The Bramley Affair: The Hide-out - Couple gave police the runaround

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The Independent Online
FOR THE past four months, the Bramleys and their two foster daughters lived in the shadows, using assumed names and laying false trails for the police.

The family are believed to have spent much of their time in remote parts of the Irish Republic. Early on, they rented a caravan in Fenit, a coastal village 10 miles west of Tralee, in County Kerry, for three weeks.

It appears that despite many alleged sightings of the Bramleys around Britain, they left for Ireland the day before they were due to hand Jade and Hannah Bennett back to social services.

After driving to York on 13 September and dumping their car in an effort to mislead police, the family took a train to Holyhead from where they crossed the Irish Sea to Dublin by hovercraft. They then headed south.

This tactic enabled them to slip through the ferry terminal without attracting the attention of Special Branch and customs officers, who had been passed descriptions of the runawayswithin hours of their disappearance.

Police are investigating the possibility that a friend posted their letters to the media from Nottingham, the focus of much of the investigation, while the family were in hiding in southern Ireland.

"I'd say it was a fair bet they have spent much of their time in the Republic," a police source said last night.

Police have now discounted every single sighting of the family around Britain, including the most recent on the North York Moors railway.

Fenit, a tiny community on the west coast, was an ideal bolthole. While this isolated corner of Ireland is crowded with holidaymakers in summer, it is quiet during the winter months. For three weeks, the Bramleys stayed in a seaside caravan owned by a local man, John Deady.

Last night Mr Deady said: "To us they seemed a nice and respectable couple.We regarded them as ordinary English holidaymakers. We get a lot of people coming here at all times of the year for a break.

"We only realised it was the missing English couple after they had gone, when we saw their pictures, and those of the children, in the newspapers. We told the Gardai and they said the information would be passed on to Dublin."

He added: "The two girls were always very well behaved, and it was evident that they very much loved. We have no idea at all where they went after leaving here."

Since the Bramleys disappeared with the children from their home in Ramsey, Cambridgeshire, there had been several clues that they might have gone to Ireland.

The couple were known to have relatives in southern Ireland, so police extended their missing persons appeal to the Republic early in October. And, having made the appeal, there were a number of reported sightings.

However, the sightings stretched across the breadth of Ireland. On 1 November there was one in Dundalk; the following day the family was reported to have been seen in Portlaoise - both in the east. Later they were apparently seen in Dublin and then in Ballina, Co Mayo, by a tourist who claimed to have overheard them in a pub. There was also a reported sighting of the Bramleys in Kerry, in the south-west. The Gardai investigated each of the sightings, but found no trace of the family.

Last night local police in the Republic were trying to establish where the family had stayed. They were unaware the fugitives had been on their patch until after they had gone. Inspector Michael O'Donovan, based in Killarney, said yesterday: "We were first informed this morning that they had left."

The kind of life the Bramleys led on the run can only be guessed at. Social services said yesterday that the girls had appeared to be in good health and spirits but child experts say that the episode must have been very unsettling for them.

There is also the question of how the family managed to get by financially. The couple had withdrawn about pounds 5,000 before leaving home and it is known that they were a frugal couple. But after 18 weeks of paying for rent, food, travel and, presumably, some sort of activities to keep the girls occupied, theymust have been running short of money.

Partly in response to the public sympathy for the family, Cambridgeshire social services said they would allow the courts to decide whether the couple were suitable parents. "Wherever you are, come home", was the message.

The breakthrough came at 7.30pm on Friday when Mrs Bramley's brother, David Bodle, took a call from his sister at his house in Fordham, Essex.

She was ringing from southern Ireland. He immediately called Cambridgeshire police, and after a "delicate"45-minute discussion it was agreed he would fly to Ireland that night and help to bring home the runaways. One of the conditions they had imposed was that they would not reveal where they had been staying.

Less than 24 hours later Mr Bodle, with Mr and Mrs Bramley and the two little girls, appeared at the arrivals gate at Farranfore airport, south of Tralee.

The Ryanair flight took just over an hour to reach Stansted Airport in Essex, where the Bramleys were met by Detective Superintendent John Cummins and a senior social services official.

"The girls looked fine. They kept calling Mr and Mrs Bramley Mummy and Daddy and were holding their hands," said one source.

"Mr and Mrs Bramley looked resigned to whatever might happen next."