Tug-of-love grandparents win extradition battle

A couple today defeated an attempt by US authorities to extradite them from Ireland for allegedly kidnapping their grandson.

A couple today defeated an attempt by US authorities to extradite them from Ireland for allegedly kidnapping their grandson.

Tim and Ethel Blake, from Cobh in Cork, were locked in an international tug-of-love battle with their daughter Serena Benwell when they took her son, Ben, aged nine, from his home in Winthrop Harbour, north of Chicago, in July 2004.

But the High Court ruled the pair, both aged 60, should not be sent to the US to stand trial.

The Blakes showed little emotion as the judge gave his ruling.

Outside the court, solicitor for the couple Don Ryan said they were relieved at the outcome.

“We are very relieved that this matter is now over. It has been a difficult time, they are looking forward to going back to Cobh, meeting their family and getting on with their lives,” Mr Ryan said.

“They would like to thank all those people who supported them.”

Out of the last 19 extradition cases brought by US authorities, only one has been successful. That involved a fugitive who had been on the run for four years and was wanted in Washington State to stand trial for killing three students in a high-speed car crash.

Despite relations between the Blakes and their daughter improving significantly over the last few months and Mrs Benwell pleading with US authorities to drop the kidnap charges, they pushed ahead with the extradition application.

Refusing the order, Mr Justice Michael Peart said he had respect for other legal jurisdictions but would not order the couple’s return.

The court heard last week that the Blakes could face a maximum 30-year prison sentence for the alleged offence of aggravated kidnap.

The minimum they were facing was six years behind bars.

Mr Justice Peart refused all but one of the grounds the couple had fought the extradition on.

Agreeing with lawyers for the couple, he said imposing a mandatory sentence would be a violation of their human rights.

“Since sentencing is part of the trial process itself, a mandatory minimum sentencing regime imposes on the question of a fair trial itself, that being a fundamental right of the highest importance in the hierarchy of rights under the constitution,” the judge said.

The young boy at the centre of the divisive extradition case had previously lived with his grandparents in Ireland but was taken by his mother when she moved to America to marry a US naval officer.

The Blakes, from Lower Midleton Street in Cobh, Co Cork, were wanted by police in Illinois to stand trial for aggravated kidnap after bringing the youngster to live with them in the summer of 2004.

The child, who is now 12, returned to live in the US with his mother, stepfather, three older brothers and a young sister in November that year after his mother invoked the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction.

During the extradition hearing earlier this month, Mrs Benwell, in a sworn affidavit, said her father claimed he was dying while on the visit in the summer of 2004.

She said he asked if both he and his wife could spent time with Dylan alone at the hotel they were staying at before returning to Ireland.

The daughter agreed but only on the condition they handed over their passports.

The grandparents did so but Mrs Benwell later found out they were duplicates, and when she returned to the hotel, her parents had fled and boarded a flight from Chicago O’Hare International Airport with the boy.

Mr Blake was ill at the time and provided the court with medical records detailing heart problems, diabetes and cancer of the blood.

His doctor feared he would not be emotionally capable of surviving the US penal system.

Mrs Blake, the court was told, has been receiving psychiatric care for anxiety and depression and Dr Harry Kelleher said he was concerned she would kill herself if locked up.

It is understood the Blakes are repairing the damaged relationship with their daughter and have weekly contact with her over the phone.

Family and friends have praised the Cobh couple for being good grandparents who deeply love Dylan.

In Ireland, grandparents have no natural rights regarding grandchildren but it is understood that with Mrs Benwell asking for the kidnap charges to be dropped and the extradition matter closed, the family will be able to mend their differences.

It is likely no challenge to Mr Justice Peart’s ruling will be brought before the Supreme Court.

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