Ashya King and parents reunited amid chaotic scenes at Málaga hospital
The Guardian, by Josh Halliday in Málaga and Caroline Davies
Brett and Naghmeh arrive at five-year-old’s bedside after 72 hours in prison but UK authorities still have legal custody for boy
The parents of five-year-old Ashya King were reunited with their desperately ill son on Wednesday, arriving at his hospital bedside amid a media circus after they were released from a Spanish jail.
Brett and Naghmeh King spent several hours with their son, who has cancer, after driving across Spain overnight following their release from prison in Madrid, where they were held in separate cells for the previous 72 hours.
Arriving at the children’s hospital in Malaga amid chaotic scenes, Ashya’s father Brett said he was prepared to be arrested to see his son and expressed exasperation that the brain tumour patient remained in the custody of British authorities.
Prosecutors in the UK have dropped their arrest warrant but Ashya remains a ward of court.
"What the prime minister of England and the health minister said hasn’t worked because me and my wife don’t have custody," Mr King said. Asked what his next plan was, he said: "To be arrested."
The couple, from Southsea, Portsmouth, arrived in Malaga after a whirlwind 24 hours in which David Cameron and politicians of all sides took up their case and prosecutors terminated their European arrest warrant.
The rare legal reversal left the pair free to walk out of Soto del Real prison in Madrid and begin a long journey across Spain to see their son, who had been under the guard of armed police in Malaga’s Materno Infantil.
They arrived at the hospital to a scrum of cameras, with five armed riot police officers pushing photographers and cameramen into the road to try clear a path for the family. Some journalists had been camped outside the hospital since last Thursday, forming small groups around the entrance as ill children came and went.
In the chaos, Mr King claimed he was unable to see his son because Portsmouth council had on Wednesday served him with legal papers that made Ashya a ward of court. It later became clear that the family was free to see Ashya but they could not remove him from the hospital due to a previous court order.
The parents are now braced for a further agonising wait over their son’s future. Ashya is a ward of court, which means the high court exercises parental responsibility. The legal papers relating to that order were served on the Kings while they were still in custody in a Spanish jail at around 3pm on Tuesday. It means that any major decisions about Ashya’s treatment or his movements have to be approved by the family court in London.
On Wednesday night, an official confirmed that Ashya is likely to remain in hospital for a few days.
A hearing on the wardship proceedings was held before Mr Justice Baker at the high court on Tuesday and adjourned until Monday. At present, the order remains in place even though a European arrest warrant has been withdrawn and extradition proceedings dropped.
The frenzied scenes outside hospital were mirrored at a press conference at the Kings’s lawyer’s office in Seville. Packed into a tiny room with camera lenses in his face, Mr King said he would happily spend years in jail to stop the NHS treating Ashya because its doctors were "going to kill him or turn him into a vegetable". He told how he and his wife had been hunted across Europe "like terrorists" and that, in prison, the pair were kept in separate cells close enough that he could hear her weeping at night.
There was also further dispute between the Kings and Southampton hospital.
Mr King claimed he had told doctors they were going to take Ashya abroad and that the hospital had threatened to get a court order to say it had rights over the youngster’s treatment. However, hours later, the hospital’s Dr Peter Wilson said he "absolutely disagreed" with that assertion, saying the Kings never said they wanted to take Ashya to Prague for treatment.
Speaking about the 48-hour European-wide hunt for the pair, Mr King said: "They treated us like terrorists. They handcuffed me and my wife. I don’t know why they did this. From the beginning, Southampton [general hospital] knew I was going abroad. They knew I wasn’t happy with the treatment. "They knew about it. Not the day I left, but I told them: ‘I’m leaving because I’m not happy.’ They knew that."
He said of the moment the couple were arrested: "When I saw there were police outside, we panicked, we didn’t know what to do so we went towards Málaga because my wife said there was a good hospital.
"My children were at the swimming pool, we were just trying to enjoy ourselves as a family. Then someone said to us that someone has called the police. I said: ‘OK, we are not going to run any more. This is it, we are going to face this because I don’t know why they are after us.’ I told them we are taking my son out. I said: ‘We will stay here and sort this out,’ but then they arrested me."
The family, who used to live in the Marbella area before moving to Southsea, wanted to sell their Spanish property to raise money to pay for proton beam treatment, a form of radiotherapy not available in the UK, which they strongly believed would help Ashya.
Ashya’s mother, Naghmeh, stayed the night by her son’s bedside while her husband Brett and their eldest son Danny left when visiting hours ended at 8pm.
Leaning out of the car window, Mr King said his son was "so happy he couldn’t breathe" when he saw his parents. "We’re trying to be hopeful," he said. "He’s good (but) not in such a good state as when we left him, his spirit is depressed.