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March 14th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
A British man has been barred from having any unsupervised contact with his daughter for the past four months and had his laptop confiscated.  Why?  Because, when he tried to download some music, pornographic images of children appeared instead.  Read about it here (BBC, 3/6/12).

That’s right, Nigel Robinson was doing what countless people do every day – downloading music to his laptop.  But instead, he found he’d gotten pornography instead.  He discussed the matter with his wife and the two of them decided to call the cops.  The police in turn called social services who ordered Robinson to keep away from his daughter, unless another adult is present, until further notice. 

According to the police, “further notice” may be as long as a year, during which time they intend to keep his laptop for “investigation.”  Why it would take them a year to figure out what he has on his computer and how it got there is beyond me, but that’s what they said. In addition, Robinson has been ordered to not be alone with any other children, not just his daughter.

So, for as long as social services and the police deem it necessary, Robinson’s daughter stays at her grandparent’s house until Mom gets home from work.

A council statement said: “The council’s social care team considers that, on the information it presently has about this case, it is a proportionate response to request that Mr Robinson should not have unsupervised access with his own or other children.

“The council will keep the case under review but cannot comment further as this is an on-going investigation.”

The police took the laptop away for investigation and said it could be a year before it is returned, Mr Robinson said.

Humberside Police said: “We are conducting an investigation that has resulted in the confiscation of a laptop in order for the relevant enquiries to take place – standard procedure for this type of investigation.

“The laptop is sent away to be examined and, as this forms the basis for a number of different investigations, Humberside Police have no control over the amount of time it takes for the laptop to be returned.”

Now, needless to say, Robinson has never been accused of abusing his child or any other.  He’s not been accused of any wrongdoing in this case and indeed, there’s no evidence that he’s committed any kind of offense.  But a mistaken effort to download music is still enough to brand him with the scarlet letter ‘A’ for ‘Abuser.’

Eventually, I’m sure he’ll be exonerated, his laptop returned together with his freedom to associate with the daughter he helps raise.  But in the meantime, he’s learned a valuable lesson.

Mr Robinson said: “It makes you feel as though you shouldn’t have reported it in the first place.”

He added it would have been “a lot easier” to just throw the machine in the bin.

Robinson should do what the vast majority of Americans and Canadians do; when it comes to family life, leave the government out of it.  Robinson and his wife tried to be good citizens.  I’m sure they thought that if they just came clean about what happened and demonstrated that they had nothing to hide, the authorities would see them for who they are – law-abiding citizens and fit parents.

Now they know better.  The ridiculous exercise of police power at the expense of a father’s relationship with his daughter was entirely predictable and to be avoided at all costs.  Whatever the outcome of the case and whenever it happens, great damage to Robinson and his family have been done.  As well, great damage has been done to whatever notion he might once have harbored about his rights as a father and himself as a member of a beneficent polity.

So the whole thing has been an education for Robinson and his wife and, as I’ve said before, “education is never wasted.”  The police and child welfare agencies can be relied on to continue to abuse their authority and the public can be relied on to continue to distance themselves from that authority whenever possible.

With luck, that dynamic would result in saner laws and public policies regarding children’s welfare and greater restraints on government’s power to screw up family life.  But I’m not a big believer in luck.  What happens in the United States are calls for ever-increasing governmental power to intervene in the minutiae of daily life in the home.  That’s true despite the fact that there’s literally nothing to suggest that government does a better job of parenting than parents do.

Yes, there will always be parents who are so bad, so destructive of their children’s well-being that state agencies must step in, take the children and place them in foster care or some other living arrangement outside their parents’ reach.  But child welfare agencies have taken that notion and made it a license to substitute their own decisions about how best to parent for those of parents.  Government has a way of increasing its power over the governed.  Grants of power tend to expand into realms unthought of by the original grantors. 

That’s nowhere more apparent than in the case of child welfare agencies that began with the very real need to protect abused children.  By now they’ve morphed into all-purpose overseers of parental behavior.  Did Mom decide to take her daughter off a particular medication that was having adverse side-effects and not helping the girl’s illness?  CPS disapproves and hauls the girl away.  In Ontario, an entire full-length movie has been made about the Children’s Aid Society’s abuses of parents and children.  Literally dozens of cases were recounted of the most arrogant exercises of state power.

It happens every day.  Nigel Robinson is a wiser man because of it.

Thanks to Malcolm for the heads-up.

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