A report on one woman's fight to get her abducted sons back from their French father, who has ignored court orders from both Britain and France to return them to their mother.
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Tonight we have a special investigation about a woman's fight
to be reunited with her children. Sam Raw lost contact with her two
boys after they were held in France by their father. There is me
praying it is going to go well and they're going to pass me Austin,
but they don't. The number of abducted children is
on the increase and some never fully recover from the experience.
I was incredibly distressed, I thought constantly about ending my
life. We show what happened when Sam
tried to rescue her children from France. Just keep driving and hope
I see somewhere I recognise. That's our special investigation on
Two years ago, Sam Raw's sons, Dylan and Austin, were abducted by
their French father. The highest courts in Britain and France
ordered the children should be returned to their mother. But their
father has refused to hand them back. Sam hasn't given up and this
summer we followed her as she It doesn't feel like real life. All
of a sudden I went from family life to a life of grief and strife, you
know? In one day. The day the children didn't come back.
Sam Raw who now lives in Norfolk, moved to France with her parents
when she was 16. I went to college there and I
became an English teacher and worked in a school in an
apprenticeship college teaching. And that was where I met Thierry
who was a panel beater, teaching panel beating in the same school.
And we got married and had two children, Dylan and Austin.
Both the boys are now wards of court. Legally this is the only
picture of them we are allowed to show. Sadly after a couple of years
Sam's marriage ran into problems. Things deteriorated after about the
first two years. We clung on for another three, but we came to a
mutual decision divorce was inevitable.
Sam went to court and was awarded custody of her two sons. The three
of them moved to Norfolk, although it was agreed the boys would stay
with their father during school holidays.
The arrangements had been going very well for five years. He
started to not want to bring the children back. I was then having to
go to court to retrieve the children. It was getting more and
more difficult for me to trust him to bring the children back.
Things came to a head in the summer of 2008. Her former husband refused
to hand the boys back. The High Court here in London and the
highest courts in France have both ruled Sam's two sons should live
with her. But her former husband has repeatedly ignored the court
orders. HE SPEAKS FRENCH.
Sam's ex- husband recently appeared in a French documentary about
custody disputes. He insisted the two boys wanted to stay with him.
But Sam says her former husband has deliberately tried to turn her
children against her. The boys are so stiff, you know?
Very rigid. It just breaks my heart to see that. I know for a fact he
would sit the children opposite each other and make each other tell
each other what negative things they could think up about their
mother. Sam claims her sons are victims of
parental child abduction. She says her husband poisoned the boys
against her to the point they wouldn't even speak to her when she
tried to call them. This is really sad. It's exactly
how it's been every time I've tried to ring. And of course I'd ring and
I'd feel nervous before ringing as well because I knew what was about
to come. There's me just praying it is going
to go well and they will pass me Austin, but they don't.
Sam is very concerned about the emotional effect this could be
having on the two boys, who are now both teenagers.
To try to help understand what her children are going through
emotionally, she's off to London to meet someone with first hand
experience. Sam's battle to recover her two sons has also come at a
high personal cost. I suffered depression, I was on
medication for depression. I'm now on medication for post-traumatic
stress disorder, and the prevention of depression returning. So it is a
massive impact. The lengthy court battles have also
taken their toll financially. It's cost me at least �40,000. I
didn't have much money before, I was struggling before. But you have
to pay for trips to France, a French lawyer and I've had to beg
and borrow money from family and friends. I have two credit cards I
have had to max out. We find the money somehow.
Sam's meeting a woman who was abducted by her father when she was
just 12 years old. She's hoping it will give her an insight as to what
her own son's are going through. Hi, so nice to meet you.
And you. When her parents relationship broke
down, Nicky Hewitt and her younger sister were taken to Australia by
their father. When I was in Australia I
experienced a lot of propaganda from my father and his whole family.
Actually telling us we wouldn't be wanted, telling me specifically I
was unwanted, unloved and even if I went back to England I would be put
into a children's home and stuff like that. That my mum didn't want
me at all. Was there a point in Australia where you started to
understand what was happening? Absolutely, I got it really quickly.
I twigged very early on and as an adult looking back 21 years ago, I
can see the manipulation that was going on. How did you cope, how did
you get through it? Did you feel you had to go along with them?
