The family of Ellie Yarrow-Sanders, a mother going through the family courts with her three-year old son, has asked her to come home after she went missing following the start of family court proceedings. Ellie’s mother and sister have asked the judge and the police not to prosecute Ellie and to guarantee that she won’t lose custody of her son, if she comes home.
The request, which was made in the hope of reassuring Ellie that she could return home without repercussions for what the court will view as kidnapping, has so far not been met with any response from Ellie, who has been missing with her son for over six months.
In an official statement issued by the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary on 1st February, the judge overseeing the case did not promise to let Ellie keep custody of Olly should she return home, saying only that he promised to deal with her case fairly. Mr Justice Williams also said that a senior social worker had been appointed to the case, to “seek to promote Olly’s welfare”, and that this did not mean there was any chance of Olly being placed in foster care. However the wording of the statement leaves room for a change in contact.
In cases where a parent flees with a child, family courts will often take the view that the parent on the run can no longer be trusted, leaving the door open for a contact order in favour of the remaining parent. Unless the fleeing parent can show that their actions were motivated by a desire to protect a child from risk of harm and provide evidence of that harm, the family court will almost always take the kidnapping into consideration when making an order for contact.
A letter written by Ellie to her family shortly before she disappeared alleges that Olly’s father was abusive, and that his portrayal of her in court had convinced the judge that she was causing Olly emotional harm. Ellie felt she had no choice but to go on the run.
In what’s believed to be a first for a family court judge, Mr Justice Williams also posted a tweet on the Judiciary’s official account asking Ellie to come home. The tweet includes the hash tag #ComeHomeOlly rather than #ComeHomeEllie, a choice which could be seen as manipulative and in bad taste.
The tweet prompted an intense conversation on Twitter, with some tweeters taking the view that assurances from the family courts were empty gestures, while others felt that Ellie should come back and face the court. Further hashtags were also added by tweeters in response to the Judiciary’s own, including
#keeprunningellie and #iamellieyarrowsaunders.
One tweeter wrote:
“She will not be given a voice, there are thousands of us getting abused in family court, acting like you don’t know and care, I’ve had 4 yrs of trying to protect my child so if I was her I’d #keeprunningellie keep that boy safe.”
Another tweeter felt that the public had no right to judge the case without all the facts:
“None of you making such sweeping statements against this man or woman have the full facts before you . The main concern is the child. The truth is that no one comes to work looking to take children off their families. She needs to get back into court and fight her corner.”
One tweeter also questioned whether Mr Justice Williams had the right to promise not to place Olly in foster care:
“I don’t get how a judge can say about not going in2 care. OF COURSE I hope it don’t come 2 that but how can it be promised?? Or did i get that wrong?”
The original Facebook post published on 2nd February by Ellie’s mother Donna and sister Maddie, calling for her and Olly’s safe return home has already received over 125 comments, with some posters telling the family that it was safer for Ellie to remain on the run. Other posters have offered their support and sympathy over Ellie and Olly’s disappearance.
Maddie’s post says the following:
“This is an official statement regarding Ellie and Olly.
This is NOT us siding with Patrick Sheridan. This is us independently and with the judge regarding her next step. As her mother and sister, we support her coming home but only under certain conditions regarding her safety. Without going into specifics I urge you to read her story so you can understand why she had to make the hardest decision of her life and go on the run with her son.
We would love for Ellie and Olly to return home to us, her family who will do everything in our power to protect them from going through anything like that again. We support her with coming home, as the media are stating, but only on certain conditions, such as safety from being prosecuted and that she will not lose custody that come with proven assurance by the media and the judge.
Please believe that we are doing this with the best interest of them both, as a life on the run is very lonely.
We miss you more everyday.”
Posters on Facebook seemed to be overwhelmingly in support of Ellie remaining on the run.
One comment under the post read:
“It maybe lonely but it’s safer. Until they publicly say they will not take Olly from her and start to investigate Patrick then Ellie is safer where she is. I hope to God one day she can come back home.”
Another poster said:
“Please never trust the courts , they are so corrupt the minute she steps foot back in sight Olly with be snatched from her and she will never see him again! Go and be with them where no one will know who they are and start a new life as a family so she won’t be alone then ☹️ #keeprunningellie”
A further post urged the police to investigate the allegations in Ellie’s letter:
“I would just like to see Essex police investigate the crimes she’s listed in her letter. She’s been really specific with easily corroborated evidence. I feel if her letter was substantiated then her actions would be viewed very differently by SS and court, but while they remain in the ‘allegation’ category it’s a double-edged sword.”
One poster felt cases like this would continue as long as domestic violence laws remained piecemeal:
“Until this country does something to seriously change the laws around domestic abuse, control and coercion Ellie needs to keep running. She’s running not just for herself & Ollie now, but for every single one of us who’s ever been put through this kind of abuse.”