Missing sisters back home with grandmother

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Two sisters were enjoying home comforts for the first time in months today after being taken from the UK and left in North Africa.

Carene and Shelby Crofts, aged 12 and 11, were living with their grandmother Rita Astbury in Blackpool when they travelled to Morocco four months ago following an access visit from their estranged mother.

It is alleged their mother, Trudy Crofts, 32, who lost custody of her daughters seven years ago, had met a Moroccan waiter in the UK and took them abroad.

The girls disappeared on 17 August and it is believed they travelled to Spain then on to Morocco where they were allegedly left with the mother's boyfriend's family in Fez while she returned to Spain.

She was then arrested and taken back to the UK and is now in custody.

The girls' ordeal ended only when Carene fled the house they were staying in during a row with the head of the household and neighbours called police.

They were then taken into care and the British consul was able to negotiate their safe passage home.

The sisters were put on a plane in Morocco yesterday and flew into Heathrow last night and into the loving arms of their grandmother.

Today Mrs Astbury, 54, said: "It is the end of a nightmare.

"Last night we got home and all the neighbours were out with banners and we had a party until 3am.

"It is fantastic to have them back home. I can't put into words how I feel.

"I haven't thought about Christmas presents yet, but we have got each other and that's the main thing."

Lancashire Police had been trying to negotiate with the Moroccan authorities to get the girls home and took their mother to court to try to force her to sign papers giving police authority to travel to North Africa to repatriate them.

But Trudy Crofts, who is currently in custody charged with two counts of child abduction, refused to sign on the orders of a judge and also faces a count of contempt of court.

She will go on trial in the New Year.

Mrs Astbury began looking after the girls in 2002 because her daughter had been "struggling to cope".