Not since the trial of OJ Simpson has a "not guilty" verdict evoked such emotion as the jury's proclamation of Helen Titchener's (née Archer) innocence in Sunday night's bumper episode of the Archers. The nation has been on tenterhooks for the last 7 days as we have followed the highs and lows of the trial, which has brought issues of domestic violence and the new offence of "coercive control" to the fore. Now, after months of speculation, Helen will walk free from the charges of attempted murder and wounding with intent. But what next for Helen and Rob?
The priority for Helen will doubtless be to ensure her children's safety; first by ensuring that her son Jack (or, as Rob would have it, Gideon) is safe from the clutches of his villainous father, and secondly by procuring the return of her 5-year old son, Henry, who currently resides with Rob alone.
The avid listener will recall that Henry, conceived via sperm donor and born before Rob came on the scene, was not adopted following his marriage to Helen, despite Rob's best efforts. Deeming the adoption process to be too much hard work, Mr and Mrs Titchener elected a "parental responsibility agreement" instead, which confers all the rights of a parent on Rob except for the permanent and irrevocable legal status of Henry's father.
In relation to baby Jack, as the parents were married at the time of his birth, Rob also has full parental rights.
Thus, either parent has the right to apply for a child arrangements order in the event that they are unable to agree on the arrangements for Henry and Jack.
Assuming Rob is not prosecuted and then locked up on account of the allegations of rape raised by Helen and Jess during the trial, both Helen and Rob will have the ability to make an application to Felpersham Family court for a child arrangements order, regulating with whom the children should live and how much time they should each spend with the other party.
The court will take into account all factors, including the children's respective ages, wishes and feelings, physical and emotional needs and any harm they are at risk of suffering. No doubt Rob would raise arguments that Helen would be incapable of meeting Jack's needs on the basis of her alleged unsoundness of mind. However, given Jack's age and dependency on his mother, and in light of the arguments that Helen would raise as to the likely harm that any child in Rob's care would suffer (given his short temper and controlling tendencies), a court would be likely to order that he should remain with Helen. Rob might, however, succeed in persuading the court that he should have some form of contact with Jack, no doubt with the aim of gradually building it up over time.
The question of Jack's name will inevitably arise as Rob has made no secret of the fact that he believes his son should be named Gideon. Rob could apply to the court for an order that Jack's name be changed to Gideon. On considering whether to grant such application the court's primary consideration would be the effect on Jack. Helen's strong objections would be taken into account (as his primary carer). She would be likely to rely on the allegations of rape, domestic violence and coercive control in arguing that a change of name would be a constant reminder of Rob's treatment of her. On the basis that Jack will, in all probability, remain in her care, it is likely that she would succeed.
The position in relation to Henry may be more complicated given he has for the past few months been living with Rob who would say he has successfully been meeting Henry's needs. Helen would, however, argue that Henry would be at risk of suffering harm if he were to remain living with Rob and in analyzing the extent of such harm a court would take into account Helen's allegations of physical and emotional violence suffered at the hands of Rob. Given Henry's age, his wishes and feelings would not be determinative but they would be taken into account and he would be questioned about his experience of living with Rob. The nation would doubtless be fully behind Helen in her quest for securing Henry's freedom from the evil clutches of Rob Titchener, but the judgment of the court may not be reached so easily (particularly given the extent to which Rob has brainwashed little Henry).
Although Helen's friends and family in the village (of which there are many) are likely to be fully supportive of her efforts, she should be wary of Rob becoming alienated by the Ambridge denizens. If his life becomes unbearable in Ambridge there is a real risk that Rob may make an application to relocate elsewhere within the UK or even to another country. Helen and her distinguished barrister, Anna, may even need to grapple with the risk of an overseas abduction, given his potential links to the USA and Canada.
The other issue with which Helen will eventually have to contend is that of divorce. In England and Wales either Rob or Helen would have more than ample grounds for divorce on the basis of the other party's "unreasonable behaviour". The division of the finances, on the other hand, is likely to be more complicated. Suffice it to say that Helen may in the next few months feel that her difficulties with Rob have only just begun. The nation remains gripped.
Harriet Errington, Boodle Hatfield LLP