A family court finding that ex-Conservative MP Andrew Griffiths raped and abused his wife was made public because of a year-long fight from journalists at PA and Tortoise.
PA’s Brian Farmer and freelance journalist Louise Tickle, who worked with slow news website Tortoise, fought through multiple court hearings for a family court finding, on the balance of probabilities, that Mr Griffiths (pictured) raped his wife Kate to be allowed to be published.
Ms Griffiths, who is now the MP for her ex-husband’s former constituency Burton, backed the journalists and waived her automatic right to anonymity as a victim of a sexual offence. The argument to publish was also supported by the court-appointed guardian for the couple’s child and civil society organisation Rights of Women.
Farmer and Tickle argued the case was one of “considerable public interest” but had to fight to publish as family court hearings and findings of fact are private by default.
The journalists originally won permission to publish at the High Court in July but had to continue the fight when Mr Griffiths appealed against the decision. They won again on Friday.
Mr Griffiths had agreed to let the judgment be published but only if he, his wife and his child were all anonymised with a certain amount of redaction of details carried out. Griffith denies the sexual assault claims made against him. But the Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal and also denied him permission to take it to the Supreme Court.
The Court of Appeal judges said the earlier judge had put the correct emphasis on the public interest and that the child involved could be sufficiently protected from any “short-term media storm”.
The High Court judgment said in July: “It may be that there will continue to be some media interest in years to come, and things said on the internet do frequently remain in perpetuity. However, firstly the likelihood is that the media storm, if there is one, will pass fairly quickly.
“Secondly, explanations are going to have to be given to [the child] in any event, at an age-appropriate time, given the sexting scandal and constraints over [their] contact with [their] father. I am therefore as confident as I can be that [the child] will be protected from the ramifications of the publication of the judgment.”
In 2018 Mr Griffiths resigned after The Sunday Mirror revealed he had sent “depraved” messages to two constituents. He told The Sunday Times afterwards that he was having a mental health crisis but the High Court found that this was “materially inconsistent” with the family court judgment and there was a “strong” Article 10 freedom of expression argument “in the media being able to set the public record straight”.
Tortoise Media editor Basia Cummings said “without transparency, there is no accountability”.
“This battle has taken over a year, and has cost Tortoise tens of thousands of pounds,” she said.
“We joined with PA Media to argue that the details of this case should be published, putting collaboration ahead of competition to fight to report in the public interest.
“If we had not, the privacy of the family courts would have allowed a former politician to hide his abuse, and would have denied his wife any chance to speak about it.”
Ms Griffiths wrote in the Mail on Sunday about how she was contacted by Farmer and Tickle, who told her they are both passionate about reform of the family court system and about transparency, and felt it “all made perfect sense”.
She added: “As an MP, I was in a unique position to be able to speak out and campaign for others who didn’t have a voice, and I realised that publication of the details of my family court case would give me that platform.”
The legal battle began in November 2020 when Judge Elizabeth Williscroft considered Ms Griffiths’ allegations about the way Mr Griffiths had treated her at a family court in Derby. He denied the allegations.
Judge Williscroft found on the balance of probabilities that Mr Griffiths had raped Ms Griffiths, pressured her into sexual activity, and used “coercive and controlling behaviour”. However she decided that her findings should not be made public to protect the child at the centre of the case.
Farmer and Tickle felt the public had a right to know given Mr Griffiths’s work as an MP and secured a High Court ruling that Judge Williscroft’s findings should be revealed, and Mr and Ms Griffiths named.
Mr Griffiths has told PA he was “deeply disappointed” that appeal judges had agreed findings made by Judge Williscroft could be published.
“Publication is a huge legal step with implications for me, my child and many others,” he said in a statement.
“Whilst there remain legal constraints on what I can say because the entirety of the judgment has not been published, I strongly denied the allegations put to me.
“However, the Family Court, which I believed to be private, made findings against me on the balance of probabilities.
“It is important that the media does not misrepresent the findings or proceedings.
“I love my child very much and my aim has always been to protect [them] from publicity so that they can come to terms with these proceedings away from the glare of publicity.
“I will continue to do what I can to repair the damage that publication of this case has caused and I will support my child in every way that I can.”
The ruling follows a transparency review of the family courts which found the current system in which journalists can attend any hearing but not always report what they observe without making an expensive application to the court is “not sustainable”, and set out plans to allow journalists to report in greater detail by default.
Solicitors at 4RB, who represented Rights of Women, said their focus had been on the “public interest in transparency in the Family Court and the importance of victims of domestic abuse having the opportunity to see the Family Court judges addressing serious allegations in a careful and considered manner.
“Rights of Women also sought to promote the right of those who have suffered domestic abuse to exercise their freedom of expression…” the solicitors said in a statement.
Picture: UK Parliament