Woman's lone fight has lasted five years: Adam Sage looks at the anguish faced by thousands of parents and finds that a charity seeking to reunite families is threatened by a cash crisis

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FOR MORE THAN five years, Deiana Smalley suffered severe and repeated beatings at the hands of her drunken husband. As their two children looked on, Reza Zaheri would knock his wife against the floor, pull her hair and drag her across the room.

The attacks started at Mr Zaheri's home in Iran and continued when the couple returned to live in Lancashire. By 1987, Ms Smalley could take no more and, on the advice of her solicitor, she moved out, leaving her husband with their daughter, Yasaman and son, Amir.

The advice proved disastrous. Three months later, Mr Zaheri took the children to Iran and cut all contact with his former wife, who has now divorced him.

Ms Smalley has not seen her daughter or son for five years and has not spoken to them for three years. 'During that last conversation, my little girl said: 'Mummy, I've had enough of this holiday - will you come and get me',' she said last week.

But that has not proved possible. Iran has not signed the Hague Convention on Child Abduction, putting Yasaman and Amir beyond Ms Smalley's reach. Moreover, her former husband belongs to a powerful family.

Nevertheless, social workers say she could have expected some help from the authorities here. Instead, she has been left almost entirely on her own. When Yasaman and Amir were abducted, Ms Smalley's lawyer wrote to say that he was sorry but that there was nothing he could do.

The Foreign Office adopted much the same attitude, Ms Smalley says, not even arranging a phone call or a meeting at the embassy in Tehran. Judith Bailey, a social worker who has helped Ms Smalley, said: 'The French seem to get some sort of liaison between family and child. Here, we just sort of jumble along.'

Ms Smalley has now re-married and has another child. But she says of Yasaman and Amir: 'If they were dead you could mourn for them - but I cannot mourn. It just eats away at you.'

(Photograph omitted)