New Year’s Eve 2013: another year over, and a ray of hope

This, below, is a photograph of my son, Hugo. It was emailed to me by his mother, totally out of the blue, at about noon on Christmas Day. It was said to have been taken in his nursery in Japan on the 28th of last month, the date of his 5th birthday. This is the first time I have ‘seen’ Hugo since he left the UK in November 2011, a period of some 766 days as at 25 December. The brief covering email reported that he is ‘well and thriving’ and thanked me for the ‘gift’ that I sent – presumably the one sent for his birthday as the Christmas ones might have still been in transit; this was the first news about him, and the very first acknowledgement of anything that I have sent to him, since the consular visit in March this year about which I have posted before. There was no further information provided.

Twenty-thirteen therefore ends on an unexpectedly positive note when compared with the situation of no information at all that existed throughout the whole of 2012. The development, however, falls far short of my being allowed to be part of Hugo’s childhood, and it is not clear if the provision of photographs, let alone nursery reports and other basic information, will now be regular or occasional occurrence or whether this was just a one-off. Still, I am happy to see what my son looks like and know that he is well.

Hugo looks much as he did when he left the UK in 2011 save perhaps that he seems to have a greater resemblance to his father than before. At that time, without knowing that I would not see him again, I took about a dozen photos of him. I was going to post them on this blog on the 2nd anniversary of his departure from the UK last month but, ironically as it turned out, elected to wait as these were the only ‘recent’ photos that I had of him and felt that I should wait longer before sharing them, not knowing then that I would receive a more up to date photo of him (and, yes, it was just the one) just over a month later. I will now share those 2011 photos at an appropriate juncture.

I read accounts on the internet of left behind parents not being able to see their sons/daughters in Japan at all for upwards of 10 years.  I am, therefore, fortunate and I hope this post gives some hope to those readers of this blog caught up in this unbearable and unacceptable situation.

Happy new year.

Note to Hugo: It was very nice to receive the photo of you. To receive it was the second best thing that happened this year; the best thing was the consular report in March as I was able to learn something about your life from that. Before receiving the photograph, I had already draft-prepared a new year message for you but will post that on New Year’s Day tomorrow instead of today, as I had planned, owing to this development.

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Christmas 2013

Hello Hugo

This is just to wish you a very happy Christmas in Japan – this will be your third Christmas in a row there without any choice for you about whether you want to see your father.  It is of some comfort to me, and I hope one day to you, that there are, sadly, many other children and parents in the same position that we again find ourselves in this Christmas – so we are not alone and never will be.  Since setting up this blog a year and a bit ago, a number of such parents, both in Japan itself and throughout the world, have contacted me and I them.  May God bless, guard and watch over you in this season and in all seasons, my beloved son.

I hope that you enjoy wearing, eating and playing with the various gifts I sent to you for Christmas from London; also I really hope that they safely reached you in time.  Not having seen you for some two years, not having had experience of a child before (either of my own or, when it comes to it, in the immediate family) and not knowing your latest likes, dislikes, interests, tastes, hobbies and so on, it can be difficult to choose the right things to get you. I do my best to choose well for you and always spend a lot of time planning and thinking about what to get, making decisions based on my research and what I do know about you from the past.

I am posting this message on Christmas Eve, 24 December, in the UK as it might be difficult to access the internet on Christmas Day itself and immeditaely thereafter.  Have a nice Christmas, son. I will be thinking about you, and what you are doing, saying and thinking, as always.  I will post a further messsage for you at around new year time.

Christmas 2013 gifts

Your Christmas card and presents

Christmas 2013 postal recipts

Post Office mailing receipts

London news

Hello Hugo

I just came across this article purely by chance.  A bus going under a bridge that was too low for it is a fairly regular occurrence in London, but this incident occurred about 3 hours’ ago on a road only about 2 minutes’ walk from where you last lived in London.  Whenever I go back to visit your old home (I am now up to 105 such visits since you went to Japan in late 2011), I always walk along this very stretch of road to and from the local station:

BBC

Bus hits rail bridge in Kingston after wrong turn

23 December 2013

Transport for London said the bus hit a rail bridge near Norbiton Station

A bus has been damaged after taking a wrong turn and hitting a railway bridge in south-west London.

The 131 double-decker bus was out of service when the collision happened at 13:00 GMT on Coombe Road in Kingston.

Transport for London (TfL) said there were no passengers on board the bus and no reported injuries.

Alex Whitman, who saw the aftermath of the crash, said: “I was quite shocked. It’s one of those things you don’t expect to see.”

