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'Like a bereavement': Father's four-year quest to get abducted daughter home, as he demands action from ministers

21 June 2023, 06:11 | Updated: 21 June 2023, 06:29

Tom Toolan has been trying to get his daughter Rhian home for four years
Tom Toolan has been trying to get his daughter Rhian home for four years. Picture: Handout
James Gooderson

By James Gooderson

The father of a girl abducted four years ago to Poland by her mother, despite a court ruling that she should not be permanently removed from the UK, has demanded more action from the British government.

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On August 28 2019, Tom Toolan was getting ready to pick up his daughter, Rhian, from nursery.

But as he was walking out the door, he got a text message from his ex, the mother of his daughter, telling him that Rhian was in fact in Poland and would not be returning. 

Tom told LBC how everything changed in that moment. "It’s only because I’ve got the benefit of hindsight now that I can look back and say 'how did I survive that'…it was absolutely horrendous."

Over the past four years, Tom has worked tirelessly to get his daughter back through the British and Polish legal system but despite court orders in both countries, Rhian, now aged 9, remains in Poland.

Father's quest to get abducted daughter home

On six occasions, Tom travelled to Poland to witness recovery attempts by Polish police - but every time he went, his daughter wasn’t present at the property. 

Tom said that it was like a bereavement. "When you are grieving for a child that you love and you know is still alive, that is a living nightmare…I was on the highest-level medication that I could be on and I was still suicidal."

Tom has had to spend over £150,000 to try and bring his daughter home. "We had to sell all our cars, we’ve been struggling financially, we’re still in debt, still paying it off...we’re still living with five years’ worth of debt. All the things I should have had in my retirement have gone."

The failure of the recovery attempts do not appear to be a case of bad timing - politically, Poland is also fighting against children leaving the country.

Tom has been trying for four years to get Rhian back to the UK
Tom has been trying for four years to get Rhian back to the UK. Picture: Handout

Earlier this year the Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro accused the EU of wanting to get “its dirty hands on Polish children" after the European Commission launched legal proceedings against Poland for allegedly failing to enforce rulings on family matters.

The EU works under regulation called Brussels IIa - which effectively means that countries should respect the due process of other countries' courts.

The UK lost the right to work under this regulation after Brexit and instead relies on the older and more complicated Hague Convention.

Poland is ignoring the former when it comes to EU cases and the latter when it comes to the UK. 

Rhian's mother abducted her in August 2019
Rhian's mother abducted her in August 2019. Picture: Handout

Documents show that the Foreign Office has raised the issue of child abduction with Polish officials and ministers several times but Tom is not happy.

"The government haven’t done nearly enough, they haven’t called the Polish ambassador to account, they haven’t explained why his government haven’t returned my daughter home. It is like appeasement, they write to you and say it's a terrible, terrible thing, but we respect Polish judiciary."

Shadow solicitor-general Andy Slaughter said the government need to stop "washing their hands" of the issue.

The MP for Hammersmith told LBC: "We have to sit down, particularly with allied countries who should be obeying international law and hammer this out and the trouble is we’ve been letting countries get away with it for too long."

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Tom said trying to get Rhian home has cost him £150,000
Tom said trying to get Rhian home has cost him £150,000. Picture: Handout

Tom’s MP and former Home Secretary Priti Patel said: "This is a very distressing issue, involving a number of cases around the country where families have been separated from their children despite court orders for their return to the UK.

"With regards to my constituent, Mr Thomas Toolan, it is very disappointing that despite the case having proceeded through the correct and proper legal channels both in the UK and in Poland, four years on from the conclusion of court proceedings he remains separated from his daughter. 

"Unfortunately, his experience is not unique, and the determination of all the parents who continue to fight for the return of their children is truly remarkable given the understandable toll this takes on their health and wellbeing. 

"Along with other Parliamentary colleagues, I will continue to raise this issue through all means possible with the Government and Foreign Office Ministers."

The Foreign Office and the Polish government have been contacted for comment.

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