Mother dreams of island escape for abducted Plato children

Lacey Plato longs to take her children to the safety of St Helena. But she cannot: they were abducted by their father in 2012 and she has seen them only twice since then, each time for less than an hour.

Her sister on St Helena has launched an online petition, calling for help to get them home from the Gulf state of Oman.

The father of Aishah and Faris is now in prison in the UK. He has been told he could be freed if the children are returned to their mother in Portsmouth – but he has chosen to stay in prison indefinitely.

Earlier this month a family court judge said his behaviour was disgraceful – “and continues to be disgraceful.”

Lacey is the granddaughter of Teddy Plato, who left St Helena for a new life in the UK. Although she was not born on the island she has visited three times, always staying in Jamestown.

Her mother, Denise, and sister, Lucia, have both settled on St Helena.

Aishah, ten, and brother Faris, seven, have yet to visit the island. But Lacey says she dearly wants to bring them to visit their many Saint relatives – among them Charlie and Greta Plato.

“To us it’s always been the other half of what we are,” she said. “We’ve always been there, we’ve always loved it.”

Lacey told St Helena Online that Usama Al Barwani was very westernised when she first met him in Portsmouth in 2003. But after she graduated from university, they went to stay in Dubai. Under the influence of relatives, he became more strictly religious.

“We split up mainly because of his change in the way he expected to be, under cultural influences. It was controlling.

“He completely agreed the children should stay with me. He gave me a letter giving permission for them to travel back to the UK for good and it was quite amicable, on the basis that he would have access to the children. Maybe he would move back here.”

In 2012, he made a second visit to see them.

“I dropped the kids over to him so they could spend some time with him. We arranged for me to go and get them the following day.

“My daughter had a mobile phone I had given her. I am calling that all day long. No answers. Then at about six in the evening, he sent me a text message saying that the kids were fine and they’re on vacation. It was from an Oman number.

“It was just sheer panic and fear.”

Three days after that text message was sent, Lacey and her father, Steve Grant, flew into Oman to try to visit the children.

She said a sympathetic policeman persuaded Al Barwani’s family to let the children see their mother.

“I got to see them for 45 minutes,” said Lacey. “It was horrific.

“They thought they were there on holiday and they didn’t understand why I was there with my dad and why I was upset and why the entire family were there in the house to stop me leaving with them. It was a nightmare.

“I saw them once after that, for about 15 minutes.

“I was banging on their door, calling for the children, so they had to open the door. I was allowed in the house. Then I was asked to leave. If I didn’t leave the police would be called.

“Shortly after that I was phoned by the police and was told a harassment case would be taken against me. Now, if I was to go to Oman I would be arrested at the airport.”

She said the Omani authorities were unsympathetic towards her. An international warrant has been issued for the return of the children, but it has no legal standing in Oman.

“I was pretty much told by a lawyer I employed over there that the chances of me even getting access to the children are quite low.”

Lacey’s ex-partner allowed her to speak to the children on Skype quite regularly, she said. During calls, he would talk of them becoming a family again, in the UK.

“He came back on the pretence we would all be one family and live together and be happy; me thinking he would come back with the kids, but he didn’t. He came on his own.

“He was arrested on the aeroplane.”

Al Barwani was jailed in the criminal court for taking the children. But the family court has also ruled that he cannot be freed until the children are returned to their mother.

He has not yielded.

“As long as I don’t have the children he is happy to stay there,” said Lacey. “If I’m not in a relationship with him I have no right to have the children: that’s what he’s saying, pretty much.”

She still holds out hope of the return of Aishah and Faris – but it is Jamestown, not Portsmouth, that she wants to be their home.

“Were we hoping to take the children to St Helena? Yes, absolutely. Obviously with the court’s permission.

“If anything, that would be the place I would go to if and when we can get them back – completely away from any kind of stress and worry about their safety.

“Yes, my children will definitely know St Helena and they will know it as that’s where they’re from – part of them is from there.”

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