Gillespie stays mum as daughter returns

Found ... Shahirah, right, with her father and brother.

By staff writers and wires

THE woman at the centre of one of Australia's most notorious custody battles said today she was "joyful" at being reunited with the daughter taken from her 14 years ago.

Jacqueline Gillespie, had her two children, Shahirah and Iddin, snatched away by their father, Malaysian prince, Raja Bahrin, in 1992.

But Shahirah, now 21, returned to Melbourne at the weekend to join her mother at the Hawthorn home she shares with her new husband Bill Cocaris.

Reading a statement outside their home today, Mr Cocaris said his wife, now known by her maiden name of Jacqueline Pascarl, wished to thank the media and others who had supported her.

"Jacqueline Pascarl and her daughter Shahirah would like to express their appreciation for your good wishes and support.

"They wish you to know that they are very, very happy – joyful in fact.

"This is, however, a very private time and sensitive indeed for the family and they ask you to understand and respect the need for restraint and privacy.

"There'll be no further comment or questions at this time."

Neighbours say they have seen the mother and daughter outside the house.

"Apparently they were very happy, they were holding hands and taking lots of photos," Channel 9 reported.

Ms Pascarl married Raja Bahrin in 1980, and they had two children who were born in Malaysia.

She returned to Australia with the children after the prince took a second wife under Islamic law, but in 1992 he smuggled the children out of Australia during an access visit.

Prince Bahrin, last night played down what would be an emotional reunion.

"She wants to be with her mother, so what is there for me to say?" he said from Malaysia. "It is only natural that she wants to visit her mother. She is a big girl now, going to be 21."

Prince Bahrin said Iddin, now 23, was studying at college and had not yet said he wanted to visit his mother.

"Let's take one thing at a time," he said.

"It is up to the kids so let things take their course. I don't think we should speculate about the future.

"I've said too much. I don't want this story to be another 'start all over again'. It's just a family visit."

Jacqueline Gillespie met and fell in love with Prince Bahrin when she was a 17-year-old ballet dancer and he was an architecture student at Melbourne University.

They married at Malaysia's Terengganu royal palace in March 1981.

The pair lived in Australia for six months before returning to Malaysia where they had two children.

Two weeks after Shahirah was born, the prince took another wife under Islamic law.

As his marriage to Ms Gillespie allegedly grew violent, she decided to escape and flew back to Australia with the children to visit her sick grandmother.

Ms Gillespie now has a four-year-old daughter, Verity Isabelle, born in 2001 to a Sydney businessman who left her at eight-months pregnant to return to his wife.

After her stint in Sydney, she returned to Melbourne in 2002, and in what was described as a whirlwind romance, married Hawthorn software accounts manager Bill Crocaris.

She has written a book, Once I was a Princess, about the abduction.

The case became one of the most high-profile custody battles in Australian history, adding to what was then a strained relationship between Australia and Malaysia as federal authorities tried unsuccessfully to return the children to Australia.
With AAP