Sally Faulkner with her children. She was arrested for trying to kidnap them.
The fate of an Australian mother and the 60 Minutes TV crew in Lebanon could be decided today, with the start of a hearing for 10 people facing charges of kidnapping, causing harm and disrespect for authorities.
Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner will front up at the Babda Palace of Justice in Mt Lebanon, Beirut, alongside 60 Minutes reporter Tara Brown, senior producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson, sound recordist David Ballment, three local men and two Britons.
It is expected to be the first full day hearing after Judge Rami Abdullah yesterday read lengthy testimony provided from the prosecutor, including formally filed motions of charges, which can carry anything from three years to life in jail.
Lebanese news service the Daily Star reports the charges could lead to 20 years’ jail time. Alternatively, the judge could downgrade the charges following the interviews.
At the end, when asked if they were getting out, one of the Channel 9 crew members sombrely said “I wish”.All the accused declared they wanted a lawyer yesterday, so each spent five minutes before the judge with the exception of the children’s mother Sally Faulkner, who spent longer answering questions.
Brown, wearing a salmon coloured blouse was brought before the court in handcuffs and held by a female military guard shortly after 1.30pm local time.
She spoke to the judge privately with the children’s father Ali Elamine, who is the accuser in the case, a prison guard and Mr Amin’s lawyer Hussein Barjaw. Brown and one of her crew were then handcuffed together and led away by uniformed officers shortly before 2.30pm.
Clockwise from top left: Tara Brown, David “Tangles” Ballment, Stephen Rice and Ben Williamson. Photos / Facebook
“It’s fine thankyou,” she told News Corp Australia when asked how she was coping.
Earlier, Ms Faulkner, wearing an urban military style shirt and thongs, was brought in. She looked distressed and began crying in the corridor outside the judges, particularly when she realised her estranged husband was also standing in the corridor just three metres away.
Today, the judge will decide whether he will uphold or dismiss the charges and/or grant bail, pending further inquiries.
If he rules the latter, the group may all have to remain in Lebanon pending a trial or further investigation.
The four are among nine people to have been charged in the case, which centres on last week’s bungled snatching of two children from a school bus stop in the southern Beirut suburb of Hadath.
Speaking outside of the court to News Corp Australia, the children’s father Ali Elamine expressed his dismay at the situation.
“It is a big mess, a really big mess, 100 per cent,” said Mr Elamine.
“The children are good, they are in good health and that is all that matters not the media not what happened, but it (CCTV of the botched operation) is for everyone to view.
“But the children, I’ve calmed them down as much as I can. It was a bit rough and tough. The manpower … it went wrong in places.
“It is a mess, all of it. She (the children’s mother Sally Faulkner) could have gone about it in a different way, not like this.
“What happened shouldn’t have happened and the kids should not have been put in a situation where someone could have been harmed; the kids should not have been dragged into this.”
When asked whether there were other ways for child access and whether he was allowing the mother to see the children, he said: “100 per cent correct.”
His 69-year-old mother was slightly injured amid the failed operation to recover the children.
“She is coping, but it wasn’t great for her,” he told News Corp Australia.
It is understood the father, who works as a water sports instructor in Beirut, had always taken the children to school, but on the day of the ordeal he had a booking for four people wanting windsurfing lessons.
“It may not have happened if I was there,” he said. Earlier the court heard one of three Lebanese men charged in relation to the case is local taxi driver Hamza Mohamad, who allegedly allowed
his home to be the safe house sanctuary for Ms Faulkner and her two children.
He has told Judge Abdullah that he was contacted by his brother in Sweden and simply told to collect a Western woman and take her back to his house.
“She said I don’t have anyone here, I don’t know anybody. I am just from Australia and I have come to get my kids,” his told the judge in private testimony.
His lawyer has told the court he was not aware of any custody dispute or prior incident of the capture of the children.
But it was from his house that internal security forces recaptured the children after their father established contact with his estranged wife, which police were able to trace.
The Australians have been held at the Baabda Detention Centre in Beirut, close to the Palace of Justice where their case is being held.
The Nine network has played down reports that it had launched an internal investigation into the involvement of its flagship current affairs program in the recovery operation amid unconfirmed reports the network paid a six figure sum to a controversial child recovery agency.
“We are co-operating fully with the Lebanese authorities and it is important to stress that we respect the laws of Lebanon and its judiciary,” said a spokesperson.
“We want to see our crew and Ms Faulkner return home safely as soon as possible and we are working with a respected Lebanese legal team in Beirut to secure this outcome.”