April 13, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
What may be the final act of a play that has been, from the start, child abuse by a mother and a legal system against four girls and their father may be seen here (60 Minutes Australia, 4/12/15). I’ve reported many times on the abduction of the four girls by their mother, Laura Garrett, from the only home they’d ever known, Florence Italy, and their father, Tommaso Vincenti.
It’s the type of case we see all too frequently. One parent claims abuse by the other and, instead of adjudicating those claims in the family courts of the country of their residence, flees with the children to another country. In this case, Garrett is an Australian citizen who met Vincenti in Florence where they were married. They had four girls, Emily, Claire, Christine and Lily. But when Emily and Claire were 14 and 13 respectively, Laura decided to take all four girls to Australia for good. Pretending to Tommaso that they were simply going on a holiday and would return in a month, she told the Australian embassy in Rome that he was violent and abusive and that she and the girls needed to flee.
Amazingly, embassy personnel openly aided and abetted her illegal scheme, never once contacting Tommaso for his side of the story or consulting public records to ascertain whether Laura had ever complained to Italian authorities about her husband. She hadn’t. Through its embassy, the Australian government actively took part in Laura’s conspiracy to violate international, Italian and Australian laws.
It took Tommaso two years and almost all his savings to prosecute his case under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in Australian courts. That egregious waste of time by Australian courts directly contravened the clear import of the Convention. Under the Convention, cases are to be decided as quickly as possible to avoid establishing “facts on the ground” that would make a return of the children to their home country more traumatic as time goes on.
More to the point, the sole issue to be decided under the Convention is the country of the children’s habitual residence. Once that is decided, the children must be returned there so the courts of that country can decide whatever issues of custody and parenting time exist. In the Vincenti case, the girls had lived their entire lives in Italy, so it was clear from the outset that Italy was their home. That should have been decided almost immediately and the girls returned there, but Australian courts did what the Convention exists specifically to avoid; they became entangled in Laura’s claims of abuse by Tommaso. Put simply, under the Convention to which both Italy and Australia are signatories, those were issues for Italian courts to decide. But, in keeping with the behavior of the Australian Embassy in Rome, Australian courts prolonged Laura’s wrongdoing, further traumatizing the girls.
From the start of the case that quickly gained nationwide renown in Australia, the news media unquestioningly accepted Laura’s false claims. With never a phone call to Tommaso for his side of things, Australian television and newspapers channeled Laura’s allegations of violent abuse by Tommaso.
But he persevered in court and gradually the truth came out. Laura had no evidence of any form of abuse or violence by Tommaso and, when he travelled to Australia to see his daughters, the real Tommaso Vincenti – remarkably gentle, loving, kind and thoughtful – finally came into view. When reporter Tara Brown of Australia’s 60 Minutes got hold of the story, Laura Garrett was revealed to be an untruthful and abusive mother. Perhaps the final nail in her public relations coffin was the revelation that, when she was just 14, she’d sent a man to prison based on false allegations of sexual abuse. She would move to Italy and marry Tommaso just three years later.
That brings us to the latest act in the drama, Tara Brown’s interview of the two oldest girls, Emily and Claire, who are now 17 and 16 and have lived with their father in Italy for the past two years.
Laura Garrett never wanted it to happen. She desperately tried to stop Brown from talking to the girls and their interview from airing on Australia’s Channel 9. Among other things, she wrote a rambling, 800-word email to 60 Minutes falsely claiming the girls couldn’t be interviewed without her consent which she refused to give and broadly hinting that Tommaso intends to kill her. 60 Minutes ignored her, but it’s interesting that Garrett didn’t want the world to know what her daughters have to say.
To her credit, Tara Brown knows who the villain is in this sorry case. She refers to Laura’s claim of abuse by Tommaso as a “lie” and twice calls the behavior of the Australian embassy “illegal.” Both terms are scrupulously accurate.
And it hardly hurts Brown’s narrative that all four girls now live in a villa on a hill in the jaw-droppingly beautiful Tuscan countryside outside of Florence. Their strolls through one of the great cities of the world of the Renaissance don’t encourage viewers to believe that the girls have been consigned to a difficult life with their dad. A cozy, warmly-lighted family dinner alive with casual conversation and laughter complete a picture of familial contentment. Brown’s point is clear; Laura’s claims that the children would be harmed if sent to live with their father have always been false.
She’s right, but this time we hear it from the mouths of Emily and Claire. What comes through in their interview with Brown is two poised young women trying to make sense of the behavior of two adults – their parents – whom they love and need. Both girls want peace and, in their adolescent way, that means alternately refusing to blame either parent for what they went through and blaming both equally. That balanced approach reflects their need for both parents to be real influences in their lives. They’re yet too inexperienced to judge, but also forgive, Laura’s wrongful and hurtful behavior. They can’t yet admit it, but in this play, their mother is the villain.
The extent of that role becomes clear in Emily’s and Claire’s description of their time in Australia with their mother. The entire time they were there, they knew nothing about Laura’s claims of abuse or that it was her plan that they would never see Tommaso again. They believed, up until the very last that their father would be coming to visit them and were shocked and dismayed when Laura showed them a stack of legal papers and told them they were going back to Italy.
The scenes of anguish – innocent girls torn from their mother’s loving arms – splashed across Australian television, were made to suggest their fear of their father who, after all, had been accused of violence by their mother. But Emily and Claire make clear that those scenes were nothing but their anger at being wrenched from a life – school, friends, boyfriends, beaches – in Australia that they’d come to like. We now know that Laura’s refusal to tell them the truth about her claims of abuse, about the legal case, about the probability of their return to Italy, created those scenes and made the emotional trauma to her daughters far worse than it ever needed to be.
Indeed, Laura’s behavior throughout this ordeal has been consistently that of a child abuser. Apparently, at every turn, her actions damaged the girls’ emotional well-being.
Once back in Italy, their lives settled down. They now speak circumspectly about their mother, but, when confronted with Brown’s question about Laura’s claims of abuse by Tommaso, Claire says unequivocally “None of that has happened.” Asked if her mother’s abduction of them and their great-grandmother’s hiding them from Australian authorities was good for them, both Emily and Claire unhesitatingly answer “No.”
For months after their return to Florence, the girls were bombarded by email messages from Laura’s friends and relatives urging them to injure Tommaso and make his life difficult. One told them to throw boiling water on him, while others suggested they put his cell phone in the dishwasher and “drown” his computer in the bathtub. Claire calls those messages “disgusting,” and they soon stopped reading them.
The entire sorry case demonstrates a mother and her relatives who are willing to break any law, tell any lie to separate children from their father. Laura Garrett’s behavior throughout has been disgraceful and harmful to her daughters and ex-husband. In the end, it’s been harmful to her. She now live thousands of miles from her children; her only contact with them is via telephone and Skype.
I believe that, as they grow into adults, the four girls will come to understand this bizarre episode in their lives for what it is – malice toward Tommaso, child abuse of them, mendacity and abuse of the legal system by their mother. What they will do with that realization I can’t predict, but for now their ability to grasp their situation is best articulated by Claire:
“It’s not our responsibility, but Mom’s and Dad’s to find the best way for us to live happily with both of them.”
It’s a true statement. But what it doesn’t grasp is how Tommaso was to do that, confronted as he was by a woman for whom law-breaking, lying and manipulation were but means to her own selfish and misguided ends. The girls are not yet mature enough to understand that there are some things over which even their father has no control. My guess is that these girls will figure things out in time.
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