REUNITED WITH MY SON- MAIL ON SUNDAY- JULY 2008

This moving story tells how Sarra Fotheringham was finally reunited with her son after she had previously been denied custody of him after his father moved him to Dubai.


Sarra hit the national headlines several years ago after her plight moved the nations hearts.


Our publicist Jonathan Hartley (www.publicityagent.co.uk) was approached by Sarra to tell the good news story.


Sarra was paid a very good fee for her exclusive story which appeared in the Mail on Sunday newspaper.


Scroll down to read the full story below.


We are now working on more deals for Sarra who is keen to raise the issue of interntaional custody involving children.


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When Tariq Al Habtoor asked his father in February if he could go to a rock festival with his friends, he already knew the answer.

Deprived of independence throughout his adolescence, if he wasn't surrounded by four burly bodyguards he was being mollycoddled by 12 maids.

And when he wasn't within the confines of his private school, he was being dragged on to the polo pitch with his devoutly Muslim father.

So the chances of being allowed an evening's freedom were, the 16-year-old reasoned, fairly remote.

Yet when he was given the all-too-predictable 'no', he snapped. He sneaked past the security guards at the family's gated Dubai mansion and spent the next couple of hours strumming happily on his air guitar.

But it was only after he returned home that he really faced the music. Rashid Al Habtoor banished his son to one of the many apartments he owns in the Middle Eastern state, and left him under the strict surveillance of his surly staff for two days.

With no school, no polo and nothing to do but ponder his claustrophobic existence, Tariq began to plot a way out. In April, his plans came to fruition.

Tariq, dressed in his school uniform and with no luggage except his satchel, bypassed his bodyguards, hailed a taxi to Dubai International Airport and boarded a plane to London.

For the first time in nearly nine years, he was back in Britain and reunited with Sarra Fotheringham, the mother he adores, and who once risked her own freedom for the right to bring up her eldest son.

'No amount of money could make up for my lack of freedom,' says Tariq, speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday. 'I love being back home and I don't care if I never see my father again.'

A shy, slightly awkward teenager, he turns frequently to his mother for moral support as he talks.

For Sarra, Tariq's return is the happy conclusion to a long and bitter custodial battle that made national headlines, hit the High Court and even involved the British Consulate in the Middle East.

The 41-year-old is unable to keep the smile from her face and protective arms from her son. 'I'm just so thrilled,' she says from the family home in Camberley, Surrey. 'The last time I was able to mother Tariq properly he was eight. Now he's 17. It's strange adapting, but he's doing brilliantly.'

Her fractured relationship with Tariq's father has been well documented. She met billionaire Rashid, who has played polo with Prince Charles and counts Prince Michael of Kent and Omar Sharif among his friends, in 1990.

Sarra, then an air hostess for Emirates Airlines, rode at the stables in Dubai where Rashid kept his ponies.

They embarked on a whirlwind affair. But when she announced she was pregnant, she says, he demanded she have a termination and said he wanted nothing more to do with her.

Distraught, she moved back home to Camberley to bring up Tariq. In 1994, she married Neil Fotheringham, a local policeman, with whom she had three more children Cameron, 13, Annabel, ten, and Charlie, eight.

Neil legally adopted Tariq and she heard no more from Rashid, now 42, until 1999 when, knowing her son would soon start asking questions, she wrote asking if he wanted any contact.

This time Rashid, whose family owns a string of hotel, construction and leisure businesses, including the Rolls-Royce franchise in Dubai, came to London to visit the family, and made them an offer they felt they couldn't refuse.

If the Fotheringhams moved to Dubai and granted Rashid occasional access to Tariq, Neil would be given a teaching job in the school the family owned, they would be given a mansion to live in and their own children would be provided with an expensive education.

Yet when they arrived, the Al Habtoors, who have close links to Dubai's ruling Makhtoum family, demanded to see Tariq every weekend and launched a court action to make him legally theirs.

Sarra and Neil were unable to move back to Britain because Neil had handed his passport over to Rashid when he started working for him.

In an admittedly foolish move, Sarra signed an agreement to relinquish parental responsibility of Tariq so they could fly back to Britain where, she was sure, they would regain custody through our own legal system.

But the High Court eventually ruled that her son had forfeited his rights to be a British resident by moving to Dubai with his mother and was therefore, under Middle Eastern law, to be left in Rashid's care.

Two years later, Sarra returned to Dubai to smuggle her son out. Arrested trying to board a ferry to Iraq with him, she was thrown into prison before being released on bail. After that, she was only allowed to visit him twice a year.

Tariq was enrolled at the international school owned by the Al Habtoor family. His room on his father's nine-bedroom estate was undecorated, and any toys were immediately swept away by the fleet of maids who monitored his every move.

He wore a Kandura a Muslim robe and was obliged to fast for a month every Ramadan and attend the mosque for prayers every Friday.

He saw his father who had by then had an arranged marriage and three other children with his new wife once a day. They never embraced. He wasn't allowed to attend after-school activities, and the only sport he was encouraged to pursue was polo.

