Liz Bonnet contacted the Sunday Mail to offer her first-hand experience with the girls, aged nine and 11, who have been under the protection of the Social Welfare Office since their mother abandoned them over a month ago.
Bonnet is a former veterinary nurse who met the family when the girls’ mother decided to set up an animal shelter in her home as a means of making extra cash.
“To be honest, I can’t believe this story didn’t come out sooner,” she said yesterday. “This woman is wicked. It is absolutely disgusting what she has done to those girls.”
According to Bonnet, about two and a half years ago, the family began running an animal shelter at their home. People used to take their pets there before going on holiday, while others just dumped strays on them.
“I visited their home in my capacity as a veterinary nurse to oversee the animals, as I heard she was running a charity and I wanted to help,” Bonnet explained.
It was during one of these visits that she was asked to clean the girls’ bedroom. “The rubbish in these children’s room reached up to my shins; when you went to pick something up from the floor, it was covered in animal faeces,” she claimed.
Bonnet said she was appalled at the way the girls were being treated. Being a mother and grandmother, she said she could not fathom “how anyone can treat their children like that”.
One of her worse memories was when her husband had to break into the mother’s car in mid summer to get the eldest daughter out. She had been locked in there for almost two hours “as punishment” while her mum drank in the pub. “The poor little girl’s face was red from the heat.”
Neighbour Linda Rich told the Mail earlier this week that the children used to be locked in their rooms for up to 12 hours with no food or water, using the floor as a toilet. They were also constantly bullied and ridiculed at school because they smelled so bad, and were allegedly made to sleep in the same room as their mother while she was having sex with strangers.
Gerard Rotteveel, the girls’ father, is now trying to take his daughters back to Holland. This is proving a hard task as it is extremely difficult to award the father full custody while the mother is not present. He is also in danger of being charged with kidnapping, if he takes them without the mother’s consent.
“There is no one who will dare to make a decision to let us go,” Rotteveel said yesterday. “Everybody tells me that they have to work carefully and that these legal procedures take time, but there is no one who cares about the wellbeing of my children; welfare says they are safe now and we just have to wait!”
Following their divorce, the girls’ parents had been awarded joint custody. However, their mother moved to Cyprus with them four and a half years ago, blocking off all communication with their father.
Efforts to achieve better access through British courts took so long Rotteveel decided to set up a website in the hope that his children came across it and made contact with him.
Instead, “other people found my website and told me that my children were being neglected very badly,” the distraught father explained.
When he was told by the Dutch authorities that they could do nothing, as he had agreed to let them go to Cyprus and it therefore did not constitute kidnapping, he contacted the Cyprus Welfare Office, which told him it was already on the case.
Now they are trying to receive approval to get back to Holland and as normal a life as possible.
“In September, they have to go to school,” said Rotteveel. “First they must see a doctor, dentist and maybe some professional help for them.”
He added, “They need to rest and time to settle down in Holland. And so do I. I have heard so many stories and facts that even I need some rest.”
Here are just a few of the “facts” Rotteveel – who has nothing but praise for the Cyprus authorities and especially the police – heard his children tell the Welfare Office:
l “Mother took the children to pubs, in their school uniforms and when it became late she let them sleep in her car, in some occasions she let some drunk man sleeping in the same car.”
l The children were bullied in three schools and ballet class because they stank.
l In three years they haven’t been to a doctor or dentist. “when [the eldest daughter’s] glasses broke, her mother simply told her that she didn’t need them any more because her eyes were healed.”
l The mother caused a car accident driving drunk while her children were in the car.
l On another occasion, “When [the mother] was so drunk she was unable to drive any further, [her eldest child] had to drive the car back home; it was an automatic and she knows exactly how to drive those cars.”
l The two little girls started cooking for themselves when the eldest was just eight years old.
l The mother tried to strangle her eldest daughter and only stopped when her phone rang.
l The girls were treated with dog shampoo to get rid of head lice, fleas and ringworm, which resulted in an allergic reaction and infections on their scalps.
l The children were in the same bedroom and sometimes in the same bed while their mother had sex with strange men.
l The mother let them drink beer and whine. “The children know all pubs and bars in Limassol and know exactly what you can get there and which people are hanging around.”
l The mother’s boyfriend stabbed the eldest girl on the leg with scissors when she failed to bring him his camera. Asked who took care of the wound, the child said “no one, I helped myself with tissues and tape and no one spoke to me.”
l “Some days the children were locked up in their room whit out water, food, toilet the whole day.”
“I am really frustrated that when you do everything by the book and according the law it takes so long and judges don’t think of the wellbeing of the children,” says Rotteveel. “for driving a car you have to pass a big test and for many other things in life, but every idiot can have children!”
By Jacqueline Theodoulou, Cyprus Mail, July 20, 2008