A Staffordshire father launched a global rescue mission to find his abducted son. Now he hopes to help the growing number of parents whose children are snatched and taken abroad. Christina Savvas reports.
When Sean Felton returned home to find his wife had fled with their two-year-old son to Thailand he thought he had little hope of ever seeing the boy again.
He battled for six months, enlisting the help of authorities to get his son back, before he resorted to hatching an ambitious and desperate plan.
The painter and decorator, from Norton Canes, Staffordshire, faked his identity, posing as a rich American playboy on Facebook, to trick his wife into handing over their son.
The 40-year-old used the social networking site to woo wife Kim and travelled 6,000 miles to the remote village of Chiang Rai in Thailand after tracking her down.
But despite the overwhelming joy of being reunited with his Joe, the state the boy was in still haunts him.
“Joe was in a terrible mess when I found him,” he said.
“A terrible mess, physically and mentally. He couldn’t speak, his teeth were broken, he had permanent bruises down his back, his thumbnails had been ripped out, he was like a wild animal.
"I will never ever get the picture out of my head of seeing him the way I found him.”
Mr Felton’s ordeal started on March 26 last year when he returned to find his wife of four years, real name Saowapak, had gone with Joe.
Initially he thought he would never see his son again as the police were powerless to act. He contacted the Commonwealth Office, the British Embassy and his local MP but no one could help.
That is when Mr Felton began his relentless search online.
He located his wife and the mission began. He set up a false Facebook account pretending to be a rich Ferrari-owning American, under the alias Matt Young, and contacted her.
His wife fell for the attention and accepted him as a friend. Mr Felton then made contact with her Facebook friends to track her down and eventually it led to an emotional confrontation.
With the help of the police and the British Embassy, Joe was brought back to Britain but Mr Felton returned financially crippled and with no support to rebuild his life with a confused little boy.
It was during this time that he decided to do more to help others enduring the nightmare of losing their children.
Reunite, a UK charity specialising in international parental child abduction, said the number of cases reported had increased by 36 per cent to 228 in the first half of this year, including parents who feared their child was in danger of abduction.
Mr Felton said: “Abduction cases in the UK are going up each year and there are thousands of cases in America every day and worldwide.
“All governments brush it under the table. You have organisations like Reunite which work side by side with the Commonwealth Office but as soon as it’s a non-Hague Convention country, which most are, there’s nothing they can do.
“They can only advise by saying you need to get a specialist solicitor but they can only take it to High Court and get a ward of court, which is only legal in England and Wales.
‘‘You go around in circles. Within two weeks of going into the system, I realised they weren’t going to be able to help me. I had to do it myself.
“I’m talking to parents now who got their children back and they are financially broke. I had to sell nearly everything. I put my house on the market, sold my car, borrowed, worked. The legal costs are ridiculous.
“It’s especially frustrating when a child is involved and is in danger. I had photographic and written evidence that Joe was in danger.
" She sent me a photo asking for £30,000. It looked like he had been in a concentration camp, that’s how bad it was and still nobody could do anything.
“It is heartbreaking and there is no support when you get back. Nobody rang me to ask how we were. There was no support to get back to some sort of normality. There was no help.”
Mr Felton is setting up a campaign website called Abducted Angels.
“It’s fantastic, I am so excited about it. We can all come together online,” he explained.
“It will offer a chat forum where users can access advice from other people in the same position and also specialist organisations in the UK and US where the number of abduction cases are very high.
“After I got my son back people started emailing me from all over the world. Some wanted to say congratulations and others were in the same desperate situation I had been in and wanted help.