This week I had a radio debate with Nadine O'Connor from Fathers4Justice. This post discusses some of the correspondence that I've received from people associated with F4J since that interview, and leaves readers to reach their own conclusions about what it might say.
I've had a strange experience this week - it's the first that I can recall receiving hate mail. Who is sending me hate mail? Angry dads. Why are they angry at me? Basically because they don't like some of the things that I said in an interview on BBC Radio Solent on Monday morning about proposals to reform family law. Until Sunday 24 June, you can listen to the interview, which features me and Nadine O'Connor from Fathers4Justice, on the BBC website - our bit starts about 12 minutes into the broadcast.
From what I can tell, the interview itself was fairly unremarkable. Mrs O'Connor and I didn't agree about much, but that's to be expected - why have two people there unless they have different views? She was reporting the experiences of F4J based on the people who get in touch with them, and I was talking about the research evidence in so far as it is relevant to the family law reform question.
I would imagine that most people who get in touch with F4J have had difficult experiences with their former partners, the family courts, or both, and the perspective of those people is, of course, one of the many that we should be listening to when thinking about possible reforms. But we should also bear in mind that their voice is only one voice, and it is right at one end of the spectrum - and this is where I hit some nerves of some F4J members.
Consistent findings from at least 3 different research projects have suggested that it is around about 10% of separating couples that end up in court when making arrangements about children's upbringing. (A lot more than that get legal advice - something like 80%, I think - but only about 10% end up in court - lawyers are quite good at negotiating settlements.) But anyway, whether it's a study by the Legal Aid Board in 1998 (para 3.6), a study for the Department for Constitutional Affairs in 2003 (p 39), or a study by the Office for National Statistics in 2008 (p 12), the findings are consistent - about 10% end up in court. The important thing with the ONS study is that it is based on a nationally representative sample which started out with 7,000 interviews. Most people in the sample are not separated parents, of course - they're 7,000 people who, between them, reflect the population of the UK, which means that there is no pre-selection of people based on their court experiences. When this study says that about 10% of people end up with court orders about their children, there's no reason to think it's not right. Obviously we don't know absolutely for certain, but it's reasonably clear that only a small percentage of disputes about children end up being decided by a judge.
I say all this just to set the context, and to explain why it is that I think I was on fairly strong ground with what I said in the interview. I've had a couple of emails back and forth with Mrs O'Connor about this which, for the avoidance of doubt, have been nothing but courteous. Less pleasant, though, have been other emails that I've received and comments written about me by other people associated with F4J. As Mrs O'Connor herself noted in a comment on her public F4J facebook page, some people and organisations refuse to appear at media events alongside F4J because they consider the people associated with F4J to be "bullies". (Since Mrs O'Connor puts links to this F4J facebook page on her Twitter feed, I assume there's no problem with anyone looking at it and with me quoting from it.)
Having set the scene, I'm not going to annotate this story much more, because I think it tells itself. Below, I have reproduced, in full and with no changes or omissions, two emails that I received on Monday from Mr Barry Gaynor and Mr Pete Nicholls. My favourite part about them is the way they are signed off so politely at the end...
Monday 18 June, 13.52
I note that have you used inaccurate data on BBC Radio Solent this morning you claimed that only 10% of cases go to Court to sort out contact, you misquoted inaccurate data by Hunt and Macleod of 2006 which references the incorrect data of the 2003 report by Alison Blackwell and Fiona Dawes ie this data is from a study of contact which was working, not those parents making Applications to Court.
Your work and people like you damage children, I hold you and your ilk responsible for the separation of children from their fathers based on lies. For too long this practiseof quoting lies has been quite common amonst your colleagues.
And am still shocked that this tactic is still allowed and that people with positions of high standing are allowed to poison to debate and spew such damaging and false statistics without any remedy, Until you are held accountable or an apology issued, I will ensure that your name be tarnished throughout the Internet for your mideeds.
Having heard you on BBC Radio Solent this morning I felt compelled to write.
Do you actually know anything about which you speak as a so called expert, and what compelled you to come on the radio so devoid of facts? Humiliating I would have thought.
The 10% you and so many other lazy and frankly ignorant journalists / academics (so called experts) quote is, as Nadine of F4J stated, based on the 2003 Blackwell Dawes report and regurgitated in 2008 by Hunt and Macleod. The 10% figure was wrong in 2003, it was wrong in 2008 and it is still wrong despite an academic who's never been divorced, had children or more importantly lost them to the corrupt courts repeating it. I do wonder if repeating false statistics for so long can really be ignorance, or adherence to some nefarious social engineering agenda. It's just that academics are supposed to be concerned with facts and so few in family law are. One might reasonably ask what's going on. We'll find out soon enough.
