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Council secures injunction against man who circumvented redaction in child protection papers

The London Borough of Lambeth has won a final injunction against a man who was able to remove a redaction on papers concerning child welfare.

AM had asked the council for papers in a case concerning his daughter LM.

Lambeth supplied these but redacted the name of the person who had raised concerns about the child’s welfare but in such a way that AM was able to remove this and discover who had been responsible.

This proved to be his sister HJ and the discovery worsened a family feud that had developed at LM’s first birthday party.

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In London Borough of Lambeth v AM (Judgment No. 2) [2021] EWHC 186 (QB) Mr Justice Pepperall said that following a subject access request Lambeth provided AM with a copy of its file on LM’s case but the redaction was done electronically without the council realising “that anyone reasonably proficient in the use of Adobe would be able to defeat the redaction and restore the original text”.

Once AM found his sister had been responsible he sent her a letter before action accusing her of malicious defamation, breach of confidence and harassment.

When Lambeth found AM had undone the redaction it issued a claim seeking injunctive relief to protect the confidentiality of its file and orders requiring him to destroy all copies of the unredacted information. An interim injunction was granted in February 2019.

The judge noted that HJ’s referral concerning the child’s welfare was supported by her parents, but AM argued she acted from malice following an altercation at the birthday party.

Once AM found the anonymous referral was made by his sister, he summoned his family to a hotel where he played a video from Russia Today about the removal of children in the UK by local authorities, and explained that he would take legal action against his sister.

He then sent the letter before action stating he would seek an order requiring his sister to issue a full retraction, an injunction restraining any further representations in the matter, damages of at least £100,000 and legal costs.

The judge said: “I accept AM's evidence that he was very upset and that he regarded the birthday weekend as the beginning of a deep rupture in his personal relationship with his sister.

“Thereafter the siblings were, so far as he was concerned, estranged. Equally, I accept HJ's evidence that while the argument had been unpleasant, she did not at the time take seriously her brother's insistence that their relationship was at an end.”

He found AM was “an intelligent, articulate and capable man and a loving father” but was also “arrogant, self-righteous and inclined to lecture those who he thinks need intellectual or spiritual guidance”.

AM was a committed Christian who believes the religion “places the man at the head of the household” a stance that “explains why he took such great offence when his sister had the temerity to criticise his conduct in his own home”.

Pepperall J said: “I accept that he genuinely believes that the referral [by HJ] was made maliciously by way of revenge for the events of the previous summer, that his mother has colluded with his sister and that his father is weak for having gone along with them.”

The judge though added: “While AM is genuine in such views, he is, in my judgment, wrong on each count.

“I unhesitatingly reject AM's allegations that his mother and sister acted maliciously or that they colluded in making a knowingly false referral to the local authority.

“Indeed, I find both women to be reliable and honest witnesses who have throughout been motivated by nothing other than love and sincere concern for the child's well-being.”

He found AM breached the duty of confidence owed to Lambeth by removing the redactions and granted the council the final injunction.

Mark Smulian

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