A lesbian mother changed her name and packed homemade banana bread before crossing the Channel in a dinghy to smuggle her children into Britain.
Lauren Etchells, 33, triggered an international manhunt when she left her wife in Canada and took her son and daughter to start a new life with her ‘sperm donor’, who fathered one of them.
After years in Spain, she was arrested in July after making the Channel crossing in a 13ft inflatable dinghy with her children, aged three and four, and her parents Brian and Angela, both 67.
Lauren Etchells, 33, (pictured with ex Tasha Brown and Kaydence) triggered an international manhunt when she left her wife in Canada and took her son and daughter to start a new life with her ‘sperm donor’, who fathered one of them
The group had travelled 14 nautical miles from Portbail, France, before landing on a beach in Jersey.
Yesterday a court was told the family spent two years plotting their journey to the UK after identifying the Channel island as a stepping stone.
Miss Etchells’ parents even made a three-day trip to Jersey to research potential landing spots and observe bus routes and tide patterns.
Mr Etchells told Jersey Magistrate’s Court how he later plotted the information he found in a spreadsheet. He said: ‘We looked at navigation charts and built a database to tie the tides between the two places together.’
Mother-of-two Miss Etchells, who is on trial with her parents for child neglect, told how the family had packed ‘sandwiches and homemade banana bread’ for the crossing.
They also had the children fitted for life jackets and took a Garmin GPS device, worn around Miss Etchells’s neck.
The family, originally from South Shields, Tyne and Wear, spent two-and-a-half years in Alicante, Spain, before moving to Portbail to carry out their plot.
The court yesterday heard that Miss Etchells – who is still wanted by Canadian authorities for defying a court – had changed her legal surname to her middle name ‘Ann’ to avoid detection. She told the court: ‘The kids were fine and happy and interested in the journey, asking for ice cream when we got there.
‘I was in a situation in Spain. We were in Alicante and I went back for the children’s education.
After years in Spain, she was arrested in July after making the Channel crossing in a 13ft inflatable dinghy (pictured) with her children and her parents
‘I told the police I was Lauren Ann. I legally changed my name. I said I was there to see Jersey and visit for the day, possibly two or three days.The children’s passports were not with me, I was protecting my daughter and did not want to be in a position where I would have to hand it over.
‘It was part of the plan to be able to move without using a name that was known. It was not to deceive, it was just to avoid questions.’
In his evidence to the court, Mr Etchells said: ‘We had to find a route obviously trying to avoid being stopped by anybody and the best way was to come through Jersey and get a ferry across to the UK.
‘The Canadian courts had brought out an arrest warrant for Lauren and myself so we did not use passports.
‘We started planning it [the journey] two years prior to us needing to move.’ Under cross examination from police advocate Simon Crowder, Mr Etchells claimed the voyage was no riskier than a ‘road trip’ with children. He said: ‘We were striving to secure a future for [the] children. As a father, it was my duty to protect [them] to the best of our abilities.
‘I think that we accomplished that. It was not a fool’s errand at all. There were no problems.’
The court had previously heard from expert witnesses that there were ‘no circumstances’ in which the family should have made the trip.
Miss Etchells, who had moved to Canada with her parents, ran off in 2016 with Marco van der Merwe, who was said to have been the sperm donor for her second child with wife Tasha Brown.
They also had a daughter, Kaydance. Etchells and her parents face up to 12 months in jail if found guilty.
The trial continues.