PAS petition to Scottish Executive by UKMM Chairman George McAulay has prompted the following article in the The Sunday Herald. Unfortunately, even though Neil Mackay of The Sunday Herald has produced a very good article he has failed to put the credits were credits are due, to George McAulay and UKMM for initiating the petition:
New law to stop divorcing parents turning children against each other
http://www.sundayherald.com/25120 2nd June 2002
Scottish parliament to amend Family Law Bill after a 13-year-old hires an advocate in fight to see her sisters
By Neil Mackay Home Affairs Editor
AT first Megan seems like any other 13-year-old girl from a middle-class home. She’s pretty, but a little conscious of the braces on her teeth, has a taste for tracksuits and trainers and tends to look a bit peeved with her dad, Jack, when he interrupts her.
Megan, however, is no ordinary teenager. Although she can’t be identified for legal reasons, this is a child who has single-handedly changed Scottish law. Last week, MSPs decided, after hearing her give evidence to the Scottish parliament about one of psychiatry’s most controversial disorders — Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) — to begin drafting an amendment to the Scottish Executive’s Family Law Bill.
The ‘Megan Clause’, which will be in legislation that is central to the government’s claim that it is ‘putting children at the heart of policy’, will allow children to sue their parents for the right to gain access to their own brothers and sisters.
Supporters of the highly contentious PAS — which many dispute even exists — say the condition involves one parent, in a split family, ‘brainwashing’ their sons and daughters to ‘hate’ their estranged partner or other siblings who no longer live with them.
Megan’s story is far from unusual — tens of thousands of children experience bitter family breakdowns just as she has — but it has been her way of tackling the system that let her down that is extraordinary. This is a girl who was so convinced she was right and the system was wrong that she hired her own solicitor and advocate in a bid to change the law — and won.
By Megan’s own account her mother was an emotionally bullying woman. Until 18 months ago Megan lived with her father, her mother and her two sisters. The town she lived in can’t be identified. Following her parents’ separation, Megan asked to live with her father. Her mother’s response was to attempt to place Megan into care rather than allow her to live with Jack. After battling her mother at the Children’s Panel for the right to live with her father, Megan and her father now live together while her two younger sisters have chosen to stay with their mother.
Speaking with an intellect that belies her years, Megan says: ‘Everything was about control with my mother. She’d scream in my face and tell me nobody liked me while poking me in the face and chest.’
Megan, who not only has an excellent academic record but has also schooled herself over the last 18 months in child psychology, is a firm believer in PAS. Megan is sure her mother ‘turned’ her sisters against her father. ‘She then turned them against me ,’ she says. Psychiatrists say PAS involves a ‘malleable child’ being controlled by a parent who moulds them into fearing and despising the other parent, or their grandparents or siblings, for no reason.
‘My sisters grew to hate my dad for no reason,’ she said. ‘Then they stopped speaking to me when my mum was about. She didn’t overtly tell my sisters my dad was a devil, but it was a slow indoctrination. She could be very intimidating. They learned that if they said they wanted to be with him or see him she’d be angry with them, so they chose to identify with her for an easy life.
‘After dad left, I spent two months at home. Mum was continually threatening me — she even said she’d get someone at school to beat me up. When I told her I wanted to move in with dad, she said she would have me put in a home. The arguments just got worse. During one row, she even called me a ‘f***ing wee bitch’.
‘In the morning, my clothes were put in a plastic bag and she told me to go. One of my sisters wasn’t even allowed to say goodbye. That was a few days before Christmas 2000.’
Her father had to seek a supervision order from the Children’s Panel to prevent his daughter being placed in care by his estranged wife. ‘She just wanted to punish me for not doing what she wanted me to,’ says Megan. Recently another Children’s Panel hearing renewed the order. During that hearing, her mother again tried to have her put in care
Although Megan’s father has access rights to his two other children, his wife has refused both him and Megan the opportunity to see the girls. Despite repeated attempts to get her to comply through the courts, Megan’s mother has not let them see the other sisters even though social workers, the courts and psychologists have all said she must grant access.
