Tragic children at centre of custody battle

By Ken Banks
BBC Scotland North East reporter

Image caption,
Luca, Austin and Cecilia Riggi and their mother Theresa went missing last month

The parents of three children found dead in a flat had been involved in an acrimonious divorce and child care battle.

Pasquale Riggi and his wife Theresa, from Skene in Aberdeenshire, had been due to attend the Court of Session in Edinburgh on Tuesday, but Mrs Riggi did not turn up.

The next day, the couple's eight-year-old twins Luca and Austin and their five-year-old daughter Cecilia were found dead in a flat in Edinburgh.

Mrs Riggi was found lying injured in the street after apparently jumping or falling from a balcony.

Tuesday's court proceedings provided an insight into the troubled family life of the three children, who had been reported missing along with their mother to Grampian Police on 11 July.

Image caption,
The family have a home in Skene, near Westhill, in Aberdeenshire

There were fears at the time US-born Mrs Riggi had been planning on taking her sons and daughter abroad, and ports and airports were alerted to be on the look-out.

After reported sightings as far apart as Ayrshire and Cambridge, they were found at a friend's flat in Edinburgh later that month.

The future care of the three children was one of the major issues between Mrs Riggi and her husband, who works for oil firm Shell.

The Court of Session heard on Tuesday that Mrs Riggi objected to her estranged husband seeing their children, and on previous occasions had sent them on visits equipped with mobile phones and personal alarms.

But background reports prepared during the course of the divorce action said there should be contact - and no problems were foreseen if the youngsters lived with their father.

Mr Riggi's lawyer David Jack told the judge one of the issues was that his client wanted the children to go to school but Mrs Riggi was a believer in home schooling.

The children were being home schooled before their deaths, but an Aberdeenshire Council spokeswoman told BBC Scotland on Thursday: "The arrangement to have home schooling was set up without the knowledge or involvement of Aberdeenshire Council".

Mr Jack was clearly concerned that Mrs Riggi had failed to turn up for the hearing and had apparently gone missing again.

She was said to have made a telephone call to her estranged husband ahead of the case calling, but did not say where she was.

The lawyer told judge Lady Clark: "I think there is a real emergency in this matter" and asked for an order to safeguard the children's interests.

The court ordered Messengers at Arms to search for Mrs Riggi, with social workers being instructed to supervise the children once they were found, and to apply to a local sheriff for child protection orders if they thought it necessary.

Police have broken the "tragic news" of the children's deaths to their father, who they said was providing them with "invaluable detail" about the family's background.

'Truly appalling'

Detectives were waiting until Mrs Riggi's condition improved sufficiently in hospital to allow her to be questioned about the deaths, which are being treated as "suspicious".

A Shell spokesperson said: "This is obviously a human tragedy of proportions that most of us find hard to comprehend and our thoughts are with Pasquale and his family.

"Shell will continue to provide Pasquale with support."

Westhill councillor Mark Cullen told BBC Scotland: "This is truly appalling, the deaths of three young children is terrible.

"There were three lovely children here yesterday and not today.

"My thoughts go out to anybody who knows the family."

More on this story