High court overturns “presumption of contact” for violent father

It’s a victory that a high court judge has overturned a ruling allowing former Tory minister Andrew Griffiths to see his child after he was found to have raped and physically abused his wife. But there are thousands of less high-profile mothers who are in similar situations and are being forced to allow violent fathers to have contact with children, accused of “parental alienation” and under the threat that the children will be put in foster care or given to the perpetrator if they don’t. The “presumption of contact” must not apply to abusive fathers. The Harm Report raised this almost two years ago and nothing has changed. It must!

By Kate Dennett For Mailonline

  • Andrew Griffiths, 51, pressurised his ex-wife Kate Griffiths into sexual activity
  • The couple split and he quit as an MP in 2018 after sending sexts to a barmaid
  • The former couple became embroiled in a family dispute, centring on a child Judge overruled a ruling allowing Mr Griffiths to have ‘direct contact’ with child

A former Conservative minister found to have raped and physically abused his ex-wife has been told by a High Court judge he cannot see his child for the time being.

Mrs Justice Arbuthnot overturned a ruling by a lower-ranking family court judge allowing Andrew Griffiths, who was MP for Burton, to have ‘direct contact’, meaning face-to-face contact, with the child he shares with his ex-wife Kate.

The judge ruled that the order for direct contact should be ‘set aside’ and would be reconsidered at a later stage.

It comes after Mr Griffiths, 51, was found to have pressurised Ms Griffiths, who is the current Tory MP for Burton, into engaging in sexual activity, and used ‘coercive and controlling behaviour’, Judge Elizabeth Williscroft concluded in December.

The couple split in 2018 when it emerged that he had been sexting two barmaid constituents, sending over 2,000 explicit messages. He was forced to quit as a minister after the revelations of the texts in July 2018.

Mr Griffiths, a former small business minister, and his ex-wife have since become embroiled in an ongoing family court dispute, centred on a child.

Ms Griffiths had raised concern about the amount of contact Mr Griffiths should have with their child – and made a series of allegations about the way he had treated her when they were married.

Judge Williscroft had ruled that Mr Griffiths could have ‘direct contact’ with the youngster, but Mrs Justice Arbuthnot overturned the ruling on Thursday.

Mrs Griffiths had appealed against the ruling made by Judge Williscroft, with her barrister Charlotte Proudman telling Mrs Justice Arbuthnot that Judge Williscroft was ‘wrong to order direct contact’.

She argued the judge had failed to ‘consider the short, medium, and long-term harm of contact on the mother and the child’, and failed to consider Mr Griffiths’ ‘capacity to appreciate the effect of past domestic abuse’.

Ms Griffiths also appealed against Judge Williscroft’s decision that she should share the costs of using a contact centre, where Mr Griffiths would see the child under supervision, with her ex-husband.

Ms Proudman told Mrs Justice Arbuthnot that Judge Williscroft was ‘wrong’ to say that Ms Griffiths, a ‘victim of rape’, should ‘share the costs of supervised contact with her rapist’.

Mrs Justice Arbuthnot, who considered Ms Griffiths’ appeal at a hearing in October, ruled that Judge Williscroft’s order for direct contact should be ‘set aside’ – and said it would be reconsidered at a later stage in proceedings.

She indicated that, if a judge decided in future that direct contact should take place, the issue relating to payment of the costs of contact should also be reconsidered.

Mrs Justice Arbuthnot said a judge would have to decide whether the case fell into a ‘wholly exceptional’ category in relation to contact costs.

The judge said: ‘The order for direct contact is set aside. The order that the mother pay … contact costs is set aside.’

During the ongoing family dispute, Ms Griffiths made a series of allegations about the way her ex-husband had treated her when they were married. They are now divorced.

She claimed that he raped her in her sleep and put his hands on her throat during their relationship. She has not made a complaint to police. Mr Griffiths ‘strongly denied’ the allegations.

Judge Williscroft concluded at an earlier stage of proceedings that Mr Griffiths raped and physically abused Ms Griffiths while they were married.

She made the ruling, on the balance of probabilities, at a private hearing after being asked to make findings of fact in November 2020. The findings were initially kept private but have now been made public.

Mr Griffiths had ‘strongly denied’ allegations made by Ms Griffiths – and denied rape. 

The judge said it seemed to her that it had ‘never crossed Andrew Griffiths’ mind’ that Ms Griffiths would not do what he liked her to do. She said Mr Griffiths had ‘undermined’ Ms Griffiths’ ‘self-esteem’. 

He accepted that he had called Ms Griffiths ‘fat and lazy’. The judge said Ms Griffiths had ‘proved in her oral evidence to me’ that Mr Griffiths ‘did rape her when sexual intercourse took place’. 

She said Ms Griffiths’ allegations had been ‘confirmed’ by Mr Griffiths’ ‘responses’.

‘Andrew Griffiths adamantly denied these allegations saying he had never had any form of sexual contact that was not consensual,’ said Judge Williscroft. ‘I could not accept there was sexual ‘give and take’ in their relationship.’    

Ms Griffiths, who gave evidence behind a screen at court hearings so she could not see Mr Griffiths, had also given accounts of ‘physical abuse’. 

The judge said she found those accounts ‘proved’. 

She alleged that during an argument he knelt on her and put his hands on her throat, trying to strangle her. Mr Griffiths said no assault had taken place. 

Judge Williscroft said she ‘preferred’ Ms Griffiths’ account. The judge found that Mr Griffiths had pushed Mrs Griffiths when she was heavily pregnant. 

She said there had been an argument about Mr Griffiths’ ‘continued wish’ that Ms Griffiths should move to London with him.  

Three appeal judges recently ruled that Judge Williscroft’s findings could be made public after a 12-month legal fight by two media organisations – Tortoise and PA Media.

Ms Griffiths waived her right to anonymity and supported the fight by two journalists, saying publication would allow her to help constituents.

Mr Griffiths ‘strongly denied’ allegations made against him and argued that the family court judge’s findings should not be made public.

He said the judge’s findings should stay private in order to protect the child at the centre of the case.

Judges have ruled that neither the gender nor the name of the child can be revealed in media reports.

Mr Griffiths resigned as an MP in 2018 after a Sunday newspaper reported he sent ‘depraved’ messages to two constituents. 

He demanded they send him something ‘f****** filthy’ and told them he would rather be ‘licking naughty girls’ instead of ‘running the country’. 

Mr Griffiths was said to have bombarded a 28-year-old barmaid and her friend with lewd comments over social media during a three-week period. 

He also gave the pair £700 to and offered to rent out a flat so that they could hook up while demanding they send him something ‘f****** filthy’. 

Ms Griffiths stood against her disgraced husband when he tried to be reselected, and the local Tory party selected her as candidate and she won the constituency.