4/10/06

Mum and stolen child reunited

Joy ... Shahirah and Jacqueline Pascarl-Gillespie / AAP

By Xavier La Canna and David Killick
April 07, 2006

REUNITED with the daughter she lost to a custody battle 14 years ago, Jacqueline Pascarl-Gillespie could not contain her joy.
"Oh she is stunning. She is amazing," she said of 20-year-old Shahirah as the pair held each other in Melbourne today.

Mother and daughter have not been together since 1992, when Shahirah and her brother Iddin were illegally snatched from Australia by their Malaysian father.

Eventually, the young woman tracked down her mother via the internet, and last weekend flew to Melbourne for an emotional reunion.

"She is a really, really brave girl and incredibly intelligent and has an amazing sense of humour and a great feeling for life," said Ms Pascarl-Gillespie in a taped interview.

"She is just terrific. She is everything you could hope or imagine that you would have for a daughter."

For Shahirah, it has been a time to enjoy the mother she missed for so long.

"We are trying to make up for all the things we didn't get to do," she said.

"And yeah, it's been great. The first three days we had free of media, yeah, those were beautiful days."

Their story is familiar to many.

Ms Pascarl-Gillespie married Malaysian Prince 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.

The case became one of the most high-profile custody battles in Australian history and federal authorities tried unsuccessfully to return the children to Australia.

Shahirah said it took some effort to re-establish contact with her mother.

"I got her email (address) from a website and I emailed her," she said.

"It was a bit weird at first because I got an email back from her good friend, who was acting like a filter.

"They gave me a pop quiz of about 10 questions – and only things I would know – or my brother would know, my brother Iddin.

"I got all of them right."

Ms Pascarl-Gillespie said since that initial contact she had secretly rekindled her relationship with both Shahirah and Iddin, 22, via emails and telephone calls.

"I have had contact with Iddin much less frequently, but still for three years, and it was just the three of us that knew about it all this time," she said.

"It was very secretive, it was very private.

"And Iddin, you know, he has been finding his way, as young men often do and he is fabulous to speak to.

"He is really lovely and quite shy and learning about himself, which is just brilliant."

Shahirah said she expected her brother would come to Melbourne to visit his mother as soon as his studies allowed.

"Oh, he will, he will. He actually wanted to come with me," Shahirah said.

"He is a bit jealous now but he is still in the middle of his term and he won't get off until a bit later.

"So he is certainly going to try and come here. Not try, he will come. He will."

In the meantime, mother and daughter have been doing ordinary, family things.

"I got to see my little sister's birthday party and we went to have a picnic at the Botanical Gardens like we always did," said Shahirah.

The tape of the interview was provided by a public relations firm employed by Ms Pascarl-Gillespie, who has pleaded for privacy while she re-establishes contact with her daughter.