Not liking your in-laws is one thing, but poisoning them is quite another

That’s right, the case of A (A Child) [2020] EWCA Civ 1230 is a case concerning a fairly rare factual matrix where it was alleged that the father of A had poisoned the child’s maternal grandparents and the child’s mother.

The private law proceedings in respect of the Father’s contact with A came before HHJ Jacklin QC for a fact-finding hearing in January 2020, where the court heard evidence about the events of 11th September 2012. This is the crucial date on which it is alleged that the Father had poisoned the child’s maternal family members. The court heard that the maternal grandfather had died from thallium poisoning and the mother and maternal grandmother had become seriously ill as a result of thallium poisoning, and made findings to that effect.

The court also heard that on the morning of 11th September 2012, the Father had risen from bed much earlier than usual, and, the Mother, following him out of bed, had allegedly witnessed the Father with his back to her, leaning over the table (which held the maternal grandparents’ cups of coffee) on the veranda of their home in Bulgaria.

By early evening on 11th September 2012, the grandfather became ill and died 2 days later, his cause of death being recorded as a stroke causing heart failure, though later when exhumed it was found that he had died of thallium poisoning.

In early October, both the Mother and the grandmother tested positive for thallium.


The Appeal


Findings were made that the Father had deliberately administered thallium to all three family members and that he had withheld that information from medical staff. The Father appealed against his findings and the appeal was heard at the end of July 2020.

The Lady Justice King found that the evidence the Mother gave of the Father “leaning over” the table on the veranda went to the heart of the conclusions made by HHJ Jacklin QC, notwithstanding the fact that the Mother was relying upon her memory of events over 7 years prior, and had only made mention of this evidence in her written statements in April 2014, 18 months after the death of the grandfather.

King LJ held that:

the judge clearly regarded the 'leaning over' finding to be, if not the lynch pin, certainly central to her conclusion that the father had killed the grandfather and tried to kill the grandmother. These are findings of the utmost seriousness made in relation to anyone, but particularly shocking when made in relation to a doctor. Fairness required a rigorous analysis of all the evidence relevant to the 'leaning over' issue. In my judgment, the judge inappropriately favoured an aspect of the oral evidence of the mother over a significant amount of contemporaneous and written evidence, without reference to that evidence, or sufficiently explaining why she had done this. This omission, in my view, inevitably serves to undermine the findings made against the father” - §50, per King LJ.

Secondly, the Court of Appeal considered the issue of the Father’s motive. HHJ Jacklin QC stated in her judgment that “the father was motivated to remove the grandparents as they were obstacle to a continuing relationship with the mother and close involvement in the life of his son. Anything short of their demise was unlikely to achieve that” (quoted by King LJ at §52).

It was accepted by King LJ that this had not been put to him in cross-examination, undermining the judgment as a whole.



King LJ upheld the Father’s appeal and remitted the case for a re-hearing to determine firstly, whether the poison was administered deliberately into the grandparents’ coffee, and, secondly, to try to identify the perpetrator.

Full judgment available here -