Mike Weston, TfL’s Director of Buses, said: “The bridge was not damaged and rail services are unaffected.

“There were no injuries and the incident will be fully investigated.”

The road has been closed in both directions.

Source:  “Bus hits rail bridge in Kingston after wrong turn”, BBC News, 23 December 2013

 

Child abduction Bill passed by House of Representatives

The Japan Times

U.S. House pressures countries on child abductions

Dec 12, 2013

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to punish countries that do not promptly return abducted children, upping pressure on an issue that has soured relations with Japan and other allies.With no dissenting votes, the House voted to create an annual report to assess every country’s history of child abductions and to require President Barack Obama to take action against nations with poor records.Potential U.S. measures include refusing export licenses for American technology, cutting development assistance and putting off scientific or cultural exchanges. The president would have the right to waive the punishment.

Rep. Chris Smith, the author of the legislation, said it would put the force of the U.S. government behind solving the more than 1,000 cases each year in which U.S. children are taken overseas, generally by a foreign parent after separation from an American partner.

“It is a full-court press to finally elevate this issue, where American children’s human rights are being violated with impunity,” Smith told reporters.

“Right now, it’s like other human rights abuses, maybe on Page 5 as an asterisk” in talks between the U.S. and other countries, he said.

Smith, a Republican, previously led legislation that set up annual reports on human-trafficking and religious freedom, which have often caused discomfort for countries deemed to be lagging behind.

The child abduction legislation still needs approval in the Democratic-led Senate, but Smith voiced confidence at passage as the bill has been revised over several years to ensure support of both parties. The State Department had initially voiced concern at proposals to impose outright economic sanctions over child abductions.

By far, the greatest number of abduction cases takes place in Japan, the only major industrialized nation that has not ratified the 1980 Hague convention, which requires countries to send abducted children back to the countries where they had habitually lived.

Japanese courts virtually never grant custody to foreign parents or fathers.

Paul Toland, who served in the U.S. Navy in Japan, said that his daughter, Erika, was put in the care of her maternal grandmother and that he has no visitation rights after the girl’s mother committed suicide.

“For me, this will be my 11th consecutive Christmas without my daughter,” he told reporters.

Earlier this year, the Diet approved the country’s accession to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

Source:  “US House pressures countries on child abductions”, The Japan Times, 12 December 2013

 

 

Lockerbie – 25 years on

Hello Hugo

This terrible event occurred 25 years ago today; it happened exactly 7 days after my 11th birthday.  It was the worst loss of American lives in a terrorist incident until 11 September 2001.  It has been in the news a great deal since.  Although I vaguely remember the incident, I more clearly remember visiting the town of Lockerbie overnight in the summer of 1996 whilst en route to a holiday further north in Scotland with my family:  the final destination was a place called Kingussie.  That was the summer that I received my A-level results.

BBC

21 December 2013 Last updated at 19:14

The Boeing 747 was just over half an hour into its flight from London to New York when it exploded on 21 December 1988

Lockerbie Bombing

The UK, US and Libyan governments have vowed to work together to reveal “the full facts” of the Lockerbie bombing which claimed 270 lives.

The administrations also expressed their deep condolences to the families of the victims.

The announcement came in a joint statement as memorial events were held on the 25th anniversary of the tragedy.

They said they wanted “all those responsible for this most brutal act of terrorism brought to justice”.

The statement by the three administrations said: “On the 25th anniversary of the bombing of Pan American flight 103 over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, the governments of Libya, the United Kingdom and United States of America reiterate their deepest condolences to the families of the victims of this terrible crime.

‘Brutal act’

“We want all those responsible for this most brutal act of terrorism brought to justice, and to understand why it was committed.

Analysis

image of James Cook James Cook Scotland Correspondent, BBC News


It was the shortest day of the year and, for Lockerbie, the longest and darkest night.

For many years this little town has been torn between respect for the dead and a desire to move on and rebuild.

Today though it chose, once again, to stand still in remembrance and to offer a hand of friendship to those who had come from afar to do the same.

189 Americans died aboard Pan Am flight 103 and many of those in Dryfesdale Cemetery had travelled across the Atlantic to feel closer to their loved ones.

The 25th anniversary of the bombing may mark the last big memorial service at this windswept spot.

But for those who stood here today in the gathering gloom, the grief was undimmed and the bonds unbroken as the people of Lockerbie again opened their doors and their hearts.

“We are committed to co-operate fully in order to reveal the full facts of the case.”

Scotland’s top law officer Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland announced this week that Libya had appointed two prosecutors to work on the investigation into the bombing.

