Riddle of foster family on the run grows as judge asks public to help

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The Independent Online
A HIGH Court judge has taken the unusual step of appealing to the public to help to find two young sisters who disappeared with their foster parents 10 weeks ago.

Mrs Justice Hogg spoke yesterday of her anxiety over the "sad plight" of Jade and Hannah Bennett, saying she was "very worried for the safety and well-being of these children".

She said there had been several reported sightings of the girls, three of which were in the Irish Republic, since they vanished with their foster parents, Jeffrey and Jennifer Bramley.

The judge spoke out after appeals from the police, the children's natural mother and relatives of the Bramleys had brought no response.

The Bramleys, of Ramsey, Cambridgeshire, were known to have been distressed after their application to adopt Jade, five, and Hannah, three, was turned down and courts rejected their appeal against the decision. The 34-year- old postal worker and his 35-year-old wife, who had no children of their own, had been warned that they might lose the children and were due to meet social workers to discuss the girls' future when they disappeared.

Exactly why the couple were deemed unsuitable to adopt remains unclear. Cambridgeshire social services revealed only that the Bramleys were "unable to offer the special home that [the children] so much needed", despite being on the list of approved foster parents.

But the lengths to which the couple have gone to keep the girls they have cared for since March shows just how strong their attachment to the children has become. Indeed, the Bramleys had earlier told the girls' natural mother, Jacqueline Bennett, they were "so happy they had two beautiful children they could never have had".

In an emotional appeal to the Bramleys after their disappearance, Ms Bennett, a 24-year-old cleaner, said she had put up her daughters for adoption to give them a better start in life. "I know they've done what they have done because they love Jade and Hannah," she said. "I cannot blame them, but I just want my children back."

She criticised social services for not removing her daughters immediately "if they thought the children weren't being looked after properly".

Mrs Justice Hogg said she was concerned that the girls be found as quickly as possible. "Someone knows where they are, or someone has seen them. I beseech that person to come forward with whatever information he or she has, so we can find these two little girls."

Ms Bennett had asked the local authority to look after her daughters in June last year and they were placed with short-term foster carers before she gave her consent for their adoption last January.

Neighbours on the modern housing estate where the Bramleys lived said the couple appeared devoted to the girls. But Liz Railton, the director of Cambridgeshire social services, said social workers had made their decision "in the best interests of the children".

She said her staff had been trying to support the Bramleys for a couple of months but there had been no indication that they might abscond. She insisted that there was no question of the couple harming the girls.

The families of Jeffrey and Jennifer Bramley later released a statement saying they were aware of the "distressing personal circumstances" that led the couple to leave home. "We ask them to return home so... any problems [can be] sorted out," the families said.

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