07/11/2011 Inside Out East


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




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.

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