AN INTERNATIONAL custody battle was played out in a small Scottish town yesterday when a toddler was snatched from his mother by order of a judge.
Social workers staged a late night raid on an address in Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire, to seize a two-year-old boy from his fugitive mother, who had been missing from the United States for nine months.
The dramatic move came after Lord Wheatley, a judge at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, gave permission for the youngster, named in court as Jaeger Crowley, from Draper City, Utah, to be taken from his mother and "delivered" to the nearest social work department.
The order was granted after the child’s mother, Frances Crowley, 30, went on the run with her son in December last year, days before she was due to face a custody hearing in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Residents in Henderson Street, Bridge of Allan, had assumed Ms Crowley was a devoted single mother who would take her young son for his daily toddle in the local park.
But the petite American was in fact on the run - and had fled to Scotland with Jaeger after evading court orders in both the United States and England.
Jaeger’s father, Bradley Bostwick, also of Draper City, petitioned the Court of Session for an order to have the boy returned to the US last week after he employed private detectives to trace his estranged wife in the UK.
During Mr Bostwick’s initial search at the turn of the year, detectives tracked down Ms Crowley to a flat in London but after she was contacted by the local courts in February, it is understood she fled to Scotland where she had friends.
Since then, the youngster’s father has employed a number of detective agencies north of the Border. She was traced last Monday after a car she was known to have owned during her stay in London was seen in Bridge of Allan.
Mr Bostwick’s lawyer, Daniel Kelly, told Lord Wheatley in court on Tuesday that mother and child had originally been traced to England in January, and proceedings for a "return order" were started there.
Mr Kelly revealed that, after Ms Crowley was approached by the courts south of the Border she failed to attend court, and went missing for a second time with Jaeger.
Indicating that he thought Ms Crowley was likely to flee, he told the court: "Inquiry agents had been monitoring [Henderson Street] since the middle of last week. They have spoken to her. She has two cars and they have ‘For Sale’ signs on them.
"They indicated they might wish to see the cars, and she indicated she was proposing to leave the country and go to Thailand."
Mr Kelly also told the court that photographs had been taken of the woman and the child at the house, and Mr Bostwick had confirmed the shots were of Ms Crowley and Jaeger.
He then asked the judge to grant orders which would allow messengers-at-arms - officials acting on behalf of the court - to "search for Jaeger and take him and deliver him" to Stirling Council’s social work department where he would be looked after by the department until the full court hearing on whether he should be returned to the US.
Mr Kelly added: "There does seem to be a real risk of the child being taken away. Ms Crowley has been applying for documentation under a further name from her current address."
After Mr Kelly’s evidence was presented to the court, the order was granted by Lord Wheatley under the strict terms of the Hague Convention on international child abduction.
Court officials said the order had only been made after the court had established that Ms Crowley, a Briton who lived in the US for about 15 years, had removed Jaeger unlawfully from the US in December last year, and there was no threat to his physical or mental welfare by being returned to the US.
A Stirling Council source confirmed the youngster was in the care of the local authority, adding that his mother would be allowed access to the child.
He said: "This is obviously a very upsetting situation and we try to make it as easy as possible for all the parties involved. At present the boy is in care and his mother has access to him under the supervision of our officers."
He added: "It is a very difficult time for both mother and child in this case and, as we understand it, the child may be transferred into the care of a family member until the issues over custody and access would be decided in Salt Lake County."
Residents in Bridge of Allan spoke of their surprise at Ms Crowley’s hidden past.
One neighbour said: "She was a thoroughly pleasant young woman and never caused any of her neighbours any problems. She was obviously devoted to the child, the garden was filled with his toys and she would take him out for daily walks through the village. This is a very said situation for all concerned."
Another neighbour added that, after Ms Crowley had put both her cars on the market at the same time, he suspected something may have been wrong.
He added: "It seemed unusual for a girl her age to have two cars, it’s also not cheap to live here, so she must have been getting money from somewhere. I am certain someone in Scotland must have been helping her. She didn’t work as far as a knew, she was a full-time mum."