Nicky Hewitt, 34, born in Melbourne, grew up in Surrey
Although I was born in Melbourne, I moved to the UK when I was just 11months old so I always considered myself to be British. When I was 12 years old, I went to Victoria, Australia, with my family on our summer holiday. While we were there we planned to visit my father’s family who were based in Victoria. I was excited about going somewhere new but I was apprehensive about seeing my father’s family as we didn’t have a very good relationship. I didn’t realise that we would be spending quite so much time with them.
Once we arrived in Victoria and had met my father’s family, the relationship between my parents became noticeably worse. As I was only a young girl, I did not pay particular attention to my parents’ relationship when we were in the UK, although I was aware that at times it was tense. However, as soon as we arrived in Victoria, the relationship rapidly deteriorated and my father quickly arranged for my mother to be deported back to the UK, leaving my sister and me in his care.
It was arranged for me and my sister to live with my father and his mother and I was immediately subjected to psychological abuse and neglect. My sister, who was eight at the time, was separated from me and we were not allowed to eat together. My grandmother would lock me in her garage and verbally abuse me, saying that no one wanted me and that I was sick. They played my sister off against me trying to break the bond between us. I deteriorated rapidly and very quickly became clinically depressed and suicidal.
The only time I got to spend with my sister was at school, where we would spend every break time together. We regarded school as a respite from the abuse and I was very protective of her. I knew I had to do everything I could to look after her and to remove us from the situation.
One day at school, I became aware of an exchange programme that was set up with city children. My teacher told me that as I did not have a pen pal already, I could write to whomever I chose. I used this opportunity to try to contact my mother, as up to this point, my father had blocked all of my attempts to reach her, including writing letters.
My letter was never sent but it set alarm bells ringing with my teacher and she approached me about my situation. She told me that she was confused about why I had written to my mother as she understood that she was dead. I had no idea that my school had been told this incorrect information and that my father’s family had been spinning a big web of lies at the school. They contacted my father who became wary and he withdrew us from the school immediately. We were sent to a ranch in the countryside. My father did not come and visit us and we felt abandoned and isolated.
Although desperately depressed and suicidal, being on the ranch made me fiercely independent. I knew that I had to look after my sister and I channelled all of my energy into protecting her and finding a way out for us. I contacted my mother’s solicitor and representative in Australia and demanded to know why my sister and I hadn’t been taken back to the UK. I was advised that I could contact social services, which I did.
By this stage, I was dangerously suicidal and grossly neglected but I was intent on getting my sister and me out of the situation we were in. Eventually my father agreed to send me to a child psychologist who assessed me and delivered a grave verdict – if I was forced to live with my father, I would not survive for another week as I was so suicidal.
The child psychologist’s evidence was submitted to court and it was finally decided that my sister and I had to return to the UK. Our case benefitted from the Hague Convention which aims to ensure the return of an abducted child to the country where he or she normally lives. My family was one of the first families to use the Hague Convention to retrieve an abducted child. In total my sister and I spent nine months in Australia and I returned a deeply traumatised individual.
Recovering from the abuse I received in Australia took years and I suffered with depression and feeling suicidal for years after my return. I have experienced first-hand the long-term damage of child abduction. Trauma does not stop when you return to your home country, the legacy of my abduction still remains with me even today, over 20 years on. I still have depression and I have developed complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is therefore vital that any child who is abducted, is removed from the situation as quickly as possible. The longer the case takes to be resolved, the greater and longer-lasting the impact on the child.
That is why it is of the utmost importance that people are made aware of the Child Abduction Section and the support which the staff offer. Foreign Office Consular staff operate abroad and in the UK and are there to support families who are going through the highly destructive effects of child abduction. Abducted children and their left behind parents need support and networks like the Child Abduction Section which is ideally placed to help in an effective, professional and confidential way to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.
If you are concerned, or if your child has been abducted, you can contact the FCO’s Child Abduction Section on 0207 008 0878 or www.fco.gov.uk/childabduction, or call Reunite on 0116 2556 234.
Read the FCO news article: Parental Child Abduction is a worldwide problem, 12th December 2012.