Birmingham 8-Year-Old 'Living Unlawfully In US'

An eight-year-old Birmingham girl at the centre of family court proceedings has been unlawfully taken to the United States by her mother, say lawyers.

Jessica Monkman is thought to be living in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her mother Natalie Lewis, 36.

Her father Nathan Lawrence, 35, says he has not seen her since March and is "heartbroken''.

The youngster's case has been analysed at private family court hearings in recent months.

A High Court judge has given reporters the go-ahead to disclose detail in the hope that publicity will encourage Ms Lewis to return to the UK with her daughter.

Mr Justice Newton gave permission for the identities of Jessica, and her mother and father, who come from Erdington, Birmingham, to be disclosed at a private hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London.

Lawyers for Mr Lawrence said it was hoped "public attention'' would make Ms Lewis "reconsider''.

They said Jessica had been reported missing to West Midlands Police and police in Cincinnati were involved.

Lawyer Pam Sanghera, who works for The Family Firm Solicitors in Birmingham, which represents Mr Lawrence, said Mr Lawrence and Ms Lewis had separated in 2010 after a 10-year relationship.

Family court proceedings had begun and Mrs Sanghera said Ms Lewis had "secretly'' married an American man in the United States.

Mr Lawrence feared that Ms Lewis would move to America with Jessica and Mrs Sanghera said a judge in Birmingham had ordered Ms Lewis not to remove Jessica from the UK without court permission.

But in March Ms Lewis and Jessica had vanished.

"The mother had taken the child without goodbyes,'' said Mrs Sanghera. "She did not tell the school or provide a forwarding address.

"The father was helpless, distraught and panicked, fearing what his child was going through and whether he was ever going to see her again.''

Mrs Sanghera said police had found Ms Lewis and Jessica in Cincinnati.

Ms Lewis had agreed to take Jessica to a local police station so that "safe and well'' checks could be carried out.

They had been photographed holding a copy of the Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper.

Mrs Sanghera said Mr Justice Newton had ordered Ms Lewis to return Jessica to the UK in October, but to no avail.

The judge had then given permission for the case to be publicised at a hearing on Wednesday.

"She has made no effort whatsoever to attempt to comply,'' said Mrs Sanghera. "The father has not had any direct or indirect contact with the child since he last saw her in March.''

She added: "He is heartbroken.''

Mrs Sanghera said Mr Lawrence hoped that publicity would encourage Ms Lewis to return Jessica rather than "incur public opprobrium'' and the "disapproval of relatives''.

"The father believes that the mother's family and friends in the UK and the USA will place pressure on the mother to return to the UK with the child,'' she added.

"The father hopes to attract public interest and support in both England and the USA. The father believes that public attention will make the mother reconsider.''