‘I had to grow up pretty quickly,’ says Megan. ‘I realised I had to get to see my sisters and I had to help my dad get to see them too.’ She hired a lawyer and began fighting her mother for the right to see her sisters. She is now named in her parents’ divorce as also seeking access to the girls.
Megan recently gave evidence to the Public Petitions Committee citing Parental Alienation Syndrome as a reason why children should have the legal right to challenge for access to siblings who have been ‘alienated from them’ by their parents. ‘Just because my sisters have had their minds poisoned by my mum doesn’t mean I should lose the right to see them,’ she said. ‘I love them very much and I want to — and need to — see them.’
In her evidence to the parliamentary committee, she described the day her mother threw her out of her home. ‘ My little sister was five and she pleaded with me not to go. She stood there crying — she did not want me to go. She curled her little fingers around my jacket and would not let go, but I had to leave.
‘All the while my mother was dancing and singing to music.’
Megan’s testimony has so moved members of the committee that they are now drafting an amendment to the Family Law Bill. Sources in the Scottish Executive said there was ‘no way’ the amendment would not become part of the law. One member, the independent MSP Dorothy-Grace Elder, said: ‘Megan’s address was simply awesome. She left all the members in stunned silence. We had no doubt about the truth of what she said.
‘We know couples can go to war with each other when they separate, but the issue of children being kept apart from their brothers and sisters has never been raised before, but it has to be acted on right now. It is incredibly cruel to think of siblings being kept apart and missing out on a lifetime of love and friendship that is theirs by right.
‘I’m preparing an amendment to the Family Law Bill, in the light of what Megan said, that will give siblings and grandparents the legal right to access each other as long as there is no risk to the children involved. This law will be solely down to Megan. She is an incredible girl.’
Sex war over Parental Alienation Syndrome
THE American psychiatrist who first diagnosed Parental Alienation Syndrome has found himself in the middle of a gender war in Scotland between the men’s lobby and feminists over his research into the disorder.
Dr Richard Gardner, a professor of child psychiatry at Columbia University’s Medical School in New York, says his research has been turned into a political football, with the men’s movement claiming it proves all women are out to paint men as evil and feminists claiming it is a charter for abusers to get custody of children.
Glasgow solicitor Frank Collins has already started acting for a number of men who claim they are victims of PAS, and that their estranged wives ‘brainwashed’ their children into hating them .
Gardner will be in London in the autumn for a two-day conference on PAS backed by the Equal Parenting Council, which campaigns for father’s rights. He is also liaising with UK lawyers who have PAS cases on their books.
George McAulay, Glasgow-based chairman of the UK Men’s Movement, said Gardner’s research ‘burst the bubble of the feminist dream’ which he said was to ‘drive fathers from families’.
McAulay’s organisation, criticised by women’s groups as sexist, says it wants a return to ‘families led by fathers’ . McAulay believes that in most PAS cases it is the ‘woman who has wrongly alienated the children from their father’.
He said: ‘ Feminism has succeeded in demonising fathers and canonising mothers and PAS shows that to be wrong.’
But Margaret McGregor, the chair of the Zero Tolerance Trust which campaigns against domestic violence, said she was worried that PAS could be used as an excuse to allow abusive men back into the lives of their families. ‘ Particular care should be given so that no access arrangements can put an abused child at risk ,’ she said .
Gardner, who has studied some 2000 cases of PAS, said: ‘ Both men and women do it. To turn it into a gender war is utterly self-defeating for everyone. If we forget the politics and stick to the science, then we will be properly looking out for our children.’
Gardner said abusive partners might attempt to trick courts into believing that they were victims of PAS. ‘That is why our legal and medical establishments have to be astute and knowledgeable about PAS, so we can diagnose it properly and deal with real cases adequately in courts.’
Dorothy-Grace Elder, the independent MSP championing PAS in the Scottish parliament, said: ‘Turning this into a sex war skews the righteousness of what is trying to be done.’
“Megan” was very pleased with the result:
Sent: 03 June 2002 17:01
A short message from “Megan”
Megan is extremely pleased with the article in The Sunday Herald about PAS, she would also like to express her appreciation to all concerned.
