Family Court Files: child abduction using northern Cyprus ‘loophole’ leaves parents in legal deadlock

It is a case locked in stalemate. On one side is a father who says he has been the subject of false allegations and left heartbroken after his daughter was abducted from the UK four years ago.

On the other is a mother who claims she had to flee the country with her child because the family court failed to protect them from alleged abuse by her ex-husband.

Fleeing to Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus meant deserting friends and family and abandoning her job. It resulted in the mother’s bank accounts being frozen and orders preventing relatives back home talking to her. She could be prosecuted if she returns.

But as she sees it, the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) – which is not recognised by the British government – provides a safe haven. Northern Cyprus is not a signatory to the Hague convention on child abduction, so there is no process to return a child that has been taken there without the other parent’s consent.

The mother unlawfully removed the child from the UK on 4 January 2020. She was assisted by her father, who has since pleaded guilty to child abduction and received an 18-month prison sentence last week.

At the sentencing, Judge John Edwards at Stafford crown court told the defendant: “You believed – and do still – [that the girl] was the subject of [abuse by her father]. I make it clear that there is not, and never has been, any evidence to support that wicked accusation.”

Edwards said the grandfather had hatched a plan with his daughter in a “cruel and selfish ruse” to defy family court orders. He said the girl had been deliberately taken to a place with which the UK has no extradition treaty, depriving her of a relationship with her father and two siblings.

At the time of the abduction, the child had been removed from her mother’s care and was living with her father following a decision by the court. The mother had tried unsuccessfully to appeal that ruling. It was during a weekly contact visit that she took the opportunity to abscond with the girl.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) can report on the case after making a joint application to the family court in Birmingham with Channel 4 News and the freelance journalist Suzanne Martin.

It is understood to be just one of many such cases where parents have used the “unintended loophole” offered by northern Cyprus to evade UK court orders. Several mothers have claimed they have fled to the enclave to protect their children from abusive ex-partners, according to reports.

In September, the BBC published details of anonymous interviews with six mothers who fled with their children to the northern territory of the island. They claimed they had sought sanctuary there because their children had been handed to abusive partners.

Many said they had been accused of “parental alienation”, described as when a child rejects one parent because they have been manipulated by the other.

‘Complete despair’

The father in the Birmingham case claims that, while there may be mothers in northern Cyprus who have fled genuine abuse, he is an innocent party whose family has been torn apart by a four-year ordeal that has no end in sight.

On 4 January 2020 he got a text from his ex-wife saying his daughter was having a “much deserved holiday”. Panic set in when he called her to hear an international ringtone.

When it transpired that she had fled to northern Cyprus, his emotions turned to “complete despair”, he said.

In court, he urged the judge not to let the grandfather “walk free”, claiming his actions have ripped his family apart.

After his daughter was removed from the country, he flew to northern Cyprus to instigate legal proceedings. He has since attended about 10 hearings there but the authorities do not recognise the orders made by judges in England.

At Stafford crown court last week, he described how he had missed four of his daughter’s birthdays and three Christmases. He has experienced anxiety, depression and recurring nightmares following her abduction, he said.

The father says he has been on an “emotional rollercoaster” since the abduction. He told TBIJ that the last four years have left him mentally exhausted and in financial ruin.

He has seen his daughter, who he describes as a “happy, chatty girl” who loves art and crafts, dancing and singing, just twice since she was taken abroad.

The first time was shortly after the girl arrived in northern Cyprus. “She was happy to see me, and we played together. She had me doing gymnastics and making jewellery,” the father said. “She told social services she wanted to see me again but then lockdown happened.”

The stress of being separated from his daughter has been compounded by the allegations of abuse made against him, the father said. “We were heartbroken [to learn of them]. They had never been raised before and they are certainly not true.”

Long-running litigation

The parents have been embroiled in “toxic and fraught” proceedings in the family court for more than a decade.

In the aftermath of their separation in 2013, the father was accused of excessive drinking and threatening behaviour by his ex-partner. The mother consistently breached court orders by preventing her daughter from attending 37 out of 42 contact sessions with him over six months.

About seven months before fleeing the country, the mother contacted police to complain that her ex-husband had moved within two miles of her home, which made her feel intimidated. She also alleged he had been coercive during their relationship.

She made a further complaint that the father’s wife was emotionally abusing her daughter. A letter from the school shows the girl had arrived at school crying, saying that her stepmother had shouted at her and she “wanted mummy”.

After the mother relocated without informing her ex-husband, the matter was returned to court. It was ordered that the girl should live with her father and see her mother once weekly.

When the mother appealed the decision in December 2019, it was dismissed as being “totally without merit”. The following month, she took the child abroad.

Many court hearings since have made repeated orders for the girl to be returned to the UK. The mother has submitted numerous statements to the court but attended only one hearing, in November last year, before Mrs Justice Judd.

Representing herself and appearing remotely, the woman told the court she had done what any mother would do to safeguard her child.

She said her daughter of primary school age was “thriving” in northern Cyprus. “I left my job, my house, my family, my friends,” she told Judd. “I didn’t do that on a whim, your honour. I did that to protect my daughter.”


In May 2020 the mother filed a statement to the court, alleging for the first time that the father posed a risk of harm. She claimed her daughter had made “abhorrent” allegations of abuse against him.

