OJ Simpson's children go home to daddy

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The saga of OJ Simpson has evolved from a murder drama into a horror story. The man who was acquitted of killing his wife by a jury of 12, but convicted by the vast majority of the millions who followed the trial on TV, has been awarded full custody of his two small children.

"It's probably the best Christmas present anyone could hope to have, and in the long run it's going to be the best thing for everyone," Mr Simpson said. "I know 100 per cent that Nicole wants the children to be with me."

Sydney, 11, and Justin, 8, arrived at his estate yesterday. "They're home. Everything is fine," Mr Simpson told Associated Press in a brief telephone conversation. "They are going to be spending time with the Browns, too, next week." Mr Simpson earlier said he planned to have the children visit their grandparents, Louis and Juditha Brown, on Christmas Eve, which has become a tradition for the children.

The family of Nicole Brown Simpson, butchered two and a half years ago with her friend Ron Goldman outside her Los Angeles home, were bitter and appalled. Not only do they share the widespread view that Mr Simpson's acquittal last year was a travesty of justice, they and Mr Goldman's family have brought a "wrongful death" civil suit against him, which is expected to go to the jury by the end of January.

It could yet be that the two children will find themselves living under the protection of a man who has been pronounced by a court of law to have murdered their mother. Devastating as such an outcome might prove to be for the children's mental health, a California judge ruled on Friday that the children, having been under the guardianship of their maternal grandparents since the double murder two and a half years ago, should immediately be restored to their father. The female judge said that Louis and Juditha Brown, had failed to demonstrate convincingly that for the children to return to their father would be "clearly detrimental to their well-being". At his estate, Mr Simpson celebrated the custody decision with relatives and a few friends. A red-and-gold trimmed tree surrounded by presents awaited the children.

After the ruling Mr and Mrs Brown issued a statement saying: "We love Sydney and Justin and pray for their safety and well-being as they return to their father." Denise Brown, the dead woman's sister, said in a television interview on Friday night that her mother had tearfully conveyed the news to the two children. "It's not going to be OK for these children," Ms Brown said grimly, adding that the family would appeal against the custody order.

What is going through the minds of the children themselves remains unclear. Neither of them appeared in court during the custody hearing. Mr Simpson maintains that they are both delighted to be going home with him. The judge said that one of the two had expressed a desire to be with the father, while the other had declined to state a preference.

Whatever the truth of the matter, legal experts were saying yesterday they were not surprised at the judge's ruling, because under Californian law the tendency is to award children to their biological parents. The experts were baffled, however, that the judge had not waited to rule until the conclusion of the "wrongful death" trial, which went into a two-week holiday recess on Friday. A California judge who handles custody cases told the Los Angeles Times: "I can't understand what the advantage is in making a decision right now."