Sarah is our bride now, say Turks child bride

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The Independent Online
British officials yesterday failed to persuade 13-year-old Essex schoolgirl Sarah Cook to comply with a High Court order to leave the Turkish family into which she has illegally "married" and to return forthwith to Britain.

Sarah left a meeting with two British consular officers after one hour, defiantly parrying reporters' questions about her plans with a shout of "Mind your own business!" as she walked off between the arms of her new "father-in-law" and his brother.

"The child will stay. These two people love each other," said Turkish provincial governor Aslan Yildirim, smiling with triumph after the meeting between the two families and the British officials in his imposing town centre office. "Sarah is our bride now."

Sarah's mother ,Jackie Cook, lagged one minute behind her daughter, on her own, her face set. She then squashed into the waiting limousine of the pro-Islamic Welfare Party mayor of Kahramanmaras, who has also adopted Sarah's cause. When Mrs Cook was asked if she would leave her daughter in Turkey she said: "If I go, she goes."

The British Consul, John Fox, and Vice-Consul, Trudie Pak, who had arrived from Ankara, were forced to retire to consider their options. These are limited, especially since the volatile feeling in Kahramanmaras is overwhelmingly in favour of a union that Turkish public opinion is treating as a story of star-crossed lovers.

A senior official in Turkey's Ministry of Justice said the British High Court order had, as yet, no validity in Turkey. To prove that Sarah was a ward of a British court that wanted her taken back to Britain, he said the British Government would have to open a case in Kahramanmaras. That procedure could take weeks, if not months.

The other option would be for Mrs Cook to put Sarah in a taxi and drive to the airport, since, in Turkish law, she is still full guardian of her daughter. If Sarah was to refuse, she could then apply to the Kahramanmaras court to have her will implemented, the official said.

"The girl wants to stay, and the mother wants to go back with Sarah to sort out her legal situation. There are huge pressures on both sides," said lawyer Selim Sumen, who is acting for Sarah's "in-laws".

Meanwhile Sarah's 18-year-old "husband", Musa, is still in a grim concrete jail outside town, accused of under-age sex, a charge that most Turks feel is unjust. They note that the wilful Sarah is taller even than her father-in-law and the older generation of Turks sees young teenage brides as normal and desirable.

The sense of injustice being done extends far up into Turkish officialdom. Governor Yildirim suggested to Turkish reporters that they start a "Free Musa" campaign.

The Kahramanmaras MP, Ali Dogan, arrived to visit Musa in prison to support the couple and to share his belief, based on Sarah's past statements to the Sun newspaper, that "Sarah was not very happy in England anyway."