Family on the run: A letter ends the nightmare

THE DECISIVE moment in convincing the Bramleys finally to come out of hiding was the open letter to them written by Liz Railton, director of Cambridgeshire social services, which offered the couple the hope of keeping their foster children, writes Julian Kossoff.

In her personal appeal, published in newspapers last Friday, Ms Railton conceded to the Bramleys that their case should be heard in court. "The Bramleys asked for the girls' future to be determined by someone independent of the county council. We feel the best way of doing this is to ask the courts to determine what is best for the children," she said.

The bold move finally broke the four-month deadlock between the fugitive couple and Cambridgeshire social services. Up until that point, the department had been portrayed as the villains in the Bramley saga.

Jade and Hannah, who have different fathers, arrived at social services in 1997 after their mother, Jackie Bennett, 24, who suffered from depression decided she could no longer cope as a single mother.

They were immediately taken on by short-term foster parents, as are the vast majority of the county's children in care. By that time the Bramleys had already embarked on the lengthy process of assessment to become carers.

After eight years of trying unsuccessfully for children of their own, they had decided they wanted to adopt. Like all prospective carers, they underwent a thorough assessment of their suitability, background and financial position. Several months later they were approved as carers. In March last year it was agreed that Jade and Hannah would be placed with them, subject to continuing monitoring, with a view to the Bramleys eventually adopting them.

Experts say the age of the children, five and three, is perfect for bonding with new parents and the Bramleys clearly formed a close attachment with the little girls. However, by last August social workers decided that the relationship was not working and said the Bramleys could not adopt the girls. Child-care experts say teething problems are expected in adoption cases and the Bramleys must have been considered totally unfit to keep the children.

The Bramleys were heartbroken and took their case to the county court but the judge backed the department. It is hard to establish the precise reasons the Bramleys were considered unsuitable carers for Jade and Hannah, but in their letter to the press last week, the couple claimed they were regarded as having been too strict and obsessive.

It has also been suggested by some that Cambridgeshire social services were being over-cautious because of a series of recent scandals involving children in their care.

Though the Bramleys agreed at first to return the children, to the council, privately they started to plan their dramatic escape. Instead of taking the children to their social worker on 14 September, they bundled the girls into the back of their car and vanished.

With the dramatic return of the Bramleys last night the decision on the future of Jade and Hannah has now been handed to the courts and, given the intense interest in the case, the judge will have difficulty reaching a decision that all parties can live with. Whether any court would find in favour of a couple who had been refused adoption, and then abducted the children, remains to be seen.

But once the Bramleys case is resolved, there will be intense soul searching within the social work profession. Stories abound of people denied adoption for bizarre and exotic reasons, for being too fat, too old or because they did not like pop music. Given the desperation of childless couples who long for a family - now personified by the Bramleys - the standards applied can often seem too arbitrary.

Focus, page 20

TIMETABLE

MARCH 1998: Postal worker Jeffrey Bramley, 34, and wife Jennifer, 35, from Ramsey, Cambridgeshire, foster four-year-old Jade Bennett and her half-sister Hannah, three. The girls had been given up for adoption by their mother Jackie Bennett, 24.

AUGUST 1998: The childless couple were hoping to adopt but are told by Cambridgeshire County Council social services department that they are not suitable and the placement is being terminated - the first time in a decade they made such a decision.

LATE AUGUST 1998: The Bramleys appeal to the High Court. They lose.

14 SEPTEMBER 1998: Mr and Mrs Bramley are due to hand over the children to social workers. They fail to attend a meeting with social services staff. Their home is found to be empty and their car missing. Police make an appeal for help to the media.

15 SEPTEMBER 1998: Police hold a press conference giving descriptions of the Bramleys and circulating photographs.

17 SEPTEMBER 1998: Relatives of the Bramleys appeal for them to give themselves up.

23 SEPTEMBER 1998: Reported sightings around north Norfolk. Jenny's brother, Dave Bodle, appeals to her to return.

25 SEPTEMBER 1998: Reported sightings of the Bramleys' car in the Milton Keynes area.

8 OCTOBER 1998: Sightings in Blackpool and Llandudno.

12 OCTOBER 1998: Bramleys' car sighted in Worthing, Sussex. Suggestions they may be in the Irish Republic.

NOVEMBER: Children's pictures appear on milk cartons and details on Missing Persons' Helpline.

14 DECEMBER: TV appeal made on the BBC's Crimewatch.

30 DECEMBER: Bramleys' car found abandoned near York railway station. Police believe it had been left five weeks earlier.

1 JANUARY 1999: The Rev Jack Cooper sees and speaks to the family on the North Yorkshire Steam Railway near Pickering. He does not realise who they are until two days later.

11 JANUARY: Police realise video stills taken in Pickering showing four people, believed to be the missing family.

12 JANUARY: A number of media organisations receive a letter believed to be from the Bramleys saying they want to be the girls' "mummy and daddy forever".

15 JANUARY: PR adviser Max Clifford is reported to be handling the sale of the Bramleys' story to the media.

16 JANUARY: Foster parents and the two children fly to Stansted Airport, Essex, from the Irish Republic and are met by Cambridgeshire social services staff and Cambridgeshire Police.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home