Acourt in China has offered the parents of a British man murdered by his Chinese wife the heartbreaking choice of whether to take one of his two young children home to the UK while leaving the other behind.
Ian and Linda Simpson, from Suffolk, are fighting for custody of both Jack, 8, and Alice, 6, who have been living with their maternal grandparents in the Chinese countryside since their father Michael, 34, was stabbed to death in March 2017.
The couple, who travelled to Nanzhang, central China, for a custody hearing this week, have said they do not want to “split the children.”
The siblings are reported to be unaware of what has happened to their parents. Weiwei Fu, their mother, is currently serving a life sentence for killing Michael at his apartment in Shanghai while the couple was going through an acrimonious divorce.
Originally from Wimborne, Dorset, he had moved to China seven years earlier for high street retailer Next, to oversee its expansion. He met Weiwei at work and the couple married.
In the year before his murder, they had been living apart and the children reportedly staying with Michael more than with their mother.
His parents have been fighting for custody of the young brother and sister since his death, but his father told BBC Look East that the judges were not giving them “a lot of choices” and were pushing them very hard to agree to a compromise.
The Simpsons have rejected the suggestion of splitting the children since it was first raised last July and they fear that Jack and Alice are forgetting their father as they have been cut off from his relatives.
“The family have let us see the children once in 21 months,” said Mr Simpson. “We cannot call them, we cannot send them gifts, we cannot send them cards… they won’t speak to us.”
He added: “Weiwei, when she was visited by the judge in jail, said she wanted the children to have a better life than she had,” he said. “We can give them a better life – and the Fu family have admitted that’s true.”
They have promised to keep teaching the children Mandarin, keep in touch with their Chinese family and visit annually.
In an earlier interview with the BBC, Mr Simpson explained how they had hoped to negotiate with Weiwei’s relatives to forego financial compensation and to offer official “forgiveness”, which would have cut her sentence in half.
The Simpsons have since accused her brother of refusing to make a deal and instead demanding a payment of £60,000 in exchange for the children.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was offering consular assistance to the family.
“We continue to support the British relatives of Michael Simpson at this difficult and trying time. The Foreign Secretary has raised the case with the Chinese Foreign Minister and we have helped his family visit their grandchildren. Our staff remain in close contact with the Chinese authorities,” said a spokesperson.
Kerry Brown, director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College London, predicted that “this kind of quandary is going to become more and more frequent” because of the rise in marriages and divorces between Chinese and non-Chinese citizens.
“The court in China has given almost a Solomon’s choice. Either you split the family up or you keep them all together in one place,” she told The Telegraph, describing the proposed solution as “arbitrary.”
In the meantime, the Simpsons are facing the difficult challenge of raising thousands of pounds to cover legal fees and friends have set up a Just Giving page to contribute towards the costs.