A HAR­ROW­ING HOME­COM­ING

Joy etched on their faces, this Bri­tish cou­ple have fi­nally won cus­tody of their mur­dered son’s daugh­ter af­ter pay­ing £9,000 to her Chi­nese fam­ily. But the smiles mask ut­ter an­guish. . . they had to leave her brother be­hind

The Mail on Sunday - - News - FROM SI­MON PARRY

TWO Bri­tish grand­par­ents des­per­ately bat­tling for cus­tody of their son’s chil­dren af­ter he was mur­dered by his wife have been forced into an ag­o­nis­ing de­ci­sion to bring their grand­daugh­ter home from China – but leave their grand­son be­hind.

Heart­bro­ken Ian and Linda Simp­son were last night pre­par­ing to fly to Bri­tain with sixyear-old Alice af­ter agree­ing to give more than £9,000 to the fam­ily of the chil­dren’s Chi­nese mother, who stabbed their son Michael to death in a jeal­ous rage nearly two years ago.

Dev­as­tat­ingly, Alice’s eight-year-old brother Jack must stay with his Chi­nese grand­par­ents, who live in the re­mote city of Nanzhang in north-west China, be­cause they refuse to give him up.

Last night, as Ian be­gan the bit­ter­sweet jour­ney home with his ex-wife Linda and lit­tle Alice, he told The Mail on Sun­day in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view: ‘We are over­joyed to bring Alice home but it breaks our hearts to leave Jack be­hind. Linda cried and asked me, “How can we wrench them apart?”

‘But in the end we had to choose be­tween com­ing home with Alice or walk­ing away with­out ei­ther of our grand­chil­dren. We could have lost them both for ever.

‘ Alice has never been apart from Jack and it’s ob­vi­ous she misses him badly. She has been amaz­ingly brave but there have been mo­ments when she has been in tears ask­ing for her brother.’

In poignant scenes last week as they pre­pared to say good­bye, Ian and Linda – who have spent more than £100,000 on the cus­tody bat­tle and have set up a Just Giv­ing fundrais­ing page – hugged and played with Jack in a Nanzhang ho­tel restau­rant, watched over by the boy’s Chi­nese grand­par­ents.

On Box­ing Day morn­ing, a dis­traught Jack ran to his grand­mother Hu De Xiu in tears as she packed a bag for his sis­ter and pleaded with her: ‘Don’t let Alice go.’ She also wept as she signed the cus­tody pa­pers on be­half of her hus­band, an il­lit­er­ate bi­cy­cle re­pair­man.

She was com­forted by Linda, who cra­dled her head and told her: ‘I un­der­stand. You are feel­ing the same pain I have felt for the past 21 months.’ The Simp­sons are clearly dev­as­tated at be­ing forced to leave their grand­son be­hind – but more heart­break is to come.

Cut off from their Bri­tish rel­a­tives, the chil­dren have been told by their Chi­nese fam­ily that their par­ents are alive and work­ing abroad, and that their fa­ther de­serted them.

It means Ian and Linda have been left with the ag­o­nis­ing prospect of hav­ing to tell Alice that her fa­ther is dead and that her mother is serv­ing a life sen­tence for his mur­der.

Michael, 34, an ex­ec­u­tive with the cloth­ing firm Next who had lived in China for nine years, was stabbed to death in his Shang­hai apart­ment by his es­tranged wife Fu Wei Wei in March last year as the chil­dren slept. The cou­ple had split up two years ear­lier and Michael had been left to raise their chil­dren. He was with his new part­ner when Wei Wei burst into his flat and stabbed him in the neck, killing him in­stantly. She also left Michael’s girl­friend with life­long in­juries.

Days later, Jack and Alice were spir­ited 600 miles from Shang­hai to live in Nanzhang with their Chi­nese grand­par­ents and a young cousin.

Alice has told her Bri­tish grand­par­ents that they all shared one bed­room in the tiny flat.

