First-Hand: Memories of a tug-of-love child: Anna's father snatched her away from her mother at the age of four. He then snatched her brother. His reason, she says, was not love but selfishness

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I WAS four when my father kidnapped me from my grandmother's house. There are two versions of the abduction. One is that he asked a neighbour to call me and that I went willingly as soon as I saw him. That was in the yellowing newspaper cutting I was given when I was 16. The other version is the truth. I remember. A woman I didn't know asked me if I wanted an ice cream and I went with her.

After a long, long walk, maybe further than I'd ever walked without my mother or grandmother, I started to cry. Then I started to scream. No one would help me. I thought this very strange, since people were usually kind and all I wanted was my mother. I remember a bus, a train and a lot of steps.

The next thing I remember is being in bed with my clothes on. There are two versions of this, too. My newspaper cutting tells me that police traced me to my father's house and found me asleep. A picture of father leaning over sleeping daughter purports to record this.

My memory is different. The room was big, no carpet, no furniture except the bed and a photographer's tripod. There were three of us. Me, my father bending over me and someone taking our picture. Then the photographer went and I got

up again. There I was, a tug-of-love story before the newspapers had invented the phrase. The press interest was short-lived, and related less to the actual event than to the fact that my father was enjoying being a minor celebrity at the time in a different sphere. Still, I read the cutting now and squirm. How could he have co-

operated with such tosh? How could he have talked publicly about his quarrel with my mother? How can any parent bear to deliberately place a child in the distorting glare of the media?

I don't know how long I was with him that time. I think I have been told it was three weeks while my mother fought for custody. I remember - but my mother later told me it was unlikely - grown-ups asking me whether I wanted to stay with my mother or my father. I said my mother.

One day, in what I have assumed was the court, I typed my name on a typewriter, then went home with my mother. My grandmother gave me a boiled egg; my brother, then five, was nice to me. Someone gave me a book. My mother had won custody. My father was allowed access under strict conditions.

He could probably have got away with a generous interpretation of his behaviour, at least from his children. We might later have thought that it was the impulsive act of a father desperately anxious for our well-being, that he missed us after my mother had left him, that 'love' of us was some part of his motivation.

But a few months later, on one of his access visits, he took my brother and me to a tea-shop. Prevented by court order from taking me anywhere, he left me in the tea-shop alone and absconded with my brother. I still don't know how I was returned to my home, and it quickly became one of the many dreadful things my father had done which it was better not to talk about.

This time he didn't involve the newspapers. He took my brother out of the country. We received a postcard from France, followed by others at regular intervals. My mother felt - and maybe was - completely powerless. As the story was told to me, 'abroad' was impossible. No one in our family, probably in the street, had been abroad. There was an assumption that the police and courts would do nothing if he was out of the country.

About a year later, my mother started to doubt the foreign letters - she believed that my brother was in England. She visited public reference libraries and combed through street and telephone directories; she waited outside schools in likely towns and suburbs hoping to find him. In my imagination she walks the streets quite without direction or focus, but she probably had a few clues.

One day she left me with a neighbour for the night and I knew she would bring him back. In the middle of the night she woke me to tell me she had brought my brother home. She had found my father's name on an electoral register. She went to the local primary school. She waited outside and called to him as he came out.

The rest I heard many times. He had looked puzzled; said 'Mummy?' and pulled out a dirty handkerchief. She made him throw it away and brought him home. 'Did you really live in France?' I used to ask him. 'What was it like?' He couldn't remember. In fact, we later learnt that my father had taken him there for only a week. He had arranged to have postcards sent only to mislead. Eventually there was a divorce and he was given the right to see us - but there were not many visits. We hated them. My mother would frequently say that she wouldn't speak badly of him in front of us, but she really didn't need to. He was forbidden ever to enter my grandparents' home.

As an adult I have never been able to interpret my father's behaviour as anything other than selfish. Reading last week of the young boy whose father took him to Egypt, I wish fervently for him that we will all quickly forget his name: that he will not in future years read his own yellowing press cuttings and be haunted by having apparently said that he wanted to stay with is father. I imagine him lost and disoriented without his mother, his home, his friends, his school, and desperately trying to please his father, on whose continuing goodwill he was totally dependent.

He may well love his father; he may love his mother. It is probably the last thing on his mind. Children have no power and few inner resources. They cannot afford to choose between parents, or to be resentful or attribute blame. My resentment towards my father surfaced eventually, but as a child I just saw him as tremendously powerful. I thought he could read my mind.

Ten years after my brother's return, a whole childhood later, he got what he thought he had wanted. My mother died and we became his responsibility. Too late for him, though. The battle with the mother of his children was over and he showed no particular pleasure in finally having won. We were no longer tractable children but surly adolescents. I knew by then that his second wife had been the one who had taken me from my grandmother's and I despised her for causing such misery just to please someone else. I stayed with them for less than a year and then ran away.

(Photograph omitted)

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