She is anxious to express to everyone that without their help this would not have been possible and she doesn’t wish to take the credit for this momentous achievement, in particular George McAulay and Gordon Ross who were also speaking at the parliament, let us hope we can move forward from this position and continue the campaign to help all these other children and fathers that are suffering in this way.
Here is the full transcript of the petition hearing:
Parental Alienation Syndrome (Sibling Contact) (PE438)
The Convener: The next petition is PE438, from Mr George McAulay, on resources to allow children to establish a right of contact with alienated siblings. Mr McAulay is here. Do you have someone with you?
George McAulay (UK Men’s Movement): Yes. I shall make a brief statement, then Gordon Ross and Hayley Forrest will make some points. We will then be available to answer questions.
The Convener: That is fine as long as you do not take longer than the three minutes that you have been allocated. I draw members’ attention to the fact that Mr McAulay has supplied us with additional papers.
George McAulay: Do you mean those that refer to the European rulings?
The Convener: An extract from the treaty establishing the European Community has been circulated to the committee.
George McAulay: In that case, I shall be even briefer.
Parental alienation syndrome, PAS, as defined by Richard A Gardner, among others, is a cruel but sophisticated form of child abuse. It is recognised in the USA and Canada and by the European Court of Human Rights following the benchmark ruling in the case of Elsholz v Germany. When I started the petition, I thought that the issue was about fathers and children. It is not. It is about fathers, mothers and children. We have with us today a mother who is the victim of PAS. The victim parent may be male or female, but children are always the victims and many go on to become perpetrators of the abuse in later life.
When I came into contact with PAS victims, I recognised immediately and chillingly techniques that I first encountered on an army course on which I was made aware of, and then trained to resist, the methods used in interrogating and brainwashing captives. Captives are subjected to physical and psychological abuse, isolation, disorientation, confusion, humiliation and degradation and the withdrawal of basic human comforts for non-co-operation. I resisted, knowing that the course would last only a couple of days and then the end of the exercise would be signalled. Many tough, motivated men failed the course rather than complete interrogation.
I endured the course as a physically, mentally and emotionally prepared 25-year-old tough guy. Ronald is not a tough guy: the kid is only nine years old. My wee boy is in his class. My son came home from school and told me that, one day, for no apparent reason, Ronald put his head in his arms on his desk and cried his heart out. This is Ronald’s dad, beside me. I asked S. S., whose writings on the subject I recommend to anyone who wants to understand PAS, why that had happened. She said that the wee lad had to conceal the pain of losing his parent from the alienator or retribution would surely follow. For the smallest, weakest and most vulnerable among us, those whom we are charged by God’s will and the laws of man to protect, no one signals the end of the exercise, yet the methods are the same. They are not returned to a safe, comfortable billet; they are returned to their tormentor by courts that reward contempt of court by excluding their most interested protector, the alienated parent.
Parliament must mainstream the recognition of PAS and must make remedies available for children, alienated parents and alienating parents. Kids need to be returned to healed, even if separated, parents. It is within members’ gift to do that and signal “endex” for these unhappy little conscripts.
Gordon Ross: Two years ago, I separated from my wife. I had no idea what the term alienation meant in relation to children. My child is nine years old and I have not seen him for 18 months. I have exhausted every avenue and agency. I have been through the courts and have exhausted my funds. I can no longer go any further. I turned to social work services and took a witness with me. When I asked the people there whether their institution was sexist, after I had asked many questions about its refusal to deal with the situation, I was told that it was. They had never heard of PAS. It is not on their agenda and they have no training to deal with it. I put pressure on them to do something about it, perhaps even to make a home visit, on which someone with training would recognise the problem, but my request was refused. They phoned the school, as Mr McAulay has told you, which said that everything was fine and that there were no problems at all.
I am at the end of my tether. I know what my son is going through, I did not speak to my parents or family for 17 years.
Hayley Forrest: My name is Hayley Forrest. I am 13 years old and I am in my second year at Hunter High School, in East Kilbride. I am not a disruptive or unruly child: I have a very good record of behaviour and achievement at my school.
I have two younger sisters: Ashleigh who is 12 and Chelsie who is now six. I have not seen them for the past year and a half. On the day before Christmas eve 2000, my mother removed me from my home and tried to put me in a children’s home. Instead I was placed with my stepsister, who lives 30 miles away. I spent Christmas with a family that I hardly knew, without my sisters or my dad, it was not somewhere that I was comfortable.