I went against them a lot. I fought and I made things difficult for
people. What impact did this have on you at the time? Mentally I
wasn't well. I wasn't eating, I wasn't sleeping and I was
incredibly distressed. I thought constantly about ending my life.
What an awful position to be in at that age? At 12, and I made plans
as to how to do it. The only reason I didn't was because of my sister.
After a court hearing Nicky and her sister were finally returned to
their mother in the UK. But even 20 years later Nicky is still
struggling to come to terms with what happened.
Not only do I have depression but I have post-traumatic stress disorder
as a result of the abduction. And that's only been diagnosed in the
past couple of years. There is a whole world of other difficulties I
have been experiencing and not being able to make sense of them.
Sam, you just had a chat with Nicky. How was it for you speaking to her
as the abducted child? Very interesting. What a brave lady to
come out of it. It has taken her a long time to recover. She is still
in recovery. I have been trying to get into my children's minds, heads,
to understand how they are feeling. Which is painful for me to do, and
listening to Nicky has been a great insight.
On the way home Sam told me that her custody battle intensified
following a shocking incident just over two years ago. She went to
collect her children from France at the end of the school holidays but
the eldest, Dylan, was unexpectedly violent and punched her several
times. Sam says her ex-husband had turned the boys against her. She
came back from France distraught and alone.
Courts recognise that children in cases like Sam's can be turned
against a parent. So despite Dylan's violent outburst they've
repeatedly ordered that Sam's children must be returned. After
more than two years without seeing her boys, Sam had given up hope of
a quick resolution. But then recently, events took a
dramatic twist. Sam's younger son, Austin, contacted one of his
English friends on Facebook. He had an important message for his mum -
come and rescue me. My dad and my friend, Wendy, came
with me. We set off from London. We travelled to France together and we
were looking at how to navigate round Paris easily so we didn't get
lost. The journey needed meticulous
planning. Sam was worried the French authorities could scupper
the escape. We had planned food and petrol for
the car. So my dad actually got some money out, made sure we had
enough cash for the return journey so the French authorities couldn't
trace us. The planned rescue was fraught with
risk. The foreign office here in the UK had warned Sam if the French
authorities caught her trying to take Austin out of the country,
potentially she could be arrested and Austin returned to his father,
even though she had court orders in When we got to the village we
decided to stop in the outskirts somewhere quiet. So we found a
hotel car park and we had about three hours to wait in the car park
before we got the call from Austin for the go-ahead. Whilst we were
waiting in the car park, it occurred to us once outside the
father's house he may be able to hear the car doors opening and
closing. So we practised opening the car doors and closing them very
quietly. We just wanted to make sure Austin remained safe, that he
wasn't caught by his father. So we were doing everything possible we
could to make sure that didn't happen. And also, I was desperately
excited to see him. We needed to keep each other awake. We were very
tired. We knew we would have a long journey back where we wouldn't be
able to stop off and sleep but we still had to keep each other awake.
So we sang songs, told each other jokes.
We got a phone call from Austin's friend's mother who said Austin had
sent a message saying can we wait another half an hour because his
dad wasn't in bed yet. So we said OK, we sent the message back to let
Austin know it would be fine, we would wait another half an hour. In
that situation, we found ourselves having to sit on our own anxiety. I
knew Austin would be much more anxious in his situation than I was.
We made sure we arrived at 1:30am on the dot outside his father's
house. We drove up very slowly and turned the lights off. We just
waited. After about ten minutes there was a figure that came to the
window and it looked too tall for me to be Austin. And we thought it
As we were driving off, we were saying to each other, "What do we
do now? What do we do? We can't go home." If Austin is in trouble I
don't want to leave him, you know, in this position. And then we got a
phone call from Austin's best friend's mother, saying, "Austin's
on Facebook. He's saying, "Turn round. I've been at the window
watching you, waiting to come out. Turn round, turn round, don't leave
me here." So at that point we turned round, but I had to go over
a flyover, and I got lost. I don't recognise this road.
Just keep driving and just hope I see somewhere I recognise.