Ian and Linda – who be­fore their son’s mur­der had a close re­la­tion­ship with Jack and Alice, see­ing them ev­ery year on hol­i­days in China, Europe and the UK – were then re­fused any con­tact with their grand­chil­dren for a year. While they fought fran­ti­cally for cus­tody, the Fu fam­ily de­manded they hand over more than £60,000 for Jack and Alice in a ne­go­ti­a­tion cyn­i­cally di­rected by Wei Wei’s older brother.

Now, af­ter a dig­ni­fied but de­term in ed­transg lob al le­gal fight, which has drawn wide­spread sup­port from friends and sym­pa­this- er sand trig­gered a crit­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion by For­eign Sec­re­tary Jeremy Hunt, Ian and Linda say they will fight on un­til Jack is re­united with Alice in the UK.

‘We feel ter­ri­bly guilty leav­ing Jack be­hind,’ said Ian, 69. ‘You try to do the right thing and there was no easy an­swer here un­less a judge some­how gave both chil­dren to us.

It breaks our hearts to leave Jack. But we had to choose be­tween com­ing home with Alice or walk­ing away with noth­ing

But we were warned that that was prob­a­bly never go­ing to hap­pen and we would have walked away with noth­ing.

‘ The com­fort­ing thing is our lawyers are al­ready talk­ing to us about phase two – bring­ing Jack home.

‘In the mean­time we will try to get the Fu fam­ily’s trust and try to get Jack to want to come to us. We will never give up.

‘In the mean­time, we can speak to Jack ev­ery week and see him for a hol­i­day for three or four weeks a year. In a way, that’s what we had be­fore with Michael liv­ing over here in China.’

The Mail on Sun­day trav­elled to Hubei province with Ian and Linda on Christ­mas Day where, af­ter a cus­tody hear­ing a week ear­lier, they signed an out- of- court agree­ment to bring Alice to live in Suf­folk with re­tired busi­ness project con­sul­tant Ian and his sec­ond wife Diana. Ian ar­rived clutch­ing a can­vas holdall con­tain­ing two brick-sized bun­dles of Chi­nese notes worth £9,200 – a year’s in­come for Hu De Xiu, 55, and her hus­band Fu Shi Bao, 61. The cou­ple strug­gle on less than £200 a week. The set­tle­ment reached in the ru­ral province, where sons are prized over daugh­ters, in­cluded pay­ment to the fam­ily for cus­tody of Alice and an agree­ment for weekly phone calls be­tween the sib­lings and once- a- year vis­its be­tween them in Eng­land or China. Alice was then taken by Ian, Linda and their lawyers on an eight-hour train jour­ney to Shang­hai, where an emer­gency Bri­tish pass­port and exit visa were be­ing ar­ranged by the Bri­tish con­sulate and Chi­nese of­fi­cials yes­ter­day.

As Ian and Linda shut­tled Alice be­tween form-fill­ing ses­sions, she re­mained cheer­ful and play­ful. Hav­ing at­tended a lo­cal school for nearly two years where only Man­darin is spo­ken, she has lost most of her English and com­mu­ni­cates with her Bri­tish grand­par­ents through a smart­phone trans­la­tion app.

She had one weepy mo­ment a day af­ter ar­riv­ing in Shang­hai – a world away from Nanzhang with its rick- shaws and dusty street mar­kets – when she sobbed in the bed­room of their ho­tel and said: ‘I want to go back to China.’

But her spir­its have been lifted by daily video chats with her brother and grand­mother through WeChat, China’s ver­sion of What­sApp. She is grad­u­ally re­mem­ber­ing words and phrases in English, telling Linda on Fri­day night: ‘It’s bed­time, granny.’

‘We know there will be dif­fi­cult days ahead but at the mo­ment it’s an ad­ven­ture for her,’ said Ian. ‘She’s been very af­fec­tion­ate and she’s started call­ing me Yaya – the Chi­nese word for grandad.

