Iona Phillips, partner in Lyons Davidson’s specialist child law division Advoca, represented Andrew Butt in relation to the case involving the missing child Ethan (3) and his mother Rebecca Minnock at Bristol Crown Court. Last Thursday, Mr Butt denied any knowledge of their disappearance at Bristol Crown Court. His Honour Judge Wildblood QC did not believe him, found him in contempt of court and remanded him in custody until Friday morning.
Mr Butt had time to reflect overnight and he apologised to the court on Friday, admitting that he had driven Rebecca and Ethan to Cheltenham on Wednesday 27 May. Contempt of court carries a maximum two-year prison sentence and Mr Butt was looking at a minimum of 28 days. He was also aware that he could also lose his job, livelihood and so on. The judge accepted that he had partially purged his contempt of court but believed that he had more information that he was refusing to disclose to protect other family members. Mr Butt received a 28-day sentence but will only serve 13 days; His partner, Ethan’s maternal grandmother Louise Minnock, was sent to prison for ten days but will serve five.
This is a sad situation for all involved as clearly both parents love Ethan but Rebecca Minnock did not help her case by her actions and two family members have now been sent to jail. All the photographs show how close the relationship is between mother and son. Rebecca was however previously found to have fabricated allegations against the father, which led to the decision to award him custody. There is obviously more to this case than can be printed in the press.
Mr Butt took the decision to assist Rebecca to go into hiding, not for any personal gain and not out of malice but out of love and compassion for the family. However, he accepted to Judge Wildblood QC that thwarting court orders is a very serious matter and Mr Butt himself said that if everyone did this, it would cause “chaos and anarchy.” Mr Butt asked Iona Phillips as his solicitor to make a direct appeal to the press on Friday to ask Rebecca to come home. She read out the words: “Becky you need to seriously look at the situation. It’s only going to get worse not just for you but for all of us but there are some very good people who will help and support you. I have been with them today and I know. We have made our point. We have got our support. Come home.”
The appeal was read out just before 6pm outside Bristol Crown Court and was reported on Sky News, BBC 10 O’Clock News and the radio. After two weeks in hiding, Ms Minnock had made contact with the press within two hours and handed herself in. The press have played a major role in assisting in bringing this matter to an end; this was obviously the judge’s intention when he asked for their assistance and took the unusual step of lifting all reporting restrictions on this family case.
It is a huge relief that Rebecca is now back and she can receive the love and support of her family and friends. Ethan is now with his father and the matter is due back in court today (15 June) to look at the contact arrangements between Rebecca and Ethan.