He rides a pushbike across Europe, a picture of a child’s face on his shirt. Ken Thompson is on a remarkable journey in search of his missing son and he will never give up, writes MILES GODFREY
Thompson began showing the first signs of mental illness.
The symptoms were subtle at first. But they progressed, manifesting themselves in paranoia and false beliefs about various people, including Mr Thompson.
“I didn’t realise it at the time, but it started slowly and just escalated, it was terrible,” Mr Thompson said this week from Germany. By December 2007, his wife had been diagnosed by one of Australia’s leading psychiatrists as having a paranoia disorder.
She left the family home on January 1, 2008. And then, aware of the psychiatrist’s report and fearing she would lose access to her son, fled Australia on April 24, abducting Andrew, then 3.
The Australian Federal Police issued a warrant for her arrest and together with Interpol managed to trace her to Frankfurt. But there the trail quickly ran cold.
“I just didn’t know what to do,” Mr Thompson said.
“I had a job that carried with it a great amount of responsibility, but which I could no longer do properly. I couldn’t concentrate.”
So he took early retirement and began to plot a way to find his son. A close family friend, who does not want to be named, picks up the story.
“He was sitting in Australia as the police did as much as they could,” she said. “But it got to the point where he thought, ‘Well what can I do?’
“And he knew he could cycle.
“I don’t think he’ll mind me saying this, but he wasn’t the fittest person in the world at that point and he’d suffered a bout of pneumonia in 2008 that he’d had to fight back from.
“He had been under tremendous stress because of it all.”
By that point the Family Court of Australia had granted an order lifting a ban on Andrew’s name being published, to aid the search.
So Mr Thompson got himself fit, organised a bike, set up a website, got a cycling shirt printed with Andrew’s face on it and set off for Europe. His plan was to cycle across the continent, searching for his wife and child.
He landed in London in early May this year, just in time for International Missing Children’s Day on May 25.
There he met British woman Kate McCann, mother of Madeleine McCann, who vanished while on a family holiday in Portugal. The case remains the highest-profile missing persons case in the world.
Then Mr Thompson’s real work began. After cycling to northern England to spread the word about Andrew, Mr Thompson pedalled south, crossed into northern France, and cycled east through Belgium, Luxembourg and into Germany.
He visited Frankfurt and other German locations where Ms Thompson may have been hiding, before moving north again to the Netherlands. There he handed a letter to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, signed by about 70 families of missing children, calling on the United Nations to update its 30-year-old conventions on child abduction.
Many people might consider stopping here and heading back to Australia. But Mr Thompson pedalled back to Hamburg and Berlin, to Poland and then back to Germany. On Wednesday he spoke to AAP from Zittau, on the Czech Republic-German border. He now plans to cycle to Prague, then to Switzerland and south to Spain, Italy and beyond as the northern winter draws in.
All the time he’ll be looking for Andrew, looking for his wife and highlighting the plight of missing persons everywhere. When will he stop? “I don’t know. I’ll keep going as long as I can,” he said.
“I’ll do whatever it takes. He’s my son. I’m responsible for him.
For further information or if you can help find Andrew, visit Mr Thompson’s website: findandrew.com
in (Australian) The Weekend Post, page 36 - 28 Aug 2010 paper edition only
Present family name: THOMPSON
Birth name: THOMSPON
Forename: ANDREW JOHN
Date of birth: 19 August 2004 (6 years old)
Place of birth: ST. LEONARDS, SYDNEY, Australia
Father's family name & forename: THOMPSON
Mother's maiden name & forename: STRATTON
Height: 1.50 meter <-> 59 inches
Weight: 25 kg <-> 55 pounds
Colour of eyes: BROWN
Colour of hair: LIGHT BROWN
Distinguishing marks and characteristics: undefined
Language spoken: English
Date of disappearance: 24 April 2008 at 3 years old
Place of disappearance: SYDNEY, Australia
Flyer with further information in PDF
Anyone with information about the whereabouts of Andrew and Melinda should contact local Police, Interpol, or the Australian Federal Police on 02 6126 7777.
Family Court of Australia Publication Order enabling the release of information about an International Child Abduction PDF document [14 December 2008]
«The publication order is a document issued by the Family Court of Australia that allows us to publicly talk about Andrew and his situation. It stipulates what we are allowed to talk about regarding his case, and the boundaries within which that is to take place. All documentation going out to others must contain words to this effect: “If you have seen Andrew or Melinda please contact your local Police urgently who will contact Interpol - do not approach Melinda THOMPSON.” For any questions regarding this Publication Order please use the contact details provided on this website. These orders are issued very rarely and the issue of one for Andrew’s abduction and disappearance highlights the very high levels of concern that the Australian and International authorities hold for Andrew’s welfare.»
Update: After almost three years, missing son finally surfaces
by Eamonn Duff
September 9, 2010
Almost three years after his son went missing, former NSW deputy fire chief Ken Thompson has learned the six-year-old boy is in Amsterdam.
Andrew Thompson was three years old when he was abducted in Sydney by his mother, Melinda Stratton, on April 24, 2008, after a custody battle.
Ms Stratton eluded the Australian Federal Police, Interpol and missing children's organisations until she was picked up on Monday after attempting to enrol Andrew in school.
Noticing the six-year-old's passport had expired, the school's principal ran a security check and discovered the boy was the subject of more than 180 Interpol alerts.
Mr Thompson quit his job in May to cycle across Europe on a public crusade to find his son.
‘‘I didn’t know where in Europe he might be,’’ Mr Thompson told Macquarie Radio from Amsterdam on Thursday morning, having just arrived in the city.
‘‘I just knew Europe was the most likely place, so I decided I would do whatever I could do to raise public awareness to Andrew, and to some other kids who are missing in Europe as well, by riding a bicycle and just trying to generate as much media interest as I could in Andrew.’’
A family friend, Robin Bowles, said police had contacted Mr Thompson advising him that his son was safe with welfare officials and his former wife was in custody. Arrangements for her extradition were due to be raised in a court appearance yesterday.
"Ken's ecstatic, emotional, relieved, overjoyed and still in a total state of shock," Ms Bowles said. "It is no secret there were fears for both Melinda's and Andrew's safety and the longer time went on, the fear grew deeper within Ken that maybe he'd never see his son again. He wants to see him. He can't wait a moment longer."
Ms Stratton fled Australia four months after she and Mr Thompson failed to reach a custody settlement. She flew with Andrew to Germany, then vanished. In a letter to her family, she claimed she was forced to flee after losing faith in the Family Court over its handling of serious allegations she levelled against her former husband.
But in December 2008 Mr Stratton successfully lobbied the Family Court to lift a ban on identifying Andrew and his plight.
In granting the order, the court allowed Mr Thompson to release a psychiatric report – compiled before his former wife's disappearance – revealing she had a paranoia disorder that severely impaired her ability as a parent.
Mr Thompson said: ‘‘He is safe. We’ll hopefully now get him back to Australia and then Melinda and I can resume the process that needs to be resumed, that was started in 2008."
in Sydney Morning Herald w/ AAP