News

Judge's Plea Over Missing Mother

A judge hearing the case of a mother on the run with her three-year-old son has emphasised the importance of both parents maintaining a relationship with the boy "if at all possible".

Rebecca Minnock, 35, fled her home in Highbridge, Somerset, with son Ethan two weeks ago following a court order that he should live with his father, Roger Williams.

In a telephone interview with The Sun, the mother-of-one insisted both she and her son are "absolutely fine" and "very happy", with money, food and toys.

Judge Stephen Wildblood QC, speaking at Bristol Crown Court, said: "The court and the press and the police are all working together to find this child.

"I am very grateful for your help. It has had a dramatic effect, as you will know.

"I know the mother has contacted The Sun and has expressed some views about what she thinks may occur.

"I think it is important to put right - so the public can understand - the seriousness with which the court takes in approaching the task of ensuring that both parents, if at all possible, maintain an effective relationship with the child."

The judge will later question Andrew Butt, the ex-partner of Miss Minnock's mother Louise Minnock, at Bristol Crown Court.

Mr Butt, who has been in police custody, was arrested yesterday in the search for Miss Minnock and Ethan.

At a previous court hearing, Mrs Minnock confirmed Mr Butt owned a black Ford Focus and stated that neither she nor her daughter drove.

Miss Minnock was seen withdrawing cash at Asda in Highbridge on the morning of her disappearance before getting into a black Ford Focus.

The vehicle is believed to have driven to Cheltenham, where members of Miss Minnock's family live. There have since been possible sightings of her in the Cheltenham and Birmingham areas.

Miss Minnock told The Sun: "I just lost all trust and faith in the system completely. I just couldn't bear to leave my son. I just felt trapped.

"I know I'm going to be in a huge, huge amount of trouble. I've even got family members into trouble but it's my son and I need to put him first over myself or anybody else."

The newspaper said she contacted them from a withheld number and unknown location, and refused to say where she was.

Miss Minnock's comments come after members of her family were arrested and appeared in court in connection with the disappearance.

They were not charged with a criminal offence and appeared having been arrested in connection with breaching a collection order for Ethan.

Police previously appealed for help tracing the mother and child but could not reveal the circumstances behind their disappearance due to reporting restrictions.

But on Tuesday, in a highly unusual step, Judge Stephen Wildblood QC allowed the full facts to be reported to help find Ethan and reunite him with his father.

The judge had Miss Minnock's mother Louise Minnock, brother Marvin Shaw and sister Limmie Shaw arrested and taken before Bristol Crown Court to give evidence.

All three family members were released after swearing they did not know where Miss Minnock was and did not have any information which could lead to her and Ethan.

Judge Wildblood said he remained "deeply suspicious" they were withholding crucial details and warned that more friends and family could also be arrested and interrogated.

Yesterday, Detective Chief Inspector Marie Wright, of Avon and Somerset Police, said: "It is fairly unusual for a court to lift the reporting restrictions, allowing us to act as their agents and continue the search for Becky and her son.

"We need to find Becky and Ethan very, very quickly.

"Since they were last seen in Taunton on May 26, we have reports that they have been spotted in the Cheltenham area and more recently in the Birmingham area of the West Midlands.

"We do not think they are local at the moment, so what I am asking is for friends and family and anyone who might know Becky and Ethan to contact us as soon as they can and tell us where she is.

"As time goes on, we are really concerned at the emotional impact this will have upon Becky and Ethan because the court process cannot be evaded forever."

Miss Minnock was last seen at Musgrove Park Hospital on May 26 and was due to attend a family court hearing in Bristol at 9am the following day.

She did not attend the hearing and vanished with Ethan but later contacted her brother, Mr Shaw, from a withheld number stating they were "safe and well".

Police described Miss Minnock as 5ft 3ins tall and of medium build, with dark wavy shoulder-length hair. Ethan is of small build with blonde hair and blue eyes.

The boy, who was born on January 25 2012, has lived with his mother since his parents separated in February 2013.

Legal proceedings started between the parents in March 2013, when Mr Williams applied for contact with his son.

Magistrates ordered that Mr Williams should have some contact with Ethan in the presence of Miss Minnock in August 2013 but this arrangement broke down two months later.

In January last year, Miss Minnock made allegations against Mr Williams. These were all rejected by a district judge that April.

A hearing took place in February this year after Miss Minnock made further allegations. A district judge found these had been "fabricated" by Miss Minnock to "frustrate contact".

Ethan began to spend four nights a week with his father and three nights a week with his mother following the court hearing.

Child psychiatrist Dr Mark Berelowitz recommended that Ethan should live with his father and have supervised contact with Miss Minnock, a view shared by a social worker and guardian.

A hearing was listed before a district judge on May 27. Prior to the hearing, Miss Minnock was advised that Ethan would be taken to live with his father.

Mrs Minnock, a mother of four, said her daughter had been due to attend the hearing in Bristol and was "very upset" about the outcome.

"She said she had had enough of being failed," Mrs Minnock said. "I said 'You have to be strong'. She knew what was going to happen in court."

At the Bristol hearing, a district judge found Ethan had been exposed to "emotional harm" by his mother and should live with his father, with Miss Minnock allowed only supervised contact.

Mr Shaw said he had received three phone calls from his sister, all from a withheld number and lasting a short time.

"She said all I needed to know was that she was safe and well and Ethan was safe and well," he told the judge.

Mr Shaw said he had spoken to his sister, who lived in a two-bedroomed rented home, about the court order and urged her to appeal against it.

"I do think the authorities have failed her," he told the judge. "I think she can't flee forever, you are going to find her eventually. I don't think she has had a fair hearing, by any means.

"That is a massive injustice."

The judge told Mr Shaw: "They are, in effect, on the run. They can't claim benefits because, if they do, they will be found."