The Sunday Age (Melbourne)
23 January 2011
Relieved father on his way home with abducted son
Six-year-old Andrew Thompson is set to return home to Australia almost three years after his mother abducted him and fled overseas, prompting his father to launch a desperate search.
Former NSW deputy fire chief Ken Thompson retired from his job to cycle 6500 kilometres across Europe in a bid to find Andrew, who was taken in April 2008.
Andrew and his mother, Melinda Stratton, were finally found living in Amsterdam more than two years later, following a tip-off. A protracted legal battle followed and the Netherlands' Hague Court last week granted Mr Thompson the right to bring his son home.
"Under this order, Ken and Andrew recently left the Netherlands and went to another location, where they await further travel arrangements to be finalised," reads a statement issued on Mr Thompson's behalf.
"No further information will be provided by Ken until he has brought his son safely home."
Mr Thompson gave an undertaking to the Dutch court that he would not speak to the media in the lead-up to the issuing of the court order, and he asked the media to respect his son's privacy. He is expected to be back in the country before the start of the school term.
Ms Stratton, now in custody, has been fighting an extradition order to Australia since late December. She argued that she took Andrew overseas to protect him from his father, who she says abused their son.
Mr Thompson has repeatedly denied the claim and expressed concerns about his estranged wife's mental health.
Despite whatever charges she faces over abducting her son, it is understood she will continue to fight for custody.
22 January 2011
Three-year custody drama draws to a close as ex-fire chief cleared to bring son home
By Peter Wilson, Europe correspondent
Six-year-old Andrew Thompson has finally been cleared by a Dutch court to return to Australia from Amsterdam almost three years after his mother ran away with him.
Andrew's father Ken Thompson, who cycled across Europe searching for his son, may already have flown back to Australia with him in the past few days, The Weekend Australian has learned.
Andrew's mother Melinda Stratton was in tears in a Dutch jail yesterday when the boy did not arrive for an expected prison visit, indicating that he may have already left the country.
In a previously unreported decision, a Dutch appeal court this week rejected her legal bid to stop Mr Thompson taking Andrew back to Australia. The case has been under a veil of media silence in recent months on the order of Dutch authorities.
Ms Stratton was arrested by Dutch police in September after they were tipped off by a suspicious parent at the Amsterdam school where she had enrolled Andrew under the false name of Timothy Welsh.
After yesterday's no-show by Andrew for his regular prison visit, she is now almost certain to end her own fight against extradition to Australia, meaning she could be flown back to Sydney within two weeks.
She will face criminal prosecution in Sydney and could be sentenced to up to three years in jail for running off with her son, but she plans to continue her battle to regain custody of Andrew, whom she believes has been abused by her husband.
Mr Thompson, a former deputy chief of the NSW fire service, denies ever harming Andrew and says his wife has mental health problems.
Mr Thompson was warned by Dutch child protection officials that if he wanted to win permission to take Andrew home he would have to stop discussing the case in the media.
But The Weekend Australian has learned that there have been a series of further twists in the fight over Andrew, with Andrew spending Christmas with his father for the first time in four years and Ms Stratton at one stage winning her freedom from a Dutch prison before Australian officials objected fiercely and she was returned to jail after 15 days.
Officials in the Dutch Justice Ministry say privately that they have been surprised by the tenacity with which Ms Stratton has battled against her own extradition back to Australia.
She was so determined to prevent Andrew being sent home that she chose to stay in jail rather than seek a mediated agreement for his return to his father.
Instead, she tried unsuccessfully to have Dutch authorities investigate her claims that her husband had assaulted their son, a belief she says prompted her to run off to Germany with the boy in 2007.
The Weekend Australian revealed in September that after flying to Frankfurt, Ms Stratton, who speaks German and French, took Andrew to Austria for some time before moving to Amsterdam under the names Mandy and Timothy Welsh.
Despite Interpol arrest notices and Mr Thompson's media and internet campaign to find his son, Ms Stratton was shielded in Amsterdam by Catholic nuns from the order founded by Mother Teresa, and then by a small African Methodist Episcopal congregation which housed the pair and helped to enrol Andrew in school.
The Weekend Australian believes that Ms Stratton was also supported during her 2 1/2 years on the run by friends in Germany and Austria and was in regular contact with a veteran barrister in London.
Ms Stratton was eventually detained by police while picking Andrew up from school after another mother at school became suspicious and recognised Andrew's photograph on an internet site which explained that he was a missing child.
Officials in Amsterdam kept Andrew in a child-protection home with other children for more than two months, with regular visits by his father and trips to see his mother in prison, before releasing him into Mr Thompson's care early last month.
The pair are understood to have lived in the home of a Dutch policeman who is a friend of Mr Thompson.
On November 18, Ms Stratton won her own freedom after a Dutch court accepted that she was unlikely to flee because she did not have Andrew and did not even know his whereabouts.
She was ordered to wear an electronic bracelet to track her movements and to stay in a small town outside Amsterdam with the family of a retired Dutch judge who had befriended her when she was being shielded by the Catholic nuns.
Ms Stratton had two supervised visits with Andrew at the office of a probation official during that period but Australian government officials lobbied their Dutch counterparts to have her returned to jail, arguing that there was a serious chance that she would flee.
She was locked up again on December 3, and three weeks later a court decided that she should be extradited to Australia.
She lodged an appeal which could take up to three months to be decided but in the meantime a separate court decided last month that Andrew should be returned to Australia. Ms Stratton appealed against that decision in a hearing on January 13 and at the start of this week the court ruled against her, meaning Mr Thompson was clear to leave with Andrew.
With Andrew returning to Australia she is now expected to drop her appeal against extradition and to be escorted on to a plane soon by Australian officials.
She will be taken into custody in Sydney but will seek bail while facing prosecution.
Ms Stratton had already sacked her first lawyers and she has now sacked the Sydney lawyer who was engaged by her brother John to represent her after she was caught in The Netherlands.