Ethan father saves mother from jail
A woman who took her three-year-old son on the run has been spared prison due to the "mercy" of the boy's father, a judge said.
Rebecca Minnock, 35, fled her home in Highbridge, Somerset, with son Ethan after a court ordered he should live with his father, Roger Williams, 39.
She contacted police and came forward with Ethan in Oxford on June 12 following appeals from police, a High Court judge and family members.
Ethan was handed to his father, who lives in Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, and has since had one hour of supervised contact with Miss Minnock.
Last week, Judge Stephen Wildblood QC received an application from Mr Williams to commit Miss Minnock to prison for contempt of court.
However, today Mr Williams dropped the application - alleging 10 breaches of court orders - and saved his former partner from an immediate prison sentence.
Judge Wildblood described Miss Minnock, who appeared at Bristol Magistrates' Court, as a "scourge" on the family courts system and "utterly irresponsible".
In a damning judgment, Judge Wildblood said: "Parents who flout court orders are the scourge of the system. It is only the mercy of the father that spares this mother.
"Had the contempt proceedings continued before me and led to a finding of contempt, I make no concealment of the fact that I would have sentenced her to immediate imprisonment which I anticipate would have involved a sentence of at least 28 days in prison.
"As it is, I think that the father's wishes should be respected. He and Ethan are the victims of this mother's actions and I consider that the father's voice should prevail.
"She owes her liberty to him. She must never fail to comply with court orders again; they will be my orders in the future, as I will now be the judge of these proceedings subject to the direction of any higher court."
Judge Wildblood commended Mr Williams for acting with "extreme sensitivity" and said he had kept "the pain, frustration and distress that he must have been feeling to himself".
The judge, who took the usual step of lifting reporting restrictions in such a case in order to find Ethan, acknowledged that the publicity had come "at at price".
"Mr Williams now wishes to end the public displays of the difficulties that affect Ethan's upbringing and wishes the remaining disputes to be heard away from the glare of publicity," the judge said.
"If the committal application is continued, he feels that there will be a dramatic increase in the emotional focus that has been directed to him, Ethan and the family as a whole.
"He wishes that to stop and that is why he does not wish to pursue this application. Once again I commend him for his decision.
"His decision is, in my opinion, a strong and commendable display of parental responsibility and is plainly based on the best interests of Ethan.
"He does not wish Ethan to be exposed to the continuing publicity that Miss Minnock has caused."
Ethan's legal guardian, Tara Bolton, and his solicitor previously indicated they would not initiate any contempt proceedings on behalf of the boy.
The judge said any suggestion that Miss Minnock was driven to flee with Ethan because she "had no alternative" was without any foundation.
He listed four options - attending the court hearings, appealing over their decisions, providing evidence and challenging rulings - Miss Minnock could have taken.
The mother-of-one fled with Ethan on May 27 - the day she was supposed to attend a family court hearing in Bristol where custody would be awarded to Mr Williams.
"The one thing that this mother should not have done is to remove Ethan from his home environment and family life and take him into hiding," the judge said.
"Her actions were manifestly contrary to the welfare of her child and were a product of her own self-focus. They had nothing to do with what was best for this child."
Representing Williams, Rupert Chapman told the court his client wanted it made clear there was a "long history of breaches of court orders at multiple stages of proceedings" by Miss Minnock.
"He does feel that it is important that the mother understands that any future breaches will be met by an application of this sort," he added.
"In view of the fact Ethan has been returned home to his care, and that he is happy and settled at home and contact has been started, my client wishes to draw a line under the previous breaches."
Miss Minnock told the court she had only had one hour of supervised contact with Ethan, which took place yesterday in the presence of his legal guardian.
"My big concern at the moment is, I got to see Ethan yesterday, if I am going to go to prison what emotional damage is that going to do on Ethan, after seeing me yesterday?" she said.
Earlier this month, Miss Minnock's mother, Louise, 52, and mother's partner, Andrew Butt, 56, were jailed for withholding information about Ethan's disappearance.
Both, from Highbridge, Somerset, have since been released from prison.
Ethan, who was born on January 25 2012, has lived with Miss Minnock since his parents separated in February 2013.
A custody battle began the following month. Miss Minnock made allegations against Mr Williams, which a district judge later ruled were false.
On May 27 it was found Miss Minnock had exposed Ethan to emotional harm and should only have supervised contact with him.
Miss Minnock, wearing a pink dress and black cardigan, left the court supported by her brother, Marvin Shaw.
Further family court hearings about the custody battle will now take place in private, the judge said.