Judge concerned over how long it has taken police to investigate ‘extreme neglect’ of teenager

A High Court judge has raised “considerable concern” about how long it has taken police to carry out an investigation after a teenager was found at her parents’ home in a “state of extreme neglect” and suffering from malnutrition.

Mrs Justice Lieven, who is based in the Family Division of the High Court in London, says Kent Police has been investigating since August 2019, but no “charging decision” has been made.

She said the teenager, who is now in her early 20s, had been placed in the care of Kent County Council (pictured) after being “recovered” from her parents’ home, and had suffered “physically and mentally” as a result of her “traumatic experiences”.

The judge has aired her concerns after considering the woman’s case at hearings in the Court of Protection, where rulings relating to people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves are made.

She had been asked by council social services bosses to make decisions relating to the woman’s care and has aired concerns in a written ruling, on the latest stage of the litigation, published on Friday.

Mrs Justice Lieven, who said the woman could not be identified in media reports of the case, said she had been considering the litigation since September 2020.

She said she had staged hearings in private, but had now concluded that the public had a “right to know” about the case and her concerns.

The judge said she had raised concerns about the time police were taking to investigate at a private hearing in October.

“I expressed my considerable concern about the length of time that it was taking the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to carry out an investigation of the matter and reach a charging decision,” said Mrs Justice Lieven.

“It was over two years since (the teenager) had been found and yet there was no charging decision, and the police at that hearing informed me that they were hoping to make a charging decision in early 2022.”

The judge added: “There is a strong public interest in knowing how the criminal justice system, including the police and the CPS, are operating.”

She added: “… I do think that the public has the right to know that in a case such as this it will have taken over two-and-a-half years to even get to a charging decision.

“If there are charges brought, it is unknown how much longer it will take to get to trial.

“Delays in the system of justice, whether the police or the CPS, are a matter of legitimate public interest.”

Mrs Justice Lieven decided to reveal detail of the case after hearing arguments from lawyers representing Kent Police, Kent County Council and from a PA news agency reporter.

Kent Police argued the case should continue to be heard in private and that the press should not be allowed to make any “public report upon it”.

Lawyers representing the force argued that to “allow any public reporting” would interfere with the “integrity” of any future trial.

They said the investigation into “offences that may have been committed” against the woman was “complex and challenging”.

Mrs Justice Lieven said a senior detective had told her what investigations had been “undertaken” and sought to “explain why the process was taking so long”.

Kent County Council argued all hearings should be conducted in private for the foreseeable future.

Lawyers representing the council said bosses opposed the press being allowed to attend hearings and said there was “no benefit” to the woman but a “potential disbenefit of the dissemination of personal information”.

The PA reporter argued the public had a right to know about the judge’s concerns and said a report would not compromise any future trial.

Mrs Justice Lieven said she had decided that the press should be able to report the case and that future hearings should be staged in public.

She said she had considered the woman’s human right to respect for private life, the media’s right to impart information and “a potential impact on any future criminal trial”.

“There is an important public interest in holding court hearings in public and allowing the press to report upon them,” said the judge.

“I have concluded that the balance comes down in favour of allowing the press to report these proceedings and allowing the public to attend, subject to an appropriate reporting restriction order.”

Mrs Justice Lieven added: “I do not accept the argument advanced by the police that to allow the press to attend and report on the Court of Protection proceedings might undermine the integrity of the criminal trial.

“Firstly, I simply cannot see why it should.

“The Court of Protection case is focused on (the woman) and her welfare interests.

“Reporting on those proceedings will not involve evidence about the conduct, and certainly not the culpability, of her parents.

“Secondly, it is often the case that there are civil proceedings or inquiries in the public domain before a future criminal trial.”

She went on: “For all these reasons, I have concluded that the balance lies in allowing the press to report this case and the public to attend, subject to the usual order to protect (the woman’s) anonymity.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2022, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Gareth Fuller / PA.