New hope for north Norfolk tug-of-love mother
A north Norfolk mother's anguished legal battle to bring her two tug-of-love sons back from France, despite prolonged foot-dragging by the French authorities, has received a major boost in London's High Court.
Samantha Raw, 38, has struggled through the legal systems of both countries for nearly two years in a bid to force her former husband, Thierry Giradeau, to return her sons – Dylan, 15, and Austin, 13. She spoke to the North Norfolk News about her nightmare fight and her deep fears that the boys' minds have been poisoned against her.
Mr Giradeau, 44, has 'wrongfully retained' the two boys since December 2008, when the youngsters travelled to his home in the Vendee for their Christmas holidays.
They have been there ever since, despite repeated orders by both the French and English courts to secure their return, and their father has launched an intense media campaign to prevent their return to the UK – even demonstrating outside the French law courts.
The legal action has drained Miss Raw's finances and she was forced to sell her Norwich house to fund her campaign.
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The case went back to the High Court on Friday as Miss Raw's lawyers urged Mrs Justice Parker to lift the cloak of anonymity which normally surrounds family cases and 'publicise' the case.
The judge, who gave an order allowing all members of the family to be named – said Miss Raw, from North Walsham – wished to 'put her side of the story' in response to her ex-husband's claims that she had ill-treated the boys in the past.
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The judge said she was keen to do anything to break the log jam preventing the return order being enforced in France.
Miss Raw is entitled to get her boys back under the terms of the Hague Convention, which compels the return of children from a foreign state where they have been abducted or 'wrongfully retained'. 'On the face of it a decision under the Convention has not been implemented,' said the judge. 'The reasons why still remain utterly opaque'.
'This is a public matter with public ramifications,' she told the court, adding that it was reasonable to publicise the case in circumstances where the father had exploited French TV and media to air his views.
After Friday's short hearing, Miss Raw commented: 'I am very pleased with the judge's order, and I hope it will help me to get back my two children.
'The French authorities have been complicit in the illegal retention of my two children, and I know they are being manipulated against their mother.
'Everyone is doing everything they possibly can to help the children out of this situation and I have not stopped fighting for their return for two years.'
'Up until the point they were taken to France, we were a normal happy family. It is my duty to make sure, as any mother would, that my children are returned.'
Samantha Raw is hoping Friday's High Court order allowing her plight to be publicised will shame the 'barbaric' French authorities into enforcing the law and reuniting her with her sons, illegally held in France by her ex-husband for nearly two years in the bitter tug-of-love battle.
Speaking to the North Norfolk News from her North Walsham home, Miss Raw said she fears the boys believe she doesn't love them, and that she neglected them.
She described the fight to get her children back as 'like walking a tightrope over a hell hole' and said it had so far cost her at least �40,000, borrowed from friends, family and on credit cards, had led to a nervous breakdown and gave her sleepless nights.
Miss Raw sent this Christmas message to them: 'Mummy still loves you very much and misses you, and mummy's still working very hard to help you.'
In an unusual move for a case involving children, High Court judge Mrs Justice Parker allowed the media in to Friday's hearing, hoping that publicity and public pressure would goad France into action.
Miss Raw said numerous orders had been made in her favour by the High Court in England and in French courts, under international and European law.
But local police and legal authorities in the Vendee region, where the boys are living, were refusing to comply with the rulings, and higher authorities, including the French Ministry of Justice, appeared powerless to act. Her solicitor was now applying to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights.
'We have exhausted every avenue and I don't feel like being polite any more,' said Miss Raw, who lives with her daughter Camille, 10, the boys' half-sister.
The separation had devastated her family. She and Camille, who missed her brothers a great deal, now faced a second, sad, Christmas without them.
Miss Raw last saw either of her sons this spring, during one of nine trips to France she has made to try and get them back. She glimpsed Dylan in his school playground as she sat in the back of a car.
During an earlier 'disastrous' trip, in June last year, she had understood that the French authorities would be handing over the children to her but now believes that was not their intention.
When Dylan entered the room where she was waiting, he had shot across to her and began hitting and punching her until he was pulled away. She could hear Austin screaming next door. Both left with their father and she was not allowed to see Austin.
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who has written on Miss Raw's behalf to government ministers in Britain and France, and to MEPs, said it was completely unacceptable that the rule of law was not being upheld in France.
He added: 'Two boys' lives are involved here. The French system has let Samantha down. I can't begin to imagine what she must be suffering.'
Miss Raw's solicitor, Anne-Marie Hutchinson, commented: 'This is one of the most upsetting cases I have had to deal with.
'This blameless mother has the orders of the highest court in France and the High Court in England in her favour but she is powerless in the face of the father's wilful breaching of the law and his cynical manipulation of the children.'