A six-year-old British girl who was abducted by her father three years ago and taken to Pakistan was reunited with her mother last night.
“She had a big smile on her face,” said Gemma Wilkinson after greeting her daughter, Atiya, at Manchester Airport. “She’s home where she’s loved.”
Atiya Anjum-Wilkinson was found being cared for by relatives in the Punjab three years after her father, Rizwan Ali Anjum, abducted her, but questions are now being raised as to whether she could have been traced sooner.
For Ms Wilkinson, yesterday’s reunion was the culmination of a desperate search that began in 2009 when Mr Anjum sent her a text message saying she would never see her daughter again. She said: “I am just absolutely overwhelmed at seeing Atiya now and giving her a cuddle and a massive kiss. It was very emotional. She is how I expected. She looks exactly the same as she did three years ago. She is just taller and a bit older.”
Speaking of the moment they met, she said: “Atiya was told I was ‘Mummy’. She said ‘Mummy’ and smiled. I think she’s happy to be back. She has a big smile, she is playing nicely, she’s talking. She’s happy. I was worried that she would be upset or scared. She hasn’t been.”
Ms Wilkinson, 32, of Ashton-under-Lyme, discovered on Christmas Day that her daughter was safe, describing it as the “best Christmas present ever”.
It emerged yesterday that Atiya was recovered after her case was raised with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister by a a Member of the European Parliament earlier this month. However, Greater Manchester Police are believed to have known for years that Atiya may have been in Pakistan.
She was last seen by her mother in November 2009, when Mr Anjum, a former insurance salesman, took her from her home in Ashton-under-Lyme, saying they were going to Southport. Instead, he boarded a plane to Lahore with Atiya. He is now serving his fourth consecutive prison sentence in the UK after defying court orders to reveal the girl’s whereabouts.
Last month, police released an e-fit image of what Atiya might look like three years after her abduction. It is understood that the image, along with the intervention of senior Pakistani officials, led to new information being handed to Pakistani authorities, which led them to a house in the city Sialkot, where members of Mr Anjum’s extended family were living. Police watched the house for days before telling the residents Atiya must be returned to the UK. It is understood that the family cooperated fully. Atiya is said to be in good health and appears to have been well looked after.
Sajjad Karim, the MEP for North-West England, said the Pakistani authorities were “absolutely crucial” in resolving the case but acted only after he raised the case with a Pakistani minister at the European Parliament.Mr Karim told the BBC: “There is nothing I’ve done today that couldn’t have been done three-and-a-half years ago. We must sit down and look at putting in place relevant protocols to ensure that measures available to us, outside of purely legal avenues, are explored right at the outset in such cases.”