Canadian Wife of British mother who snatched her two children to go on the run was reunited with them after three years in Jersey – but wasn’t allowed to hug them or call them by their names because they didn’t know who she was
- Lauren Etchells fled Canada with her two young children, leaving her wife
- She tried to smuggle the children into Britain on a dinghy with her parents
- She was arrested after making the 16-mile crossing from France
- Yesterday she was found guilty of child neglect and is awaiting sentencing
A mother who risked the lives of her two young children to smuggle them into Britain on a rubber dinghy was yesterday found guilty of child neglect.
Lauren Etchells, 34, originally from South Shields, sparked an international hunt after leaving her wife in Canada and fleeing the country with the children three years ago, Jersey magistrates court heard.
She was arrested with her parents, Brian and Angela, both 67, in Jersey this year, after making the 16-mile crossing from France. Brian and Angela Etchells were found guilty of aiding and abetting their daughter.
Assistant magistrate Peter Harris said the crimes ‘could have had very tragic consequences’.
Wearing a black jacket, Lauren Etchells sat grim-faced in court. She has a child custody case on January 17 — three days before the sentencing. The Etchells were all bailed until January 20.
Here, we tell how Lauren’s wife, Tasha Brown, flew to Jersey and was dramatically reunited with her little girl…
A lawyer’s office in Jersey, this summer, was the site of Tasha Brown and Lauren Etchells’s first meeting for more than three years.
The reunion between the separated couple was, understandably, a very tense affair. Somehow, the women managed to keep things polite.
After all, not only had their lesbian marriage ended acrimoniously within four years, but the bitterly divisive custody battle that followed has spanned half the globe.
In May 2016, Lauren did a moonlight flit from Canada with their then two-year-old daughter, Kaydance, and Lauren’s four-week-old son, Marcus.
Etchells (left) fled her home in Canada in 2016 with her daughter Kaydance, then one, and four-week-old son Marcus she had with her estranged wife, Tasha Brown, 45, (right)
Accompanying her was Marco van der Merwe, an old boyfriend from Lauren’s schooldays, who’d agreed to be the sperm donor when she conceived Marcus and with whom Lauren had rekindled her relationship.
For three years, the whereabouts of former teacher Lauren, 34, and the children were a mystery. Her disappearance sparked an international hunt as a warrant was issued in Canada for her arrest on abduction charges and for defying a court order not to leave the country.
Then, on July 2 this year, came an astonishing twist. The fugitives were caught as they pitched up on Jersey on a 13ft dinghy. Accompanying Lauren were her 67-year-old parents, Brian and Angela, who’d done a disappearing act of their own around the same time.
It soon became clear the family had been intending to slip on to the island unnoticed that sunny morning, with a view to using it as a launching pad back into the UK.
Etchells’ parents Brian and Angela, 67, from South Shields, were pictured on the tiny dinghy heading away from Jersey after dropping their daughter off – shortly before being arrested
But, having successfully eluded the authorities for more than three years, on this occasion their luck ran out. As they tried to land their vessel, they were spotted by RNLI volunteer James Ransom, who alerted the coastguard.
All three were immediately arrested.
In Canada, hearing her lost daughter had been found, Tasha, 46, flew to Jersey, in the hope of being reunited with the little girl who used to call her ‘Mama T’.
At first, it looked as if all her dreams had come true. In the lawyer’s office, a few weeks after her arrival, she was taken aback — but thrilled — to be told that she could see Kaydance in half-an-hour in a local library.
Because Tasha didn’t give birth to Kaydance — Lauren is the girl’s biological mother using a sperm donor — there was doubt as to whether the authorities in Jersey would even recognise her as the child’s other mother.
There would be certain conditions, however. Crucially, Tasha was, under no circumstances, to call the little girl Kaydance. She had been given a new name — which the Mail is not revealing.
Not only that, when the meeting took place, under no circumstances was she to address herself to the little girl as her mother: she was to introduce herself as Tasha, a mere ‘friend’ from Canada.
