Loco grande

'I want my daddy'

Three area girls at the hub of a legal dispute are handed to their mother.
PATRICK MALONEY, Free Press Reporter 2005-03-31 03:23:33

CHATHAM -- The England sisters walked into a children's services building here with their father yesterday afternoon, sad and sobbing. When they exited through a back door with their mother three hours later, they were quiet and subdued.

And with that, the heartbreaking international legal saga that's swirled for months around Leah, Hannah and Nicola England ended, their father obeying a judge's order and handing the girls over to his estranged wife, who will take them back to Britain for the custody fight.

"Daddy, daddy," Hannah, 7, sobbed as Jonathan England led his girls into Chatham's Integrated Children's Services building, where Marla England waited.

"I want my daddy."

Shortly before 5:30 p.m. Marla England and her parents -- David and Roberta Barrett of Niagara Falls -- emerged with the girls, who were calm, in stark contrast to two previous unsuccessful exchange attempts.

Marla England wouldn't comment on her plans for her daughters.

"Back away from my car," she told The Free Press while loading the luggage.

"Please respect my privacy."

Jonathan England and his relatives, who fought hard to keep his daughters here, had already left by then.

David Barrett drove off, effectively ending an emotional day that started with Justice Lucy Glenn ruling the girls leave Canada almost immediately.

David England, the girls' uncle, was still stunned when reached last night.

"It is still hard to believe, no question," he said.

"Their major anchor in life has just been set adrift."

Jonathan and Marla England, both Canadians, moved to Britain in September 2003 with their three Canadian daughters.

One year later, while Jonathan England and the girls were visiting Ontario, their mother moved in with her British lesbian lover.

England and the girls stayed here -- which, Glenn ruled, broke the international Hague Convention.

Because the marriage dissolved in Britain, the girls -- Leah, 10, Hannah and five-year-old Nicola -- must return there for the parental custody fight, she ruled.

In a last-ditch effort yesterday to keep the children in Canada, Jonathan England's lawyer pointed to a report by a clinical psychologist who concluded the girls would "be seriously, psychologically harmed" if forced to go to Britain.

Glenn heard Leah and Hannah had threatened suicide if they are forced to return.

The judge wasn't swayed from her decision.

The fact remains the children were "unilaterally and unlawfully retained in Canada by their father," she said.

The judge said Jonathan England was given the opportunity to return his children to the United Kingdom himself, but didn't.

"I am, of course, very concerned about the mental health of the children," Glenn said, adding the ordeal may have been easier on the girls if their father had co-operated from the beginning.

"The children have said all along that they don't wish to return. . . there were no serious reasons given to satisfy the court," she said.

* * *

Thirty minutes before England took his daughters to the designated drop-off site on Grand Avenue, his quaint Chatham bungalow was filled with laughter.

Leah and Hannah skipped through the house and lay on the backyard grass with their cousin, talking quietly.

Their bags -- which sat half-unpacked in the hallway for weeks -- were stuffed with their belongings again. Nicola, the youngest, seemed unaware of what was unfolding.

"Look at how clean my room is," she cheerfully told a visitor.

The girls had been unaware of yesterday's court date until their father arrived at to Georges P. Vanier elementary school unannounced.

"As soon as we showed up at the school, they knew. They just started bawling," family friend Sean Moore said.

The girls, pulling their tiny luggage, stood in their driveway, hugging several relatives. It was just past 2 p.m. and, to Moore, it was good-bye.

"In my heart, they're leaving and it feels like a funeral," he said.

* * *

As the girls emerged with their mother yesterday afternoon from the building, they were calm. They appeared to say nothing before driving off and Marla England kissed her youngest daughter on the lips.

Hannah and Nicola sat in the backseat with their mother. Leah sat between her grandparents, David and Roberta Barrett, in the front of a small sedan.

David Barrett pulled the car into a service centre along the 401, near Dutton, about 45 minutes later. Hannah, from the back seat, smiled and waved wildly to a reporter she recognized, but Barrett, also recognizing him, drove off.

There was no official word on when the girls will return to Britain, where Marla England lives with her partner, Amanda Cambridge.

Jonathan England, who plans to fight in the U.K. for custody of his daughters, didn't know when he would hear from them again.

"He has no way, means or format (to know) how he's ever going to contact them again," David England said.

"It just seems incomprehensible."

Copyright © The London Free Press
Reverend Blair
Looks like he lost a custody battle to me. Would you have put this up if the mother wasn't in a same-sex relationship?
Yeah. I think it should be up to Canada. All involved ( father, mother, children) are Canadian citizens.

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