Runaway couple told they can keep foster children

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The Independent Online
A COUPLE who went on the run with the foster children whom they were denied permission to adopt were told yesterday that they they could keep the girls for the next two years.

Mrs Justice Hogg said she was satisfied that Jade and Hannah Bennett, aged five and three, were "closely and securely attached" to Jeff and Jennifer Bramley and were likely to continue being well looked after. However, given the history of the case, she was not prepared to grant an adoption order at this stage.

The Bramleys will share parental responsibility for the girls with social services until spring 2001, when the case will be reviewed.

The couple disappeared from their home last September on the day they were due to return the girls to Cambridgeshire social services, which had expressed concerns about their care. A nationwide hunt was launched. The family turned up 17 weeks later after the social services department said it would not stand in the way of them reapplying to adopt the girls.

Mrs Justice Hogg said: "Whatever the rights and wrongs may have been [last year], I have had to look at the situation as it is today. The concerns of the local authority were not without foundation. It is sadly my view that Mr and Mrs Bramley have not always been as co-operative or open as they should have been with the local authority and I have been concerned about aspects of their evidence to me."

She praised social workers and the courage and dignity of the girls' natural mother who allowed her children to be fostered when she was not able to look after them.

She added that the childrenhad been well cared for during their time away, even though the Bramleys' plans for a future on the run were unrealistic.

A statement from the Bramleys said the judge's decision followed a year of anxiety. "Our main task will be to ensure that the children receive all the stability, love and care which they need and deserve," they said.

Liz Railton, director of the county social services said the judge's decision was in the best interests of the girls, who would remain wards of court.

Jacqueline Bennett, the children's natural mother said: "I look forward to working with Jeff and Jennifer who will be looking after the girls and those who will be helping all of them."

On the Bramleys return from Ireland last year, they were charged with abduction, but the girls were allowed to stay with them at a secret address, pending the outcome of the court case. The Crown Prosecution Service said that it was reviewing the charges in the light of yesterday's hearing. A decision is expected to take several weeks.

Mr and Mrs Average, page 3