‘She’s look­ing for­ward to go­ing on a plane and she told our Chi­nese lawyer ,“I’m Bri­tish.”’ Be­fore Michael’s mur­der, Alice and Jack lived a priv­i­leged ex­pa­tri­ate life in Shang­hai. Jack went to in­ter­na­tional school and the fam­ily en­joyed hol­i­days to­gether in the UK, Europe and Thai­land.

Life in Nanzhang, where there are no other for­eign­ers, is a world away from Jack and Alice’s Shang­hai up­bring­ing, a point Ian and Linda’s lawyers ar­gued at the cus­tody hear­ing to demon­strate why they would be bet­ter off with their grand­par­ents in the UK.

Ian said: ‘There is a self­ish rea­son for what we are do­ing – be­cause we want them. There was a sen­ti­men­tal rea­son for do­ing it – be­cause they are Michael’s, and that is

in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to us. We also gen­uinely be­lieve we can do more for them than the fam­ily in China.

‘Their an­nual in­come is less than the amount we gave them on Box­ing Day. No, they’re not be­ing mis­treated. No, they’re not on the bread­line. But I hon­estly be­lieve that we can give them back the life they had be­fore – travel, hol­i­days, ed­u­ca­tion and friends. We can give them that.

‘Ev­ery­thing we have done has been for the good of the chil­dren. The judge said last week that even the Fu fam­ily even­tu­ally ad­mit­ted the chil­dren would be bet­ter off in Eng­land.’

The cus­tody wran­gle has led to fiery con­fronta­tions. When Ian and Linda were fi­nally al­lowed to see their grand­chil­dren in March, an un­cle of the Fus told them to show Wei Wei sym­pa­thy ‘be­cause she has lost her hus­band’ and that they should pay the fam­ily for look­ing af­ter their grand­chil­dren.

Fu­ri­ous Ian re­sponded by thrust­ing a book of pic­tures of Michael and the grand­chil­dren he and Linda pre­pared for their son’s me­mo­rial ser­vice. ‘I said, “What is wrong with you? Did you for­get my son is dead?”

‘They seem to have for­got­ten the back­story and have de­cided that we are the bad guys com­ing to take their grand­chil­dren away.

‘I told him, “We are the one who lost a son. Your daugh­ter killed our son and killed the chil­dren’s fa­ther.”’

Ian and Linda con­sid­ered try­ing to raise the money to meet the fam­ily’s de­mands for cus­tody of both chil­dren but were cau­tioned by lawyers that Wei Wei’s brother would sim­ply push the fig­ure higher if they caved in to the ex­tor­tion­ate de­mand. The Fu fam­ily also re­fused an ear­lier of­fer of £10,000 and a dec­la­ra­tion of for­give­ness to the court in re­turn for giv­ing up the chil­dren – a deal which, un­der Chi­nese law, could have halved Wei Wei’s 20-year jail term when she was sen­tenced in July.

Ian even vis­ited Wei Wei in prison in Shang­hai to ap­peal to her to sup­port their claim for cus­tody of the chil­dren. She re­fused to co-op­er­ate and of­fered no apol­ogy for killing Michael, telling him she would leave the de­ci­sion to her fam­ily. Ian de­scribed the prison visit as ‘ab­so­lutely sur­real’ and ‘like be­ing in a movie’, but in­sisted: ‘If I had to go to see Pol Pot or Adolf Hitler in hell to get my grand­chil­dren, I would do it. I would do any­thing to bring those chil­dren home.’

A turn­ing point came when For­eign Sec­re­tary Jeremy Hunt raised the case on an of­fi­cial visit to Bei­jing in July.

‘It made a big dif­fer­ence,’ Ian said. ‘When they do these vis­its they only have a few things on their agenda and I was told we were item num­ber two or three af­ter a trade deal.

