Dream choice kept Bramleys out of sight

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THE POSTER adorning the wall of the caravan was from the local lifeboat association and it urged sailors to wear brightly coloured buoyancy aids. "Be safe, be seen," it read.

How many times must Jeff and Jenny Bramley have smiled to each other, glancing up at that poster as they wiled away the weeks in their remote hideaway in south-west Ireland with their foster children, Jade and Hannah?

Their strategy had been the exact opposite and it had worked supremely well. For 17 weeks they had stayed safe by not being seen - at least not by anyone who noticed.

"To be honest, we did not take much notice of anyone coming here or coming there," explained Sean and Carmel Parker, a retired couple who live opposite the green and mustard painted caravan the Bramleys rented in the village of Fenit. "We can't say we really remember them. We might have seen them walking down the road to the beach now and then but not really looked at them."

Fenit is that sort of place - a small fishing community tucked away on a small spit of land skirting the Atlantic, where the locals like to go about their business peacefully. They are quiet, they are discreet.

But yesterday, the people of Fenit were also somewhat bewildered. Not only were they a little taken aback by the media invasion ("I thought he must have died when I saw all those cars parked outside his house," said one woman, referring to a neighbour whom journalists had been interviewing) but they could not understand what the officials were up to.

Just what were the social services in England doing, people asked, trying to take those little girls away from such loving parents?

"I have got seven children and 21 grandchildren and I will tell you this - I have never seen better parents," said John Deady snr, 77, who lives in a bungalow next to the 20ft caravan. "They were two loving parents and two beautiful children. They were just the sort of children you would like for your own. They were lively and happy, jumping around as children do. Those two children will not find more loving parents anywhere in the world."

Contrary to what the social services and child psychologists had feared, the four monthsJade and Hannah spent in hiding after Mr and Mrs Bramley disappeared with them from their Cambridgeshire home have not seem to have harmed the girls.

The couple insisted, through their solicitor, that the children had been kept busy during their "holiday" and that when they were not playing, they had spent much of their time reading books. Indeed villagers remember the girls looking happy and smiling as they played around the caravan orvisited the local aquarium on the end of the jetty, where they would often stop to watch the fishermen try their luck for sea bass and flounder.

If not there, they could be spotted on the beach, looking out across the bay to Dingle's Slieve Mish mountains and playing among the kelp and driftwood. Every Friday the family would catch the bus into Tralee to stock up on groceries (tinned baked beans and packet soups are still in the cupboards). And if it rained they would stay inside their neat, little caravan, complete with its own television, shower unit and bunk beds for the girls.

"Sometimes it would be raining so hard they would stay inside the caravan all night, but they were quite happy," said Mr Deady, who was village postman for more than 30 years. "I seem to recall that when they were here, the weather was not very good at all."

The Bramleys arrived in Fenit in mid-September, days after leaving their home in the village of Ramsey when they could not face handing the girls back to the local authority. After driving to York - where they left their car to set a false trail - they took a train to Holyhead on Anglesey, crossed the Irish Sea and headed south from Dublin.

They arrived in a taxi from Tralee, 10 miles away, and they took a taxi when they left. It is believed they stayed for about a month, paying IRpounds 100 a week for the rent of the mobile home.

After leaving Fenit, it is believed the family stayed in similar accommodation in the area. Exactly where is not clear: when Mrs Bramley's brother, David Bodle, contacted police to say the family had been in touch and wanted to come home, part of the negotiated deal was that they did not have to reveal where they had been.

However, it is known they remained in the area. Several weeks before Christmas, Mrs Bramley was spotted shopping in Dunne's store in Tralee. "It was raining that day, and I did not stop to speak to her for long. I don't know where they went after leaving the caravan, but it must have been somewhere in the area," said Joan Deady, wife of John Deady jun. "They were a lovely pair. I just hope it works out for them."

Just why the Bramleys chose Fenit is not clear.

It was originally thought that Mr Bodle owned property in the area, but that now appears not to be the case. They may have come after seeing an advertisement for the caravan placed in an English newspaper by Joan Deady.

Then again they might have chosen Fenit simply because they thought it would be quiet and private. If so, it was an inspired choice.