The aunt and uncle of the Al Hilli girls whose parents and grandmother were murdered near Annecy, France, last September have been awarded care of the sisters.
After a ten-month court battle, Mr Justice Baker, sitting in the High Court in London, delivered his ruling in favour of the couple.
They were represented by Gordon Dadds, the Mayfair law firm, better known for advising the rich and famous, on a pro bono (free of charge) basis.
Naim Qureshi, the partner who took the case, said he was ‘delighted that the firm was able to act for this couple in such a deserving case where these children lost their parents in the most tragic of circumstances.’
‘We were also able to instruct one of the top silks in the country (James Turner, QC, with Jane deZonie) on the same [pro bono] basis to fight the couple’s case.’
He said that the aunt and uncle were ‘extremely grateful’ for the efforts and persistence of the whole legal team to secure the result ‘which in the court’s view was clearly in the children’s best interests.’
In his ruling Mr Justice Baker said that the sisters, Zainab and Zeena, had made it clear that they wanted to live with their aunt and uncle and cousin, with whom ‘they have a warm and close relationship.’
He said: ‘it is plainly in their interests to be brought up within their natural family. Such a placement will sustain links with their family background and may help them over time to come to terms with their tragic loss.
‘The aunt and uncle have been carefully assessed by social services, who have concluded that they have the capacity to care for the girls in these very difficult circumstance which will include a level of police protection. They have been described as thoughtful, patient and family-orientated. Having seen and heard them give evidence, I agree with the description.’
The judge said that the court also had to assess the risk of future harm. ‘There remains a risk that whoever was responsible for the murders may try to harm the girls again.’ At present the level of risk was assessed as low; but if the girls moved to live with their aunt and uncle in the community it was likely to rise, he said.
‘The police do not, however, say that the level of risk is such that they should not be placed with the aunt and uncle. Wherever they live, they will continue to be subject to police protection, including, for the time being at least, armed protection.’
He said that having considered the evidence as to benefits and risk, he had concluded it would be in the best interested of the girls to go to live with their aunt, uncle and cousin.
Mr Justice Baker praised the work done by the professionals in the case and in particular acknowledged the ‘foster carer who despite the unique pressures arising in this case, has looked after them with dedication and devotion.’