Two months before that, my mum did the same thing to my dad. She had him removed from the house by the police, making allegations of abuse and violence.
My mother did that to me because I refused to be brainwashed by her. I was intimidated, abused, threatened and finally thrown out of my own home. I could not stay with my dad because my mum had had an interim interdict placed on him, preventing me from having contact with him. She also made up allegations of abuse and violence. She said that my dad was an alcoholic and made allegations of sexual abuse involving me. I am now living with my dad and am very happy to be there, but I miss my sisters and my belongings. I miss my home where I grew up and my friends.
The social work department, the courts, two psychologists, a safeguarder and the children’s reporter have all recommended that there should be contact between my sisters and me. My mother has prevented that from happening.
I will never forget the day I left my home. My little sister Chelsie was five and she pleaded with me not to go. She stood there crying, she did not want to let me go. I had to leave. She curled her little fingers round my jacket and would not let go, but I had to leave. All the while my mother was in the background dancing and singing to music. I will never forget little Chelsie standing there, crying.
The Convener: Thank you, Hayley. This is obviously difficult for you. You have done exceptionally well in giving evidence to the committee this morning.
I invite questions from members of the committee.
Dr Ewing: Is this an attempt to change the law to give a right of access to siblings?
George McAulay: No, there does not necessarily need to be a change in the law, it could be done by parliamentary methods. The petition is supplementary to our initial petition on the mainstream recognition of parental alienation syndrome. Mainstream recognition of PAS would have led to early intervention in Hayley’s case and that of young Robert, Gordon Ross’s son. Early intervention is the key. PAS can be mild, moderate or severe. If it is arrested in the mild stage, it prevents much harm from being done to the children, the alienated parent and even the alienator, who if often a desperately unhappy individual. Parliament should mainstream recognition of PAS, just as it has advocated recognition of domestic violence, through schools and social work departments.
Gordon and I went to Glasgow City Council social work department to try to get a delivery order for his son as he was in danger. The duty social worker, I can give you her name, admitted that the department was institutionally anti-male. She knew nothing about PAS. If she had been aware of it and recognition of it was mainstreamed, she could have intervened at that point and would have saved young Robert from on-going damage. We have tried to get other agencies, such as health care, social work and educationists, to give PAS the same recognition as domestic violence. If the same provisions were made for PAS, a very cruel form of abuse, as are made for domestic violence, it would prevent
its development and stop it becoming full blown. A stitch in time saves nine.
There is a mother sitting in the public gallery who is dealing with the initial stages of mild alienation. If it is not arrested, the syndrome can go on to become moderate or severe.
The Elsholz v Germany ruling, which refers to PAS, places an obligation on the state, no particular arm, to provide for PAS. If the justiciary is failing to intervene in PAS, other arms of the state, the supreme legislative body; the Parliament, must make provision. The recent White v White ruling tends to help the case somewhat.
The Convener: For the benefit of people who are listening, I state that your earlier petition, PE413, which dealt with mainstreaming recognition of parental alienation syndrome, was referred by this committee to the Executive for comment. We are still awaiting a reply.
George McAulay: We have had support from men and women all over the world on this matter. Within the past week, there has been a whirlwind. I mentioned the European convention on human rights in relation to my previous petition. Since it, a lot of case law has been forwarded to us and I understand the situation better. I am a layperson, but clinical psychologists and consultant psychologists are contributing to our understanding of the problem. We hope that the Public Petitions Committee will create an avenue for us to pass our information to the Executive.
The Convener: That is happening already.
Rhoda Grant: If rights of access were upheld by social workers and so on, would the present system of getting rights of access through the courts be sufficient?