I shudder at the thought of an apparently uniformed academic researching relocation in family law due to report later this year. What are our chances? What hope have we that you might actually do the job right, that you might actually realise the human agony of one relocation let alone thousands - or the actual affect upon small children? from being forcibly removed from a loving/loved parent Here's one for you to chew over. As a mother moves around the country, so too the court which hears the case. So if mother continues to move, and forces the case to be transferred repeatedly, how might you go about stopping that without infringing her human rights - rights that in the real world damage children. Of course we could simply resolve the issue as have other states by providing equal status to both mother and father. It stops one parent (read mother) intentionally moving for their own selfish reasons and means the child is guaranteed stability - they can move only when both parents agree. That old idea of cooperation, for the benefit of the child. That's too simple though Rob, doubt there's much research income from that. I see your problem, I really do.
Anyway, I wanted to make sure you knew your were spouting bull re the 10% so I've done my job here today. Hope you had a lovely weekend Rob. Many fathers did not. Having been stopped from seeing their kids without good reason - on Fathers Day. Wonder how many took their lives this year? Now there's a piece of research that's worth doing but I doubt you'd get much funding or kudos in the brave new world of anti-family social engineering.
I didn't reply to either of these two emails. I consider them to be rude and bullying, and I am not interested in trying to defend myself against personal attack when the issues in question are nothing to do with me personally. (These emails may be contrasted with Mrs O'Connor's emails, which were perfectly polite and focused on the research findings, and to which I have replied.) There's obviously lots that I could say about the points raised in these emails, but let's hold fire because there's more to be found when we look at the comments posted on Mrs O'Connor's F4J facebook page.
Mr Nicholls features a number of times. His first contribution to the feed follows from two questions that I was asked in the interview, namely whether I've ever been divorced (no) and whether I have children (no):
"Academics are dangerous. I work with them all the time and am continually astounded by how little they know. Good thing he admitted he's never married or had kids, or stepping inside a family court room. One can see why he's an expert then. Wonder if he's ever considered become a court expert witness, he's more than under qualified for the job."
Just to clarify, Mr Nicholls knows nothing about my relationship status, only that I have never been divorced; and I have, in fact, been in many family courts. The first time was 12 years ago, the most recent was last November, with many visits in between. In any case, my claim to expertise comes from research and study, not from personal experience - on which, see this blog post on research and anecdotes that I wrote a while back.
Mr Nicholls seems very concerned with aspects of my person (as if that affects the Office for National Statistics' research). After finding a link to my Law Faculty webpage, he says: "Its Dr Rob George here, doesn't look old enough to shave let alone father a child".
Mr Nicholls then notes from my profile page that I am researching relocation disputes (on which see my earlier blogs on internal relocation and my current project). With reference to the President of the Family Division of the High Court, Sir Nicholas Wall, Mr Nicholls says this:
"By the way, he's had special dispensation from old Nick (No, not the devil, Sir Nicholas Wall - oh, hang on...) to conduct a study on relocation as a follow up to Payne vs Payne. I wonder what he's going to come out with, one can already guess which way this highly uninformed and biased 'Dr' is going to go."
The funny thing about this comment is that I'm fairly clear in what I've written about relocation before, both in academic writings and here on my blog, that I think there's a good case for reviewing the law and asking more serious questions than the law does now about whether relocations ought to be allowed to go ahead. But hey, in order to know that, Mr Nicholls would have had to bother finding out something about me and my work before going ahead and making his defamatory remarks.
The delightful Mr Gaynor also features briefly on the facebook wall, asking if anyone has my contact details (though he seems to think I'm called Brown):
"Does anyone have Prof Brown's contact details. I would like to bombard him with up to date data regarding this issue and generally take him to task on what he intends to do in order to correct this cruel and damaging error."
So this was my Monday, basically. I spent 10 minutes on the radio and then much of the rest of the day getting abusive emails and disparaging facebook comments. Why have I put it all up here? Because I think it's important that people know that this is going on, and so you can see the extent to which people attempt to attack and discredit individual researchers in order to try to undermine sound research findings which happen not to fit with their own experiences and views.
The implicit and explicit threats made against me in those emails, and the personally and professionally disparaging remarks made about me on the facebook page, speak for themselves.