Thornton mum and her two daughters back home after escaping war-

Seton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson with caseworker Veronica Bennett and Jennifer Currie's mum Gillian and her partner Billy Guy

 

Sefton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson says he is delighted a Thornton mother and her two young children are back home after escaping war-torn Libya - but he says he is disgusted the Foreign Office was reluctant to help the young mum.

Jennifer Currie, 28, and her two children six-year-old Alisha and eight-month-old Nadia were visiting her partner in Libya when they became trapped by the fighting.

Fearing for their safety, Jennifer called on the Foreign Office for help in escaping the country which is on the verge of civil war.

The family was stranded in the town of Gharyan which initially fell to the anti-Gaddafi rebels, but has since been reclaimed by state forces.

Despite repeated pleas to the Foreign Office, Jennifer failed to get any assurances that she would receive safe passage out.

Back home in Thornton, her family and friends turned to local Labour MP Bill Esterson for help.

Bill immediately contacted the Foreign Office, but he was forced to take matters into his own hands and take the lead in making the arrangements to get Jennifer and the children home.

On Sunday evening, Jennifer received the call which she had waited for and was forced to quickly gather up the children and run from the house into a waiting taxi before she was ferried to Tripoli where she caught a plane to Tunisia, then onto Germany and finally back to Heathrow.

On Monday evening, Jennifer, Alisha and Nadia finally made it back for an emotional family reunion, still wearing the pyjamas they were wearing when they fled.

But all along the Labour MP said the Foreign Office failed to help the young mum.

Bill said: "It's great to see Jennifer and her children back home with the family, but for the last 48 hours the Foreign Office have been following the lead of my office in securing an evacuation and that's very worrying.

"It is nothing short of disgusting how the Foreign Office have handled this case.

"We are talking about a British national and her two very young children who are literally petrified. My caseworker Veronica Bennett took the lead in making the arrangements and negotiating Jennifer and the children's escape. This is totally unacceptable.

"At one stage when we were on the phone to Jennifer, we could hear the gunshots going off outside her house.

"We simply could not leave anyone in danger like that. But that is exactly what the Foreign Office was going to do.

"We have had to fight every single step of the way on this, from getting guarantees that the flight would be provided to bring Jennifer and the children home to ensuring that she will be given transportation back from Heathrow to Thornton once she does finally land. This is a terrified young mum and two young girls we are talking about.

"Jennifer's mum Gillian was at her wits' end. But she is now obviously delighted, as are the whole family, that they have all three back home safe."

Bill Esterson's caseworker Veronica Bennett worked with the MP around the clock over the weekend to ensure Jennifer and the children could escape the violence.

Former Sacred Heart High pupil Veronica, 22, said: "It was a fight from start to finish to get Jennifer, Alisha and Nadia back home. Both Bill and myself were on the phone through the night with staff from the Foreign Office as well as Jennifer in Libya and her family here.

"The Foreign Office were far from helpful and we were forced to make the arrangements and negotiations ourselves.

"We were originally told that Jennifer would have to foot the £1,400 bill for the flight but after pushing the issue, they agreed to pay up. And then to top it all off, the Foreign Office refused to meet Jennifer at the airport or arrange transportation back to Thornton. This was a young mum and her very young children who had travelled through the night wearing the pyjamas they had run out of the house in the day before to escape a war-torn country.

"But we are now all just pleased to have all three of them home."

Bill Esterson challenged Foreign Secretary William Hague on how the Foreign Office handled the affair in the House of Commons on Monday and he has now demanded answers to a series of written questions.

Bill's questions are:

  • Will the Foreign secretary explain why Jennifer Currie and her family were told to make their own arrangements for repatriation from Libya to the UK and will he investigate why my case worker was also given the same answer when she asked the Foreign Office to help?
  • Will he investigate why Foreign Office stafff initially refused to pay for a taxi to Tripoli airport for Jennifer Currie and her family when asked by her family and by my office?
  • Will he investigate why the family of my constituent Jennifer Currie were told by Foreign Office Staff that they should book and pay for their own tickets and advise Ms Currie of the booking references while she was in Libya?
  • For what reasons did the Foreign Secretary state in the chamber on 7  January that his right hon friend does not accept my description of events realting to the repatriation of Jennifer Currie and her children?
  • Will he investigate why the arrangements for the repatriation of Jennifer Currie and her children were largely handled my constituency case worker between 4 and 6 March 2011?



Bill said: "I am bitterly disappointed in how the Foreign Office has handled this whole affair which is why I challenged William Hague in the Commons.

"William Hague is still refusing to face up to the lack of planning in his department that left Jennifer in such a dangerous situation, which concerns me because there will be families and individuals still in Libya that desperately need help as the situation continues to get worse.

"At one stage they appeared to wash their hands of the matter and it was left to my office to make contact with Jennifer and negotiate safe passage out. This simply is unacceptable.

"If ever a British National is stranded in a dangerous country like Jennifer, Nadia and Alicia were, then the government should be moving heaven and earth to get them home to safety,

"This clearly didn't happen in this case.

"We were just lucky that my office was able to put pressure on from here and secure safe passage for all three of them.

"I'd like to thank Virgin Trains and Delta Taxis who stepped in once the Foreign Office failed and helped us get from London back home in Thornton."