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Mother who fled with children before washing up in dinghy in Jersey walks free

Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

By Michael Drummond, PA South East Correspondent

A British mother who spent years on the run with her two children before washing up in an inflatable dinghy on the island of Jersey has walked free from court.

Teacher Lauren Etchells fled Canada with her young daughter, leaving the girl's other mother distraught and local police scrambling to track her down.

She fled to Europe with her then new partner Marco van der Merwe and their child evaded capture for three years despite Interpol issuing a Red Notice.

Her travels took her to England, France, the Netherlands, the Middle East and possibly to Spain and Portugal, police said.

Mother of two was finally caught after arriving in Jersey with her parents in July 2019 in a 13ft inflatable dinghy - despite their subsequent attempts to deceive immigration staff.

Etchells, 34, appeared alongside parents Brian Etchells and Angela Hardy, both 68, for sentencing on Monday at Jersey Magistrates' Court.

All three had pleaded guilty to making a false representation under immigration law.

Lauren Etchells was convicted after a four-day trial at the same court in December of two charges of exposing a child to risk of harm.

Her parents were convicted of two charges of aiding and abetting exposing a child to risk of harm.

Assistant magistrate Peter Harris said: "These were rather unique circumstances which are unlikely to be repeated.

"Together they were using Jersey in an attempt to avoid compliance with a Canadian court order."

He acknowledged the efforts made to reduce the risk of harm to the children, and that no harm was actually sustained.

But he added: "The waters around Jersey can be very dangerous.

"Both children were exposed to a risk of harm."

Mr Harris told the defendants that he viewed their conduct as "to all intents and purposes of an equal nature".

They were each given six-month prison sentences, suspended for 12 months, and fined £500.

They must also pay costs of £1,600 between them.

Prosecutor Simon Crowder told the court how all three had initially claimed they had come to Jersey from France "with the intention of having lunch".

Sarah Dale, defending Lauren Etchells, said: "As you heard throughout the trial, Miss Etchells believed that she and also her parents had taken all relevant precautions to ensure the safety of the children during the crossing.

"Miss Etchells's children are the greatest importance in her life and whatever her motive for making that crossing, she was adamant that she would not do anything at all that she felt put them at risk or endangered them."

The court heard that all three defendants, listed as being of La Ruette Pinel in St Helier, Jersey, were of previous good character.

Rui Tremoceiro, defending Brian Etchells and Angela Hardy, echoed Ms Dale's submissions about the steps taken to ensure the children were safe on the crossing.

He added: "They are good, hardworking, law-abiding people, people who have abided over several months by every condition imposed by this court, which included severe curtailment of their liberty for several months."

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