A British “child recovery” specialist is expected to go before a Lebanese judge on Tuesday accused of kidnapping two children in partnership with their Australian mother, a journalist and a television crew.
Adam Whittington, a former Scotland Yard detective described by a UK court as a “mercenary”, is accused of leading the operation that allegedly saw the children snatched from a south Beirut street last week and briefly reunited with their mother, Brisbane woman Sally Faulkner.
Whittington, Faulkner, and five others, including a journalist from the Australian current affairs program 60 Minutes, were then arrested by Lebanese authorities after the alleged abduction. The children were later returned to their father.
Lebanese authorities have now filed charges against 60 Minutes reporter Tara Brown and three of the program’s other team members, according to reports by the Nine Network.
Faulkner says the children’s Lebanese father, Ali al-Amin took them for a holiday to Lebanon in May 2015 and never returned – a claim al-Amin disputes.
The 60 Minutes team was in Lebanon to document the recovery of the children but have not confirmed allegations by Lebanese authorities that they covered Whittington’s AU$115,000 fee (£61,000).
Friends of Faulkner, who has another three-month old child in Australia, told the Guardian on Tuesday of her anguish at losing Lahala, aged six, and Noah, aged four.
“You could see it in her [Facebook] posts every day,” supporter Kate Musgrave told the Guardian. “There were photos, messages she had written to her ex-husband Ali, poems she would write, letters to her kids. Absolutely heartbreaking.”
Musgrave said hundreds of messages Faulkner sent to her former partner had gone unanswered, and a support group of friends began posting on al-Amin’s social media profiles demanding, “bring them home”.
“We even went so far as to beg his mother through [Facebook] Messenger, using a translating app,” she said.
Faulkner had been trying to save money to go to Lebanon, Musgrave said, but was “petrified”.
Whittington, who was arrested in Singapore two years ago after another foiled operation, has previously criticised a rival, Colin Chapman, for using media in child retrieval operations.
In a December post on his blog – which he deleted, but which has been recovered by the Guardian – he wrote of Chapman’s scheme to recover the son of an Australian actress from Malaysia: “This is a nothing but a media circus.”
“Not once in Cari’s 16 years of doing this job, have we known any parent who has been in the media immediately after they abduct their child(ren).”
At the time Whittington claims he was advising the other parent involved in the dispute.
Chapman, a Brisbane-based private detective, was reportedly the underbidder for last week’s Beirut plot, and has since been quoted in the media criticising Whittington and the 60 Minutes program.
The Nine Network, which screens 60 Minutes, warned on Tuesday of “inaccurate or unreliable” media reporting around the case
“Regrettably a number of inaccurate media reports are exacerbating the concern and confusion of the families of those being detained,” a Nine spokeswoman said.
“Media reports, including those based on inaccurate or unreliable sources, could be used in evidence and coverage of information that could not be made public if these proceedings were in front of an Australian court, could be highly prejudicial to the proceedings in Lebanon.
“We urge all media to take extreme care in reporting on matters that could impact on the welfare of our crew or Sally Faulkner, especially given the issues and sensitivities involved in cases involving disputed custody. “
Nine news director Darren Wick flew to Beirut on the weekend to work with a Lebanese legal team and has reported the crew are in good health and are being well looked after.
But contact with the crew, who are manacled while in custody, is severely limited, so information is scarce.
Nine says the 60 Minutes crew was in Beirut to film and interview Faulkner after she was reunited with her children and have declined to confirm or deny they paid for the child recovery process.
“We want to see our crew and Ms Faulkner return home safely as soon as possible and we are working with a respected Lebanese legal team in Beirut to secure this outcome,” the spokeswoman said.
Nine said the employees were receiving “tremendous support” from Australian diplomatic representatives in Lebanon and foreign affairs officials in Canberra.