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Thomas Ireland, from Rainham, on trial for child abduction after allegedly hiding missing girl at flat in Maidstone

A middle-aged man is standing trial accused of child abduction after allegedly hiding a missing schoolgirl at a flat he was renovating after she ran away from home.

Thomas Ireland, 48, claimed he did not know where the 15-year-old was as police carried out an extensive search for her, it was alleged.

But an officer went to a former pub that was being turned into flats in Bower Lane, Maidstone, almost two weeks after she disappeared and discovered she was there.

The girl was allegedly hidden in a flat at the former Coopers Cask pub in Bower Lane, Maidstone
The girl was allegedly hidden in a flat at the former Coopers Cask pub in Bower Lane, Maidstone

Maidstone Crown Court was told the girl, who cannot be identified, left a note for her father under her pillow at her Medway home on July 23 last year explaining she was unhappy and signed it: “Your disgrace and disappointment of a daughter.”

She left at night, taking clothing and an electronic tablet, but not her mobile phone.

“As you can imagine he was frantic,” prosecutor Ed Fowler told the jury. “He called the police. A large scale operation swung into action in order to find her.

“Friends and family were contacted. No one, it appeared, had seen her.”

Maidstone Crown Court
Maidstone Crown Court

Ireland was questioned and he made it clear he had not seen her and said he had no idea where she could be. He was spoken to on two other occasions and he again told officers he had not seen her.

“But enquiries conducted by police showed that was not true,” said Mr Fowler. “A decision was made to arrest him.”

Officers searched his home in Derwent Way, Rainham, and found paperwork relating to the address in Bower Lane, where his van had been going.

A police officer went there and saw a child at the window. He went to the door of the flat and the girl opened it.

Police found the girl at a flat in Bower Lane
Police found the girl at a flat in Bower Lane

“He accepted he had taken her to the address,” said Mr Fowler. “The Crown say although she had apparently left the care of her father this defendant had knowingly taken this 15-year-old girl away from his care and control without any reasonable excuse.”

The teenager had been “grounded” for using her phone at night. When her father checked her phone he found messages between his daughter and Ireland in which they called each other “babes”.

In the note she left for her father she apologised for being a disappointment. She said she had gone away for a while and would be in contact. She added: “I am sorry I had to do this.”

"Whatever his reasons for hiding her from the world, it doesn’t amount to a reasonable excuse for taking her away from the care and control of her father" - Ed Fowler, prosecuting

Mr Fowler said Ireland was determined to keep the girl’s location secret.

She was initially upset when the officer went to the sparse flat and saw her. There was a mattress where she had been sleeping.

Ireland said he knew the girl had run away from her dad, so he took her to a safe place.

“She was just 15,” said Mr Fowler. “He was well aware she was under 16. Whatever his reasons for hiding her from the world, it doesn’t amount to a reasonable excuse for taking her away from the care and control of her father.

“He had every opportunity to place her into secure custody. The Crown suggest he did not have any such concerns.”

Ireland denies child abduction between July 20 and August 6 last year.

The trial continues.

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