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  • (60 Minutes)
In 2012 four sisters were involved in an international custody dispute between their Italian father and Australian mother. Two years later, Tommaso Vincenti tells SBS Radio Italian he never received an explanation from the Australian government for issuing visas to allow his daughters to leave the country, without his consent. The government's "absolute silence (...) leaves a bitter taste in your mouth."
By
Carlo Oreglia / SBS Radio Italian

30 Apr 2015 - 12:05 AM  UPDATED 14 May 2015 - 9:40 PM

It was an international custody dispute that caught the attention of our national media in 2012.

Four girls, aged between 9 and 15 years of age, suddenly found themselves on TV and newspapers after a battle about their custody under the International Hague Convention.

Their Australian mother, separated from Tommaso Vincenti, a man from Tuscany, had taken their children in Australia for what their father thought would be a holiday.

Once down under, the mother settled on the Sunshine coast with the daughters for two years, with the intention of eliminating any contact with Mr Vincenti, then accused by the mother and the daughters of being a violent man.

The Australian Embassy in Italy was involved in this case for granting visas to allow the girls to travel to Australia with their mother without the father’s consent. Apparently, the Embassy believed the woman's version who claimed she was escaping from a violent ex-husband. 

In conversation with SBS Radio Italian, Vincenti said no Australian authority has explained or apologised for this consular decision:

"I have not received even half a letter, I don’t even mean an apology but rather one that explained the attitude they had. But this was to be expected, that I would never have received a letter or phone call in this sense."

Vincenti feels hurt by the way Australian Ministery of Foreign Affairs has dealt wth this: "It hurts, it hurts to know that institutions that represent a country, behave in a certain way and hurt and damage not only an Italian citizen but also four minors who are from your country, so we’re speaking of Australians, and then there’s absolute silence. It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth." 

The attempt by Tommaso Vincenti of bringing the children back home became a sort of dramatic soap opera.

The girls’ maternal grandmother disappeared for a week with two of them, before handing them back to the police.

On 3 October 2012 the girls were put on a flight to return to Italy, among tears and scenes of desperation, scenes that happened again once they arrived in Italy.

SBS tried to interview the mother of the girls, but she was not available.

In conversation with SBS Radio Italian broadcaster, Carlo Oreglia, Tommaso Vincenti reflects about how the facts developed three years ago  and how the girls arrived in Italy two and a half years ago, and how they are doing now.

 

(Interview in Italian)

 

Transcritpion in English

Father
The girls arrived devastated by everything… obviously, by the images that were broadcast, by everything that we saw and by all those months in which they were literally worn out by the entire situation. As my daughters have described it, the fact that they saw their story sold in the newspapers like this… it’s been a whole period in which they were clearly put under a lot of pressure. There’s no doubt the girls returned exhausted.

Interviewer
We also have other footage. It’s very raw footage; the Australian public was shocked to see footage from Italy when the girls arrived as they tried to cling to the gate of your house because they didn’t want to go inside. How did you react to this footage? What did it show the world about the image of your family? 

Father
Well, it is undoubtedly disconcerting footage. I can say that, in that predicament, it’s hard to reflect, it’s hard to stay calm and cool headed. It’s clear that they wanted a ‘scoop’, they wanted a reaction from my daughters. In fact, even in that very moment. the girls had just been contacted by phone in relation to how to react and how to behave. It’s obvious that this causes pain to any parent, to see your own daughters… I think that, with the means that I had… it wasn’t at that stage… I had shortly before contacted the police and social services to try and distance the journalists. I had asked the journalists to stay calm and wait at least for the girls to get settled in. In fact, they had only returned a few hours before. So, it was all fresh so this wasn’t easy to deal with. In that predicament, I tried to take the girls away to avoid having their image sold yet again, [the image of] of these girls who were suffering. To avoid having such suffering sold gratuitously. This hurt me, as it hurt the girls themselves.

Interviewer
And what’s more - the girls, at the time, were between nine and fifteen years old, so very young. How was your first meeting with them?

Father
Well, the first meeting with the little ones was moving. I saw them again, the first meeting after two years during which I hadn’t seen or spoken to them because this was the situation for me. It was impossible to speak to them, not so much because they didn’t want to but because my ex-wife didn’t want me to speak to them or communicate with them. I saw them again in Australia but when they returned to Italy, the little girls settled in straightaway. They were the first to start living again, so to speak. Obviously, the older ones suffered more from the whole business. It was much tougher and longer for them. A lot of patience was needed but everything considered, apart from all those dramatic, traumatic scenes that we saw, it was a happy occasion to see them again here in Italy and return to their home where they grew up and where they lived.

Interviewer
In the interview that went to air on the 60 Minutes programme, your two eldest daughters, Emily and Claire, admitted, whilst smiling but with somewhat gritted teeth, that their parents, therefore you and your ex-wife, acted a little egoistically. They thought of themselves rather than of their daughters.

Daughter (in program 60 minutes)
[English: It’s not our responsibility, but it was mum’s and dad’s to find, you know, the best way to, you know, live happily with both of them.]

Interviewer 2 (in program 60 minutes)
How do you think they handled that?

Daughter (in program 60 minutes)
Bad.

Daughter 2 (in program 60 minutes)
Yeah, maybe not in the best way.

