“TIME is running out” for a five-year-old boy with a brain tumour who was taken from hospital by his parents without consent as the battery on his feeding system runs out today, police have said.
Ashya King’s family took him from Southampton General Hospital at around 2pm yesterday and travelled on a ferry to France some two hours later.
Hampshire Constabulary said they were told by the hospital that the youngster was missing at 8.35pm last night - more than six hours after he was taken by his parents, Jehovah’s Witnesses Brett King, 51, and Naghemeh King, 45.
Assistant Chief Constable Chris Shead said: “It is vital that we find Ashya today. His health will deteriorate rapidly.”
He told a press conference: “Ashya is in a wheelchair and is fed through a tube. The feeding system is battery operated and that battery will run out today.
“Time is running out for this little boy. We need to find him and we need to find him urgently.”
Mr Shead said Ashya had undergone “extensive surgery” and his last operation was seven days ago.
“The information we have received from his medical team at Southampton General Hospital is that he must continue to be fed via a tube by someone with the relevant medical training,” he said.
“If he doesn’t receive urgent medical care, or the wrong treatment is given, his condition will become life-threatening.”
Mr Shead said the six-and-a-half-hour gap between Ashya being taken from hospital and police being called would be considered “further down the line”.
University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust said Ashya was allowed to leave the ward under his parents’ supervision and hospital staff raised the alarm when the length of his absence “became a cause of concern”.
The Office of Public Information for Jehovah’s Witnesses confirmed today that Ashya’s parents were followers of the religious movement.
Although Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusions on religious grounds, a spokesman said there was “absolutely no indication” that the family’s decision was “motivated by any religious convictions”.
“We are not aware of the facts of the case nor the reasons for the family’s medical choices, which are personal decisions,” said the spokesman.
“There is absolutely no indication, as far as we are aware, that their decision is in any way motivated by any religious convictions. Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to seek the best medical treatment for themselves and their children.”
Police have said their “total focus” is on finding Ashya and his parents are not under criminal investigation at this time.
The Kings boarded a cross-Channel ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg with Ashya’s six siblings at 4pm yesterday and arrived in France at 8pm local time, police said.
The family, who live in St Davids Road, Southsea, Portsmouth, are travelling in a grey-coloured Hyundai I800 Style CRDI, registration KP60 HWK, and are believed to be still in France.
Ashya is likely to be in a wheelchair or buggy, he cannot communicate verbally and is immobile, a police spokesman said.
Hampshire Constabulary said the force was working with its counterparts in France to locate the family “as soon as possible”.
Appealing directly to the family, Mr Shead said: “Our message to you is ‘Please take Ashya to the nearest hospital immediately’.
“We understand this must be an awful time for you but the most important thing is to get the proper medical care for Ashya.
“Please work with us to provide Ashya that care.”
Mr Shead said police were keeping “an open mind” about the parents’ motive for taking their son from hospital.
“It’s irrelevant at this point in time,” he said. “The most important thing is to actually locate Ashya. There is a five-year-old’s life at stake here.”
Mr Shead said police were not aware of any previous attempts by Ashya’s parents to remove him from hospital and officers had not had previous contact with the family.
He was unable to confirm whether a return ferry ticket had been booked, saying it was a line of inquiry.
In a statement, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust said: “Ashya has a serious condition that requires constant medical supervision and treatment. Following his removal from hospital by his parents yesterday, clinical and security staff referred the incident to Hampshire Police.
“We continue to work closely with them to support the search and investigation and have provided a comprehensive detailed medical report on Ashya to ensure any hospital he is taken to can provide the care he requires immediately.
“Ashya was a long-term patient who was permitted to leave the ward under the supervision of his parents as part of his ongoing rehabilitation. When the length of time he had been absent became a cause of concern to staff yesterday afternoon they contacted police after a search of the site and attempts to contact the family were unsuccessful.”
Brittany Ferries confirmed the family had travelled on board its cross-Channel ferry and the company was assisting Hampshire Police with its inquiries.
A spokesman said the family had declared they were travelling with a child with “special medical needs” at the time of booking.
In a video posted on YouTube last month, Ashya’s brother, Naveed King, said the youngster had been diagnosed with a brain tumour and was undergoing emergency surgery.
Speaking into the camera in a message directly to Ashya, he said: “I haven’t slept. I’ve been awake all night worrying.
“We love you so much. We’re all here for you. Everyone is praying for you. We just want to see your smile again.
“No kid at the age of five deserves to have a brain tumour. Let’s just hope the doctors know what they’re doing and they know exactly where to operate and what to take out, and they take everything out and you can be better.
“And when we look back in 10 years’ time when you’re 15, we can actually see that things have changed for the better. Just because they’re bad at one point doesn’t mean they’ll always be bad.
“I love you so much. I can’t wait to see you.”
Naveed - whose Instagram profile says he is 20 - also posted an update on Facebook on August 18 signed “King family”, saying Ashya had been “progressing slowly but continuously with only minor problems along the way”.
The post included several pictures, one showing Ashya with his mother and another of a large stitched wound at the back of the boy’s head and neck.
In another YouTube video posted earlier this month, Naveed said his family had been staying in a “charity home” and he was visiting his brother twice a day in hospital.
A spokeswoman for Portsmouth City Council said the family was not known to them.
Ashya’s paternal grandmother, Patricia King, said his parents were “wonderful” and had been left beside themselves at their child’s plight.
Speaking from her home in Southsea, she said of her son: “He’s the most caring and wonderful father you could ever have. The kids love him.”
She added: “We are a very close family.”
She praised her daughter-in-law, saying she had kept a bedside vigil while Ashya was in hospital.
Ms King said she last spoke to her son “quite a while ago”, adding: “He wouldn’t have told me anything because he wouldn’t want me to know anything in case I got involved in it all.”
She said she did not know whether Ashya’s illness was terminal, saying: “I knew he was seriously ill, we all knew that.”