Etchells had ignored a court order not to leave Canada obtained by Ms Brown who was concerned her estranged wife would leave the country with the couple’s sperm donor
The details of this first meeting between Tasha and Kaydance were revealed to the Mail by Jen Harvey, a friend of Tasha’s.
‘You know what hurt Tasha the most?’ says Ms Harvey. ‘Apparently, they changed her daughter’s name. Tasha was told: ‘You can’t call her Kaydance, she won’t respond to it.’ ‘
Marcus was not known as Marcus any more, either. He was now called by a different name, too. Tasha agreed to all the conditions, desperate to see the little girl — and to meet Marcus.
After all, this was the little boy who was supposed to have been her and Lauren’s second child, but whom she never even met after Lauren left her for his father, Marco.
Etchells (pictured at an earlier hearing) landed on the Jersey beach from France in July with her parents and was found to be carrying £1,000 in cash, 180 euros and children’s clothes
And so the meeting went ahead in the library on that day in August, with Lauren supervising, along with a ‘neutral’ volunteer from a local church.
After years of waiting, Tasha was desperate to embrace the little girl. Yet this, too, was not allowed.
‘Tasha couldn’t give Kaydance the hug she wanted to give her, because officially she wasn’t supposed to know her and was supposed to be meeting her for the first time,’ says Ms Harvey.
‘So she just interacted with both of them. Within ten minutes, Kaydance was painting Tasha’s nails.
‘Kaydance was not yet two when Tasha last saw her and she’s five now and she didn’t recognise her. But Tasha did tell me they were instantly comfortable with one another, that there was something there.
Lauren Etchells, 33, (pictured arriving at court) was today convicted of child neglect charges after leaving her wife in Canada and going on the run for more than three years
‘Still, it was painful for Tasha. But she was civil with her former partner Lauren — they talked through the children — because she didn’t want there to be any negative energy. She wanted Kaydance to see her and Lauren being comfortable with each other.’
After their awkward reunion, Tasha did her best to maintain a relationship with the children.
She spent three months in Jersey over the summer and would visit them once a week, for half-an-hour at a time, in ‘neutral’ locations, all supervised by Lauren.
‘Tasha got to spend Kaydance’s 5th birthday, September 26, with her,’ says Ms Harvey. ‘She said they took the children out for dinner, for fish and chips, I think. She says Kaydance is happy.’
Over the past few months, a number of court hearings have taken place in Jersey, in private, to discuss Kaydance’s future.
Indeed, Tasha, who works as a teacher, stayed in Jersey for as long as she could, hoping to negotiate Kaydance’s return to Canada, but went home alone.
For what no one can dispute, however, is the fact that Lauren is Kaydance’s biological mother. She conceived both children using her own eggs and gave birth to them.
The children live with her, too: the family remained intact during their enforced sojourn on Jersey, with Lauren and the children living a short distance from her parents.
The manhunt for school teacher Etchells and her two children ended when she washed up on a Jersey beach in a dinghy with her parents Brian and Angela Etchells, who also face charges
Indeed, Mr and Mrs Etchells have been seen out and about in St Helier, pushing a child’s buggy, looking perfectly relaxed.
It is believed the issue under question in the custody hearing is whether Canada was a habitual place of residence for Kaydance, and whether Tasha has custodial rights. It seems Tasha still grieves over the future family she lost through the split.
‘When she went to the library in Jersey that day in August, and saw the two children sitting at a table doing their colouring, she was looking at the future she thought she had, but that didn’t transpire,’ says Ms Harvey.
What role — if any — Tasha will be allowed to play in the children’s lives will be decided next month in a hearing of the Hague Convention to decide Kaydance’s future.
The long-awaited conclusion to this sorry saga came one step closer yesterday after Lauren and her parents were found guilty of child neglect charges following a three-day trial.
At earlier hearings, the trio have appeared fairly relaxed. Yesterday, however, all three were grim-faced as the potential ramifications of the guilty verdict sank in.
After all, they may well be concerned that their criminal convictions will go against them.