Daughter (in program 60 minutes)
 I think they were thinking more about themselves than us, you know, because we were put at the centre of this whole situation and I don’t know, they were a little bit selfish, you know, because we went through all of this. I mean, they did as well but it was most hard for us than them [sic], cause, you know, they’re the adults.

Interviewer 1 
What do you think?

Father
I think that they said something true and accurate. The two parents acted like two perfect egoists. As far as I was concerned, I was determined to see it through to the end. I also had to take into consideration, I had to weigh up that they  would suffer because of this too but I think that from how things panned out, there was no other choice. If this is a fault of what I did [sic], I’ve said sorry to my daughters for this and I’ll continue to do so. I realise this. But I think that the girls were right about this, that their two parents acted like egoists.

Interviewer
Your own daughters said they didn’t want to return to Italy, in a video that was released, because, “we’re scared of our father”: hinting that you were a violent man.  

Daughter (in program 60 minutes)
The reason we don’t want to go with our dad in… back in Italy, is because we’re scared of him.

Interviewer 1
Later, again Emily and Clare revised their account by saying that they had exaggerated a little.

Daughter (in program 60 minutes)
The whole situation, that we were hiding and our story was on [sic] the newspapers and… I mean, if I think about it now, maybe I said stuff that… I don’t know, I exaggerated a little bit and that was just because I, you know, I was liking my life in Australia and that was just because I didn’t want to leave.]

Interviewer 1

How did you deal with these accusations? And did you speak about this with your daughters? 

Father
Well, I spoke to them about them on various occasions. I’ve always told them that whatever they said or did, their attitude, in my opinion,  is forgiven and it always has been. But this has always been the case and I’ve never felt any resentment because they were rightly angry, rightly peeved by the fact that their parents were at war and had dragged their children into it. So I never gave much weight to the accusations that were levelled against me. What did affect me was that they were sold like this without… without being questioned in this sense. Obviously, to hear them now say it’s not true doesn’t give me a sense of relief because I never suffered from my persona being used in Australia by the media, from this labelling of me as an abusive man.  

Mother (archive)
He’s a very scary man. I don’t… anyone who’s been in an abusive relationship perhaps will understand the fear that a person has over you [sic] if they are violent and they hurt you and they’re abusive. You’re always scared they’re going to do it again. And that’s the power he’s had over the girls and me.

Interviewer 1
These were the words your ex-wife, Laura, spoke to the press, the Australian media, in 2012. From when you entered the Australian media [sic], your image has come full turn. The first media reports were completely in favour of your ex-wife and depicted you as an [English: abusive] father, a violent father. But then, we come to last week’s report that was completely in your favour. Well, what do you think of this backflip? 

Father
Well, I see that in the end things have become pretty clear, in the sense that the truth came out. They stopped depicting only one side of this story and so, clearly also my daughters… I don’t think they wanted to defend me but they wanted to clarify things, not so much to do a favour to their father but for themselves. To clarify things in their lives, that this was not acceptable, to depict a father like this because it was useful for a cause. For me, little changes from all points of view, in the sense that as far as I’m concerned, I’m upset that my daughters have suffered and not for what was said about me. But, what can I say, it’s a relief to know that finally this story can be laid to rest. 

Interviewer 1
The Australian Embassy in Italy was involved in this case and was accused of granting the visa to your ex-wife to go to Australia without the father’s consent. This happened because they believed the version of a woman who was escaping from a violent ex-husband without checking up on it. Has there been any contact with the Australian embassy? Have they called you to clarify things? Has there been any legal procedure in this regard?

Father
Absolutely not. I have not received even half a letter, I don’t even mean an apology but rather one that explained the attitude they had. But this was to be expected, that I would never have received a letter or phone call in this sense. It hurts, it hurts to know that institutions that represent a country, behave in a certain way and hurt and damage not only an Italian citizen but also four minors who are from your country, so we’re speaking of Australians, and then there’s absolute silence. It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.

Interviewer 1
What’s the relationship like between your daughters: Emily, Clare, Christine and Lilian with their mother? 

Father
Well, the relationship… they speak everyday on the phone, they have skype appointments. The girls love their mum and it’s right that it be this way because they have a mother and they have to respect and love her notwithstanding that even their mum has done and has had her faults in all of this. The important thing is that they can continue to love her and I think that this, I hope that this is also the case for my ex-wife; that she continues to love her daughters also because they still need her.  

Interviewer 1
Thinking about the past, before your ex-wife and daughters escaped to Australia, what went wrong? What would you have done differently? 

Father
Well, thinking about the past, I have often thought about what I would have changed. I probably would have been less… how can I say it, less naïve, yes, that’s the right word, naïve. I should have perhaps stopped all of this from happening. Now, if you ask me how, this is an answer that I still don’t have. Some people said to me that I shouldn’t have allowed this trip, I shouldn’t have allowed this or that but in the end life throws up a whole series of events and getting them all right is nearly impossible. So, in one way or the other, it went this way. However, it’s obvious that the issue could have gone a different way, there could have been more communication between the parents - something that unfortunately doesn’t exist at the moment because my wife, sorry, my ex-wife, doesn’t want to speak to me. So, yes, more communication, more understanding, and an attempt to find the best solution for our daughters.