He is a balding, bespectacled postal worker with a penchant for knitted jumpers. His wife is mousy and slightly nervous-looking. Their home is a neat detached house on the outskirts of the sleepy market town of Ramsey in the Cambridgeshire Fens, where they lived ordinary-seeming lives with their two young foster children. That was until 13 September last year, when Jeff and Jenny Bramley switched off the lights, locked the doors, drew the curtains, bundled Jade and Hannah into the back of their car and drove off into the night.
The Bramleys' flight from authority is like a modern-day fairy- tale, with the public casting the couple as righteous outlaws defying the social workers who would have them hand back the children they love. Yet in Ramsey last week the rights and wrongs of the case were rather harder to pin down.
The area the Bramleys left behind is most people's idea of an ideal environment in which to bring up children. The house is set on a peaceful, well-planned estate called The Malting. There is very little traffic, and plenty of open green space in which to run around in safety. The estate backs on to open countryside. In the Bramleys' back garden stood a toddlers' red plastic slide. A pair of child's fluorescent-green hair-clips containing wisps of blonde hair had been left on the windowsill of the front room. By the front door a plant was slowly dying. Childcare experts have suggested that the house appears too pristine. Vivian Hill, a child psychologist at the London Institute of Education, says: "The place looks so squeaky clean for somewhere that has children. Even the slide in the back garden is positioned perfectly straight. It doesn't look like a house that has the normal rough and tumble of a home with young children." Ms Hill believes that this reflects too much of a controlling aspect to the Bramleys. Certainly Cambridgeshire social services felt that the couple - who had become foster parents to five-year- old Hannah and three- year-old Jade in March last year - should not be allowed to keep them any longer. The authorities cannot go into details of why they thought the Bramleys were unsuitable to bring up Jade and Hannah, but, according to Ms Hill, "there is a suggestion that the parents were over-obsessive with the children". The Bramleys departed The Malting in the same manner as they had lived; quietly and without drawing attention to themselves. Private people who did not mix with their neighbours, they were seen as dedicated, loving parents. ONE of the few people who knew the Bramleys well was a near neighbour, Susan Gray. She was one of several local people, including their vicar and GP, who provided the couple with references in preparation for an abortive legal battle against Cambridgeshire social services' decision that they could not adopt Jade and Hannah. Mrs Gray, 36, told the Cambridge Evening Telegraph: "I wrote a letter saying they were very loving parents and that the children were very well looked after. They were always dressed nicely, and the children had plenty of interaction with other children. I was also amazed by how many toys the girls had. "My daughter, Kayliegh, used to play with their children and they were very happy. They appeared like a normal family, and at first I didn't know the girls were fostered. It was a complete surprise when they disappeared because we had been on outings together." Other Ramsey residents say they accept the Bramleys have done something wrong but their real anger is aimed at the Cambridge social services. Michael Armstrong, a local historian who is well known in Ramsey, says: "I think everyone feels the Bramleys have made a big mistake, but they also really don't like the social services who have a very bad reputation." In the Jolly Sailor pub on Ramsey's main thoroughfare the lunchtime drinkers were more blunt. "Do-gooders who do no good, they should sack 'em all," said one of them. …