Jail threat to over-protective mother lifted

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The Independent Online
The devoted mother of a severely handicapped 18-year-old boy yesterday won her legal battle to overturn a court order which threatened her with jail if she showed him too much motherly love.

Three senior appeal judges ruled that the judge who granted Steven Vickers an injunction - banning his mother from interfering with his right to live his own life - had no power to do so.

They said the injunction, with its threat of penal sanction against Mrs Marjorie Vickers, would only make matters worse because it had "the potential effect of destroying family relationships".

Members of the family would have to work out their "tragic" problems among themselves because the courts could not intervene, said Sir Stephen Brown, President of the High Court Family Division.

Mrs Vickers, 55, backed by her husband, Peter, 56, had challenged a High Court decision by Mr Justice Johnson last June that her intense devotion gave rise to "a real risk of infringement" of their adopted son's freedom.

Steven, who suffers from cerebral palsy, spastic quadriplegia and speech and learning difficulties, won the unique court order against his mother after complaining that she was so over-protective that she was stifling his development and his desire to live at a special home and school where he had companionship, stimulation and education.

Mr and Mrs Vickers, who live in the Liversedge area of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, married in 1959. They had a child of their own in 1975, but the child died after only a few months, as a result of a disability not diagnosed or treated properly. They then adopted Steven. Their joy was shattered when Steven, at about a year old, was diagnosed as having cerebral palsy. Kirklees District Council, the local authority in the area where they live, became involved in 1985, not because there was any question of ill-treatment or neglect, but because of the mother's fiercely over-protective attitude.

Mr Justice Johnson said last year that problems became increasingly intense, with Mrs Vickers resenting attempts by professionals to advise and help both her and Steven.

She exercised increasingly close and intimate control of his life and felt that her experience of him qualified her exclusively to make decisions for him and about him.

Sir Stephen Brown, sitting with Lord Justices Waite and Morritt, said that nobody doubted the parents' love and devotion. Under dreadful pressure, they had done everything to make Steven's life bearable.

But Mrs Vickers had in the past found it difficult to surrender his care to others and at one time she frustrated his attendance at the school - one of only four of its kind in the country - where he was a weekly boarder.

The High Court judge had ruled that Steven had a common law right to live where he liked and choose with whom he associated - and that his mother should not interfere with that right. However, Sir Stephen said the ruling was outside the judge's powers because there was no actual legal dispute between Steven and his parents.

Mr and Mrs Vickers, who also have a 15-year-old daughter, said they were "delighted" by the judgment. Both told the judges they would not interfere with Steven's wishes.