AN expat has made an urgent appeal to have his seven-year-old daughter returned from a Norwegian church after his ex-partner ran off with their child.
Heartbroken Dominic Shepherd, 40, is involved in a nightmare battle with ex Tonje Bjornsen, 37, after she sought ‘refuge’ in the place of worship in February.
Despite Shepherd winning custody of their three British-born children, Bjornsen is not allowing his daughter Maia leave Spjelkavik Church in Ålesund.
She could now face possible criminal charges in Spain for ‘illegally withholding’ her daughter from joining her twin brothers in Mallorca.
“I’m numb, but the boys make me strong,” Shepherd, an IT expert, based in Santa Ponsa, told the Olive Press. “I’ve had nothing but support from friends and family.”
Choking back tears, the British expat, continued: “I am just concentrating on keeping my head together because those kids need a dad. We just want Maia back so we can live a normal life.”
His ordeal began last August, when Bjørnsen left Spain with the children, ostensibly for a holiday, after living on the island for three years.
However two weeks later he received a call from his partner to say she was not coming back.
Mystified, the distraught dad was forced to use the Hague Convention to win legal custody of their children.
But despite three court verdicts in his favour, he was forced to travel to Norway to get his children back after Bjornsen refused to return them.
After picking up the two twin boys, Christian and Tobias, from school, he was stunned to learn Bjørnsen had fled with their daughter – whose birthday is this week – to live in a local church.
“I was utterly lost for words,“ said Shepherd, who has spoken to his daughter just once since.
“It’s morally wrong, seeking asylum to avoid the law.
“My lawyer said if everyone in Norway with a legal problem ran to a church to escape the law we better start building more churches,” he continued.
He claims Maia is not attending school and is only able to learn to play the organ and sing with the choir, which is ‘hardly an appropriate syllabus’.
Local vicar Knut Bjune denied this however, insisting local teachers were coming to the church to give her lessons ‘almost all the time’.
“Socially she is not isolated and their living conditions are good,” he told the Olive Press. “We are not hiding information and we have made it clear this cannot be long term.”
In the one, heartrending phone call to Maia the tearful youngster can be heard telling her brothers she wants to return to Spain.
Shepherd’s Norwegian lawyer Sol Elden, confirmed this week: “A church is not a place to withdraw yourself from legal responsibilities. It is an abuse of church asylum.
“It is her duty to now bring the girl back to Spain after the final court ruling.”
Shepherd has now written to Norwegian government minister Solveig Horne demanding help after local child services dismissed Maia’s case, saying no further action would be taken.
A Norwegian Supreme Court will probe Bjørnsen’s asylum claim this month.
Bjørnsen’s lawyer, Vidar Helgheim, claimed that ‘new information’ had now ‘changed’ the case, but refused to disclose it.
“The (original) case was based on very little information. You have to go deeper and ask why she ended up in this situation,” he said.
A Norwegian police spokesperson told the Olive Press they would not intervene while Maia remained in the church.
“The police will not enter a church and arrest someone who has requested protection,” said Ingar Boen, Chief of Police District Møre og Romsdal.