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Guardian Weekend – Why Molly Ran

Heartbreak can be a palpable thing. It made Louise Campbell shake uncontrollably. Slurring and weeping, her eyes made lazy by sedatives, Campbell was so devastated that she only just managed to explain that her 12-year-old daughter, Molly, was the cause of it. Her ‘loveable little girl’ had last been seen two days earlier on August 25, 2006, talking to strangers at the school gates. With that Louise folded into the arms of Kenny Campbell, her boyfriend, transforming the press conference into one of the most pained of the year.

At her shoulder, sombre and purposeful, was Chief Inspector Murdo Fraser. The police officer from Stornoway, the Balamory-esque capital of the remote Isle of Lewis, a close-knit community in the Outer Hebrides, isolated by Atlantic squalls from the mainland 40 miles away, took up the story. Murdo confirmed that his officers were liaising with Interpol, the Foreign Office and child abduction experts. It was not the usual business for the Northern Constabulary whose biggest problem on an island where public houses were separated by miles of peat bogs and gorse banks, was drunk drivers.

However, Murdo’s men had quickly gathered the available evidence. Molly Campbell had vanished, taken from the Isle of Lewis aboard a British Airways twin-prop bound for Glasgow. There she had been spotted with an unidentified man and woman, boarding a Pakistan International Airlines flight for Lahore. Photographs of a lost girl from the Isles, giggly and in her navy school uniform, were broadcast across the world.

Facts were facts. The mother said so. The police said so. It was bizarre, terrible and also, somehow, a little unbelievable. There was a theatricality about the press conference and the improbable story of a Scottish girl taken by child catchers to Pakistan. Campbell herself had struck an indefinable tone that, perhaps unfairly, engendered suspicion. She had over done it. Gone loopy on TV, appearing almost mawkish, transforming her collapse into a ‘Big Brother’ moment.

If there were any doubts over the nature of the crime, they were ironed out when Louise’s mum, Violet Robertson, waded in, telling the Daily Record that her granddaughter had been kidnapped to become a child bride in Pakistan. Robertson backed her theory by revealing that Louise had got hitched to Sajad Rana, a British man of Pakistani descent, many years before. Their relationship had fallen to pieces, leaving both parties embittered, Violet claimed. Characterising her former son-in-law as an Islamic fundamentalist, Robertson also insisted that Louise had been forced by him to convert to Islam and subjected to physical and mental abuse during 16 ‘unbearable years’ of marriage.

This was a crime ripe for reporting – especially given its backdrop. Lewis was an historic settlement renowned for the autumnal shades of its world-famous Harris Tweed. It revelled in the unreconstructed Christianity of the Wee Frees, a church that shunned state interference, whose congregation still embraced the bible in its entirety. It was a religion that suited the outlaw feel of the Outer Hebrides where there was no such thing as a pub lunch on a Sunday, only sober contemplation. The island where Sabbath day observance was mandatory was a refuge from the ills of the 21st century with a crime rate almost one third lower than the average for Scotland.

However, even here, on the edge of the world, where faith and the inclement clime threw residents into each other’s arms, children were apparently not safe. What made it worse was the hint of a much-hyped ‘clash of civilisations’, with Pakistan fingered as ultimately to blame for the vanishing of a 12-year-old Scottish schoolgirl. There had been no escaping the impact of Pakistan on British life since 9/11, and particularly so in 2006. An inquiry into the bombings of July 7, 2005 had found that those responsible were under the influence of Pakistani controllers. Dame Eliza Manningham Bulla, the head of MI5, the British Security Service, warned that she was dealing with 30 similar plots, and tracking the movement of 1,500 jihadis, most of whom came from the million-strong British Pakistani community.

Now, following Louise Campbell’s real-time TV breakdown, it was as if the tentacles of a warlike Islamic culture had seized Molly in their grip. Nowhere was safe.

Then Molly emerged. But if her appearance was calculated to dampen the story, it had the opposite effect. Filmed strolling down a street in Lahore, the footage confirming that the 12-year-old was indeed in Pakistan, the first indication, publicly, that Molly was even alive, she was shown hand-in-hand with a large, bearded Pakistani man in traditional kurta pajamas. She was now dressed in a pink shalwar kameez and pointedly told reporters that her name was not Molly Campbell. She was called Misbah. She was with her father Sajad. And she was not coming home.

She insisted, with her dad ever-present, that she had not been abducted. Speaking with a broad Scottish accent, she described her life at her mother’s stark council flat in the tiny Lewis fishing village of Tong as a ‘living hell’, and that she had escaped to be with her older sister Tahmina, 18, and two brothers, Omar, 21, and Adam, 16. Sajad Rana too had a message, saying that Misbah had fled a ‘lunatic fringe of white racists’. Had there been some kind of unsavoury witch-hunt back on Lewis?

The truth was difficult to determine. What was being portrayed in Stornoway as child abduction, was, four thousand and twenty six miles away, in Lahore, being described as the emancipation of a daughter.

The two sides would only become more divided. Lawyers in Lahore, who readied to go to the Sharia court – one that adjudicated upon Koranic law – pronounced Louise Campbell an apostate for living in sin with Kenny Campbell, with whom she had recently had a daughter, Rachel. Suggestions that Louise could even face the death sentence for life choices made in the UK, should she travel to Pakistan for the court case, were made by the same lawyers who argued that ‘no Muslim girl’ should be placed in a culture that ‘encourages promiscuity’. The Daily Record sent a volley back. ‘Here in Scotland, it’s Scottish law that counts,’ the newspaper advised. ‘And in Scots law, Molly is too young to decide where she lives.’ Which if any of these versions was true? The case of the girl known as Molly and Misbah set the British public on edge and the UK’s Muslims on the defensive.

However, in January 2007, Louise Campbell, suddenly and surprisingly renounced her rights to Molly/Misbah altogether. She claimed that her priority now was her new baby, Rachel. The saga appeared to die without the real story ever having been aired, of how a relationship that blossomed in the Eighties on the mean streets of Ibrox, between two young people without a religious bone in their bodies, had by 2007 disintegrated to the point at which they were unable to agree on something as simple as their daughter’s name. And how that journey mirrored a dramatic transfiguration of multi-cultural Britain that lurched from an age of tolerance to mutual suspicion before falling to pieces in hatred.

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