Fugitive dad in Leeds child-snatch case has jail term extended

A FATHER has had another year added to his jail sentence for his continuing failure to comply with court orders to return his five-year-old daughter to her mother in Leeds.

Tamer Salama was told by Mr Justice Cobb, sitting at the High Court in London, that it was now time for him to “wake up” and recognise that the “state of affairs” was not in the best interests of his daughter Elsa.

Elsa, who turns six next month, has not been seen or heard from by her mother Naomi Button, 39, who lives in Leeds, since a family visit to Egypt in December 2011.

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Egyptian-born Salama has been in custody since January last year and was serving a total of two years for contempt of court until Mr Justice Cobb ruled on Monday that he had committed fresh breaches of the court orders made in relation to Elsa and should serve another year.

The judge said Elsa was still being deprived of the “love and care” of her mother “in circumstances where I am satisfied that her father has it in his power to achieve the restoration of her relationship”.

He said Elsa had not been returned to the jurisdiction of England and Wales and Salama had also failed to give the child’s whereabouts or provide any form of contact between the girl and her mother.

“I regard the continued state of affairs as one which is wholly outside Elsa’s best interests and I believe that the father needs now to wake up and recognise that.”

He said: “When Mr Salama first deprived Elsa of the love of her mother and arranged for her to be in the care of his own family, that was a gross act which undoubtedly justified ...the most serious punishment available to the court.”

It was “vital in Elsa’s interests that she is restored to the care of her mother as soon as possible”.

The judge imposed a total of 12 months for failing to comply with various orders, including failure to return Elsa to the UK, failing to take any reasonable steps to cause her return, failing to tell the mother where her child is and who has her care, and failing to take any steps to enable mother and daughter to speak on the telephone or via Skype.

The judge said it was “absolutely clear” that “the father regards a life for Elsa in this country as wholly contrary to her interests, and her life in Egypt totally consistent with her best interests”.

He added: “In my judgment the father is not being honest with the court when he tells me that it is his wish to be able to comply with the orders and is prevented from doing so only because he is incarcerated.”

Mr Justice Cobb, sitting in the High Court’s family division, told Salama: “The time has long since passed when you should co-operate with the authorities in this country in securing the return of Elsa to this jurisdiction.

“The fact that I impose a further one year term of imprisonment upon you should, I hope, underline that for you.”

He said he would make arrangements for the case to be re-listed in around six months time.

“The court will once again examine what steps you have taken to comply with the orders I make, which will be to re-state the requirements upon you to return Elsa to this jurisdiction and to take steps, as you have been required in the past, to provide information to the court as to her whereabouts and her care.

“I very much hope, and indeed I expect, that these orders will now be complied with.”

Elsa’s English mother and her father married in Egypt in December 2005.

Their daughter was born in Egypt and the family relocated to England in 2007. The couple separated in 2009, with Elsa remaining in the care of her mother.

Giving the background to the case, the judge said that in December 2011 both the mother and father went to Sharm El Sheikh for a holiday with Elsa.

He had been told by the mother’s barrister that the mother had arranged and paid for a two-week trip to Egypt so that Elsa could see her extended paternal family.

The judge said: “Whilst there, there was a disagreement. The mother said that the father removed Elsa at that stage from her care.

“The mother returned to England alone in December 2011 and issued wardship proceedings.”

Salama, a physics teacher who was living in Southampton, returned to this country from Egypt on January 1 2012.

He then breached court orders made in favour of the mother which resulted in his being jailed.

The High Court has given the go-ahead for Elsa’s case to be publicised globally in the hope that it will help trace her - including giving permission for information to be disclosed to Egyptian authorities.

In a statement issued today, Leeds-based divorce and family law specialists Jones Myers LLP, who are representing Ms Button, welcomed the news that Salama “will remain behind bars in the UK while the search for the little girl continues”.

Kate Banerjee, head of the children’s department at the law firm, said: “Elsa was abducted by her father in Egypt on December 27 2011.

“He has consistently refused to reveal her whereabouts, although we believe she is still in Egypt.”

Mrs Banerjee, who is also a member of the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit, added: “Elsa is without the love and care of either a mother or father in a country where she doesn’t speak the language or understand the culture.

“We appeal to anyone who knows Elsa’s whereabouts to just pick up the phone and help us return this little girl to her mother.”

Anyone with information about Elsa, who has dark, wavy hair, brown eyes, and usually wears glasses, should ring the following numbers - within the UK dial 101 and ask to speak to Leeds District Safeguarding Unit at West Yorkshire Police and if dialling from outside the UK the number is 00 44 192 437 5222.