Grandmother Jailed for Hugging her Granddaughter*
By Sue Reid
Kathleen said she was prepared to go to prison again, as she awaits investigation over rescuing her granddaughter from Crewe
For one all-too-short week this month, Kathleen Danby’s 20-year-old granddaughter was on top of the world.
She was eating her favourite meals, sleeping in her own bedroom, and hoping for a job at a wildlife sanctuary in an idyllic corner of Britain where her grandmother has a family house.
It was a fresh start for Janine, who for the past two years has been forced by a shadowy English court to live in a supervised care home where, according to her and her grandmother, she ‘does nothing but sleep or watch videos’ and feels ‘like a prisoner’.
Ten days ago, Janine decided enough was enough. She ran away from the home in the Midlands and took a train to Crewe.
Then, standing alone on the station platform, she rang her grandmother for help.
‘My granddaughter said she could not bear the home anymore,’ diminutive Mrs Danby, a 74-year-old pensioner, told me yesterday.
Kathleen Danby is pictured here with her grandchildren, whose faces are obscured for legal reasons
‘She had hidden in the toilet on the train to get to Crewe because she did not have the money for a ticket. She was penniless and wandering around one of the busiest rail stations in the country.
‘Of course I helped her. She is my granddaughter, and I love her.
‘I rang a local hotel in Crewe and paid for her to have a room for the night. I said stay there until I can get to you.
‘I live in the Scottish islands, so it took until the next day for me to arrive there. Then I brought her back with me.’
But this act of kindness has landed the grandmother in hot water. Bizarre though it sounds, there is a court order banning all contact between her and her granddaughter.
In 2014, Mrs Danby made national headlines when she was imprisoned simply for hugging Janine when, while visiting friends, she met her granddaughter by chance in the city where the girl lives.
Mrs Danby was sent to prison by the secretive Court of Protection, which has draconian powers to make far-reaching rulings about almost every aspect of a citizen’s life, and often their relatives’ lives, too.
Pictured, Kathleen Danby talks outside court after being arrested for contacting her granddaughter in 2014
The Family Court judges presiding over it can compel people to undergo surgery, use contraception, or have abortions. They can decide if a life support system is switched off, where a person lives — and with whom — whether a marriage is annulled, and whether a last will and testament is torn up.
Just as controversially, the court’s judges can put someone in a hospital or a care home for as long as the State deems it to be in their ‘best interests’. In other words, the life of that person, who may be mentally impaired, vulnerable, or simply old, is under the control of the court — and woe betide the relative who tries to break the rules imposed by the judges.
Plenty of people who have done so have been sent to prison for contempt of court, which is why grey-haired Mrs Danby, a former secretary, is now facing the threat of prison for a second time.
The real scandal here is that we still don’t know — and never will — quite why the court placed such a draconian order on Janine and her family. Clearly, the judge may know things we don’t, which would explain their decisions.
But on the face of it, Mrs Danby is an utterly sympathetic woman, which makes this legal straitjacket all the more mystifying.
As she said yesterday: ‘I was scared for my granddaughter when she called me from Crewe.
‘She was highly delighted when I found her. What grandmother would turn her back on their grandchild in those circumstances?’
But the reunion between the pair lasted only a few days. After Janine was rescued by Mrs Danby, the local police, alerted by staff at the supervised home from where the girl had gone missing and who knew where Kathleen Danby lives, made a visit to ask if she was safe and well.
Janine responded: ‘I’m fine. I’m happy,’ and the officers went away, content, apparently, that the girl was telling the truth.
Yet last Wednesday, as the two walked down the main street of Mrs Danby’s small town after shopping and having lunch at the local garden centre, they were confronted by two male social workers from Janine’s supervised accommodation.
They had flown up there and proceeded to tell Janine she must leave her grandmother, and her father (Mrs Danby’s son), who lives nearby, and return to the supervised care home.
Mrs Danby says: ‘Janine saw them first. She recognised the two men. She began crying and trying to hide behind me. In such a small place, everyone was watching the fuss going on.’
The local police were called in again — this time to help corral the girl. They put Janine in a car and drove her to the airport. The two social workers then took her back to the Midlands.
‘I begged them not to take her,’ says Mrs Danby. ‘Janine was beside herself, but they wouldn’t listen. They said they had a court order and that was that.
‘It was the end of our happy time together, and I’m sure she is distraught. I am certain she will run away again.’
The astonishingly resilient Mrs Danby, who has no criminal record, first collided head-on with the Court of Protection over Janine’s care two years ago.
On a Sunday night, within minutes of taking her seat at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall to watch Ken Dodd, she was told by the doorman that there was someone to see her. She went outside and found two police officers, who arrested her.
Unbeknown to Mrs Danby, she had been sentenced in her absence to three months in prison for embracing her granddaughter.
