`Child alone' parents face prosecution

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The Independent Online
A BRITISH couple will learn this week whether they are to be prosecuted by US authorities for leaving their two small children alone in a Florida hotel room. Jill Adam, 33, daughter of Sir Lawrence Byford, Britain's former chief inspector of constabulary, and her husband, Philip, 35, spent a night in jail and may be charged with child abuse, which carries a five-year sentence.

The couple, from Harrogate, north Yorkshire, were arrested in St Pete Beach, a suburb of St Petersburg, after they went to the hotel swimming- pool to watch a fireworks display, leaving five-year-old Maisie and one- year-old Daniel asleep. Security staff allegedly found Maisie wandering around the hotel in tears.

In Florida it is a criminal offence, formally called child abuse, to leave children unsupervised. The couple's fate is in the hands of Bernie McCabe, state attorney for Pinellas County. The Adams, who were on holiday with Sir Lawrence, were questioned and held in Pinellas County Jail.

The family's lawyer, John Trevena, said: "It is a tremendous over-reaction from the police. They were gone no more than 45 minutes. At any time they were no more than 100ft from the room."

But St Pete Beach police yesterday defended the decision to arrest the couple, who returned to England on Thursday. "It is against Florida state statutes to leave a child unattended. It is child abuse, and that's a felony charge.

"Put it this way: would you leave two small children by themselves?"

The incident, details of which emerged in the St Petersburg Times newspaper, happened last week. Mr Adam was quoted yesterday as saying: "We can't really believe all this has happened. You can see what kind of family we are. It spoilt a very enjoyable holiday and I am sure it would never have happened in this country."

In a slightly different version of events to that given by Mr Trevena, Mr Adam said he and his wife were away only 10 minutes. Sir Lawrence said they had been about 100 yards from the hotel room.

The family also faces possible investigation by North Yorkshire social services, although a spokeswoman for the Department of Health said yesterday that she thought such a move unlikely.

In this country there is no minimum legal age at which a child can be left unsupervised. Last week Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's chief of staff, was criticised for leaving his baby daughter in the care of a cloakroom attendant at the Groucho Club in London.

Mr Trevena said he hoped the Florida authorities would file the case under "no information" - in other words, dismiss it. He added: "Prosecuting distinguished British citizens on felony child-abuse charges for watching a fireworks display could provoke such an outcry from Great Britain as to risk an international incident."

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