The “tumor boy” saga, as the tabloids called it, has gripped Britain for days: Against doctors’ orders, Brett and Naghmeh King removed their 5-year-old son from a British hospital on Thursday and then disappeared. An international manhunt followed for the parents and their child, Ashya King, who is suffering from a severe brain tumor. In issuing a worldwide arrest warrant, police officials “made it sound like a kidnapping,” CBS News said.
As it turned out, the Kings wanted their critically ill son to receive an alternative tumor treatment that wasn’t available to them at the British hospital. They had gone to Spain to find funding for the treatment, according to the BBC, and wanted to then go to the Czech Republic to obtain it.
They were arrested in Spain “on suspicion of cruelty to a person under 16 years of age,” the Associated Press reported. A Spanish judge considered extradition. Ashya, now separated from his parents, was admitted to a hospital.
But on Tuesday, British authorities withdrew the international arrest warrant and the Spanish judge ordered the couple’s immediate release, the Guardian reported. The couple left the prison near Madrid on Tuesday night and headed to a hospital in Málaga, five hours away, where Ashya was receiving urgent care.
Officials confirmed that the Kings have since been reunited with their son, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. The saga hasn’t ended, though, as the family’s legal status remains murky: Ashya remains a ward of court in Britain, the Guardian reported, so a family court there has to approve any major decisions about his treatment or movements. “However,” the Guardian noted, “there is nothing in the court order which prevents the Kings visiting Ashya in hospital.”
The case has riveted Britain, where sympathies for the Kings grew and more than 200,000 people signed a petition calling for the boy to be reunited with his parents. High-profile supporters from soccer legend Gary Lineker to Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg spoke out on the family’s behalf.
“The treatment of Ashya King’s parents is inhuman on every level,” the Sunday Mirror declared. Two days later, the Mirror’s front page upgraded its assessment: “BARBARIC.”
Even Prime Minister David Cameron entered the fray, coming down on the side of the Kings and calling for the prosecution to be dropped. “It’s important this little boy gets treatment & the love of his family,” Cameron tweeted on Tuesday, shortly before the Kings were released.
Outside the prison near Madrid, Brett King said he hadn’t realized how much support his family was receiving from Britain and beyond because, he said, “they wouldn’t let us watch TV” during his three-day detainment.
The saga began last week, when Ashya’s parents took him out of Southampton General Hospital against doctors’ orders. Authorities issued the international warrant in hopes of finding the child, police said.
In a video posted online Sunday, Brett King explained why he and his wife took Ashya out of the hospital, where doctors had just removed a tumor from his brain. They went to Spain to sell property in order to pay for proton beam therapy in the Czech Republic; King said such treatment would be better than radiation for his young son, adding that his family begged doctors in the British hospital to offer it, but that they refused. In addition, King said, doctors told him and his wife that if they continued to question their son’s treatment, authorities would intervene with an emergency protective order.
Proton beam therapy uses charged particles instead of X-rays to deliver radiotherapy for cancer patients. It focuses on the diseased tissue, causing less damage to surrounding tissues than with high energy X-ray treatments. King was concerned the radiation recommended by Aysha’s British doctors could damage could have negative long-term effects, including secondary cancers and mental damage.
Proton beam therapy is only available to treat eye conditions in Britain, but the country’s national health system will pay for patients to get the treatment abroad in some cases, according to the BBC. Patients must be deemed suitable for the treatment by a panel that determines whether it would be of clinical benefit to them. Between 2008 and 2013, 412 patients in the national health system received the treatment, according to the Telegraph.
In the video, Brett King also said that his son was receiving proper care out of the hospital and expressed concern that he and his wife had been called kidnappers by British authorities.
King told reporters Wednesday that the hospital in Southampton knew he was going abroad and that, he said, “I wasn’t happy with the treatment.” He added: “They treated us like terrorists. They handcuffed me and my wife.”
But the hospital insists that while there was disagreement over treatment, the Kings never said they were leaving with their son; Peter Wilson, a doctor at the hospital, told Sky News that “when we found that he was missing from the trust, we were at first slightly surprised, and then very, very worried.”
That’s when they contacted police.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Proton Therapy Center in Prague confirmed that it had received complete medical reports from Southampton General, where Aysha was being treated, and said that he is now a candidate for treatment, according to the Guardian. (According to the Kings, Aysha’s doctors had previously refused to send the records.)
But, the Guardian added, the boy needs to first return to England to receive two cycles of chemotherapy, which “are expected to take several weeks.”
The Czech spokesman said proton therapy was suitable for children, specifically for Aysha’s type of tumor.
In a Monday hearing in Madrid, the Kings contested their extradition to Britain, and the court ordered the couple to be held up to 72 hours, Agence France-Presse reported.
Then, on Tuesday, British authorities said the warrant was no longer needed since the boy had been located.
“Ashya King’s parents FREED by Spanish judge – but there’s no apology for arrest heartache,” read a headline from the Mirror.
Police defended their handling of the case. “If they had ignored professional medical advice then they would have been negligent,” Simon Hayes, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire, said in a statement.
“The authorities who have been involved in this case need to hang their heads in shame,” Ashya’s grandmother, Patricia King, said, according to the Daily Mail.
Ashya’s aunt, Tracy King, said the treatment of her family had made her “ashamed to be British.”
[This post has been updated.]