Northern Ireland

Court rules Latvian boy 'beaten' by stepfather must remain in NI

A Latvian boy who threatened self-harm if sent back to his stepfather must be allowed to remain in Northern Ireland, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Gillen refused to order the 12-year-old's return to Latvia.

It followed claims in court that he was forced to kneel on screws, and was beaten and threatened with a knife.

At one stage the boy had warned he was "ready to die", the court heard.

The judge held: "I am satisfied that there is a grave risk that his return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place him in an intolerable situation".

The child, who cannot be identified, lived in Latvia with his mother and her new husband after his parents divorced.

During a visit last August to his natural father, who moved to Northern Ireland in 2006, he claimed that at home he was hit almost daily.

In one incident it was claimed that his stepfather motioned to stab him and then struck him on the back and fingers.

With social services alerted, the boy's father emailed his ex-wife to say the child would not be going back to Latvia.

The child's mother applied under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction 1980 for an order compelling his return.

But Mr Justice Gillen held that he should make an exception to the normal requirement, based on the evidence in the case.

He referred to a report which said the physical and emotional abuse the boy was allegedly subjected to left him contemplating self-harm.

In it the child said: "It was a very bad life and I was thinking a lot about killing myself."

He added that he had no such suicidal thoughts in Northern Ireland because "no one gets hit here".

Mr Justice Gillen held that there was independent evidence which disputed the mother's denial of any threats or violence by her husband.

The judge's decision not to order the boy's return was based on the strength of his authentic objections, the risk of self-harm, and his welfare and best-interests.

In a ruling given following an urgent hearing last December but only now made public, he said: "The voice of the child must be listened to with a discerning ear if the court is to do more than merely pay lip-service to the best interest of the child.

"I am convinced that this child has genuine and justifiable fears which must be addressed.

"In light of this conclusion I have no doubt that it is appropriate that I should take them into account and refuse to return him in light of what he has said."