UPDATE [May 22]
Police have raided a Queensland property, locating the four missing children and their great grandma who was hiding them after a protracted, international custody dispute. The girls’ mother had been ordered to return them to Italy so that the custody matters might be heard in the local courts.
The Judge who made orders for the children to return to Italy has said his orders still stand. He has declined to hear further applications from the family and said he suspects the children’s relatives are in contempt of court for hiding the children.
He said the children’s relatives should be brought to court to swear on oath about their whereabouts.
To clarify yesterday’s article, the Family Court previously found the father did not give his permission for the family to flee. The family did leave Italy with the help of Australian officials, however they reportedly did not make it clear why they were leaving.
Since yesterday, the children have released handwritten letters claiming they wish to stay in Australia.
A Brisbane judge has re-iterated that the children would be returned to Italy to have the case heard under its jurisdiction.
Four sisters aged 9-14. As you read this, they’re currently on the run, somewhere in Australia.
The four girls, aged 14, 13, 10 and 9, were whisked away from Italy two years ago by their Australian mother Laura because her Italian husband (the girls’ father) was allegedly physically abusive toward them all for years (according to Laura). But in the last few days, the Family Court here ordered the girls return to Italy for the matter to be heard.
The court ruled the four children must board a flight back to Italy by 12.01am this Wednesday. The girls said they would have to be ‘sedated and physically removed’ from their mother before they went voluntarily.
Why? Because Laura allegedly took them from Italy and Australia is a signatory to the Hague Convention anti child abduction treaty. That treaty over-rides many practical protections of Australian law.
Mother Laura (who is Australian) claims it was not an abduction because they left the country with her husband’s permission … but then he changed his mind. The Federal Court found this was not the case and that the father thought his children were going on a holiday.
The Judgment reads: “In fact, the documents put into evidence by the mother support a finding that the mother grew more and more desperate to remove herself and her four children permanently from Italy through 2009 and the first half of 2010. When a person becomes desperate, whether with objective justification or not, they can sometimes consider that the desired end result justifies all means, however desperate.”
One of the children wrote on the family’s Facebook page this week: “I remember Mum coming to pick us up from school and she had a bruise on her face and she told us that she was splitting up from dad and told us that he hit her. I dont [sic] actually remember that well but I do remember that I would always hear her screaming. After that, Mum said we had to move and she found a house in Pontassieve and so we started living there but we went on the weekend to our Dad’s house,” .
Laura soon left the country altogether with her four daughters.
They’ve been living with Laura’s family on the Sunshine Coast. The girls have all re-settled and been doing well at school, their grandma says. But recently, their father came to Brisbane to take his daughters back to Italy, allegedly against their wishes and the wishes of their mother.
Now, faced with the order for the girls to return to Italy, things have suddenly escalated. The children’s 70-year-old great grandmother Carol picked them up from school this week and helped them run away. The four girls and their Great Grandmother have been officially declared ‘missing’ by Queensland Police.
The clock is ticking.
“I will go to jail if that’s what it takes to protect those kids,” Carol said to the Courier Mail from an undisclosed location.
Carol’s daughter Kate is the children’s grandmother (and mother of Laura – are you following?) and she’s been marshaling the media, the government and the police in this situation that has blown out to a full-scale search for the children.
“They were scared out of their wits, the children were hysterical so my Mum [Carol] took them,” she told Mamamia this afternoon.
“She knows the police are after them.”
Kate told 4BC Radio in Brisbane that her daughter Laura phoned her when she realised she was being made to hand her kids over.
“She could barely speak, she was distraught,” she said.
“The children are in a safe place and they’re being looked after. Thank you all for your support so far, please keep it up. We need to keep pursuing this until the girls can be heard and until we can find a legal representative who can help them.”
The family has petitioned everyone it can, running a frantic social media campaign to raise awareness. Local MPs have written letters to the Prime Minister, help has been sought from Queensland Premier Campbell Newman whose Department of Communities is handling the case.
The Australian Federal Police are investigating. There are just hours remaining on the deadline to have the children handed to their father at Brisbane Airport.
Laura pleaded with the Prime Minister today: “At this last minute I beg the Prime Minister to put a hold on the passports and so they can be heard and not have their human rights violated and handcuffed and sedated at the airport and forced on a plane for somewhere they don’t want to go,” she said.
This story is developing and will be updated.