A mother sent to prison on evidence she cannot see
The case of Vicky Haigh highlights what passes for justice in Britain today
Vicky Haigh, pictured with her baby daughter, Sapphire, in Ireland in 2011 Photo: EMMA JERVIS/PRESS 22
5:04PM BST 04 May 2013
If the mother of a two-year-old child can be sent to prison solely on the basis of a supposed statement she is not allowed to see and which appears to have been concocted in very mysterious circumstances, we may wonder what passes for justice in the Britain of 2013. This is what has happened to Vicky Haigh, the former racehorse trainer, who for some years has been at the centre of one of the oddest cases of parents falling foul of our child-protection system that I have ever reported.
Last year Miss Haigh was sentenced to three years in prison – the longest such sentence ever recorded – for breach of a “non-molestation order” relating to her daughter by her former husband. Her offence had been to run into the girl at a petrol station. The girl had recently been taken from her care after a long case involving social workers, which ended with her ex-husband being given custody. Miss Haigh then won extensive coverage by fleeing to Ireland to prevent social workers seizing at birth the baby she now expected by the partner with whom she and her daughter had lived happily for six years, with Miss Haigh acting as stepmother to his three children.
Leaving her new baby in Ireland, she returned to face the non-molestation charge, thinking it would be dismissed, only to find that her case had now been taken over by Lord Justice Wall, then head of the Family Division, who took the unusual step of publishing a judgment very hostile to her. A third judge then gave Miss Haigh that record sentence for speaking to her daughter at the petrol station. After she had served seven months as a “model prisoner”, yet another judge agreed that her sentence was “manifestly excessive” and she was allowed to return home on probation to her family.
A former policeman, David Gale, who stood as a Ukip candidate for police commissioner in Derbyshire, then became interested in what he believed to be serious discrepancies in the handling of her original case by social services. By providing police with new evidence, he triggered off an internal police inquiry, and was told that the papers would be presented to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on April 28.
Early last month, however, Miss Haigh was visiting a pub for lunch with her partner and their family. Apparently, she was approached by a barmaid who seemed to know a lot about her, claiming to know her older daughter. The children, who had grown up with the girl, plied this woman with questions and messages for someone they looked on as their sister. Miss Haigh says that, concerned by what was going on, she was careful to say very little about her lost daughter, later contacting friends to describe what she thought had been a “bizarre” incident.
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A week later she went to meet her probation officer, wanting to discuss the episode in the pub, only to find two of them present, aggressively telling her that a statement from the barmaid alleged that she had tried to pass messages to her daughter. Mr Gale was later told by the Ministry of Justice that, according to the statement, Miss Haigh had been “trying to contact her sister”, suggesting that this referred not to her but to a step-daughter.
On April 26, two days before the police dossier was supposed to be handed to the CPS, two policemen arrived at 9am, with a warrant for Miss Haigh’s arrest for breaching her probation order. She is now in Peterborough prison for 28 days, leaving her family baffled by what has happened. The police refused to take a statement from Miss Haigh’s partner, who witnessed what happened in the pub. The family have not been allowed to see the barmaid’s statement, or to challenge it.
Why this mother is back in prison remains as much a mystery as why she was given that unprecedented sentence for speaking to her older daughter in the first place.
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