She accused the father of abusive behaviour, but nine of the 10 allegations were unproven. At one court hearing, he admitted spitting at the mother on one occasion. A district judge who heard the case in 2009 noted that the father was a âforceful characterâ whom the mother found difficult to resist.
In February this year, the father, from the Swindon area, was banned by a family judge from having any direct contact with his children, now nine and six. The father was told he could send his daughters cards, letters and gifts once a month, but could not see them because it would be too distressing for their mother.
The county court judge said that she would be âunable to copeâ with the father seeing the children after she broke down in court and said the thought of it made her feel âexhaustedâ.
The fatherâs lawyers challenged the judgeâs decision, saying it had been based on a âmomentaryâ display of emotion from the mother in the witness box and the views of a âloneâ psychologist, who supported her case. The decision also went against the view of the independent advocate appointed for the children.
The fatherâs barrister, Sarah Evans, told the Court of Appeal: âIt is a fundamental tenet of the law of this country that, save in exceptional circumstances, children have a right to a meaningful relationship with both parents.â The appeal judges accepted that the fatherâs exile from his own childrenâs lives violated his rights.
Lord Justice McFarlane recognised that it was âa very big askâ for the mother to accept that her childrenâs best interests lay in having two parents, not just one.
âWhere, however, it is plainly in the best interests of a child to spend time with the other parent then, tough or not, part of the responsibility of the parent with care must be the duty and responsibility to deliver what the child needs, hard though that may be,â he said.
The judge, sitting with Lord Justice Rix and Lord Justice Tomlinson, overturned the family judgeâs order and directed the mother to âfacilitateâ contact. The process will take place under the supervision of a court-appointed guardian.