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Council fails in bid to have man jailed for breach of order over abuse of social worker

The London Borough of Wandsworth has failed to have a man jailed for breaching an order intended to prevent abuse of a social worker.

In London Borough of Wandsworth v Lennard [2019] EWHC 1552 (Fam) Mr Justice MacDonald ruled that the council could not enforce the order against Neil Lennard as the social worker protected by it was not present when the behaviour complained of took place.

The July 2018 order prohibited Mr Lennard from “using offensive, foul, threatening words or behaviour towards Alana Bobie or Grace Okoro-Anyaeche as employees of [Wandsworth] working in the Children Looked After Team 2 [and] sending offensive, foul or threatening communications, emails or messages to Alana Bobie or Grace Okoro-Anyaeche as employees of the application local authority working in the Children Looked After Team No (2) by texting or using the internet or social media to communicate”.

MacDonald J noted that the process of committall was "a highly technical one". He said there were 17 conditions to meet before anyone could be imprisoned for breach of such an order.

It was imposed after Mr Lennard's son was made the subject of a care order and a dispute arose over the provision of ADHD medication for him.

Mr Lennard visited Wandsworth Town Hall, where he barricaded staff members Gladys Etiobho and Nathan Ojiekhudu in a room, became verbally abusive and stated he would not permit them to leave until he could see Ms Okoro-Anyaeche, towards whom he made threats of harm.

The judge noted that Ms Okoro-Anyaeche - the person protected by the order - was not present during these events and Wandsworth did not rely on Mr Lennard’s alleged conduct towards Ms Etiobho or Mr Ojiekhudu, who were not named in the order.

Since Ms Okoro-Anyaeche, was not physically present Mr Lennard argued that the language could not have been used ’towards’ her.

Wandsworth argued that despite this, it was plain on the evidence that she was the subject of the offending words and later came to know of them.

The judge said: “I am satisfied that…there has not been a breach in this case having regard to the plain terms of the order.

“The order prohibits Mr Lennard from using offensive, foul, threatening words or behaviour towards Grace Okoro-Anyaeche [who] was not present.

“In those circumstances, was the spoken foul language directed by Mr Lennard ‘towards’ the social worker for the purposes of the protective injunction from which she benefited? I am satisfied that the answer is no.”

He went on to explain: “I favour the narrow interpretation of the word ‘towards’ in this context and take [the] order to mean that Mr Lennard is prohibited from using offensive, foul, threatening words or behaviour in the presence of and in the direction of Grace Okoro-Anyaeche.

“Conduct such as, for example, Mr Lennard publishing his abuse on social media and Grace Okoro-Anyaeche thereafter reading the same, or posting a letter to her with the same result, would be caught in these circumstances.

“However, verbal abuse by Mr Lennard direct at Grace Okoro-Anyaeche when she is not present will not."

Mr Justice MacDonald said he took the view that he did on the proper interpretation of the word "towards" in these circumstances primarily by reason of the fact that a breach of this injunction carried with it penal consequences.

"On the one hand, I must, of course, be conscious of the protective function of injunction, and that that protective function argues for a broad, purposive application of its terms. The court grants an injunction to provide protection and relief in circumstances where it is satisfied that such protection and relief is merited," he said.

"However, against this, the injunction carries with it very serious penal consequences and can, within the current context, result in the imprisonment of the person bound by the injunction for a period of up to two years. The long list of procedural requirements that I set out at the beginning of this judgment further illuminates the strict approach the court takes to the examination of breaches that can result in a term of incarceration."

The judge said that given the conduct that had been admitted by Mr Lennard in his statements before the court, he would hear submissions on whether the terms of the current injunction should be extended either in their ambit, their duration or both. [The order was due to remain in force until 5 July 2019 or further order]

Mark Smulian