Indications of possible mistakes made by the authorities

EIt sounded very cryptic when the youth welfare office in Olpe first admitted its own deficits in the case of the girl who was allegedly held by her mother in her parents’ house in Attendorn for seven years at the beginning of the week. According to information from the FAZ, internal documents now make it clear, based on many previously unknown details, what went wrong with the authorities – despite various efforts – and how strange the girl’s closest relatives behaved over the years.

The mother of the now eight-year-old girl seems to have been concerned at all costs to keep her away from the child’s father, who lives separately from her; her parents seem to have protected her unconditionally. During the custody battle with the man, the woman informed the competent court that she now lives in Italy. The child’s father replied through his lawyer that he had repeatedly seen his former partner in Attendorn. The procedural adviser appointed for the child reported other witnesses who confirmed this. In October 2015, a youth welfare worker checked the woman’s home address – her parents’ house – unannounced, but did not want any information on the child’s whereabouts. The father’s lawyer then suggested to the youth welfare office that they involve the international social service. It is questionable whether the office followed the suggestion. There is no note about it.

When the court granted the father’s application for joint parental responsibility in early 2016, it sent the order to the address in Calabria provided by the mother. The files contain a return receipt with the date of delivery. It is strange that according to current knowledge, the father never tried to enforce his right of access.

Mysterious letters to the youth welfare office

At the beginning of October 2020, the youth welfare office received a mysterious, anonymous letter made of letters that had been cut out and glued on, in which the child allegedly said that he had not been allowed to leave his grandparents’ house since 2015. The research of an official employee promptly brought suspicious things to light: the mother was still insured with her health insurance company in Germany and had the contributions transferred monthly from her account. Apparently because further investigations with paediatricians and kindergarten fees yielded nothing, the employee let the matter rest.

A good month later, another letter was received, this time allegedly written by “family, friends, acquaintances, neighbors and father”. According to its own files, the office only became active again when an anonymous whistleblower announced on October 13, 2021 that the mother and child had never left Attendorn. For the first time, the office is said to have turned on the police, but without mentioning the suspicions such as the custody dispute or the anonymous letters. The police did not see sufficient initial suspicion that could have justified a house search, also because no one from the youth welfare office had ever looked at the grandparents.

The slow way to criminal charges

That only happened two days later. The grandmother opened the door, didn’t let the two youth welfare workers in and asserted that the daughter and granddaughter had been living in Calabria for years. A quick look in the hallway is said to have revealed no evidence of toys or even the child. The behavior of the child’s father was also strange. According to the files, the office wrote to him a year ago asking for feedback, but he didn’t answer.

It was only more than six months later that the case finally got moving – albeit slowly. A couple close to the family initially reported only hearsay, citing third parties who wished to remain anonymous that the mother and daughter had never lived in Italy. The youth welfare office has now submitted a request for administrative assistance to the Federal Office of Justice. Two months later, the Italian Central Authority informed “that the child’s mother never settled at the address given in your request”. On September 13, the youth welfare office filed a criminal complaint.

Still, it didn’t go in quick succession. On the 15th, the police tried in vain to gain access to the house from the grandparents. On the 19th, the office managed to persuade important witnesses to finally step out of anonymity, including the child’s mother’s brother and his wife – who had not been allowed to enter the grandparents’ house for years. On September 23, shortly after a court order to this effect, police officers broke into the house. They found the girl in a room where she slept with her mother.

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