‘That was fan­tas­tic. It’s hard to quan­tify the im­pact but it made the judges re­alise they had to come up with a fair de­ci­sion.

‘Our Chi­nese lawyers and the judges in Nanzhang have been mag­nif­i­cent and the con­sul gen­eral and the of­fi­cials at the Forei gn Of­fice have shown us gen­uine care.

‘I’m no flag-wa­ver, but as far as I’m con­cerned the For­eign Of­fice makes me proud to be Bri­tish. I don’t know how many other coun­tries could have done what they’ve done, in the way that they did it.’

How­ever, as ne­go­ti­a­tions stalled and the Fu fam­ily kept chang­ing their de­mands up to the mo­ment the han­dover took place on Box­ing Day, Ian ad­mits he and Linda be­gan to de­spair of ever bring­ing their grand­chil­dren home.

‘ The thing that has up­set us most is that the chil­dren were slowly los­ing Michael,’ he said. ‘They seemed to be ac­tively cut­ting him out of their mem­o­ries and they were be­ing told the lie that they were work­ing abroad.

‘When we showed them pic­tures of Michael in March they still recog­nised him. Jack was in tears. But when we saw them be­fore the cus­tody hear­ing there was no re­ac­tion from Jack and when we asked Alice about him, she said, “He’s away work­ing.” Michael and the chil­dren were so close and the love be­tween them so strong.

‘It’s cruel they’ve been led to be­lieve their fa­ther is alive but hasn’t con­tacted them. If I were Jack or Alice, I would be an­gry. I would be think­ing, “Why hasn’t he even rung us?”

Ian, his wife Diana, and Linda – who all turn 70 in the com­ing months – in­sist they will be able to cope with the rigours of look­ing af­ter their lively grand­daugh­ter with the sup­port of an ex­tended fam­ily of nine grand­chil­dren, and Michael’s brother An­drew.

‘When I re­alised that there was go­ing to be a fight to get the chil­dren, I knew I couldn’t do it on my own,’ Ian said.

‘So I phoned ev­ery­one in my fam­ily and within hours they all came back and said, “We are in this to­gether.” ’

Ian and Michael shared a life­long pas­sion for Sun­der­land Foot- ball Club and ex­changed text mes­sages af­ter ev­ery game. He now plans to take his grand­chil­dren to see their fa­ther’s team play when Jack comes to visit. ‘I’m go­ing to write a let­ter to the club to ask for Alice and Jack to be mas­cots at a Sun­der­land home game be­cause I know Michael would love that,’ he said.

Ian has re­ceived coun­selling from Vic­tim Sup­port since Michael’s mur­der and ad­mits that he has put his grief to one side while he fights to win cus­tody of his grand­chil­dren.

‘It’s some­thing I have to deal with once all this is over. I’ve told Michael, “I’ll get to you later”,’ he said. ‘The lady from Vic­tim Sup­port asked me, “Why don’t you write a let­ter to Michael?” I said I couldn’t be­cause it would just say, “Dear Michael, I haven’t got the chil­dren.”

‘I feel I can write that let­ter at last be­cause I can tell my son, “OK, it’s not per­fect but we’ve got Alice, and I’ve seen Jack. I’ve talked to him and I’ve hugged him, and he’s well, so don’t panic, Michael. Now here’s our plan…” ’

NEW LIFE: Ian and Linda Simp­son with grand­daugh­ter Alice shortly be­fore board­ing a train to Shang­hai. Left: Alice with her brother Jack, who re­mains in China

BROTHER AND SIS­TER’S LAST MO­MENTS TO­GETHER BE­FORE THEY’RE PARTED

TO­GETHER: Ian, Linda and Alice, left, on Christ­mas Day. Above: Linda and Alice in their ho­tel room as they wait for an emer­gency Bri­tish pass­port to be is­sued

CLOSE BOND: Michael with his chil­dren at Shang­hai Dis­ney Re­sort

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