Obsession pulls down a father to prison: The Malkin case: Man's love for his son has cost him dear, writes Will Bennett

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The Independent Online
EVEN AS the wrought iron gate of the High Court tipstaffs' office closed behind him yesterday, Peter Malkin lost neither his instinct for drama nor his obsessive love for his son. He shouted to reporters asking them to give the boy his love.

Malkin's 18-month prison sentence was a high price for defying the law. The maximum he could have received for breaching a court order not to take Oliver away from his mother, Elisa Pridmore, was two years.

It was the latest chapter in a six- year battle between Malkin, 54, a wealthy self-made businessman who owns a Kent country club and a hotel in Devon, and his ex-wife, who lives with her second husband in France. Throughout the dispute Malkin, bitter about lack of access to his son, has preferred to take unilateral and often dramatic action to get his way rather than fight the case in the courts.

His tactics reflect his character. He is obsessive about old buildings and has made his fortune from restoring them, fanatical in his loathing of the Pridmores and unwavering in his adoration of his son.

Oliver's parents' marriage broke up in 1987 and later that year Malkin took his son away for six months after picking him up from school for a weekend visit. He kidnapped him three times in France after the Pridmores moved there. On one occasion the boy was snatched from their garden by a masked gang which sprayed CS gas at the family dogs.

That time Malkin and his son disappeared for 19 months travelling around Europe and North Africa before being tracked down in Devon. But it was the latest abduction last November which brought the full weight of the law down on the impetuous businessman.

Malkin, helped by his new partner, Audrey Donnelly, and a man called Martin Reedy, hired especially to help, bundled Oliver into a car as he returned from school in Landevant, Britanny, where the Pridmores now live. The boy's grandmother was dragged down the road as the vehicle drove off.

Malkin, Mrs Donnelly and Oliver later turned up in the Egyptian holiday resort of Hurghada where they talked to British journalists and the boy said that he was happy to be with his father. They seemed set for a long stay in a country with no extradition treaty with Britain.

But two factors brought Malkin back to Britain: the High Court issued a sequestration order for the seizure and sale of his property unless he returned by 6 January, and a psychiatrist's report revealing the harm that was being done to Oliver was sent to his father.

Even the bombastic Malkin, previously defiant, realised that the game was up and they flew back to Britain. At Heathrow he raged at police who arrested him. Yesterday in court he looked drained and emotional, sitting arm in arm with Mrs Donnelly and sniffing loudly as the judge condemned his actions in unequivocal terms.

He also faces a massive legal bill. The High Court hearings since November will cost nearly pounds 100,000 and his own expenses will add at least another pounds 50,000.

Yesterday Peter Jackson, his counsel, told the court that Malkin had promised not to abduct Oliver again. He will have his chance to fight his case legally at a custody hearing next month but the real test of his pledge to change will come when he is released from prison.