Last Saturday seven year old Ethan Quarry arrived home to Kinsale with his dad, Richard who had undertaken a daring six week quest to get him back from Zambia.
Ethan had been taken to Zambia last April by his mother, Elizabeth Daka, against a court order and without Richard's knowledge. She would not reveal where they were living. Richard had sole custody of Ethan at the time he was taken. Zambia has not signed up to the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction so Richard was unable to pursue Elizabeth through the courts.
After spending nine months desperately fighting to get his son home, Richard came up with a plan to go and bring him back himself. He employed a private investigator to help him search for Ethan and undertook a 2,500km drive through South Africa and Zimbabwe to Zambia. What was to be a 10 day journey turned into a drawn-out search as Elizabeth had moved and Richard no longer knew where she was living. He spent six weeks pulling his hair out in frustration, a month of which was spent living in a tent in Lusaka.
He finally tracked her down by ringing her and telling her that Christmas presents he had sent Ethan would be at the Irish embassy for collection. Richard had to follow her himself as the private detective couldn't be there that day. He had grown a beard and was wearing a baseball cap and dark glasses so as not to be recognised and had tinted the windows of his car. He followed her from the embassy to a bar in the Zambian capital of Lusaka where she worked. From there the private detective was able to find Ethan and the school he was attending.
Three days later, Richard drove to his sonâ€™s school to take him back. He explained: â€œI walked in and said I was Ethanâ€™s dad and was here to see him. There was Ethan in the middle with his jaw nearly on the floor. He came straight away and I walked him out hand-in hand.â€ He drove straight to the Zimbabwe border knowing that the hunt for him would initially focus on Lusaka Airport.
He was grilled at the border for three-and-a-half hours because Ethan's Irish passport did not have an entry stamp on it. Elizabeth had taken Ethan into Zambia on a Zambian passport. Incredibly, after all the questioning, the border police informed Richard that it was illegal in Zambia for a person to have dual citizenship and the pair were deported. They crossed the border into Zimbabwe and flew home from there, ending what Richard calls the â€œmost exhilarating and terrifying three days of my lifeâ€.
After being reunited with their family and friends, Richard said â€œI'm absolutely over the moon, and so is heâ€. Of Elizabeth Richard said he hopes she will come back to Ireland as Ethan will miss her and it would be great for Ethan to have contact with his younger brother, who is still in Zambia.
Richard points out that there is more to his story than this happy reunion. It raises two important questions. First of all, how did it happen in the first place? Authorities still have no idea how or when Elizabeth got Ethan out of the country. And secondly, what is being done to prevent this happening to other people in future? â€œWhat is the government going to do? That is the real story,â€ said Richard.
It has become very apparent to him that there are many other parents in the same position as he was in who cannot speak up because of the 'in camera' rule in Irish family law cases. Those who are in the process of custody cases are effectively silenced. Richard said: 'I am one in a million. I was able to speak out mainly because my custody case was settled so long ago.' People are told that it will cost â‚¬20,000 to fight for custody in countries outside of the Hague Convention. â€œMost people don't have that kind of money lying around. It shouldn't cost that much for a few letters and and court hearings,â€ said Richard.
He is now keen for life to return to what it was nine months ago. That might not be so difficult as Ethan couldn't wait to get back to school to see his friends. He went in to say hello on Monday and started back on Tuesday. Richard said he is â€œlike a fish back in water. He is so happy to be back.â€ Ethan is already booking up his free time with play-dates and sleep-overs with his friends.
Richard extends a â€œhuge, huge, HUGE Thank You to everyone who helped with fundraising and support. I wouldn't have been able to do it without you.â€