Gordon Ross: I went through the system and followed my lawyer’s advice to the letter. I was told to play the white man. When I went to court, I was dealt with by Sheriff Johnston, who is one of the leading family sheriffs in Scotland. I was denied the right to defend myself. I was told that I should sit there and say nothing and that the sheriff would decide what was in the best interests of the child. I would argue that my wife and I knew each other better than anyone else. I knew where we were going: nowhere fast. She had already made up her mind and we went round in circles for months as the process dragged on and on. After every visit to my child, I received a detailed letter from a lawyer. My child had obviously been interrogated when he went home. Some of the allegations were absolutely ridiculous and frivolous. The legal system does not want to deal quickly with cases such as mine.
George McAulay: Talk about your lawyer thinking that there was something wrong with the letter that your boy wrote to him.
Gordon Ross: My lawyer received a one-line letter from my son, which read: “I do not want to see my dad.” My lawyer said that that was unprecedented. I should point out that it took a lot of encouragement to get the child to write five sentences for his spelling homework, I had to sit with him while he did it, yet we were told that he wrote the letter off his own bat.
George McAulay: To answer Ms Grant’s question, the point is that the sheriff did nothing.
Gordon Ross: The sheriff did not want to impose sanctions against my wife. At the end of the day, I had to withdraw to a certain extent, partly due to a lack of funds and partly because I could imagine what the process was doing to my son, given the intimidation that I had endured. I could not get that message across in court, at one stage, he turned away from me and would not listen.
Dr Ewing: Did the court grant you access rights?
Gordon Ross: I was told that my son would meet me, but he was not there when I arrived. The sheriff would not impose sanctions against my wife.
George McAulay: I have spoken to many men, and their female relatives, who have had court-ordered access denied by their former partner. It is a fact of life that, in this country and in most western countries, courts will not impose meaningful sanctions on women who are guilty of blatant contempt of court because they have blocked access. Until the nettle is grasped, that situation will continue. I know that the Executive is committed to not putting more women in prison. We do not want such women to go to prison either because we know that, if you hurt one parent, you hurt them both. However, some sanctions must be placed on them. In the United States of America, there are examples of alienation and other hostility ceasing when sanctions have been applied.
I have not the slightest doubt that if a residential father blocked a mother’s court-ordered access, he would be put in jail. Perhaps the lady sitting behind me, in the gallery, could clarify that. There is a perverse chivalry among judges.
Rhoda Grant: I am interested to hear what kind of sanctions you would like to be imposed.
George McAulay: I maintain that that is not my job; it is the Parliament’s job. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that, in the case of a breach of the European convention on human rights, the Parliament has to provide for alienated children and alienated parents of either sex. The Parliament must provide the mechanism, although I could certainly make suggestions.
Let me make myself clear: I do not fit into the category of alienated parents. I am here because I see an injustice that hurts children. A sanction could be financial, initially. That could be followed by an increase in the contact to which the alienated parent is entitled. Such sanctions would indicate clearly that if people do not play by the court’s rules, they will be punished. Nowhere else in the history of justice have people been rewarded for contempt of court.
Rhoda Grant: Is not it the case that sanctions such as imprisonment or financial sanctions would have a dire effect on the children involved?
George McAulay: We must bite the bullet, because the effects of parental alienation syndrome are much worse. I will provide a small booklet that S. S., who suffered alienation, wrote. She was a polio victim and she thanked God that she was sent to a residential school for nine months a year, because it got her away from the alienating parent, who happened to be her mother. Her whole life has been scarred and she has been devastated.
In the most severe form of the syndrome, sufferers become psychotic. It seems a twee notion that we should not imprison someone who is committing a gross act of child abuse, just because they happen to be a mother. I do not want mothers or fathers to go to prison; I want reconciled, or at least, healed parents with whom a child can have a meaningful relationship that is not poisoned by hatred.
Dorothy-Grace Elder: I thank everyone for appearing here today, especially Hayley. You will have noticed that there was a little pause before we began our discussion. I think that was because we were all pretty stunned by your testimony. We were stunned, but not surprised, because the problem is fairly widespread.
We are getting a couple of things confused. The petitioners refer to alienation in relation to parents being unable to access the children. The petition itself refers to children having a right of contact with their alienated siblings.
I would think that there is a better chance of making progress by putting the children’s right of access to their siblings first. The other matter is a long-standing issue.
