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Women's shelter workers converge on courtroom

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12:26 CEST+02:00
A courtroom in Eksjö was filled to bursting on Thursday morning by representatives of various women's shelters who had come to support three of their colleagues accused of helping a woman to hide her two sons from their father.

For almost six years, the boys' father was denied access to his children despite having sole legal custody.

The boys' mother, claiming that their father had sexually abused them, fled with her children to a women's shelter in Tranås in southern Sweden.

The shelter took her in and helped her to find a place to live. The children were subsequently sent to school, where they were permitted to use false names.

Two hours before the beginning of the two-day trial, women from shelters all over the country began queueing outside the district court. The three defendants, as well as the former headmistress of a school in Tranås, all risk prison sentences if found guilty as charged.

"The punishment is the same for an accessory as for the actual perpetrator of the crime," prosecutor Erik Handmark told the court.

The woman at the centre of the case previously received a ten month prison sentence.

All four of the women have pleaded innocent. They claim not to have known that the woman's husband had sole custody of the two children or that she was wanted by police.

The defendants also rejected the husband's claim to compensation. He has demanded a total of 50,000 kronor in compensation from the defendants, 20,000 kronor from the headmistress and 30,000 from the women from the Tranås shelter.

One of the defendants' lawyers, Anna Björklund, pointed out that the children's father had already received compensation in connection with the mother's conviction.

Many of the women streaming to the courtroom on Thursday morning had to be turned away at the door.

"When I arrived at 7.30 this morning there were around thirty people waiting outside the door," said caretaker Sylvia Karlsson.

Among those in attendance was Ireen von Wachenfeldt - controversial former chairwoman of ROKS, an umbrella organization for Sweden's women's shelters.

"We want to lend our support. This is a historic moment," said von Wachenfeldt, who is concerned about the possible implications of the trial.

"Should we not be allowed to protect women?" she asked.

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