In the child rescue game, there are two rules: Don’t do anything stupid and don’t embarrass the industry.
In a busy street in Lebanon on Thursday morning, one of the industry’s biggest players appears to have broken both rules. At least, that’s what his competitor will tell you.
“Do they think they are the SAS taking Bin Laden off the street? It was bizarre,” Col Chapman told news.com.au, referring to a failed sting by his main rival.
The sting, masterminded by Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI) boss Adam Whittington, was supposed to go off without a hitch. The agency was accompanied by a 60 Minutes crew including reporter Tara Brown.
60 Minutes Australia Producer Stephen Rice. Photo / Supplied
They were trying to bring home the two Australian children of Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner but it didn’t go that way.
Mr Chapman, who runs CARI’s main rival Child Rescue Australia, went to town on the failed rescue attempt in a series of interviews with Australian media on Monday night and Tuesday morning.Instead, after grabbing the children from their grandmother, the group was detained and are still being held for questioning.
“Doing it in a busy street, underneath CCTV cameras … I don’t know if you saw the footage but that’s horrific what the kids were exposed to,” Mr Chapman told ABC radio.
David Ballment sound recordist for 60 Minutes Australia. Photo: David Tangles Ballment/Facebook
“They were spear-tackled almost into the back of the car. I’m very critical of it, as you can guess. (It was) very amateurish, very dangerous.”
He said the TV crew were lucky not to be shot given “guns are everywhere” in Lebanon.
In an interview with news.com.au, Mr Chapman said it was reasonable for people to question his motives given the two groups have clashed in the past. But he insists his comments are professional, not personal.
“Yes it could appear like a go at my competition but it’s constructive criticism and it’s factual.”
The back and forth is nothing new. Mr Chapman, who was at the centre of one of Australia’s other most high-profile child abduction cases – the so-called Italian sisters – has received his fair share of criticism.
Ben Williamson Cinematographer at 60 Minutes. Picture supplied via LinkedIn
In a blog post written in December last year, CARI labelled his organisation a bunch of “cowboys”. The AFP too has questioned Mr Chapman’s operations, which include tactics involving disguises, sedation, weapons and car chases, according to Fairfax Media.
On Thursday, when it all went wrong for Brown, Ms Faulkner and the child rescue specialists, Mr Chapman said he received a call for help from the mother-of-two, begging him to step in and fix things.
In a series of text messages exchanged between Mr Chapman and Ms Faulkner, he offered an opportunity for the group to escape but says it was rejected.
In one text, Ms Faulkner asked Mr Chapman: “Is there any way your team could do the recovery and get the money later. I know 60 will pay up if it means I don’t do the rest of the story and I get out.”
Mr Chapman responded: “Sorry Sally, not getting far with them” and “60 refusing to pay for the boat. They’re relying on (Foreign Minister Julie) Bishop to get them out.”
He told news.com.au his organisation has a policy of not working with the media because of problems like the one faced by the Nine Network and Ms Faulkner.
“The two are not symbiotic,” he said. “We don’t work with media on the job. For them, it’s a production, a big thing. We run child recoveries so we don’t care about anything except the recovery. TV crews are very much committed to their own agenda.”
Meanwhile, a hearing scheduled for Monday night in Lebanon where the 60 Minutes crew were expected to learn their fate was postponed, according to Nine News.
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has spoken with her Lebanese counterpart about the case, but the Australians will be on their own if it comes to court proceedings.
“The 60 Minutes crew and Ms Faulkner are being held as part of an ongoing investigation. We understand they will be able to apply for bail as part of Lebanese legal procedures should charges be laid as part of the investigative process,” the spokesman said.
“The Foreign Minister has spoken to Lebanese Foreign Minister Bassil concerning the detained Australians. The Government is not able to intervene in another country’s court proceedings, just as we would not accept intervention in our own court proceedings. No charges have been announced at this point.”