Lord Blunkett has warned against the police using their powers “inappropriately”, as grandparents reveal their heartache at not being able to see their grandchildren.
A Savanta survey of more than 1,000 grandparents has revealed that in some instances grandparents who have tried to send cards or gifts to their grandchildren have faced police intervention, including being threatened with prosecution.
The survey, commissioned by the Grandparents United for Children campaign, showed that 15 per cent of the 1,082 respondents - 161 grandparents - had been blocked from seeing their grandchildren, often because of a relationship breakdown between the parents. Half of these grandparents were unable to see their grandchildren for more than a year.
More than 50 grandparents were penalised for attempting to contact their grandchildren through the threat of a police caution, threat of prosecution, a solicitor’s letter or had court proceedings taken against them.
The former home secretary said the police should not be getting involved in situations where a grandparent is simply trying to stay in contact with their grandchild.
“I think great sensitivity needs to be exercised between harassment and unwelcome approaches, and basic common sense where you say if grandparents are simply trying to acknowledge Christmas and desperately just trying to keep in touch so the youngster knows that they’re there and will be there in the future, then it’s inappropriate to be using police powers,” he said.
In the “very few” instances where there is unwelcome intrusion, Lord Blunkett said the police should “carefully” communicate that to the grandparent, he added.
The former Home Secretary took an interest in the issue after witnessing the heartache of close friends of his who couldn’t see their grandchildren.
“It’s absolutely fundamental to have that contact,” the grandfather of seven said. “For some grandparents it never comes right until the grandchild is an adult and can make their own choice, by which time they’ve missed years of nurturing and support and the wisdom that can come from grandparents, and of course the support that they can give to the parent,” he added.
The Grandparents United for Children campaign is calling for a change in the law to allow grandparents to see their grandchildren more easily.
In a report due to be published on Tuesday, the group is pushing for an amendment to the Children Act 1989 to enshrine in law the child’s right to have a relationship with their grandparents.
As a last resort, some grandparents have taken legal action to obtain a court order to see their grandchildren but this tends to be a lengthy and expensive process. The campaign group found that even in cases where there are no safeguarding issues it still often takes over a year for grandparents to obtain a court order giving them visitation rights.
Sally (not her real name), 73, has found the legal costs prohibitive. She wants to get visitation rights through the court to see her two grandchildren - who are four and six - after her daughter-in-law banned her from seeing them, but she has been told the whole process could cost her up to £20,000.
Expensive legal option
“Two quick phone calls to family lawyers already cost me £600, and then they set out for you how much it’s going to cost you and even at the end of all that you’re not guaranteed to see your grandchildren.”
The grandmother, who also serves as a Conservative councillor, lost her eldest son suddenly earlier this year after he was found to have inoperable brain tumours. Four days after his death, his wife told Sally she could no longer see the children.
She has bought birthday and Christmas presents for the children, which she is keeping in a memory box until she can see them again.
“If my son knew what had happened he would be turning in his grave,” she said.
Eva (name changed), 87, hasn’t seen her grandchildren in five years after her relationship with her daughter broke down. She has tried everything she can to stay in touch with them. “I’m broken-hearted about it,” she said. “We were always doing exciting things together,” she added. “I used to take them to the theatre, we went to football matches, for days out at the seaside.”
Chief Constable Catherine Roper, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for children and young people, said: “Policing must always have the interests of the child at the centre of everything it does and delivers this through working with a wide range of partners including parents, carers and the courts.
“All action taken by police will be proportionate and necessary, enforcing the law without fear or favour and always in the best interests of the child.”