Jail term for Barking mum whose daughter disappeared during family court dispute

The hearing took place at the High Court (Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA)

The hearing took place at the High Court (Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA) - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

A woman whose three-year-old daughter disappeared after she became embroiled in a family court dispute with social workers has been handed given a six-month jail term.

Jessica Richards was convicted in her absence of breaching judges’ orders, having “intentionally, consistently and deliberately” frustrated the efforts of social services staff at Barking and Dagenham Council.

Judge Judith Rowe, sitting at the family division of London’s High Court, said that the little girl – who cannot be named – vanished about three months ago and her whereabouts remained unknown.

The court heard that another judge had ruled that Richards’ daughter should be taken from her care and live with a relative.

But at a hearing in May, when Richards appeared before a different judge, Mrs Justice Parker, lawyers representing social services said that the little girl had vanished.

Richards had told Mrs Justice Parker that her father had taken the little girl to his home in New York City.

Mrs Justice Parker ordered Richards, who also has links to Jamaica and Canada, to provide information about the girl’s whereabouts and barred her from leaving the country. The judge said the woman could face jail if she breached those orders.

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Lawyers representing Barking and Dagenham Council returned to court yesterday and asked for Richards to be jailed for contempt of court.

They said the girl had not been found and Richards had breached orders made by Mrs Justice Parker. Judge Rowe agreed and imposed a jail term.

Richards - who is in her 20s and lives in east London - was not at the hearing, with lawyers saying she was not at home and had not responded to phone calls.

Judge Rowe said the hearing had previously been adjourned and Richards had been given the opportunity to attend.

The judge said once Richards had been apprehended she should be returned to court and given another opportunity to provide information about the child.

Judge Rowe also gave permission for Richards’ name and other details to be published in the interest of “open justice”.

Most reports on family court proceedings have legal restrictions on identifying those involved, to protect the child’s identity.