting a triple by-pass operation. But he was sentenced to 28 days’ jail and sent down to a court cell to await transport to Chelmsford prison.
In the court cell, he had a heart attack caused by the shock. Rushed to a local hospital by ambulance, he was then shackled and handcuffed to a bed while on oxygen and receiving morphine.
A team of prison officers were put on 24-hour shifts beside his bed to make sure he did not escape.
He recovered and was sent to prison two days later, serving two weeks of the sentence before being released. Details of the horrifying case were made public to the Mail by his sons, who are not subject to any gagging order according to their Essex-based lawyer, Alan Foskett.
The jailing provoked a horrified response from MPs last night. John Hemming, the Lib Dem MP who has campaigned against the secret courts, said: ‘This is yet another example of how the secret courts are stopping freedom of speech. I have never heard of a gagging order of this kind going on into adulthood. This is a surreal case.’
Mr Johnson’s local MP, John Baron, said: ‘I have helped Mr Johnson and his sons – who always wanted to live with him – over several years. To find he has been imprisoned for sending a birthday message to one of them is troubling.
‘Whilst I appreciate the need to protect children, the family court system often ignores the legitimate wishes of families. This needs to change, and quickly.’
Sam, a telesales manager and former professional footballer, said last night: ‘My dad is a good father and has never been in trouble with the police. He was treated like a criminal. This ludicrous gagging order should not exist and must now be lifted.
Both Adam and myself are adults. This cruel ruling is now hanging over my father to silence him about the sons he loves for the rest of his life. That is a terrible thing in what is meant to be a free country.’
Mr Johnson was imprisoned a day before senior judges, on May 3, reacted to the Mail campaign by saying they planned to stop courts jailing defendants in secret for contempt.
The Ministry of Justice this week said that it does not count up people jailed by the family courts because the numbers are ‘so small’.
A spokesman said of the courts: ‘It is very rare for anyone to be imprisoned for contempt of court and it only ever happens in extreme circumstances when a person has continually disregarded legally binding requirements made by the court and clearly communicated to them.
‘A person accused of contempt of court will always be given their full legal right to defend himself or herself at a hearing will always be heard in an open court.’
However, it is estimated by campaigners and MPs that up to 200 parents a year are imprisoned for contempt by the family courts. Because of the controversial secrecy rules, some have been sent to jail for discussing their case with MPs or charity workers advising them.
Source: Daily Mail