Ashya King's parents freed in Spain after Britain drops arrest warrant
Family set to be reunited as David Cameron calls for ‘outbreak of common sense’
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.
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.”
Ashya King's father recently explained why he took his son to Spain in a video uploaded to YouTube
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.
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