In a decision which underlined that those who endure harassment need not suffer in silence, the country’s top family judge has come to the aid of social workers who received a string of ‘menacing’ emails from an irate father.
The father’s young son had been placed for adoption by a judge and his response was to mount a terrifying campaign against professionals involved in the case. He sent a series of 14 emails, asking social workers, “How do you sleep at night?” and telling them, amongst other things, “Soon your tyranny will end.”
The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, said that the emails had ‘a pervading tone of menace’ and included personalised attacks. They also violated court orders and plainly amounted to a contempt of court. The judge added, “This was quite plainly harassment, not just pestering, but psychological intimidation. It was deliberate…it is a bad case.”
Whilst acknowledging that it is vital in a democratic society that the public has the right to criticise officialdom, he concluded, “There is a fundamental difference between ideas, views, opinions, comments or criticisms, however strongly or even offensively expressed, and harassment, intimidation, threats or menaces. The one is, and must be, jealously safeguarded; the other can legitimately be prevented.”
The finding of contempt meant that the father faced a maximum jail term of two years. However, the judge adjourned the case to allow further monitoring of his behaviour and to give the relevant local authority an opportunity to decide whether it would be appropriate to seek his imprisonment.