A father who abducted his three children from their home abroad can nevertheless keep them in England after his 13-year-old son vehemently objected to leaving the country. The Court of Appeal accepted that, in the unusual circumstances, the boy’s wishes and feelings outweighed the need to uphold the ban on international child abduction contained within the Hague Convention.

The father, who lives in fear due to his former role as an undercover police officer, infiltrating criminal gangs, emigrated to the other side of the world with his wife and three children. However, after the breakdown of the marriage, he returned to the UK with the children without telling their mother.

A family judge had described the father’s ‘unwise and dangerous’ removal of the children as ‘wholly irresponsible’, exposing them to the risk of gangland reprisals. The ‘highly manipulative’ father had told the children that their mother had ‘abandoned’ them.

However, the judge refused to order the children’s return abroad to live with their mother. He noted that, through the actions of both parents, the family’s safety had been compromised in the country from which they were abducted. The 13-year-old boy was of sufficient maturity for his opinions to be given weight and there was no reason to doubt that his objection to leaving the UK was ‘genuinely his own’.

On appeal, the mother’s lawyers argued that the children would be safer abroad with her. They submitted that the judge had taken insufficient account of evidence which it was said ‘exploded’ the boy’s initial claims that he didn’t get on with his mother, when in fact they had a ‘superb’ relationship. The father had looked into the law on international child abduction prior to fleeing with the children and it was argued that he could not be permitted to ‘get away with an egregious breach of the law’.

The court expressed a great deal of the sympathy for the mother and Lord Justice Davis noted: “The father’s conduct was in gross violation of all his moral and legal responsibilities. It can certainly be said that it is potentially most unattractive that the father could ‘get away’ with conduct of this kind.’

However, the family judge had properly weighed the overriding need to promote the welfare of the children in considering whether the provisions of the Hague Convention should be enforced on the particular facts of the case. Refusing the mother permission to appeal, the court ruled that the judge had been entitled to conclude that removal from the UK would not be in the children’s best interests.