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20 September 2016

With the Archers currently gripping the nation: what next for Helen and Rob?

The Archer’s latest storyline has been commended for raising awareness of domestic abuse in the UK, with its story picked up and debated in the nationals for the past few weeks. It has focused on the psychological and physical abuse of Helen by her partner Rob over a number of years.

Such behaviour and control often stays hidden because suffering this for a substantial period will undermine a person's self-confidence and also because a person exercising this control will usually seek to isolate the other from their friends and family so that the victim becomes more dependent upon their abuser and it becomes their norm. 

In Helen's case matters came to a head when she stabbed Rob when she believed that her son Henry was in danger from him. Helen was acquitted and now a family judge in the long running radio show, has decided that both children should reside with Helen, with Rob having supervised contact with their son Jack and no contact with Henry because the Judge said  he is not Henry’s natural father.

This part of the Archers’ storyline is inaccurate.  This would not be considered by the court when deciding if a step parent or guardian should have access to their stepchild. The priority  is always the welfare of the child and the court must consider whether it is in their best interest to have contact with both parents (including step parents) who’ve built up a connection with the child.

Sadly, the storyline is all too familiar say domestic abuse charities in the UK. It is therefore to be hoped that a long term effect of the Archers storyline will be to enable sufferers and family and friends of sufferers to become aware when domestic abuse exists.

But what legal options are available to Helen and Rob in the future? 

Possible choices for Helen and Rob:

1. Avid fans of the show will know that in the early stages of their relationship, Rob ‘forced’ Helen to allow him to have parental responsibility for Henry. Helen could now apply to have that responsibility revoked by detailing Rob’s abuse. A fact finding hearing would subsequently need to take place to verify the claims and make a final decision.

2. Helen could also apply for a ‘no contact order’ between Rob and his biological baby – Jack. However, the court grants this very rarely as it regards a child having a relationship with both parents to be in their best interest.

3. Rob could apply for more time with his natural child, Jack, which Helen could seek to prevent by detailing her abuse, which the courts would have to investigate.

4. Helen could report Rob’s behaviour in the past to the police. Since 2015 it is now a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison if a perpetrator isolates a person, monitors their communications, puts them down or controls their finances all of which can have a serious effect on the victim. 

Angela Smith MP has come out this week saying that based on the latest research, family courts need to stop believing the "myth" that men with a history of abusing women can be good fathers. In response, Justice Minister Dr Phillip Lee admitted that there has been insufficient data on trends within the family justice system but said evidence would form the basis of new policy in the future. The Government is now working with the judiciary to consider what additional protections for vulnerable victims and witnesses may be necessary. There could therefore be more stringent laws in the pipeline restricting or banning parents convicted with domestic abuse from seeing their children.  It will be interesting to see if this will be reflected in the Archers at some point in the future.

If you would like to speak to Sue Andrews or the Family team in complete confidence please call 01753 279046 or email Sue.andrews@bpcollins.co.uk

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