Child First: A Mother’s Campaign For Justice After Tragedy

Illustration of a gavel with paper cutouts representing family court proceedings.

In a quiet corner of the UK, a tragedy unfolded that deeply impacted Claire Throssell and her family. Claire’s sons, Jack and Paul, were tragically killed by their father, despite her warnings about his danger. Following this devastating loss, Claire dedicated herself to the “Child First” cause. This initiative focuses on protecting children and making sure family courts prioritise their safety above all else. It’s not just a personal response to loss; it’s a vital step towards systemic change, aiming to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

The Devastating Turn of Events

In October 2014, Claire Throssell faced the darkest moment imaginable. Her ex-husband, Darren Sykes, executed a plan that would forever change the course of many lives. He enticed their young sons, Jack and Paul, into the attic of their family home with the promise of showing them a new train set. What followed was a calculated act of arson, where Darren set the house ablaze, leading to his own death and the tragic loss of their two sons. This was not an isolated incident but the climax of a prolonged period of abuse and harassment that Claire and her children had suffered at Darren’s hands. His actions prior to the tragedy, including stalking and sending threatening messages, painted a picture of a man willing to exert control and instill fear at any cost.

The Final Act of Control

Darren’s final act was deeply rooted in a desire to exert the ultimate control over Claire by causing the most profound pain possible. Despite Claire’s efforts to protect her children, the legal system granted Darren unsupervised visitation rights. It was during one of these visits that he carried out his final, fatal act. Using gasoline, he set multiple fires within their home, with the children inside. In a desperate attempt to escape, Jack tried to save his younger brother, Paul. Unfortunately, both succumbed to smoke inhalation, with Paul dying at the scene and Jack later in the hospital. Darren’s evil motive was revealed to be a desire to “punish” Claire, further evidenced by his prior cancellation of the home’s insurance and leaving her burdened with the mortgage. This act was intended not just to take away the lives of their children but to leave Claire with nothing.

Oversight and Accountability: The Family Court’s Role in Tragedy

In the heart-wrenching case of Claire Throssell, the UK family courts faced scrutiny for their critical oversight. Despite Claire’s dire warnings about her ex-husband Darren Sykes’s potential for harm, he was granted unsupervised access to their sons, Jack and Paul. This decision, tragically overlooking a history of abuse, led to an irreversible tragedy.

Child First: The Need for Systemic Reform

Claire Throssell’s tragedy shows the urgent need for reform in family courts. Her loss sparked the “Child First” campaign. It calls for a shift in judicial focus towards prioritising children’s safety and well-being. This campaign stresses thorough risk assessments and including children’s voices in court decisions. It challenges the prevailing “pro-contact” culture that failed to protect Jack and Paul. The push for change underscores the belief that family courts must evolve to embody a “Child First” ethos. It’s crucial to ensure children’s safety is always the top priority.

Child First: Turning Grief into Advocacy

Through “Child First,” Claire’s mission is to ensure that the courts fully consider the potential risks to children’s safety and emotional well-being. Her advocacy is a clarion call for a cultural shift within the family courts, advocating for a system where decisions are made with the utmost consideration for the children’s best interests, ensuring that no other family endures such a preventable tragedy.

Navigating New Challenges: The Journey of “Child First”

In recent developments, the Ministry of Justice has proposed making mediation compulsory for separating partners before entering the family courts. “Child First” advocates, like Women’s Aid, worry deeply. They say the new proposal might hurt survivors and their children. Even with a special exception for abuse cases, fears linger. Survivors might not claim this exception. They might be scared to talk about the abuse or lack needed proof. Critics believe this plan could put survivors at risk again. It might lead to more manipulation and harm. This goes against the “Child First” goal. That goal is to protect children and vulnerable parents.

The Government’s Strides and Stumbles

The government’s report on the Harm Panel’s advice brings some hope. It talks of “huge strides” and changes in the family justice system. These changes aim to help victims of domestic abuse better. But frontline groups like Women’s Aid and “Child First” campaigners, including Claire Throssell, see things differently. They point out mismatches between government claims and what survivors actually face in court. Yes, the courts have made changes, like stopping abusers from directly questioning their victims. But, according to many survivors’ experiences, these courts are still not fully safe for them or their children.

Evolving the “Child First” Vision

As the “Child First” campaign moves forward, it remains steadfast in its call for implementation of the Harm Panel’s 32 recommendations. These guidelines serve as a roadmap to a judicial system where the safety and voices of children and survivors are not just considered but are pivotal in every decision. The campaign’s commitment underscores the ongoing struggle to reshape family courts into environments where “Child First” isn’t just a principle but the foundational ethos guiding every action and decision.


Reflecting on the “Child First” journey, it’s about resilience. Claire Throssell and others like her advocate tirelessly. They turn personal tragedies into calls for change. Despite challenges and victories, the campaign’s focus is clear: to ensure family courts prioritise children’s well-being and safety. It envisions a world where no family endures preventable tragedies. The path forward is tough, but “Child First” advocates remain steadfast, guiding efforts to transform the family justice system into one that protects its most vulnerable members.

You can add your signature to the Child First petition to get it delivered to the Justice Secretary here.

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