Six-year-old Atiya Anjum-Wilkinson, who is on her way home more than three years after she was abducted by her father and taken to Pakistan
- Six-year-old went missing on her third birthday during trip to seaside
- She is due to fly into Manchester airport at 8.30pm today
- Atiya was traced after police published picture of what she looks like now
- Father currently serving a prison sentence for refusing to reveal her location
- Razwan Ali Anjum took her to Lahore in Pakistan three years ago
A missing six-year-old is set to be reunited with her mother this evening – more than three years after she was abducted by her father and taken to Pakistan.
Atiya Anjum-Wilkinson vanished in November 2009 after going to stay with her father, Razwan Ali Anjum, who said he was taking her to Southport.
The girl is currently flying home from Islamabad, and is expected to arrive at Manchester Airport around 8.30pm.
She was discovered after police issued a photofit image of her showing what she could look like today.
Gemma Wilkinson, 32, said she been through an ‘absolute nightmare’ and ‘three years of trauma’ as the search for her daughter continued.
But earlier this week Atiya was taken into protective custody after apparently being found living with relatives of her father in Pakistan.
It is thought she was traced after police published a computer-generated image of what she would like now – a day before her sixth birthday in November.
The BBC has reported that Pakistani authorities were involved in tracking Atiya down, and that she was discovered in Lahore.
A Greater Manchester Police spokesperson confirmed the youngster would be returning to the UK later today.
Detective Superintendent Phil Owen said: ‘This has been a long and hard investigation which has thankfully culminated in Atiya being on her way home.
‘Throughout the three years of her disappearance, her mother Gemma has understandably been sick with worry. She had not heard from her beloved daughter and did not know whether she would ever set eyes upon her again.
‘However, Gemma, alongside ourselves and a variety of organisations, were determined we would not give up and remained dedicated to finding her. Thanks to this determination and the help from the Pakistani authorities, we have the outcome we were hoping for.’
MEP Sajjad Karim said: ‘I was delighted to be able to assist GMP to bring this case to a satisfactory fruition. Two Greater Manchester Police officers have provided continued support for this case for over three years but the real credit goes to Atiya’s mum, Gemma, who never gave up.
‘I am also very grateful to the Pakistani authorities who did the work on the ground to locate Atiya.’
Her father, a former insurance salesman, took his daughter to Lahore on her third birthday, and told Gemma that she was ‘never going to see Atiya again’.
Anjum is currently serving a prison sentence in the UK for refusing to reveal his daughter’s whereabouts despite a court order.
He was first jailed in June 2010, and in April this year a High Court judge handed him a fourth consecutive sentence after he continued to insist he did not know where Atiya was.
Mr Justice Moor imposed a 12-month prison term after he found him in contempt of a High Court order instructing him to disclose Atiya’s whereabouts.
He said Anjum, 28, would not be eligible for release until he had served at least six months.
Judges have previously imposed jail terms of two years, 12 months and another 12 months in the hope that Anjum would provide information.
They have re-jailed him as each sentence neared its end.
Ms Wilkinson, a former charity worker, took legal action in an attempt to force Anjum to reveal the crucial details.
Anjum, who represented himself at the latest court hearing, indicated that Atiya was in Pakistan or Iran but said he did not know her exact whereabouts.
MOTHER’S AGONY: HOW ATIYA’S ORDEAL UNFOLDED
2003: Gemma Wilkinson and Razqan Ali Anjum meet while studying at Oldham Business Management School and start on-off relationship
November 7, 2006: Their daughter Atiya was born
2008: Ms Wilkinson ended her relationship with Anjum after he became overly possessive
November 7, 2009: Atiya went missing on her birthday after her father said he was taking her on a trip to Southport
November 16, 2009: Atiya was supposed to share a flight back from Pakistan with her grandmother but the woman returned alone
November 20, 2009: Anjum arrested after returning to the UK without his daughter and refusing to reveal her whereabouts
June 2010: Anjum jailed after refusing to comply with a court order compelling him to reveal Atiya’s location
November 6, 2012: Ms Wilkinson made an emotional appeal for Atiya’s return and a photograph of what she looks like now was published
December 2012: Atiya found living with relatives in a village in Pakistan
December 28, 2012: Atiya is due to be returned home to her mother
Mr Justice Moor said he was sure Anjum was lying.
The judge said: ‘I am certain that he is in contempt. It is absolutely absurd for him to suggest that he does not know the whereabouts of his daughter and he cannot contact her. I am certain he is lying.’
Another judge previously said the case was ‘as bad a case of child abduction as I have encountered’.
Just last month Ms Wilkinson, from Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, launched a fresh appeal for information on her daughter’s whereabouts.
She said: ‘It’s been an absolute nightmare. As to her whereabouts we know nothing. We’ve had no contact. I’m worrying every day, every single day. Everything is affected by it. When I close my eyes I see her.
‘I say goodnight to her every night before bed. I pray she’s okay but we don’t have any proof that she’s okay and no proof she is even still alive,’ she said. ‘It’s been discussed that she could have been sold, but I don’t want to believe it.
‘As far as I’m aware she hasn’t been with any family member so I can only assume she’s with strangers.
‘To know that she’s safe, to know that she’s being looked after, to know where she is. A child doesn’t disappear, doesn’t evaporate. A child is put somewhere and people know – and that information needs to be talked about.
‘She was so funny. She was a little bundle of joy. She loved her lip gloss and handbags – as soon as she got hold of my make-up bag, everything in it was hers. We just want her home.’
Ms Wilkinson met Anjum in 2003 while they were studying the same course at Oldham Business Management School, and Atiya was born on November 7, 2006.
But the couple ended their on-off relationship in 2008 after Anjum apparently became controlling and possessive – and when Ms Wilkinson broke off the affair, her ex swore revenge.
During a visit on the youngster’s birthday he said he was taking Atiya to Southport but instead, he took her to Lahore where he claimed she was staying for a week with relatives.
Atiya was supposed to share a flight with her grandmother on November 16, but the grandmother came back alone.
Anjum himself returned to the UK on November 20 without his daughter and he was subsequently arrested.
He claimed he handed Atiya to a mystery man called Khan who took her to Iran, but the supposed middleman could not be tracked down after the address Anjum gave for him proved to be false.
Gemma said at the time: ‘He’s not prepared to back down – he’s not prepared to work with the police.
‘He’s enjoying playing his controlling mind games. It’s just sick.
‘Razwan is refusing to say where she is, who she’s with and he won’t say anything other than “she’s in Iran”.
‘Originally she was in Pakistan. He won’t give the actual location of where she is.
‘He’s doing this because he has control over me. He knew the relationship was non-existent.’
DISCOVERY SHINES A LIGHT ON OTHER PARENTAL CHILD ABDUCTION CASES
While Atiya Anjum-Wilkinson is not the only British child to have been abducted by a family member and held in South Asia or the Middle East.
A’ishah Sabra, top right, was twice kidnapped by her father and is currently being held in an Egyptian village – even though her mother Leila was awarded custody by local courts.
Adam Jones, pictured below, was kidnapped by his uncle aged 10 and forced to live with family members he did not know in Qatar.
The number of parental child abduction cases handled by British officials has risen by 88 per cent over the past decade, according to figures released earlier this month.
And if the children are taken to a country such as Pakistan which has not signed up to the Hague Convention on protecting children, there could be no legal way to return them to Britain.