Ethan fight mother 'irresponsible'

Judge accuses runaway mum of 'manipulating the media'


A judge has branded a mother who went on the run with her three-year-old son after becoming embroiled in a bitter custody battle with the boy's father "utterly irresponsible".

Judge Stephen Wildblood QC said that if everyone behaved like Rebecca Minnock there would be "anarchy" as he criticised the 35-year-old and her family for trying to "manipulate the press" - insisting it was "her choice" to go on the run.

Miss Minnock, from Highbridge, Somerset, handed herself in to the police in Oxford on Friday night after 17 days on the run with her son, Ethan Williams - sparking a nationwide hunt for the pair.

Today she was driven to Bristol Crown Court by friends but did not speak to waiting reporters.

The mother-of-one disappeared on May 27, the day she was meant to hand Ethan over to his father, Roger Williams, 39, following a ruling in the family court.

Judge Wildblood spoke out in open court before he held a private hearing to discuss the boy's future.

Last week the judge jailed Miss Minnock's mother, Louise, 52, and her partner, Andrew Butt, 56, after finding them in contempt of court for withholding information about Ethan's disappearance.

"A singularly unattractive feature of this case that was revealed last week by Mr Butt was that he, and according to him other members of the mother's family, sought to manipulate the press to their advantage," he said.

"Mr Butt said in evidence that, when Rebecca Minnock did not achieve what she wanted to achieve in the family litigation, he and others took the view that Rebecca should go into hiding with Ethan to attract the attention of the press.

"As Mr Butt himself said, if everyone who is dissatisfied with the outcome of a case behaved in that way it would lead to anarchy. Huge amounts of time, effort and money were spent on the case and it is simply unfair for a party to attempt to use the press in an attempt to deny another person justice.

"Not only is it absurd for anyone to try to 'play the press' in that way, because that inevitably backfires, but it is also an utterly irresponsible way to behave from the point of view of the welfare of a child.

"It means that an attempt has been made to use each one of you, members of the press, and the court system as a whole as a part of a publicity stunt that has now been played out in public.

"Another singularly unattractive feature is that, by engaging in that publicity stunt, those in the mother's family who have behaved in this way have ensured that you and the public hear the mother's side of the story in very full detail."

The judge went on: "It was the mother's choice to behave as she did since May 27.

"The litigation in which the father first engaged two years ago has taken place because it was necessary for him to assert his right to a relationship with his child, Ethan.

"There have been three court hearings in which serious allegations made by the mother against the father have been rejected and, following a very high level of inquiry, it has been found that the mother positively invented allegations against the father on two occasions in an attempt to stop him having any contact or relationship with the child.

"The father has not at any time embarked on anything like the publicity stunt in which the mother's family has engaged."

The judge said he may have to consider what to do about Miss Minnock's "behaviour" in breaching previous court orders.

"I anticipate that there needs to be a short period of time in which people can take stock of what has happened and reflect on what they want to achieve," he said.

Miss Minnock had earlier told the Daily Mail that she feared she was never going to see Ethan again.

"When I am going to see him. Am I going to be allowed to see him again? That is my biggest fear. Not seeing him again," she said.

Today Judge Wildblood repeated comments he made last week that he would do "everything possible" to ensure Ethan has "an effective relationship with both of his parents".

"I would ask that there is as little speculation about what might or might not happen in relation to Ethan as possible. It would be thoroughly irresponsible and incorrect to suggest that the mother is now bound only to have indirect contact or supervised contact for very short periods of time," the judge said.

"The arrangements for Ethan to see each of his parents will be governed by his paramount welfare and no-one, myself included, can predict where that welfare might lie until the case has been heard fully and properly."

Writing on Facebook ahead of today's hearing, Miss Minnock said: "I am preying (sic) that this case gets re looked at properly and the judge can see that my son belongs with his mama who absolutely loves him to bits."

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 about Mr Williams which a district judge later ruled were false.

On May 27, it was found Miss Minnock exposed Ethan to emotional harm and should only have supervised contact with him.

It was ordered that the boy should live with Mr Williams full-time.