Yesterday’s hearing heard that it is the family’s hope to return to the UK, but for now, they must stay on Jersey, with all three remaining on bail. They will be sentenced next month, days after the Hague Convention hearing.
Assistant magistrate Peter Harris indicated that they would escape a custodial sentence, citing ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Certainly, the Etchells’s dramatic vanishing act has the air of a Hollywood movie.
Until now, little has been known about the Etchells family’s movements during their three years on the run.
All that was known is that on May 8, 2016, Lauren and Marco, a South African robotics engineer, flew from Vancouver to London Gatwick with Kaydance, then 18 months, and newborn baby Marcus. Shortly after their arrival, the family vanished.
Around this time, Lauren’s parents, Brian, a retired engineer, and Angela, sold their luxury detached property in British Columbia, Canada, and also vanished without trace.
At some point, Marco and Lauren parted company, and he is now believed to have moved to the Netherlands.
At her first court hearing at Jersey magistrates court this summer, Lauren Etchells revealed that the family spent two-and-a-half years in Alicante, Spain, and she changed her name to Lauren Ann, using her middle name as her surname.
Early on, the family began to formulate a plan to sneak in to the UK, undetected by the authorities, in order for the children to attend school here. Brian described to the court how he and Angela undertook a three-day reconnaissance on Jersey.
‘We stayed about three days, and the research saw us visit the east coast of Jersey to look at places where we could come ashore and do that safely,’ he said.
On January 2 this year, the family travelled to Portbail in Normandy, with a view to preparing for the next stage.
The plan was to take a dinghy over to Jersey and, from there, take a ferry to England. This route, Mr Etchells told the court, gave them the best chance of getting into England without alerting the authorities.
According to a Mail source, the plans had gone so far that the Etchells had found a place to live in England and had enrolled Kaydance at a school under an alias.
And so, at 6am on July 2, they packed some homemade banana bread and set off in a dinghy from Normandy on their passage to Jersey — a journey of 14 nautical miles across the busy English Channel.
Despite them having life jackets and warm clothing for the children, the court heard it was a potentially dangerous crossing.
As coastguard Jamie Dollimore told Jersey magistrates court, the boat ‘in my opinion was not a suitable vessel to travel from France to where it landed’. Mr Etchells refuted this. He told the court he had sailed catamarans and smaller boats in the past and had done a skipper course.
‘The skies were clear and there was no mist or fog on the day,’ he said. ‘The trip went very well and the sea was calm — the conditions were perfect. I did not consider there to be more risks than taking a road trip with children.’
When the Etchells trio were arrested on landing, the children were placed temporarily in the care of children’s services.
Lauren was placed in custody on the island’s La Moye jail, where she spent a month, before being released on bail and reunited her with her children.
Two days later, she and her parents appeared at Jersey magistrates court, where Lauren pleaded guilty to child neglect and immigration offences, and Mr and Mrs Etchells pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting child neglect and to immigration offences. At a hearing a month later, however, they ‘vacated’ their guilty pleas relating to child neglect, and the case went to trial.
Until now, the legal process seems to have moved in favour of the Etchells. Crucially, for example, in August, Jersey magistrates discharged Lauren from the extradition process to Canada, despite her still being wanted in the country.
To date, Lauren has publicly defended her actions only once, writing: ‘This whole case has been about gay rights and not about what is good for my child.
‘At some point, the system needs to look at the straight facts and see that Kaydance is better off with me instead of getting blinded and caught up in political correctness and bureaucracy.
‘Breaking up her family, separating her from her mother and brother and the man she knows as her father is going to do far more psychological damage to her than growing up not knowing Ms Brown.’
But now, the family have faced a setback and Kaydance’s future is yet to be resolved. Despite the convoluted legal arguments, at the centre of it, we mustn’t forget, is a little girl who is loved very much, and a little boy blissfully unaware of his dramatic start in life.
Next month, after six months in limbo, the case will finally be resolved. Whether it is Tasha or Lauren who is left bereft remains to be seen.
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