There was “compelling evidence” that her daughter was subject to abuse by her father, she said.

She raised the allegations with Staffordshire police and later told the court that although they initially said they would investigate, she was then told that they would only examine the allegations if she returned to the UK.

The mother, who risks arrest if she leaves northern Cyprus, said: “[My daughter] is more than happy to speak to Staffordshire police remotely, however, they have refused to even investigate.”

The force, which also offered to interview the girl in Cyprus if she crossed the border, disputes this.

In the same email exchange the mother said she had previously reported her ex-husband for coercive control, stalking and harassment.

She told the court in a later statement the police “even referred me to victim support, encouraged me not to disclose my address and even scored me 10/13 on their [assessment] as high risk of future abuse”.

The father’s barrister, Sarah Blackmore, said her client urged the mother to return the child so the allegations against him “could be determined and tried by this court”.

Aside from her court appearance in November, the mother has been represented at one previous hearing by a lawyer, in December 2022, but did not attend herself.

The barrister, Charlotte Proudman, told the court her client would not be returning to “this jurisdiction” because it would place the child at risk of serious harm.

Overseeing proceedings, Judd said the case was at a “stalemate”.

Proudman told the judge that the mother left a “prestigious job” and had taken a “very drastic measure” because of safeguarding concerns.

It was highlighted to the court that there had been no factfind hearing before the transfer of residence to the father, with the mother submitting the move was “devastating” for her daughter.

Proudman told the court: “The mother’s concern is that parental alienation is used in this case as a tactic to undermine the credibility and legitimacy of her domestic abuse allegations.

“Her worry is if she were to return to this jurisdiction, [her child] would be potentially put in foster care or into the care of the father, and that would cause her significant emotional harm.”

An officer from Staffordshire police also attended the hearing and said they did not support the mother’s “defence of fleeing domestic violence”.

Blackmore said the father was not permitted to go near the mother or the child because the mother had obtained a protection order in the TRNC proceedings.

‘Irreparable damage’

Following a press application to the court, a transparency order laying out the conditions of publication was issued, with all parties having agreed there is a public interest in the facts being reported, as long as the girl’s identity was protected.

The mother told the court at the latest hearing: “There are many mothers here in northern Cyprus who have been subject to similar proceedings. People know our story out here.”

In a judgment published this week, Judd said that the mother had complaints against the courts, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) and the police. She wanted to name various professionals from these bodies “to expose their malpractice and unlawful behaviour”.

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The mother alleged that the child’s guardian and the father’s legal team had misled the court. The child’s previous guardian had been the subject of a long list of “very serious allegations” lodged by the mother which Cafcass investigated and wrote to her to refute.

The judge said she would not permit the naming of the professionals. Her order reflected that the court had made no findings against the father or his wife and there are no ongoing criminal investigations in relation to either of them.

During sentencing last week, the court heard how the girl’s grandfather had supported the mother’s claims that her child had disclosed abuse.

His barrister, Stephen Harvey KC, said his client had put his daughter and granddaughter first due to his “genuine beliefs about what the background truly was”.

He said the defendant had confided in his sister before travelling to northern Cyprus, telling her he would do “anything to help his daughter”.

Harvey, who pushed for a suspended sentence, said the grandfather went along with the plan because he was concerned for his daughter’s state of mind and the girl’s welfare. “His actions were not motivated to thwart court orders,” he said.

But Judge Edwards told the defendant: “Whatever your reasons, altruistic or otherwise, you acted in flagrant defiance of a very clear order of the family courts […] You knew precisely what you were doing. Indeed, you boasted how you were ‘sidestepping British injustice’. It was as callous as it was calculated.”

Edwards said the relationship between father and daughter had been “irreparably damaged”.

The grandfather had shown no remorse, the judge noted, adding that there must be an element of deterrence in his sentencing. “In my view, this is a very serious example of its kind,” he said.

‘Unintended loophole’

The issue of international child abduction was debated by MPs in the House of Commons in March 2023. Northern Cyprus was cited as particularly problematic.

The Labour MP Andy Slaughter said there was an “unintended loophole” because the TRNC is not recognised by the UK government and is not a signatory to the Hague convention.

Slaughter said one of his constituents – a father – had not seen his children for five years after their mother had taken them there. He said it was “not an isolated case”, with other parents facing a similar ordeal.

Slaughter, the MP for Hammersmith, said: “Many parents fighting to bring their children home face huge pressures on their finances and, no doubt, some simply cannot afford to continue.”

The father in the Birmingham case has had the benefit of being represented pro bono throughout the lengthy litigation in the UK. But the legal proceedings in northern Cyprus have taken their toll.

“It has cost us everything we have and a lot more on credit cards and loans,” he said.

Despite the mounting legal bills, he said will never give up the fight to get his daughter home.

“I always have hope,” he told TBIJ.

But he added: “I have resigned myself [to the fact] that unless political figures intervene and there is a concerted effort from all parties to resolve the issue, we will not see [her] until she is legally able to return to the UK herself if she wishes.”

The mother did not respond to TBIJ’s request for an interview.

Reporter: Hannah Summers
Bureau Local editor: Gareth Davies
Deputy editor: Katie Mark
Editor: Franz Wild
Production editors: Emily Goddard
Fact checker: Alex Hess
Illustration: Chanelle Nibbelink

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