Mother of bride, 13, faces Turkish police

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The Independent Online

The mother of Sarah Cook, the 13-year-old who married a Turkish waiter, could face questioning by prosecutors after Sarah's 18-year-old husband was charged with statutory rape and kidnap.

Officials in the town of Kahramanmaras, south-east Turkey, told the Independent last night that they may charge Jackie Cook, 37, with encouraging Musa Komeagae to commit the offence against her daughter.

The news came as the full consequences of the Cooks' decision to allow Sarah to marry at 13 came home to roost with startling fury. First, Sarah was forced to undergo a "virginity test" at a Turkish hospital while the media waited for the results, then Musa was arrested and charged with statutory rape, kidnap and "running away with a girl under 15". He could face up to five years in prison.

Then, while Mrs Cook and her husband Adrian, 42, of Braintree, Essex, were summoned to a meeting with the area's child protection unit - and while Sarah was telling journalists she planned to have a baby by the time she was 14 - Turkish prosecutors turned the spotlight on Mrs Cook.

One prosecutor, who refused to be identified, said: "We are considering pressing charges against the mother, because her encouragement is a criminal offence."

Referring to a religious ceremony in which the couple took part two weeks ago, the prosecutor continued: "Sarah and Musa are not properly married, neither in Turkish law, nor by Islamic law. They have not had a proper Imam Nikah wedding [religious ceremony]. There was no Imam who performed it. We have arrested the boy. He will stay here until the trial starts, possibly tomorrow."

He said Musa, who was picked up by police early yesterday, faced charges of "breaking the girl's virginity", running away with a girl of under 15 years of age and kidnap.

"It doesn't matter whether she agreed to the relationship or not: this is statutory rape in Turkey as in England," he said. "The boy may be released when the case starts in the serious crimes court, especially if the two have a proper Imam Nikah wedding and the families show their agreement."

There was no response from the Cooks last night. They have been paid more than pounds 20,000 by the Sun for their story and have been insisting through its pages that they have done the right thing by their daughter.

The Daily Mirror reported yesterday that Mr Cook had approached it and claimed he had been offered pounds 20,000 for the story. He is reported to have said: "If you can top that, you can have it."

Meanwhile, Sarah was quoted in the Sun as saying of her marriage: "We were both virgins when we had sex for the first time. Now we can't keep our hands off each other and sleep together all the time. Sometimes at night, when we have to share a room with Musa's brother and sister, we wait until they are fast asleep before jumping all over each other."

Sarah, a pupil at Tabor High School, Braintree, met Musa while on holiday in Alanya when she was only 12. Two weeks ago, the Cooks flew to Turkey and gave their blessing to the "marriage".

Last night, with Musa being held in prison, Sarah was clearly unhappy. She is living in a basement flat with Musa's family in a run-down part of town. She is said to be receiving no education and is expected to do chores from 8am until 5pm.

Trudie Pak, the British vice consul in Ankara, spoke to Sarah twice yesterday and said she was "fine" but had been upset after speaking to her mother on the telephone.

"Sarah was medically examined at a local hospital to establish that sexual intercourse had taken place, otherwise no offence would have taken place," she said.

Last night Mr and Mrs Cook were reported to be en route to see Sarah in Turkey.

Couples have to be 18 before they can marry in Turkey. With parental consent, the age limit can be dropped to 17 for boys and 15 for girls. With parental consent and a special dispensation from a judge, girls can be married at 14, but there is no provision for a marriage at 13.

Yesterday, before Musa was arrested, the Turkish national channel ATV showed pictures of the couple posing for the media. Sarah said defiantly: "We are very happy and I love him very much."

Afterwards, she was taken to hospital for her virginity test, the results of which were read out to journalists while Sarah sat with her head bowed.

Describing the incident to Turks nationwide, ATV's anchorman, Ali Kirca, said: "Sarah was submitted to a test that has caused so much anguish and so many suicides among young girls."