Family on the run: Why the battle for Jade and Hannah is far from over

JEFF AND Jennifer Bramley's fight to adopt Jade and Hannah Bennett is far from over, writes Catherine Pepinster. Within hours of their return to Britain from their Irish hideaway, Cambridgeshire social services confirmed that a fresh application to adopt the children will be heard by the courts. But it also made it clear that it would continue to oppose the couple becoming the legal parents of the two little girls, with whom they disappeared for four months.

Last night, after 24 hours of intense negotiations had brought the Bramleys and the two girls home, it became apparent that a complex legal procedure awaited the middle-aged couple, who had been on the run since September, when they were told they could not adopt Jade, five, and Hannah, three.

The future of the two girls, both in the next few days and in the longer term, can only be settled with the agreement of Mrs Justice Hogg, who made them wards of court on Friday after an application from Cambridgeshire social services.

It will take several months for the adoption procedure to be resolved in the event that the Bramleys do, as expected, renew their bid to become parents. The Official Solicitor will represent the Bennett sisters.

An open letter from Liz Railton, director of Cambridgeshire social services , conceding that the Bramleys' case for adoption would be reconsidered, is believed to have persuaded them to come home. But last night Ms Railton said her department will still attempt to block the adoption. "Mr and Mrs Bramley have been made parties to these proceedings," she said. "This means every time any decision is made their views must be considered."

Immediate criminal charges against the couple are unlikely, but cannot be ruled out in the future, Cambridgeshire Police said before the safe return of the children. "We just cannot speculate on what the situation will be until we meet up with them and have a chance to question them," a spokeswoman said. "This has been an almost 18-week-long inquiry. We will need to talk to the family before a decision can be made."

In her open letter urging them to surrender, Ms Railton proposed that the courts should also decide what would happen to Jade and Hannah in the medium term while the adoption application was progressing through the legal system.

Cambridgeshire Police has been preparing for an early hearing to decide the girls' immediate future.

The intense media interest in the case is likely to continue, with pressure on the Bramleys to tell their story. In the last few weeks, the couple have been compared to other famous fugitives from Bonnie and Clyde to the fictional Thelma and Louise. The compelling, irresistible tale of how they strove to keep the girls they loved as their own children will not have failed to attract the attentions of film makers, either.