For exiled mum Leigha Collins, it was the saddest Christmas.
Separated from her oldest son Alfie, two, and thousands of miles from home as she battles over custody of her youngest, Hayes, the only present that mattered in Malta was the few precious few minutes on the phone with her family in Fife.
She had to watch Alfie open his presents on a video call as she remains on the Mediterranean island with his little brother, Hayes.
Leigha, 19, could not even bear to put up a spray of tinsel never mind a Christmas tree in the single room in a hostel which has been her home since April when she was dragged back to Malta by her violent ex Kyle Borg.
She said: “It is Christmas and Hayes deserves to enjoy it like all the other children so I have tried to seem happy for him but inside my heart is breaking.
“Being here while Alfie is at home, waking up on Christmas morning without his mum, is hard to bear. I couldn’t hug him, tell him what a good boy he’s been, and watch him and Hayes playing together with their new toys.
“Seeing him on a video call was the only way I could share the day but, after it ended, it was even harder. Those memories have been taken from us forever.
“I’ve never been apart from the people I love for so long. All I want is for this nightmare to be over so we can come home to Scotland where my boys will have the best chances in life and the happiest upbringing.”
Leigha has lost count of the number of times she has been left to cry herself to sleep at night, wishing she could see her boys reunited, or hug her parents who are traumatised with worry. She said: “I don’t think I’ve slept a night without tears. I can’t remember the last time I laughed.”
Leigha fled Malta after becoming fearful of Borg’s violent temper and drug use. Furious that Leigha would not return, he told her she could return to Scotland as long as he did not need to pay a penny for his son’s upkeep. But in April, Borg, 21, received Legal Aid to go to the Court of Session to claim Leigha had “abducted” her own child and demanded he was returned to Malta until custody could be decided.
Lord Brailsford ordered Leigha back to Malta, unaware Borg had already pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm and despite a global pandemic and restrictions on travel.
Despite being sentenced to pay thousands of pounds over the assault and ordered to undergo a three-year drug rehabilitation programme, Borg now gets access to Hayes several times a week.
He now refuses to pay accommodation costs for Leigha and Hayes in Malta, and the young mum has had to pay the costs of pursuing him through court for the £40-a-week maintenance for his son. Back home in Scotland, Leigha’s mum and dad, Cerry, 40, and Dougie, 42, bought Toy Story models for Alfie, and sent games for Hayes to open on Christmas Day.
Leigha said: “The highlight of our day was the few minutes we got on FaceTime so the boys can open their presents together. There was no big dinner in the single room we call home. Apart from the presents for Hayes, it was just another day.
“I’m not sure I’m brave enough to watch other families celebrating Christmas here without breaking down and feeling sorry for myself so far away from everyone I love.
“If I could have just one Christmas wish, it would be for Hayes and I to be back in Kinghorn where we belong, so both my boys would have the best chance of happiness and best possible childhood.”
Cerry, who has been promised a meeting with Nicola Sturgeon, is working three jobs to pay Leigha’s legal bills, and said: “Any system that orders a mother to be parted from her child is cruel and cold.
“The deeply damaging, lasting effect of being forcibly kept apart, on both Alfie and Hayes, will never leave them. Things have been happening in Malta that would never be tolerated in Scotland for a single moment.”
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