A nationwide hunt is under way for a South Gloucestershire mother who has gone into hiding with her 10-year-old son after care proceedings were launched.
Kelly Jefferies, 42, and her son Knox were last seen on July 28 after leaving their home in Patchway – three weeks after court proceedings started.
Police investigations have been unable to find them but they may have initially travelled to the Oldham area.
A family court judge has taken the unprecedented step of holding a hearing in public to help find Ms Jefferies and Knox.
Judge Stephen Wildblood QC said he was doing this out of genuine concern for Knox, to help Ms Jefferies “appreciate the seriousness of the matter” and encourage witnesses to come forward.
He explained social workers had expressed concerns about the boy’s welfare and South Gloucestershire Council began care proceedings on July 2 this year.
“The mother says she has removed herself and Knox from what she calls the statutory jurisdiction,” the judge told the hearing at the Bristol Civil Justice Centre.
“She has expressed ideas in copious letters to many people, including the court, that raise serious concerns about her mental health.
“She has not allowed Knox to be educated adequately or afforded the opportunity to socialise.
“On July 28 the mother went into hiding with Knox and her whereabouts and of Knox are not known.
“They raise obvious concerns about how Knox is being accommodated, how financial provision is being made for him and similar concerns.”
Knox’s father lives away from the family home and only has a “limited relationship” with his son.
The court heard a number of attempts had been made to “engage” with Ms Jefferies but they proved unsuccessful, with the local authority wishing to assess Knox due to his “home circumstances”.
Ms Jefferies attended a family court hearing on July 16 and “attempts were made to encourage her to engage with proceedings”.
“Unfortunately, that attempt failed and so it was on July 28 I was asked to make an emergency protection order,” he said.
“By that time, it appears the mother and Knox had gone into hiding.”
Further proceedings took place on August 4 and again a week later when various witnesses – who had been summoned to attend – gave evidence to their knowledge about the disappearance.
Lucy Reed, representing the council, said: “The local authority regrets this matter has escalated in the way that it has and acknowledges that Ms Jefferies is very probably feeling anxious and that is probably also the position for Knox.
“Unfortunately, the local authority and the police are left with very limited options and Knox and his mother have been missing for nearly three weeks.
“The local authority wishes to secure Knox’s return as soon as possible. The local authority is hoping that members of the public will be encouraged to appreciate why it would be in Knox’s best interest for them to assist.
“We know Ms Jefferies is very anxious about the involvement of the local authority and rejects that, but she also needs to know the court is in charge of these proceedings and will ensure a fair process for her.”
At Tuesday’s hearing, friend Kelly Pope was recalled to give evidence after financial links were uncovered between her and Ms Jefferies.
Ms Pope told the court that Ms Jefferies had given her a bank card and Pin number to withdraw £20 in return for driving the pair to the bus station on the morning of July 28 and said she would be returning in two weeks.
“She said social services were trying to take Knox off her,” she said.
“I asked her why and she said it was because she doesn’t send him to school.”
When police began investigating the disappearance, Ms Pope admitted she had lied to officers about not seeing them because she was “put on the spot”.
“I had realised there was something wrong by then, but I didn’t at the time,” she added.
Ms Pope told the court that days before the disappearance her friend had transferred £1,000 into her bank account to repay debts accumulated over several years.
The cash, along with the bank card, was inside her home after withdrawing it from the bank, Ms Pope said.
She denied having any contact with Ms Jefferies or Knox since July 28 and denied intending to give her the money back.
Miss Reed suggested Ms Pope’s evidence was “implausible” and warned her the judge could jail her if he found she had lied to the court.
Ms Pope replied: “It’s true.”
After she finished her evidence, Judge Wildblood told Ms Pope she was under a “continuing duty” to provide information about the missing pair to the police or council.
The hearing was adjourned to a later date.