Man called ‘126 schools’ looking for son: court
Two Queensland fathers have shared with a court the moments they realised their children had allegedly been taken away from them and smuggled across state borders without their consent.
A 50-year-old woman and a 61-year-old woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, are both standing trial in the Brisbane District Court after pleading not guilty to conspire to defeat justice.
It’s alleged the two women had been part of a group of co-conspirators, some of whom are yet to stand trial, who worked together to help accommodate women battling the Family Court Circuit over custody issues involving children.
The jury heard on Tuesday evidence from two fathers involved in the abductions of their children.
It’s alleged both women took the children because of concerns for their safety if left in the care of their fathers, who had both been the subject of unsubstantiated sexual abuse allegations.
The Crown alleged the 50-year-old woman had abducted her five-year-old twin daughters, who cannot be named for legal reasons, from a Townsville primary school in April 2014 before taking them across state borders.
Her daughters had been in the sole custody of their father at the time of the abduction.
The jury has heard evidence there had been allegations against the twins’ father that he’d sexually abused the girls, but this was found to be unsubstantiated by police.
The twins’ father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the court he’d been told by his girls’ teacher at school pick up that “they’re not here, they haven’t been here all day”.
He was asked by the 50-year-old woman’s defence barrister, Laura Reece, about ongoing Family Court proceedings involving the children from the breakdown of the relationship in 2011.
The jury heard while the father was ultimately awarded sole custody of the children, there had been allegations between both parties of abuse.
“We had a number of attempts at mediation well before that and there were attempts to make appointments there, but we were not allowed to have progressive mediation because of the allegations,” the father said.
“(My complaint was about her) exposing them to discussions and allegations and alienating them from me because she’d stopped them from seeing me (before gaining custody).”
The jury also heard evidence about the girls’ medical history, including doctors’ visits about concerns over a rash on their genitalia and blood found in their stool.
The father said he hadn’t told the 50-year-old woman all of the details about their children’s medical history, after she’d gone to their doctor and criticised their care.
It’s alleged the mother then spent the next four years in hiding in various regional parts of Australia, including NSW, with the girls before she was ultimately discovered by police in Taree, NSW in May 2018.
During this time, she allegedly had help from her co-accused and a man who allegedly provided financial and medical support.
She had changed her name and appearance, as well as changed the children’s names and appearances, the jury was told.
It’s not alleged the 61-year-old woman was involved in the twins’ disappearance.
The jury heard it’s alleged the 61-year-old woman had been helped by the accused group of co-offenders, including the 50-year-old woman, who found accommodation for her and her six-year-old grandson.
It’s alleged the grandmother had custody of the child but was in a legal dispute with the boy’s father over custody, who was seeking court orders to have his son reside with him during school holidays.
The Townsville grandmother had allegedly conspired with others to take her grandson to northern NSW in March 2018, before she was arrested in May of that year.
The father of the six-year-old boy, who also cannot be named for legal reasons, was asked at length on Tuesday about his court battle for custody with the 61-year-old woman.
The jury heard the man, who had a lengthy criminal and drug history, had wanted his son to live with him during school holidays.
The 61-year-old woman’s defence barrister, Patrick Wilson, asked the man about the legal custody battle and breakdowns in trust between the parties.
The jury heard there’d been one incident where the grandmother wasn’t pleased the man had left Townsville with his son during school holidays to visit Ayr, despite the man speaking with police about whether there was an issue with him doing so.
“I went to the police. I played up when I was younger; I did a lot of silly things and I made lot of mistakes,” he said.
“I had a lot of worries from a parenting risk; I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing.”
The jury heard this incident sparked the legal battle over custody of the boy.
The man said when he realised in March 2018 that his son had been taken from Townsville the day he was organised to collect him from school, he became panicked.
The jury heard the man had been texting with the 61-year-old woman that day to say he’ll pick the boy up from school and she told him to wait until 5pm to collect the boy from McDonald’s.
An angry exchange occurred and the woman wrote “you may be wasting a trip, (the boy) is saying he will not go with you” and then she told him she was switching her mobile phone off.
“I called my solicitor … I spoke to police and they told me they couldn’t do anything,” the man said.
“I had 126 schools written down (to call), I couldn’t find him. No matter what I was to do, I couldn’t find him.”
The jury heard the man had also been subject to sexual abuse allegations against his son but that these were also unsubstantiated.
Neither man was ever charged with sexual abuse.
It’s alleged both women perverted the course of justice by interfering in court proceedings before the Family Court by removing the three children involved.
He said by keeping the children from their respective fathers, the women had allegedly contravened any potential proceedings yet to be heard before the Family Court.
The jury heard both women would be arguing they each had a reasonable response to remove the children in sudden or extreme circumstances, and of self-defence of the three children.
Judge Leanne Clare SC told the jury they needed to understand the reason why neither man was asked directly about sexual abuse.
“This trial is not about whether (the two men) did anything wrong to their children, the question of whether they did or did not do this, because it’s not relevant,” she said.
“The defence counsel have told you the defence case will be through evidence that the defendants cited in reasonable defence of their children and whether or not the defence has been excluded by the Crown will depend upon the evidence of what the women knew, or their beliefs about matters at the time, and the reasonableness of their conduct in doing what they did.”
The trial continues.