George McAulay: It is fresh in that we have just introduced the issue of alienation. I take your point. What is important about the petition is that the Parliament observes its obligations under the Elsholz v Germany ruling, and others, to provide individuals, in this case, Gordon and Hayley, with the right to access to siblings. Hayley is 13 and, as the committee can see, articulate and composed. What does a five-year-old child do? What does an inarticulate eight-year-old child do?
Dorothy-Grace Elder: Hayley would convince anyone, believe me. I accept your argument.
George McAulay: That is why we must have mainstreaming.
Dorothy-Grace Elder: Are you saying that the siblings have no right to see each other at all at the moment?
George McAulay: In Hayley’s case, the mother has blocked those rights. That is my understanding. Is that right, Hayley?
Hayley Forrest: Yes, they have been blocked.
George McAulay: I have encountered that before.
Dorothy-Grace Elder: It is obvious that the issue has been massively neglected, grandparents would say the same. However, progress could be made first and foremost on the rights of the children. Perhaps a member’s bill is required. Do members have other suggestions?
The Convener: We will discuss the petition later. At present, we are simply questioning the witnesses in order to elucidate‹
George McAulay: Further to Dorothy-Grace Elder’s point, the previous petitioner mentioned advocacy, which there is a burden on the state to provide. As I said, the state should be proactive in doing so. We should not have to wait until the Hayleys and Roberts are 10 years down the line, with permanently warped and twisted personalities. As happens with sex abusers, many affected children go on to become,
Dorothy-Grace Elder: I take it that you know that social work departments no longer separate siblings and place them in different homes as they used to do. Indeed, they are encouraged not to separate siblings when they put them into foster care if that is at all avoidable. Unless a problem exists between the siblings, they try to keep the family together.
George McAulay: Your point being?
Dorothy-Grace Elder: My point is that the opposite happens when separation occurs behind closed doors. Social work departments are not allowed to separate siblings when they decide to send children to homes or to put them into foster care.
George McAulay: Social work departments have singularly failed to intervene. They are institutionally anti-male. You make much of Hayley’s pain, but I would say that Gordon’s pain is every bit as potent. Nothing was done by the social worker, Gordon knows her name. Perhaps it would be unfair to name her, but we can certainly tell you her name in private. She admitted to institutional, anti-male bias, but her decision went against Gordon. In my experience, social work departments do nothing. I could also tell the committee about a wealthy businessman who …
Dorothy-Grace Elder: Dr Ewing wants to ask a question.
Dr Ewing: I wanted to ask Hayley a question. You are with your father and you say that you are happy there. Does your father have custody of you?
Hayley Forrest: I think that he has custody of me.
Dr Ewing: You are not sure. Did he go to court to get custody changed?
Hayley Forrest: We went to several children’s panels.
Dr Ewing: So you have been to the children’s panel.
Hayley Forrest: We have been to lots of them. A supervision order has been put on for a year or so.
Dr Ewing: So you are with your father for a year.
Hayley Forrest: Yes, but I am going to continue living there.
The Convener: Mr McAulay referred to the ECHR and to public health. I want to be absolutely clear about the petition. You talk about establishing procedures, but that would not necessarily change the law. Are you talking about getting social work departments and the national health service, the mainstream, as you put it, to recognise the existence of the condition and to take it into consideration?
George McAulay: Yes.
The Convener: That can be done through Executive policy guidelines and so on.
George McAulay: That is correct. We offered to lecture the Sheriffs Association about the condition, which it said it recognised. Sheriffs may recognise the condition, but they do not act upon it. It is incumbent on that arm of the state.
The Convener: At the beginning of your presentation, you said that the condition is recognised in the United States and Canada. In what sense is it recognised?
Gordon Ross: Through necessity, I have studied the condition a fair bit. Dr Richard Gardner has been detailing it for nearly 30 years and the
courts in the United States have been dealing with it for 20 years. Many of the states impose sanctions because they realise the damage‹
The Convener: Are you saying that the condition is legally recognised in the States?
Gordon Ross: Yes. Dr Gardner lectures throughout the world and is very well known. I bought his book, but I could not finish it because so many of the symptoms that are described in it made me feel as if I was reading my own life story. The condition is both recognised and taken on board in the States, but the difficulty here is that people do not want to recognise that the condition exists. In my view, that is like going back 20 years to the time when no one wanted to admit to the existence of sexual abuse of children.
