QUEENSLAND – A heartbroken Australian father took the astonishing step of turning to a team of former special forces soldiers to find his daughter who was taken out of the country to Thailand.
Stuart Dempster, from Brisbane, Queensland, was distraught when his ex-wife disappeared with his little girl and he faced a two-year battle to try to have his daughter, Natasha, returned.
Increasingly frustrated that his efforts to bring the now seven-year-old home through government agencies, Mr Dempster decided he needed to take more drastic measures.
He enlisted the help of a specialised organisation, made up of a group of ex-soldiers, to bring her back from Thailand.
‘After each failed attempt, I just kept saying “I can’t give up, she’s too precious”,’ Mr Dempster told Daily Mail Australia. ‘I would have done anything for her, as any parent would for their child.’
Stuart Dempster, from Brisbane, Queensland, was distraught when his ex-wife disappeared with his little girl and he faced a two-year battle to try and have his daughter, Natasha, returned.
In January 2013, the Scottish-born hurdling coach who now lives in Queensland was shocked when he came home to find his home empty and his wife and daughter gone.
He was devastated to discover his wife – a Thai national – had abruptly left the country, taking their four-year-old daughter Natasha with her to live with her mother.
‘I came back to an empty house. I was calling and calling but no one answered their phone,’ Mr Dempster told the Daily Mail.
‘I was in a panic, I was trying to figure out why it was happening. I tried but I couldn’t get to the airport on time.
‘That was it, she was gone. Natasha was gone. We weren’t even given a chance to say goodbye.’
Natasha was taken from Australia to Thailand to live with her maternal grandmother.
For almost 18 months, Mr Dempster desperately chased down every lead – appealing for help from the police, government agencies and from any legal measures possible – but to no avail.
Mr Dempster was forced to take such drastic measures after a photo of his daughter being held in a remote Thailand village was uncovered by Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI) a group of former elite soldiers that works on international cases concerning children who have been taken.
He clutched onto hope, despite struggling with loneliness after losing his beloved daughter.
‘It was just a horrible feeling – returning to an empty, dark house for two and a half years,’ he said.
‘When I used to come home, I’d open the garage door and Natasha would be there jumping up and down, saying “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”
Mr Dempster shares a close bond with his daughter Natasha and was devastated when she was taken away.
After months of planning, CARI was able to swoop in May this year and pluck young Natasha from the village and return her home.
The group also claimed Natasha’s family ignored repeated calls to return the young girl, and that Thailand Police were also contacted and refused to help.
‘It was insanely difficult to bring her home. There was little help from the law or government agencies. CARI is the real deal and the only ones who could help me. I’m so grateful the organisation exists,’ he said.
Mr Dempster faced countless major setbacks and lost thousands of dollars until he finally found a way to bring his little girl home.
‘The entire process was frightening. I had to confront all of my fears and just keep playing the brave card,’ said Mr Dempster.
‘The stakes were so high. Psychologically it was very stressful.’
He desperately wanted to make contact with his daughter to let her know he cared and loved her.
‘Natasha was told that she was leaving Australia for a week’s holiday, but was left wondering where Daddy had gone,’ Mr Dempster explained.
The turning point in his mission to bring his daughter home came when he made contact with the UK-based charity, which works with similar cases.
‘The organisation said Adam from CARI was the only one they trust,’ said Mr Dempster.
The struggle wasn’t over though. It was an extremely delicate operation with many failed attempts between January 2014 – when Mr Dempster first came into contact with CARI – until Natasha was finally returned to Brisbane this year.
Natasha is back in Brisbane with her father. She is pictured on a plane before she was moved from Australia
CARI, which describes itself as a ‘under the radar’ group, was formed by ex-Australian Army member and police officer Adam Whittington.
Mr Whittington said the group, which he founded in 1999 with ’10 guys, mostly ex-special forces ‘, uses ‘elite military and specialised police experience’ to save children from potentially horrific outcomes.
‘We were just having beers in a pub and heard about a bad abduction story in Indonesia and one of us said, ‘let’s go help’ – it was a joke at first, but then we started thinking about it and how to do it… and it has sort of gone from there,’ Mr Whittington said.
‘We have seen some horrible, horrible conditions while travelling around the world children who have been kidnapped either by a parent, or in a lot of cases now, human traffickers for child prostitution.’
The controversial organisation is committed to returning children to their rightful homes.
‘In Stuart’s case, we got some information and did a stake out that led us to Natasha. We recovered her by waiting for the right, safe opportunity to arise, which in this case was when Natasha walked outside the house.,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
Natasha, pictured as a little girl, with her dedicated father Stuart Dempster before she was taken
‘Stuart saw her, I gave him the green light and he ran over and picked her up. The bond between the two of them was incredible – you could see straight away in her face that she knew him.’
Mr Dempster says the moment he saw his daughter for the first time since her abrupt disappearance was ‘wonderful.’
‘It was so great to see her the first time after so long. She jumped into my arms,’ Mr Dempster agrees, explaining the immense relief he felt to see his little girl again.
But tracking her down was only half the battle, with Mr Dempster, Mr Whittington and Natasha forced to make their way across Thailand’s border in a boat before they could board a flight back to Australia.
‘We’ve done a lot of cases, and honestly the way the abductors acted in this one was completely selfish,’ Mr Whittington said.
‘Stuart was put through hell throughout all this, he did everything he could and was then left with no other choice but this to get his daughter back.’
Mr Whittington founded CARI in 2003 with ’10 guys, mostly ex-special forces’, and it uses ‘elite military and specialised police experience’ to return children from similar situations
Mr Dempster says the process was completely worthwhile and he is thrilled his daughter is happy and settled at home.
‘It was a heartbreaking process. I’m not a spiteful type of person, I did it because I knew I was doing the right thing for my daughter,’ he said.
‘I had to get through this bad part of it because I was doing it for the good.
‘I’m just so grateful she’s back in my life. I’m working to make sure she’s rehabilitated back into Australian life. I have people with me helping so I know and do everything I can to help her.
‘There were far more opportunities for Natasha at home with me in Australia than being stuck in that horrible place.’
Natasha was taken from Australia to Thailand in 2013 at the age of four. She is finally home, aged seven
Mr Whittington said: ‘It’s all about the children, that’s why we do this.’
He also described the amazing perseverance and ultimate success Mr Dempster had in getting his daughter back as ‘inspirational’ for other parents who have had their children taken.
‘It might take time, but your children are waiting and thinking of you,’ he said.
Mr Whittington has over 20 years experience working high profile missing person cases worldwide.
He was the lead investigator of an abducted and murdered British girl in Japan – one of the most high-profile abduction cases in Japanese history. Mr Whittington’s investigations helped identify a suspect who was subsequently sentenced to life in prison for eight rapes and murders of foreign women.
Operatives from Child Abduction Recovery International have recovered children in Indonesia, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Philippines, Japan, Russia, Pakistan, India, Turkey, Syria and UAE, as well as many other European, South American and African countries.