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Melinda Stratton may escape jail for kidnapping Andrew Thompson

The mother of abducted boy Andrew Thompson  under arrest in Amsterdam and facing a prison term in Australia  could be offered a "get out of jail free" card, under a new system to resolve international custody battles. A new form of cross-border mediation, tested in the Netherlands, will provide Melinda Stratton with a last-ditch chance to avoid criminal charges  and help parent her little boy  if she can co-operate and come to a binding, workable agreement is accepted by his father, Ken Thompson.
An alert Dutch woman checked her suspicions about the little boy and his mother on the internet and Googled "missing children" and "Australia" and discovering he had been kidnapped. It was her decision to contact Dutch police that traced him and led to the arrest of his mother.

Melinda Stratton may escape jail for kidnapping Andrew Thompson

Sunday Herald Sun
12 September 2010

Kidnap mother may escape jail in new deal
By Paola Totaro, Amsterdam

The mother of abducted boy Andrew Thompson  under arrest in Amsterdam and facing a prison term in Australia  could be offered a "get out of jail free" card, under a new system to resolve international custody battles.

A new form of cross-border mediation, tested in the Netherlands, will provide Melinda Stratton with a last-ditch chance to avoid criminal charges  and help parent her little boy  if she can co-operate and come to a binding, workable agreement is accepted by his father, Ken Thompson.

This system, thrashed out over two days under intense specialist mediation with a team of counsellors and lawyers, must be agreed to by both parents  and becomes a legally binding order in both the Netherlands and Australia.

Mr Thompson, met a team of psychologists in Amsterdam yesterday and drove to The Hague to meet the legal expert on the Hague conventions who is to manage the complex legal processes needed to return the six-year-old to his father.

It is now likely that he will need to remain in the Netherlands for at least three months as custodial orders from Australia are translated into Dutch and given effect in the local courts. These will allow the legal handover of Andrew while extradition proceedings against his mother unfold. Ms Stratton faces criminal charges and up to 13 years in prison in Australia if she refuses to participate in cross-border mediation system.

This could even result in the boy remaining in the Netherlands with his father as the legal processes unfold there while his mother is extradited to Australia to face charges.

Mr Thompson said yesterday he understood an agreement could be enforced very quickly  perhaps within a fortnight  if there was co-operation between the two parents to come to a resolution in the interests of the child.

He has yet to see his child but insists that he bears no malice towards his wife and, while deeply anguished by the events of the past 2 years, simply wants to "be a dad to Andrew, to be in his life to love him and to give him back the human rights that were taken away from him".

Mr Thompson, visibly relieved after his day with lawyers and psychologists, said he believed Andrew's was the first case worldwide in which the internet had been used successfully to track down an abducted child.

"We did it on a shoestring and so many fantastic people have helped me. I lived on less than 50 euro a day for the past four months  and I found my son.

"OK, my legal fees are horrendous … overdraft on overdraft on overdraft, and I don't even want to think about my mobile telephone bill. But I could not give up. Ever. A young guy with the fire services built the FindAndrew website for me  and he had never done this before. I had the most amazing people helping me if I was in trouble with electronic banking or a lost card. I had emails, thousands of them, in support. I've got people around the world who saw my plight and felt something. I can't thank them all enough.

"I hope, I really hope that my wife will co-operate and that we can find a way for Andrew. I will stay here for as long as it takes and until Andrew is ready to move on. I have an EU passport and no visa issues … It will take time to reintroduce the relationship. It has to be carefully managed."

It is understood that the little boy now both speaks Dutch and has lived under a different surname.

Psychologists have made clear that the reintroduction must be slow and carefully supervised as it is not known what the little boy has been told during the years of avoiding authorities.

Mr Thompson, a former NSW deputy fire chief, cycled 6500 kilometres across Europe to raise awareness of international child abductions and to distribute bumper stickers with Andrew's face and promote his website to try and find his boy.

An alert Dutch woman checked her suspicions about the little boy and his mother on the internet and Googled "missing children" and "Australia" and discovering he had been kidnapped. It was her decision to contact Dutch police that traced him and led to the arrest of his mother.

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