Justice for Ken: Child lawyer advises parents how to avoid pain of abduction

Beth Woodward
Beth Woodward

THERE were 351 cases of international parental child abduction in 2010 involving 513 children, according to figures from UK charity Reunite.

Milton Keynes Citizen has been following the stories of two victims of child abduction, Ken Spooner and Sylvia Volna.

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The two stories are remarkably similar.

Both had children with partners from a foreign background, both allowed these former partners to take the children abroad on ‘holidays’ – and both have been fighting to have the children brought home.

Ken Spooner saw his ex-girlfriend Zanetta Nyendwa take boys Caelan and Devlan on a holiday to Zambia in October 2008.

She has never returned to this country despite an English Court Order insisting she does.

Ken Spooner with Devlan and Caelan before the abduction in 2008

Ken Spooner with Devlan and Caelan before the abduction in 2008

Sylvia Volna’s daughter Imen was taken to Tunisia by her ex-partner Mekki Fitouri in August 2009 – again on what was purported to be a holiday. 18 months later she is still fighting to have Imen returned home.

Yet the British Government says it is powerless to interfere in such cases as it cannot be seen to intervene in the affairs of sovereign states abroad.

Beth Woodward is a family law solicitor with Neves in Central Milton Keynes with 15 years experience in child abduction cases.

This week she writes for the Citizen about what parents should do if they are worried their child may be taken abroad and what the English courts can do in such cases:

AS the world gets smaller and there are more marriages between different nationalities, child abduction is increasing.

In many cases parents pretend they are going on holiday to their country of origin, and fail to return.

Research shows a third of people don’t know that if you take your child abroad without the consent of the other parent this may be considered abduction under UK Law.

Milton Keynes Citizen has recently featured the cases of Sylvia Volna whose six year old daughter was abducted to Tunisia and of a father’s fight for the return of his two children from Zambia.

The results can be devastating, but following these four simple rules can reduce the risk:

> Abduction is a serious criminal offence so report your fears to the police. They can issue an All Ports Alert;

Immediately report your fears to a solicitor who can help you get court orders seizing passports and prohibiting your child’s removal from England;

> Get a parental responsibility agreement.

All mums have parental responsibility, but not all unmarried dads. If you don’t have parental responsibility, there is no criminal abduction.

> Keep passports in a secure place and don’t be too trusting.

If you think your child may have been abducted, act quickly.

The court can declare that your child has been removed wrongfully, and order the return of your child to England. It can get information from people who may know the whereabouts of your child, airlines, phone companies etc.

There is a little known person at the High Court called a Tipstaff who has very far-reaching powers and has helped me get children back from the Middle East, Europe, Pakistan and the Caribbean. There is usually someone in England who knows something and the Tipstaff’s ability to get that information has never failed me.

> Find out whether the country to which your child has been is part of the Hague Convention.

If so, the foreign country will work with the Foreign Office to get your child returned. If not – and there was a 39 per cent increase in abductions to countries outside the Convention last year – your child will probably be made a ward of court and proceedings may need to be taken abroad.

The key is to act fast to avoid your child disappearing further or becoming settled abroad.

If any of these issues affect you contact a family law solicitor specialising in child abduction, REUNITE on 0116 2556 234 or the Child Abduction Section at the Foreign Office on 0207 008 0878.