Thursday, June 24, 1999 Published at 08:01 GMT 09:01 UK
Runaway couple decision 'in children's interests'
The Bramleys emerge from the hearing
Foster care experts have welcomed a judge's decision to let a couple who went on the run with their two foster children continue to care for them.
The High Court judge said Jeff and Jenny Bramley, aged 35, should continue to care for the children pending a final decision on their adoption.
The Bramleys went missing with the two half sisters, aged five and three, for 17 weeks last September, prompting a nationwide search.
They had been looking after them since the beginning of 1998, but Cambridgeshire social services had refused to allow them to adopt them, without explaining why.
'In children's interest'
In order to get them to come back, social services agreed to allow a judge to decide the case.
She stated that the girls "are now closely and securely attached to Mr and Mrs Bramley and are likely to continue to be well looked after in their care".
"For that reason, I have concluded that it is not in their interests to be removed and placed elsewhere."
She added that there were "no winners or losers" in such cases, but said she hoped the two girls could be left "in peace and quiet to get on with their lives".
Legal measures have been taken out to ensure their privacy.
Mrs Justice Hogg said she was not yet prepared to allow the Bramleys to adopt the children and was critical of their actions in taking them away.
"The concerns of the local authority were not without foundation," she stated.
"It is sadly my view that Mr and Mrs Bramley have not always been as co-operative or open as they should have been with the local authority.
"Their disappearance with the children in September 1998 caused anxiety and concern.
"I accept that they did this in the belief that all legal avenues were closed to them.
"However, their plans for the children's future on the run were quite unrealistic.
"This court deplores the abduction of children generally and the removal of these children in particular, even if it were not to amount to a criminal offence, which is not for me to decide."
The Bramleys, who have been living at a secret address with the girls since January, will be subject to regular checks.
The children will continue to be wards of court until the adoption issue is reconsidered in the spring of 2001.
Gerri McAndrew of the NFCA welcomed the decision. "It is absolutely right that the interests of the children are considered above those of adults in this situation," she said.
She hoped the case had served to point out the differences between foster care and adoption.
The NFCA says the majority of its 15,000 foster children return to their birth families.
The first national standards on foster care were issued earlier this week in an effort to improve the service and make it more consistent.
The Bramleys' solicitor Neil Davidson said the couple were grateful for the support they had received and would work with the council in the interests of the children "drawing a line under what happened in the past".
It is due to begin at Peterborough crown court in the autumn, but the Crown Prosecution Service said it would be studying Mrs Justice Hogg's ruling to see whether it could affect the case.
A spokesman said a prosecution must be in the interest of both the public and the victims of the alleged crime.
Liz Railton, director of Cambridgeshire social services, said she welcomed the judge's decision, "given that we cannot turn the clock back to the way things were last year".
She believed it recognised that social workers had the children's interests at heart.
The ruling was also welcomed by the children's birth mother.
Health minister John Hutton said the case had been a difficult one, but that the court had allowed everyone to give their views.
He stated: "I am sure that now everyone will work together to secure the best future for these children."