It was an alien environment for a Western ten-year-old. 'I was confused and scared,' says Tariq, who found it difficult to sleep without his favourite bedtime story, and only spoke to Sarra by phone once a week.

'My father's wife didn't want to know me and even though I got on with my brothers and sister and made friends at school I still missed Ma.'

Sarra, who separated from Neil three years ago and now works as a customer services manager for her local police force, adds: 'I bring my children up with cuddles. Rashid thinks children should be seen and not heard and imposed the strictest discipline.'

Perhaps understandably, Tariq rebelled. At first his mischief-making was minor an unfinished school assignment or uneaten dinner. Yet it was met with reproach from Rashid.

'He would fly off the handle,' says Sarra. 'He was never physically violent but he'd ground him always saying it was for life. Tariq would call me to say he'd been grounded for life...again. We started to joke about it. Of course, I'd stress the importance of behaving, but he wasn't doing anything worse than any other kid.'

Meanwhile, Sarra eagerly anticipated her biannual visits, arranged by Rashid's servants, normally in the summer and Christmas holidays. After Rashid gained custody of Tariq, Neil was banned from seeing him, so she took their three children with her.

'We went to the local water park, always accompanied by a bodyguard,' she says. 'Going back home without him was horrendous.'

Slowly, Tariq's behaviour worsened. It ranged from bizarre incidents such as climbing up drainpipes to more serious offences like getting drunk on vodka and Red Bull, setting fire to some hay in a local festival display and running away to stay with local friends.

'I was bored,' is Tariq's excuse for his trouble-making.

Sarra has a different explanation. 'It was an attention bid,' she believes. 'I tried to warn him he could hurt people, but mainly we kept our conversations light. He was getting into enough trouble with his father.'

By the time Tariq was 15, Rashid, having had no direct contact with Sarra for five years, resorted to calling her for advice and recriminations.

'He'd gone from denying me access to my son to blaming me for spawning a badly behaved boy,' she explains. 'He'd shout "your son" this and "your son" that.

I told him to send Tariq to live with me, but he wouldn't. In Islamic culture, the son of an estranged relationship lives with his father.'

She claims: 'Tariq was turning into a fantastic polo player and Rashid loved showing him off. But when Tariq was shy around his friends he would reprimand him, which would make him even more introverted.

'He was ashamed of me. And by the beginning of this year I was miserable,' says her son. 'I didn't ask him if I could come back to England. I knew he'd say no. But I began to think more about it.'

The day before his escape, he called his mother and asked her to book a flight to London for him for the next day. 'I was stunned, but overjoyed,' says Sarra.

It was the end of term having passed five GCSEs, he was studying for his International Baccalaureate and Tariq knew the school day would finish earlier than normal, so he would have two hours before his bodyguards came to collect him. It was then he fled to the airport and the plane to Heathrow.

From the moment I saw him I couldn't stop hugging him,' says Sarra. 'He begged me not to tell his father where he was, but Rashid found out after Tariq emailed one of his sons.

'A week later, he sent me a text message, saying it was all my fault. But that was it he seemed to think their relationship was beyond repair. And now Tariq is in Britain, Rashid has no legal rights over him.'

Meanwhile, Tariq settled into a Western lifestyle. For his 17th birthday, a fortnight after his arrival, Sarra bought him a second-hand Renault Clio so he could practise for his driving licence, and took him out for a steak. 'I thought he wouldn't eat pork, and warned him I kept hot dogs in the fridge,' she says. 'He just looked at me and said, "And?" He has abandoned any Muslim beliefs.'

His behaviour has also improved. 'I rebelled because Father was so strict,' he claims. 'I used to drink alcohol because every time I drank I thought it would be the last time I was able to. Now Mum lets me have a drink I don't bother.'

While Sarra is at work he earns his pocket money looking after his brothers and sister. 'It's great not being lonely,' he says. 'I talk to my brothers in Dubai on MSN, and I miss my friends there, but I haven't spoken to Rashid once, and that doesn't bother me.'

Indeed, when Sarra called Rashid last month to tell him Tariq was going to start his A-levels at the local comprehensive in September and hoped to go on to Sandhurst and join the Army, he simply said he wouldn't give him a penny, wanted nothing more to do with him and had given his possessions to charity.

And when The Mail on Sunday phoned him to ask if he wanted to comment on Tariq's return to England, he said: 'There is no story,' and hung up.

For her son's sake, Sarra has put aside her animosity. 'I'm hurt his attitude is so cut and dry,' she says. 'But, hopefully, they'll be reacquainted one day.'

She says one of the reasons behind her split with Neil was their struggle for Tariq. 'Neil had to shut him out of his heart when he wasn't allowed to see him,' says Sarra. 'He is trying to be friends with Tariq now, though.'

There have been other teething problems. 'His attitude towards women can be hostile, as he wasn't bought up to see us as equals,' says Sarra.

But there are touching moments. 'He has just learnt to make his bed for the first time,' she smiles. 'He called me at work to tell me, he was so proud.'

As Tariq himself puts it, with his awkward, slightly self-conscious smile: 'I'm enjoying things much more now I get to do them myself.'



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