Malawi orphanage boss receives death threats

  • Published

A Preston charity worker who runs a network of orphanages in Malawi has said she is afraid to return after receiving death threats.

Mary Woodworth was held in custody after being accused of trespassing on land used by her charity, Friends of Mulanje Orphans (Fomo), in July.

But the case against her was thrown out by a Malawian court and she returned home - via South Africa - on Thursday.

She said: "I have death threats, I have got recordings of death threats."

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said it would provide Mrs Woodworth with further consular assistance if she got in touch.

Mrs Woodworth, who was born in Malawi but is a British citizen, was arrested by police in the Mulanje district in July and charged with trespass over a land dispute.

The country's Supreme Court had already ruled the land belonged to her and the case against her eventually collapsed, allowing her to retrieve her passport.

She runs a network of 13 orphanages, caring for more than 5,000 children, but the company which owns the adjoining tea plantation contests ownership of the Mulanje site, used by the charity to grow food.

"We are doing well in the Mulanje district and the community knows the charity, this is the only charity they can see.

"They are receiving the fruit. It's a small charity but its direct to the children.

"They've got over 500 acres of land and our land is just 10 to 20 acres. It's nothing compared to them. This land is feeding over 5,000 orphans."

Lawyer no show

Despite the conclusion of the court case, Mrs Woodworth told the BBC she was too afraid to return to the country.

"I am not going to go back... I didn't tell anybody, even the British High Commissioner in Malawi, they don't know that I am here."

Mrs Woodworth's case was discharged by the court on 28 September after the public prosecution team failed to turn up on three separate occasions.

"The British High Commission contacted Mrs Woodworth after her case was discharged," said a spokesperson.

"Because she is no longer in detention, her case has been discharged and she is no longer in Malawi, we will not need to have any further contact with Mrs Woodworth unless she needs to contact us."

Mrs Woodworth is now back at home in Preston with her husband, Keith, and the rest of their family.

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