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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 07:26 GMT 08:26 UK
HIV fugitive girl 'will return to UK'
Generic court graphic
The father opposes conventional HIV treatments
A Sydney court has allowed a Briton to return home with his three-year-old daughter - two years after he fled to prevent her having an HIV test.

The Australian authorities had applied for custody of the child - who has the virus - so that she could start receiving powerful drugs .

However, a court decided that the best interests of the girl would be best served back in the UK.

Although the judge told the father that he had no doubts that he had sincerely held beliefs and was doing what he thought was best for his daughter.

Both father and daughter are now likely to leave Australia in the next few days.

It is not yet known what action the British authorities will take once the pair return.

However, the father has vowed to fight on back in Europe to prevent her being given anti-Aids drugs against his will.

He made no comment after the hearing.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, absconded from the UK in 1999 with his then four-month old daughter.

The British court had ordered the baby girl to be tested for HIV after her mother was diagnosed with the infection.

She had ignored conventional medical advice to take drugs during pregnancy and abstain from breastfeeding to reduce the risk of transmission.

After more than two years living in Australia, and following the death of her mother, the toddler was tested there - and proved positive for HIV.

Defiance

The father - an alternative therapist with strong views on HIV treatments - is now defying doctors who claim the child is dying and want to start treating her with powerful antiretroviral drugs.

On Monday he was captured by Australian police after breaching a court order obtained by social services banning him from travel.

Police have taken the girl into care for the duration of the court action.

HIV-test family: Timeline
September 1999 - High Court (UK) orders daughter to be HIV-tested.
Family flees to Australia
October 2001 - Mother dies in hospital in Victoria state, daughter HIV-tested. Test is positive, and she is confined in hospital
March 2002 - Father plans to return to UK.
April/May 2002 - When he travels out of Victoria state, police track him down and take daughter into care pending a custody hearing
May 2002 - Court awards custody to father
In an exclusive interview, he has told the BBC of his determination to prevent the Australian courts from taking her away from him.

He was actually on the brink of return to the UK - where he claims the authorities would be more sympathetic to him, despite his defiance of the 1999 High Court order.

He has vowed to fight any attempt by the courts to force his daughter to undergo medical treatment, and on Thursday will go to court to try to get his daughter back.

He claimed that his daughter was in good health, and that the gloomy prognosis of the paediatrician was over nothing more serious than a chest infection.

He said: "She's going from strength to strength - but she's not had the same level of stress as I have over the past few weeks.

Punishment

"If you test positive for HIV in this country then you have no rights.

"I just want to leave as soon as possible and get back to the UK."

Home video footage
Father and daughter have lived in Australia for nearly three years
He says that he is planning an application to the European Court of Human Rights, saying the original High Court ruling breached his right to family life.

However, although the child has now been tested, action could still be taken to punish him for defying the court order by fleeing abroad.

In addition, social services in this country may intervene to force the use of conventional anti-HIV medication.

He told the BBC that he would fight this in the UK courts if necessary.

"I don't have any choice. I could ask the European Court of Human Rights to take out an injunction against court harassment in the UK."

Secret life

After arriving in Australia nearly three years ago on visitor visas, the family had lived quietly in a small town in the state of Victoria.

However, they came to the attention of the Australian authorities when the girl's mother became ill and died in October last year of a condition which her partner says was unrelated to HIV.

It was when her mother was hospitalised that staff used a blood sample of the child, taken for another purpose, to test for HIV.

At this point an Australian court ordered her to be held temporarily at the hospital while court proceedings started to compel her to receive antiretroviral treatment.

The father told the BBC that antiretrovirals were a "last resort", and highly unsuitable for use on children due to side-effects and toxicity.

However, Nick Partridge, from the Terrence Higgins Trust, a UK-based HIV/Aids charity, said that antiretrovirals were far less damaging than HIV itself.

"We have overwhelming evidence which tells us how this child can be kept healthy for many, many years."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Michael Peschardt
"His fight is still far from over"
Runaway father
"There is no black and white in HIV at all"
See also:

02 May 02 | Health
Q&A: HIV fugitive father
03 Sep 99 | Health
Baby must have HIV test
03 Feb 00 | Health
HIV baby case to go to Europe
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