Child abduction case highlighted

A mother who claims her two sons were abducted by her French ex-husband and has not seen one of them for two years, has been told her case has been fast-tracked at the European Court of Human Rights.

Sam Raw, from Norfolk, who won custody of her children after a divorce.

But in 2008, after her two sons spent a holiday with her husband in France, he refused to let them return to the UK.

She has now been told her court case will be fast-tracked and could be heard in the next few months.

Her case has been highlighted by the BBC's Inside Out East programme.

Ms Raw moved to France with her parents when she was 16.

'Awarded custody'

She decided to stay and later got a job as an English teacher.

At her school she met and married a fellow teacher called Thierry Girardeau.

They had two boys who are now aged 12 and 16. But in 2001 the couple separated.

"Things deteriorated after the first two years, we clung on for another three but we came to a mutual decision that divorce was inevitable," she said.

Ms Raw was subsequently awarded custody of her two sons.

The three of them moved to Norfolk, although the boys saw their father in France during school holidays.

But Ms Raw said the arrangement broke down.

Ignored court order

"Their father would pick them up from Norfolk and drive them to his house in France," she said.

"I would pick them up at the end of the school holidays.

"But, then he started to get difficult and refused to let me take the children back.

"The issue went to court a number of times. On each occasion I was awarded custody and got the boys back."

In the summer of 2008 Ms Raw's former husband refused to hand the boys back.

The High Court in the UK and the highest courts in France both ruled that her sons should live with her.

But her former husband ignored the court orders.

She claims her sons are victims of parental child abduction.

According to charity Reunite, there has been a 200% increase in the number of cases reported between 1995 and 2009.

France is a member of the Hague Convention, which includes statues on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

This obliges a state to secure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed from or retained in any member State.

Ms Raw's MP, Norman Lamb, has visited France to discuss the case with the French authorities.

He described his frustrations after meeting the French prosecutor.

"I was struck by just how different things are to the UK," he said.

"In the United Kingdom, if there is a court order it will be complied with and the authorities will make sure that happens.

"Here [in France] the court makes a decision and they just carry on regardless - they reach their own decision."

Ms Raw has now had her younger son returned to her but she has not seen or spoken to her older son for nearly two years.

The BBC arranged to talk to Mr Girardeau in France, but he did not show up and has not issued a statement.

The full story can be seen in Inside Out in the East on Monday at 19:30 GMT.

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