The Convener: That is a matter of interpretation.
As an initial step, would you like the Executive to set out its position in relation to PAS and to indicate whether it intends to have it recognised by the main stream and to allow siblings access rights? Is that the purpose behind your petition?
George McAulay: Not quite, to put it simply, I would like the Executive to take whatever action is necessary to ensure that the problems that I mention in my petition do not arise, in line with the Executive’s public health obligations and the decisions in Elsholz v Germany and other cases.
The Convener: The first stage is to get the Executive to respond to the petition.
George McAulay: That is fairly obvious. I do not mean that sarcastically, I am simply confirming what you said.
The Convener: I just want to be clear about the intention behind the petition.
Are there any final questions?
Dr Ewing: Obviously, Mr Ross was not satisfied with his appearance before the sheriff. Presumably, the sheriff gave custody to the wife and Mr Ross quarrelled, he went back to court.
Gordon Ross: Custody was never decided. I was told that I would have to go to a proof hearing to get custody. The sheriff refused a proof hearing. I hired one of the best lawyers in Glasgow. We sat there, it was like banging my head against a wall. I had to dig my heels in and demand a proof hearing.
Dr Ewing: You did not get that.
Gordon Ross: I decided to withdraw, because my funds were exhausted. I was warned that if I went to the Court of Session, I should be prepared to lose, as that can always happen. It costs £10,000 a day.
Dr Ewing: You did not manage to get legal aid for your cause.
Gordon Ross: I am in a catch-22 position. I am in the grey area. I am above…
Dr Ewing: You do not qualify. In custody disputes, the sheriff has the power to appoint a reporter. On many occasions, sheriffs have appointed me as a reporter to investigate a dispute. A dispute over custody is never happy. A broken marriage is not happy, but it happens. People try to pick up the pieces. Sometimes the sheriff accepted my recommendation that custody be given to the male, the father. Usually the mother has preference. That is human nature, the mother will rarely leave a child, although it happens.
There needs to be a change in the law on access to siblings. That might be a line…
The Convener: We are moving on to discussion. At this stage, we are just meant to be questioning the petitioner. Are there any other questions to the petitioners?
George McAulay: Dr Ewing’s point on legislation has a great bearing on our petition. We have asked for all the mechanisms to be made available to the child. That is much more important for children, because they have no advocacy and no access. I think that what Dr Ewing said is right on the button.
The Convener: That is the end of the questions. We move on to discussion about what to do with the petition. The petitioners are welcome to stay and listen. Thanks very much for your evidence.
George McAulay: Thank you.
The Convener: Mr McAulay referred to the earlier petition, PE413, about parental alienation syndrome. We referred that to the Executive at the end of November and we are still awaiting a response. The suggestion is that we should pass on petition PE438, along with the earlier petition, to the Executive and ask for a joint response. Once we receive that response from the Executive, we can give further consideration to the petitions in tandem. At this stage, we will send petition PE438 to the justice committees for information only. Once we have the Executive’s response, we can decide whether to refer the petition formally to the justice committees.
Dorothy-Grace Elder: Many weeks ago, I half decided to introduce a member’s bill on access to siblings and grandparents. I might make further inquiries along those lines. Before then, I was unaware that children had no legal rights to see each other. The situation is almost as bad as it was in the 1950s, when they used to ship some kids out to Australia and leave some of them here. It was a scandal.
I take it that family mediation was not used in the case we were discussing, I forgot to ask that. There was no evidence of it.
The Convener: The important thing is the general principle of parental alienation syndrome and whether the Executive will take a position on it. We will refer the matter to the Executive and wait for its comments on both petitions before we consider them further.
Dorothy-Grace Elder: I just want to mention the term “parental alienation syndrome”, which right away is difficult for the Executive to grasp. Using that term almost confuses the issue. Perhaps Steve Farrell could put in a basic explanation…
The Convener: The Executive gets all the papers that we receive, all the background evidence and the comments of the petitioners, so there will be no confusion about what we are talking about.
Do members agree to the suggested course of action?
Members indicated agreement.