14/08/2014 12:56 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Police Hunt Dad Who Snatched Toddler While Mum Was At Spa


Detectives have launched a hunt for a father who snatched his 21-month-old daughter from their home in Spain while her British mother was enjoying a visit to a spa he had set up to distract her.

Belgian national Kyshan Van Der Zanden, 22, made sure that his partner Gemma Mountney was out of the house all day by treating her to shopping vouchers and a trip to the spa.

He then packed up his and his daughter Laylah's belongings from their Alicante home and fled before her mum returned.

Gemma thought Kyshan had dropped the little girl off at nursery earlier, but instead he had hidden her with friends while he got her mother away from the house to give him time to pack.

Although Gemma called the nursery after noticing some of Kyshan's belongings were gone when she returned home at lunchtime, her partner had told nursery staff to lie to her because he had planned a surprise family day out.

It wasn't until early evening when she went to pick up her daughter that Gemma discovered what had happened and called police.

Gemma's case is an illustration of a worrying trend that has seen the doubling of the number of parents abducting their children in the UK and taking them abroad in the past decade.

Almost two children every day are being reported as abducted or in international custody to the Foreign Office. In 2012/13, 580 such cases were reported.

Children's charity Reunite has taken on 447 new cases involving 616 children so far this year, it said. And the Foreign Office fears there could be a spike in abductions over Christmas in line with an increase in such cases during last year's festive season.

Gemma, who moved to Spain from Thame, Oxfordshire, 10 years ago with her family, said: "It is absolutely heartbreaking. Kyshan was the single person in the world who I thought would never do something like this - I'm devastated.

"I miss Laylah so much and I just want her back in my arms and to be giving her a huge hug. I thought he loved and cared for me and Laylah - clearly not.

"If I could speak to him I would just urge him to bring her back. Bring her back to her mum so I can just hold her in my arms."

The Guardia Civil - the Spanish police force - has issued alerts to airports and ports all over Europe.

Gemma said they are now treating it as a kidnap case and her family has taken to Facebook in a bid to track down Laylah by publishing family pictures.

A spokeswoman for Reunite confirmed the charity was working with the family.

She said: "It's so sad every time we see it, but what is particularly upsetting in this case is how young the little girl is.

"She must be very confused at the moment and probably doesn't understand what is going on.

"The first step we need to take is to establish exactly where her father has taken her, which the Spanish police are currently assisting with.

"Once we know where the little girl has been taken we can then help the mother decide what the best option is with regard to getting her back safely.

"Unfortunately cases like this are rising and we are now seeing over 500 cases per year of children being abducted by their parents."

Alison Shalaby, chief executive of Reunite, warned that the cases are not 'faith or country specific'.

She said: "We see cases involving a range of countries from France and Poland to Thailand, Pakistan and Australia.

"The holidays can be a particularly stressful time for families, especially if the relationship between parents has broken down.

"However, there is help available if you think that your partner may be considering abducting your children."