Austin's friend's mother was saying, "Austin's desperate to leave. Can
you get there quickly?" And we asked him, I asked him, "Can you
wait till 3pm, just to be sure, to make sure your dad's in bed and
he's asleep?" And he said, "No, I'm coming out now." And this is while
we're still lost. And then he logged off Facebook. So I'm
desperately trying to find the house again and navigate the roads,
and eventually, in what seemed like an hour we managed to find the
house, and there was this figure, Austin, with his bags, waiting
When he saw our car lights, he hid behind the bush, because obviously
he couldn't be certain it was us until we drew up. And he was there,
he was actually there, it was him, and he did have his suitcase that
he'd packed before, and, you know, he really had planned this to a tee.
My dad got out of the car, helped him put his baggage in the car, his
luggage, and we drove off slowly, and as soon as we got to the end,
I was driving, and I got a glint of him getting into the car, and I
really wanted to hold him, you know, I really wanted to hold him. And I
drove, because I had to make sure that we got out of France safely,
you know, kept him safe, and I just kept looking in the rear-view
mirror and saying to Wendy, "Is it really him, is he really in the
car?" And she went, "Yes, it's But the drama certainly wasn't over.
Instead of heading straight for the port, the group raced towards
Belgium, the reason was that Austin didn't have a passport. Without one,
he wouldn't be getting back into the UK. So they spent a very
nervous day waiting in a hotel room in Brussels for the British Embassy
to open. Only once they had a temporary passport for Austin could
they breathe a sigh of relief. When we got back to England we just
wanted to kiss the ground, all of us. At last, on safe territory. And
we can go home and be a family again. Without Dylan, obviously,
but we're nearly there. Austin's home and he's safe.
Court orders prevent us from seeing or hearing Austin, but Sam says
he's glad to be back, and has settled in well. Having managed to
rescue one of her children, Sam Raw is more determined than ever to
bring her other son Dylan back to the UK. The judgments at the
highest courts in the UK and France are clear, Dylan must be returned
to Sam. But the problem is that the court orders have not been enforced
The Hague Convention requires France to recognise and act on
legal judgments made in the UK and vice versa. But it's not happened
in this instance. Sam's local MP, Norman Lamb, has
taken up her case. He wants to resolve the situation, so he's gone
to France on Sam's behalf. I want to meet with the authorities
and with the father. And I want to try convince them that the court
order should be enforced, and we have just got to hope that they
will recognise what should have happened a long time ago, and allow
Dylan to return home. You just feel as a parent yourself, what must she
be going through and how awful it must be. Not just the fact you are
missing your children, but you fear for their safety. So you do
everything you can to support her. Norman Lamb is meeting the local
prosecutor in Poitiers, the region where Sam used to live. The MP
wants answers as to why Dylan is still living with his dad.
There was a very bad relationship between the children and the mother.
The children cannot go back with their mother, given the historical
behaviour. There was shouting, hitting the mother. Sam says that
refers to just one emotional meeting.
The highest courts both here and in the UK are aware of what happened.
They have ruled it doesn't alter the fact that Sam should have
custody of her child. We try to do things so the decision
can be implemented. But in view of the children and their reticence
about living with their mother, we did not implement the decision.
But as Norman Lamb points out, they have no right to do that. Court
orders are clearly being breached. Dylan is effectively being held
illegally in France. Concerning the fact that it has not
been possible to implement the decision of the Court of Appeal, it
shows its difficulty. But at the same time, it's very difficult for
someone to take a child of 13, 14, 15 from one country to another
between two policeman. It would cause me big difficulties to say to
two police officers, "Take this child." Although Norman learns why
the order had not been implemented, it doesn't seem as if any real
progress has been made. How did it go?
Well, pretty frustrating, to be honest. I mean, he gave us a lot of
time, but I was struck by just how different things are here compared
to the UK. In the United Kingdom, if there is a court order, it will
be complied with, as the authorities will make sure that
happens. Here, the court makes a decision, and they carry on
regardless and make their own decision.
Norman Lamb's next stop is a large town on the west coast of France
called le Roche sur Yon. It's the home of Sam's ex-husband, Thierry
Giraudeau. He's agreed to meet the MP to discuss the issue of custody.
I've come now to see Sam's ex- husband. I thought we were going to
see him in his own home, but we have been directed to his lawyer's
office. So that's where we will see him.
