Secret court jails father for sending son 21st birthday greeting on Facebook after he was gagged from naming him
Garry Johnson breached gagging order stopping him publicly naming son
46-year-old brought up his son and still lives with him
Judge sent father to prison for contempt at a closed-doors family court
Case certain to fuel concerns about Britain’s network of secret courts
By Sue Reid
A father has been jailed at a secret court hearing for sending a Facebook message to his grown-up son on his 21st birthday.
Garry Johnson, 46, breached a draconian gagging order which stops him
publicly naming his son, Sam, whom he has brought up and who still lives
In a case which is certain to fuel concerns about Britain’s shadowy
network of secret courts, a judge sent the former music executive to
prison for contempt at a closed-doors family court hearing in Essex at
the beginning of last month.
He was not arrested by police or even represented by a lawyer.
The order silencing Mr Johnson – which follows an acrimonious divorce
eight years ago – means he cannot mention either of his boys,
21-year-old Sam and Adam, 18, in public, even by congratulating them in a
local newspaper announcement when they get engaged, married or have
children in the future.
The extraordinary gag is set to last until the end of his life, although
his boys are now adults. Last night they condemned their father’s
jailing as ‘cruel and ludicrous’.
After their parents’ divorce, the two boys chose to live with their
father, following a series of rows with their mother over her new
But within a year of the divorce, Mr Johnson’s ex-wife made allegations
to Essex social workers that he was neglecting the children and not
feeding them properly at his smart family home.
An investigation by social workers cleared him of any wrongdoing and said the boys were fine.
A year later, in 2006, she made further allegations to social workers that he was mentally unfit to care for the boys.
Medical documents shown to the Mail by Sam and Adam reveal that Mr
Johnson was examined three times by a local psychiatrist hired by social
workers. The doctor wrote to social workers saying: ‘There is no
evidence of mental illness. I cannot understand why there are concerns
about Mr Johnson’s mental health.’
Social services refused, as a result, to get involved.
In 2007, the ex-wife started private care proceedings to remove the boys
from their father. A judge put the boys under a ‘living at home with
parent’ care order.
It meant they would continue to live with their father, but under supervision by social services.
This care order was accompanied by the gagging order to stop an
increasingly anguished Mr Johnson talking about the case publicly.
Even naming his sons in the most innocuous circumstances – such as on Facebook – became a contempt of court.
Much-loved: Gary Johnson wished his son, Sam a happy birthday on Facebook. Sam is pictured when he was 15 in 2007
The care order on Sam expired on his 18th birthday three years ago. The
one on Adam in October last year when he reached 18. Normally, a gagging
order imposed by a family court judge on a parent expires at the same
time as a care order on the child. This one did not.
Mr Johnson was imprisoned at the height of the Mail’s campaign against jailings by this country’s network of secret courts.
The secretive family court system, which jailed Mr Johnson, deals with custody wrangles, children’s care orders and adoption.
Mr Johnson received a letter in late April from Chelmsford County Court
officials ordering him to go to Basildon Magistrates’ Court building on
May 2 for a hearing regarding his children.
He was not warned he might face imprisonment or that the hearing was
about his Facebook message, posted on Sam’s birthday a few days earlier
on April 23.
On arrival, he was escorted by court security guards to a private room
in the building for a half hour hearing under family court rules before
His Honour Judge Damien Lochrane.
He was not warned that he might need a lawyer.
At the private hearing, Mr Johnson learned he had breached a gagging
order, imposed by the family courts in 2007, by sending the Facebook
He informed the judge that he had had four heart attacks and was
awaiting a triple by-pass operation. But he was sentenced to 28 days’
jail and sent down to a court cell to await transport to Chelmsford
In the court cell, he had a heart attack caused by the shock. Rushed to a
local hospital by ambulance, he was then shackled and handcuffed to a
bed while on oxygen and receiving morphine.
A team of prison officers were put on 24-hour shifts beside his bed to make sure he did not escape.
He recovered and was sent to prison two days later, serving two weeks of
the sentence before being released. Details of the horrifying case were
made public to the Mail by his sons, who are not subject to any gagging
order according to their Essex-based lawyer, Alan Foskett.
The jailing provoked a horrified response from MPs last night. John
Hemming, the Lib Dem MP who has campaigned against the secret courts,
said: ‘This is yet another example of how the secret courts are stopping
freedom of speech. I have never heard of a gagging order of this kind
going on into adulthood. This is a surreal case.’
Mr Johnson’s local MP, John Baron, said: ‘I have helped Mr Johnson and
his sons – who always wanted to live with him – over several years. To
find he has been imprisoned for sending a birthday message to one of
them is troubling.
Sam, a telesales manager and former professional footballer, said last
night: ‘My dad is a good father and has never been in trouble with the
police. He was treated like a criminal. This ludicrous gagging order
should not exist and must now be lifted.
Both Adam and myself are adults. This cruel ruling is now hanging over
my father to silence him about the sons he loves for the rest of his
life. That is a terrible thing in what is meant to be a free country.’
Mr Johnson was imprisoned a day before senior judges, on May 3, reacted
to the Mail campaign by saying they planned to stop courts jailing
defendants in secret for contempt.
Because of the controversial secrecy rules, some have been sent to jail
for discussing their case with MPs or charity workers advising them. Secret Courts sounds like the IRS here in the states
|Liveleak on Facebook|