We want the State to take children into its care when they’re at serious risk of harm. It should be a measure of last resort, never one of ulterior motive. But that’s exactly what happened to a NSW family, who are still picking up the pieces. Rex Patrick takes a look into a travesty of justice.
It was only a few weeks ago that Angela noticed a marking high on her 12-year-old daughter’s thigh. “Ebony, what’s that?”, she asked. “Oh” said the girl, as she lifted her skirt and showed her mum the scribing, “That’s where I write your phone number … in case they take me again”.
How did it all come to this?
Much of it started in early 2020.
BANG, BANG, BANG! I jumped and ran outside the study room where my two (then) 12 year old girls, Mary and Melody, where studying online, as was necessary at this stage of the pandemic. My eye met with my youngest daughter, Ebony, who looked more frightened than I’d ever seen in her (then) eight young years.
There was a strange man’s voice, “Police, we are the police, if you don’t open the door, we’ll knock it down”.
The girl’s father was already at the door. The Police had already broken an unlocked metal screen door and the moment Elias pulled open the wooden door, a number of police officers dressed in riot gear stormed into the house.
Why was this happening; what had we done; why the tactical entrance?
Before I could comprehend the circumstances my family and I had found ourselves in, Elias was in handcuffs pinned to the floor and a towering police officer was barking instructions at me, “turn around, face the wall, and put your hands on your head. If you don’t, I’ll handcuff you”.
Meanwhile the police were dispersing through the house, shouting … yelling … as they went about their drill; all of it unnecessary and all if it injecting total fear into my young children.
After running a successful business in defence industry exhibitions from abroad Elias returned to NSW in 2018. After coming to one of his daughter’s defence when she had been bullied in her new school, his animated and passionate style saw him being referred to Education Department officials and ultimately to the NSW Police.
Friendly Jordies reprise – Fixated Persons Unit
Elias’ loud middle eastern persona and his extensive network of global defence contracting connections raised some terrorist concerns with Police and a referral was made to the highly controversial Fixated Persons Investigation Unit (FPIU) – the unit that subsequently inappropriately pursued Kristo Langker, Friendly Jordies’ producer, in 2021 for ‘stalking’ (which was later found to be anything but stalking).
Deliberately ignoring any and all contrary facts, the FPIU assessed Elias as a paedophile, a sociopath, a violent recidivist and a terrorist, who needed to be convicted of any crime.
That set off a chain of events based on un-objective policing that is a story in itself, but not the focus of this article. To cut a long story short, in November 2018 Elias was charged with four offences, including recruiting a child to carry out criminal activity, and over the next 5 months spent 120 days in jail after proceedings in the Magistrate’s Court.
Not guilty as charged
Three of his convictions were overturned in the Magistrates Court and the fourth in the NSW District Court; Elias finally being represented by senior counsel in both courts.
But the FPIU wasn’t going to let the Courts disrupt their plans and turned to an alternate jurisdiction, one that had a much lower threshold to ‘disrupt’ the father; the NSW Children’s Court. They enlisted the help of the Department of Community and Justice (DCJ).
“Stop shouting, you’re scaring my kids. What’s this all about”, I asked.
“We have a warrant and we’re here to take your children,” said the police officer.
“Because they are at risk”
“At risk from what?” I asked.
“Your husband”, he responded.
“I need to talk to my children,” I insisted. “They are scared and I need to calm them”.
Seconds later three or four women from the DCJ walked in, along with a man. They took my eldest daughter into the study room where my other girls were.
By now I was overcome; incredibly scared, intimidated, dizzy and feeling sick.
One of the women sat down with me and gave me a fleeting glimpse of a warrant and advised that the girls would be taken from me. Defensive, as any mother would be, I told them, “Look, if it’s him you want, take him. In fact, you don’t have to take him. He will leave voluntarily. But don’t take my kids.”
“I can’t do that”, she replied, “The decision has been made”.
From across the room my daughter was yelling. “Leave me alone, I want my mum, I want my mum”. Ebony was being carried out with an adult on each limb, each trying to deal with the kicking and screaming. The other twin was behind her with her little sister, both crying. I wanted to push past the official and run to my girls, if only just to touch them, but realised that would just give cause for the women to charge me with assault. At that point I realised I was realised there was nothing I could do.
“Ebony, Mary, Melody … I love you and I am coming to get you. I am coming to get you”.
The aftermath of improper police purpose
After the children were gone Elias and Angela notice the girl’s grandmother in trouble in a bedroom. She’d had a cardiac event and was quickly transported to hospital by ambulance, where she spent the next four days.
Three years later … three years of absolute hell for Elias, Angela and the three girls … the father living separately to the family, tears upon tears, financial drain, weight loss, the switching of schools, sadness and anxiety from separation, the switching of homes, the court hearings, job losses … the ordeal is still being played out. While the family are back together, Angela is trying to recover the considerable legal costs she incurred in what could only be described as DCJ actions for improper purpose.
The police wanted Elias away from his girls, lonely and frustrated, and liable to make some sort of criminal indiscretion under the pressure. They watched and waited for a mistake by him. Disappointingly for the FPIU, that didn’t happen.
The family rode out the time, including the orders from the Children’s Court that prohibited Elias from seeing the girls until they were 18. In June this year the Children’s Court, with its eye forced wide open to the injustice that had occurred, rescinded the prohibition orders.
Shift to FOI mode
Under the clarity that came for the pressure being relieved and with the benefit of a number of information access requests made by Elias, Angela is now in back in the Children’s Court demonstrating:
- The decision of DCJ to take the children relied upon on a report compiled by a case officer who did not properly consider all relevant matters, had engaged in no investigation – in circumstances where its previous investigations had not found the children to be at risk of serious harm – and took into account incorrect information that was easily verifiable.
- The DCJ consciously did not put before the registrar who signed the warrant relevant information that weighed against the issue of a warrant, including the most recent risk of serious harm (ROSH) assessment which showed the children were at no risk. It misled the registrar by giving an inflated and wrong impression of the risk of harm.
- Viable alternatives to traumatic removal by armed police were not adequately considered.
- The DCJ mislead the Court on many of the same facts and also informed it of criminal allegations against Elias, but failed to inform it that they were no longer current and had not been successful. They didn’t, for example, reveal to the Court that they knew Elias wasn’t a paedophile.
The aftermath of police mistakes
The warrant to take the children should never have been issued. The Children’s Court orders should never had been made. Yet the DCJ think it’s reasonable that Angela should be out of pocket for the ordeal.
This story is a true story, but for two things. 1) All the names have been changed for legal reasons and 2) the words in this article fall far short of properly describing the trauma caused by the events.
A gross misfeasance has taken place; a gross misfeasance that could happen to anyone in NSW who doesn’t have half a million Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) followers, like Friendly Jordies does.
The NSW Premier, Chris Minns, ought to intervene directing the Secretary of the DCJ, Michael Tidbal, to not only pay Angela’s Court cost, but also compensation – although the Premier must recognise that no amount of compensation will ever really heal the children’s trauma.