Ashya King, the gravely ill child whose family removed him from a British hospital and fled to Spain to seek alternative treatment for his brain tumour, was set to be reunited with his parents after they were released by the Spanish authorities following three nights in custody.
The decision came after the intervention of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who said that pictures of five-year-old Ashya lying at his father’s side reminded him of his own severely disabled son, Ivan, who died in 2009 aged six.
After a remarkable five days, Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, said that a top oncologist would be sent to Spain to advise Brett King, 51, and his wife Naghmeh, 45, on the best treatment for their son’s brain tumour.
The couple removed Ashya from a Southampton hospital last Thursday, without the consent of his doctors and took him to Spain with his six siblings, after disputing medical advice that he should not have advanced radiotherapy.
In pictures: Ashya King's case
In pictures: Ashya King's case
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Brett King, back left, and Naghemeh King, right, accompany their son Ashya King (5) center, as he arrives for pre-cancer treatment examinations at the Motol hospital in Prague, Czech Republic
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Ashya King (5) arrives for pre-cancer treatment examinations at the Motol hospital in Prague, Czech Republic
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Brett King, father of five year old Ashya King, talks to members of the press after holding a press conference at his lawyer's office in Seville, Spain
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Brett and Naghemeh King, parents of Ashya King, attend a press conference in Sevilla, Spain. The British parents are heading to see him at a hospital in southern Spain following release their from custody after United Kingdom authorities dropped accusations of child cruelty against them
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British couple Brett (L) and Naghemeh (2L) King leave Soto del Real Prision in Soto del Real, near Madrid, Spain
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Brett King leaving Soto del Real prison near Madrid, Spain after British authorities dropped the case against him and his wife for taking their son Ashya from Southampton General Hospital without the consent of doctors
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Naghemeh King leaves Soto del Real Prision in Soto del Real, near Madrid, Spain
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Ashya King in hospital with his mother
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Journalist work outside the Materno Infantil Hospital where Ashya King is hospitalized in Malaga, Spain
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Ethan Dallas and Sanjay Ganatra, friends of the family, deliver a petition of over 100,000 names calling for his parents' release from a Spanish jail
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Spanish judge Ismael Moreno arrives to the National Courts to take statement to the parents of Britain's five-year-old boy Ashya King, in Madrid, Spain
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Ashya King parents's lawyer, Juan Isidro Fernandez Diaz, arrives at the National court in Madrid
AP Photo/Andres Kudacki
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Spanish policemen stand guard as a police van carrying the parents of Ashya King arrives at the courthouse in Madrid
JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images
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Ashya King’s parents after their court appearance
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Ashya King's father explained why he took his son to Spain in a video uploaded to YouTube
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This photo of Ashya King being examined by doctors in hospital was posted on Facebook by his brother, Naveed
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Ashya King and his brother Naveed
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Ashya King on a hospital bed
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A CCTV still issued by Hampshire Police of Ashya King with his father Brett King at around 4pm yesterday
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The exterior of Southampton General Hospital where Ashya King, who has a brain tumour was taken by his parents from the hospital without the blessing of doctors
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Hampshire Constabulary said there are 'serious concerns' for the life of Ashya King as he needs constant medical care. Officers said his parents - Brett, 51, and Naghemeh, 45, - boarded a cross-Channel ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg at 4pm yesterday with Ashya's six siblings
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Ashya King, who has a brain tumour and was taken by his parents from hospital without the blessing of doctors
The pair were arrested on Saturday and held in custody, while other members of the family were barred from seeing Ashya in hospital. The family’s flight across Europe, and a series of heart-wrenching messages and videos posted on social media, attracted public support and promises of funds for treatment at a clinic in the Czech Republic, which offers a form of proton radiotherapy not available in Britain.
At a High Court hearing, brought by Portsmouth City Council which had applied to a judge to make Ashya a ward of court, a team from Southampton General Hospital said the best option for Ashya was for radiotherapy and chemotherapy in Britain. But they said they would not stand in the family’s way if they secured the funds for treatment in Prague. The hearing was adjourned until Monday.
In the initial hunt for the family, police declined to rule out prosecution of Ashya’s parents – but they and their children’s appeals secured widespread sympathy and led to accusations of judicial heavy-handedness.
The campaign to reunite the family was led by Mr Cameron, who said: “Watching the pictures of him [Ashya] brought back memories of my desperately ill young boy, Ivan, and I remember him endlessly sitting on my lap and having to feed him through a tube and having to deal with all of the difficulties of having a desperately ill child... I just hope there’ll be an outbreak of common sense and a rapid outbreak of common sense so that the family can be re-united with this young boy.”
The cancer specialist being sent to Spain was not named but is unconnected with Southampton General Hospital. “I think it has been a very unfortunate sequence of events and there have clearly been misunderstandings along the way,” said Mr Hunt. “Right now, what we want to focus on is getting the right treatment for Ashya.”
The saga has focused attention on the decision to issue a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) after warnings that time was running out for Ashya. The EAW was issued on the grounds that the parents’ “wilful neglect” could support a charge of child cruelty.
Prominent lawyers said the Crown Prosecution Service appeared to have overstepped its powers. An EAW requires a realistic prospect of conviction which would entail a jail term of more than 12 months.
A statement from the CPS said: “Today has shown that Mr and Mrs King did take certain steps to safeguard the health of Ashya... accordingly the necessary element of wilful neglect to support a charge of child cruelty could not be proved to the required standard.... We have acted as quickly as we could to take the necessary steps to release Mr and Mrs King from custody as soon as possible.”
A spokesman for the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are pleased that Ashya’s parents will be released and will be able to see their son. When Ashya went missing last week we had no option but to call the police because we did not know where he was or what his parents’ intentions were.
“The police asked us to make statements about his clinical condition and need of medical care and we stand by the accuracy of the information we gave them. No hospital should be deterred from raising the alarm when they have doubts about the safety of a child.” Medical experts told the Court that the risk to Ashya’s life was not as great as initially thought.
Although the threat of prosecution was removed, the fate of Ashya remains unclear. Postings by members of the family on social media had previously indicated that the cancer was terminal, but senior hospital officials said earlier this week that the chances of surviving the condition were about 70-80 per cent after five years provided Ashya had the appropriate treatment.