Social workers had been tipped off that the two had met, and then went through street CCTV film until they found the scene of the two hugging. They then reported the grandmother to the Court of Protection for breaching the no-contact order.
After her arrest, Mrs Danby was forced to spend two nights in prison and one in a police cell, before being taken before a court in handcuffs, flanked by four security guards. She was eventually released.
In an interview with the Mail afterwards, she told how she had been left terrified, and suffered bruises and cuts when she was manhandled by police officers. She had been deprived of sleep and food, refused access to a lawyer and barred from calling her son during her three days in custody.
Astonishingly, police officers and prison guards even refused to allow her to take the daily medicine she needs to combat liver disease.
‘By the end of my ordeal I felt shattered and very weak,’ she said, adding:
‘My first cell wasn’t fit for a dog — let alone a grandmother. They took away my belt, shoes and coat. It was really rough in there.’
Kathleen was sent to Foston Hall women’s prison (pictured) in Derbyshire after she breached the no-contact order and hugged her granddaughter
She found herself in Foston Hall women’s prison in Derbyshire, whose former inmates include Ian Huntley’s girlfriend Maxine Carr, and Karen Matthews, who kidnapped her own daughter Shannon.
‘When I told a guard I was in jail for hugging my granddaughter, his jaw dropped in open-mouthed amazement. He was astonished and horrified.’
She was only freed by a judge and her sentence quashed when she apologised. Her Honour Judge Dowding said:
‘I am not here today to change the decision of the previous court. I am here to allow her the chance to purge her contempt [of court]. I am satisfied she understands the orders now.’
This sorry saga once again raises serious questions about the Court of Protection, which operates largely in secret and rarely explains the decisions it reaches to members of the public.
Mrs Danby and her son had been restricted to talking to Janine on the phone only once a month and at a set time, with social workers listening in to the conversation. Since Mrs Danby’s imprisonment, they have not been allowed to phone the girl at all.
The reason for this is that the court says Mrs Danby has a ‘detrimental affect’ on her granddaughter’s behaviour and, apparently, the girl gets upset when she has to say goodbye to her.
How has such an un-British approach to justice been allowed to flourish in this day and age?
Of course vulnerable children and adults need to be protected, but surely the public has a right to know what decisions are being made by courts in our name.
At the centre of this case is a clearly unhappy young woman. She is said by social workers, who have been responsible for her education and welfare since 2007, to have a learning disability, although Mrs Danby disputes this diagnosis. She feels Janine is a victim of a poor education in the care system, is now bored to tears, and would have a bright future if she returned to live with her.
During her recent week of freedom, the girl applied for a job at an animal shelter, getting a positive response.
Janine, whose name we have changed to protect her identity because of strict Court of Protection secrecy rules, was first put into social services’ care aged ten.
At the time, it had been agreed she would live with her father and grandmother in Scotland after her parents had split up. (Today, Janine’s mother lives in England and her daughter is allowed to visit her, but she cannot move in with her permanently either.)
Mrs Danby says social workers first swooped on Janine on ‘spurious grounds’ — involving Janine’s father verbally reprimanding his daughter in public for bad behaviour. She has never been returned to the family.
‘She thrived before that,’ says Mrs Danby.
‘She was going to school, reading books and loving them. She wants to come back to us up here.
‘She says she has nothing to do all day at the place the Court of Protection and social services have put her. She feels like a prisoner and lies on her bed watching videos all day. She has no life and no future. I don’t know why they don’t let her go.’
Before Janine was taken back to the supervised care home last Wednesday, she told the Mail:
‘I’ve been miserable. No one there looks after me.
‘All they are interested in is keeping me locked away from my family. When I saw my chance to run through an open door, I went for it.’
Indeed, on Thursday night Janine ran away again and was found wandering the streets by police who returned her to the home.
Last night, John Hemming, a former Liberal Democrat MP who campaigns for family justice, said: ‘Janine is a secret prisoner of the Court of Protection. She is being treated cruelly.
‘It is clear she has been sentenced, for no apparent reason, to a life of tedium, and her physical health is suffering.
‘A couple of months ago, she wrote and invited me to visit her. I asked her local council social services for permission, as I have to do. I have never had an answer from them. Somehow, she needs to be rescued.
‘I think the Court of Protection believes Janine is made upset when she meets her grandmother, and then has to say goodbye. That is no reason to incarcerate her.
‘She should have an independent assessment of her learning disability, if it exists. This girl’s life is being controlled by the State for no good reason, and it must stop.’
As for Mrs Danby, she is waiting to see how the Court of Protection reacts to how she rescued her granddaughter in Crewe.
Yesterday, she said sadly: ‘I am prepared to go to prison again. All I have ever asked is for the social workers to listen to her views on where she wants to live. But they always refuse.’
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