Bonjour. Norman Lamb. Merci. My plan is, and I've talked to Sam
about this, is to try and move forward. There is inevitably going
to be irreconcilable differences about the past, but let's try and
think positively about the way forward, let's try to rebuild
relationships and give Sam the chance to see her son again.
The appointment is for midday. Norman's a few minutes early, he
waits with the lawyer for Thierry to arrive.
Also in La Roche is Sam. She's hoping Norman can help broker a
meeting with her son. It's the first time since the rescue of
Austin that Sam's been back. She finds it very painful being here.
Being back makes me feel nervous. I look around me, and all I see are
buildings that remind me of horrific events. The school where
the children were being illegally detained, the gendarmerie, there is
nobody in authority I can trust here.
In the lawyer's office, Norman Lamb is still waiting for Thierry, who
is now over an hour late for the planned meeting.
His lawyer then receives a text message. It's bad news.
"I'm in the hospital. I couldn't predict it. You have to explain it.
Goodbye. Thank you." Norman wonders if the message is genuine, or
whether Thierry has just changed his mind about meeting. It's a blow,
especially for Sam, who was desperate to see her son.
Well, Sam, he didn't turn up. He didn't turn up. He eventually,
after an hour, he texted the lawyer to say that he was in hospital,
that he'd gone to hospital and couldn't come. Who knows whether
it's true. So it ended up with me talking to the lawyer. I told him
eventually that you were here, I said that you were obviously very
keen to see Dylan, could he help to fix up a meeting? Obviously, you
waiting here for the rest of the day, there is just a chance, I
don't know how high that chance is, but there is a possibility of you
seeing Dylan, but I don't want to build up your hopes at all.
Sam did wait. But the call from her ex-husband never came. She didn't
get to see her son. The trip to France had been a big
A month on, and back home in Norfolk, it's a chance for Sam and
Norman Lamb to catch up. We exchanged e-mails with the
lawyer, but he hasn't contacted me since then. I haven't e-mailed him
because I felt I shouldn't without your permission, and I wanted to
discuss that further with you. But so far, nothing further to report,
I'm afraid. But Sam has some good news to tell
Norman. She's taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights,
and she has just heard the action will be fast-tracked. She hopes the
court will force the French authorities to hand over Dylan.
Is there a way forward for Sam at this point?
Sam's absolutely right to be pursuing the European Court of
Human Rights route, and the fact that they are fast-tracking it is
fantastic news. I still have anxieties that it will
take a long time, but let's just hope that it forces France to
comply with the law. We have this extraordinary situation that the
French state is complicit really in allowing a court order not to be
enforced, and that is an extraordinary situation for EU
country to be in. A ruling from the European Court of
Human Rights could come early next year, but after all the setbacks
she suffered over the years, Sam struggles to remain optimistic.
It's very distressing. I find it really hard to be in this room. I
think as time is going on, I am finding it harder and harder to
come in, because I'm dusting a dead room, basically. And sometimes it
seems pointless, and sometimes I get the hope back and it comes back
again. His belongings are all around the house. We are surrounded
by Dylan in the house. He is part of the house.
Do you think that's important to keep that hope alive by having this
room ready for him should he come home?
Yeah. Oh, yeah. You know, he's my child. I love him. I just feel so
desperate that he is in this If you've been affected by anything
in tonight's programme, you can get in touch with the charity Reunite.
If there is something we should investigate, send me an e-mail -
[email protected] I will see you next week, and I'll be back
Next week, we investigate why this man is one of thousands being
wrongly assessed as fit to work. After 12 months of extreme
An Inside Out special report telling the harrowing story of a mother's fight to get her abducted children back from France. Two years ago Sam Raw's two boys, Dylan and Austin, were abducted by their French father. Despite the highest courts both in Britain and France ordering the boys to be returned to their mother, the father has repeatedly refused to hand them back. Sam has paid a high price in her continuing battle to win back her sons, but it's a struggle she refuses to concede.
According to Reunite, the charity that campaigns on abduction by a parent, there has been a 200 per cent increase in the number of cases reported between 1995 and 2009. They receive over 7,000 calls a year. This film follows Sam as she fights to bring both her sons back to England, including a dramatic escape plan involving secret signals and a drive through France under the cover of darkness.