Great-gran defies court order

The distraught mother with her daughters whom the Family Court has ruled must fly to Italy on Tuesday. The image has been distorted for legal reasons.
The distraught mother with her daughters whom the Family Court has ruled must fly to Italy on Tuesday. The image has been distorted for legal reasons.

THE great grandmother of four children at the centre of an international custody dispute has defied a court order to give evidence on Friday.

The complex family law dispute between a Sunshine Coast mother, her four daughters and their Italian father has continued in a Brisbane courtroom.

The four girls went into hiding on Monday to avoid being deported back to Italy to go through custody proceedings.

A judge summoned the grandmother, great grandmother and great aunt of children to give evidence about the girls' whereabouts in the Brisbane Family Court.

Media have been kicked out of proceedings after State Control Authority barrister Murray Green submitted an application to close the court.

A Brisbane newspaper and the ABC fought the application but were unsuccessful.

The great grandmother has not shown up but the great aunt is present in court. The Daily hopes to speak with her after she concludes her evidence.

A barrister for the grandmother, who lives outside of Mildura, provided the family court with a medical certificate on behalf of the grandmother.

The barrister, who called into the family court proceedings this afternoon, said the grandmother was bed ridden and could not drive 30 km to the courthouse in Mildura to appear by audio visual link with the Brisbane courtroom.

Mr Green submitted an application to have the afternoon's proceedings heard in a closed court.

Mr Green said the focus of the proceedings was to gather open and frank evidence.

He said some of the evidence would be quite pedestrian, including names of relatives and addresses.

"We are in a information gathering exercise...not for public interest," he said.

The aunt's barrister argued to exclude the girls' father from the proceedings and the police.

But the justice decided police should be in the proceeding to ensure "swift action" in finding the children.

The grandmother, who is sick in Victoria, will give evidence over the phone.

I deeply love my kids: father

THE father of four sisters locked in an international custody battle says he loves his children deeply.

The Italian father, who has not spoken since the girls went missing on Monday, said their strong and large family in Italy were waiting for them with open arms.

The dual Australian-Italian citizens, aged nine, 10, 13 and 14, disappeared on Monday afternoon after they were ordered back to Italy for a court to decide custody arrangements between their father and Sunshine Coast-born mother.

The girls were taken from their Sunshine Coast school by their great-grandmother on Monday, the day before they were scheduled to fly back to Florence.

They have not been seen since.

The great-grandmother was summoned to appear before Brisbane Family Court today and was expected to be ordered under oath to reveal the sisters' whereabouts.

A warrant could be issued for her arrest if she does not show.

Family Law Practitioner's Association of Queensland president Deborah Awyzio said the implications of not showing to court would be severe.

"It does depend on her circumstances, but even then it may not be enough to mitigate what she has done," Ms Awyzio said.

"I think it is always wrong not to comply with a court order, particularly when there are other avenues available."

The mother of the girls has said she had not seen them since they were taken.

It was understood in order for the mother to keep the children in Australia she needed to prove that they were at grave risk of physical or psychological harm, or that they objected to being returned.

The mother raised concerns that the court had favoured her children's return to their father, despite attempts to convince the court otherwise through letters.

It was understood the father had lodged the application for their return under the grounds that they have been taken without his consent and was in breach of his rights of custody.

The Brisbane barrister for the father, Murray Green, was not available for comment yesterday.

Ms Awyzio said regardless of the mother's pleas, the custody battle must play out in the country of which the children were living prior to their wrongful removal.

"It is the country that makes a decision about what is best for the children," she said.

"It is about avoiding parents taking matters into their own hands and 'forum shopping' for the best jurisdiction that suits them to make a decision about parenting arrangements for their children."

A recovery order was in place for the Federal Police to find the sisters and take them into custody.

Sunshine Coast Police Child Protection Investigation Unit was making inquiries on the Coast.

The family's names cannot be reported.

Topics:  child custody custody dispute deportation family court italy

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