The joint statement continued: “We will all provide full support to the investigation team to enable them to complete their inquiries successfully.

“We are striving to further deepen our co-operation and welcome the visit by UK and US investigators to Libya in the near future to discuss all aspects of that co-operation, including sharing of information and documents and access to witnesses.”

Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was the only person convicted of the bombing.

He was released from jail by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, and died last year protesting his innocence.

The joint statement by the three administrations was released as memorial events were being held in the UK and the US to mark the 25th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am 103 above Lockerbie.

Memorial events

Wreaths were laid at Dryfesdale Cemetery in the town and a service took place in a local church.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond and Lord Wallace, Advocate General for Scotland, were among those who took part in the ceremony.

The service was led by the Rev John MacLeod, while readings and prayers were given by Major Kingsley Layton, commanding officer at Lockerbie Corps, the Salvation Army, and Lord Lieutenant Jean Tulloch, representing the Queen.

Dryfesdale Cemetery
Local people joined dignitaries in placing flowers at the cemetery

During the service Mr MacLeod said: “It is 25 years after the day on which certain men chose to set aside their humanity and destroy the lives of 270 people in the air over this area of Scotland and here in the little town of Lockerbie – not only their lives but also those who survived, families and friends.

“What we the people of Lockerbie in this area will never tire of saying is we welcome you once again to this place where you know you are always welcome.

“In doing so we seek to comfort and console you.”

‘Fight for justice’

Craig Lynes, a representative of the American government, spoke at the event.

He said: “We have seen changes great and small throughout the world in the years since December 21st 1988.

“It is with pride that we declare once again our unshakeable commitment to continue the fight against terrorism. We owe that to each of you.

“Nobody can return what was taken from you that night. But we can and will continue to work and to fight for justice.”

Jane Schultz, mother of Thomas: “I wanted to be in the place where Thomas took his last breath”

Speaking to BBC News after the wreath-laying, Mr Salmond said: “Out of disaster, there are the bonds of friendship.

“Lockerbie has been a welcoming place for the relatives of those who died, and over the last 25 years has taken as good care of people as it possibly could.

“I don’t think you ever move on, you certainly never forget, but people do rebuild their lives and many have.”

In the US, people gathered at the memorial cairn in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington DC.

US Attorney General Eric Holder and other officials are to speak during a ceremony there.

There has also been a service at Syracuse University in New York state, which lost 35 students returning from Europe on the Pan Am flight.

Senior Scottish officials and UK Government representatives attended a service at Westminster Abbey.

The Lockerbie bombing remains the deadliest act of terrorism ever committed in the UK and until the attacks of 9/11 it was also responsible for the biggest single loss of American lives in such an attack.

The Boeing 747 was just over half an hour into its flight from London to New York when it exploded, seconds before 19:03 UK time, on 21 December 1988.

‘Devastation and horror’

All 243 passengers and 16 crew died, and a further 11 people were killed in their homes when wreckage hit the ground in Lockerbie.

The Lockerbie bombing

Convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi (C) is escorted by security officers in Tripoli, February 1992

  • Pan Am flight 103 from London to New York was destroyed by a bomb on 21 December 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland
  • All 243 passengers and 16 crew were killed, as well as 11 people on the ground
  • Investigators believed two Libyan intelligence agents were responsible
  • Abdelbaset al-Megrahi (pictured) was jailed for the bombing in 2001 but released in August 2009 suffering from cancer and died in May 2012
  • In 2003 Col Muammar Gaddafi accepted that Libya carried out the bombing but denied giving the orders himself
  • There have been numerous theories about others who may have been involved

Canon Patrick Keegans, who was parish priest at Lockerbie at the time of the bombing, said the anniversary had “brought to the surface many, many emotions people have had over the past 25 years”.

“Other anniversaries have been calmer. This one makes us remember the devastation and horror that all of us experienced 25 years ago,” he told BBC Breakfast.

The majority of the passengers and crew on board the aircraft were US citizens.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the “fortitude and resilience” of those affected by the Lockerbie bombing.

He said: “Over the last quarter of a century much attention has been focused on the perpetrators of the atrocity. Today our thoughts turn to its victims and to those whose lives have been touched and changed by what happened at Lockerbie that night.

“To families, friends, neighbours, loved ones, and all those caught up in the painful process of recovery, let us say to them: our admiration for you is unconditional.

“For the fortitude and resilience you have shown. For your determination never to give up. You have shown that terrorist acts cannot crush the human spirit. That is why terrorism will never prevail.”

Source:  “Lockerbie bombing:  investigation vow on anniversary”, BBC News, 21 December 2013