The Irish writer who lived next door to the family of Ashya King
Published 01/09/2014 | 02:30
It is hard not to have sympathy for Brett and Naghmeh King - who took their five-year-old son, Ashya, from hospital without doctors' consent.
Brett and Naghmeh King are now in police custody and the little boy, who has a brain tumour, is being cared for in a Spanish hospital pending his return to Southampton General Hospital, from where his parents took him last Thursday. Interpol issued a red alert for the missing boy and a European Arrest Warrant was issued for the parents, who were accompanied by their six other children.
I was a neighbour of the Kings, who for more than 10 years have lived in an apartment at Casares del Mar, a beachfront development outside Estepona on the Costa del Sol.
Brett and Naghmeh King introduced themselves to my family and asked to see our small apartment in the complex.
Shortly afterwards they bought a one-bedroom apartment on the first floor facing the Mediterranean while Naghmeh's parents bought a larger two-bedroom duplex in the same block.
As the King family grew - they now have six boys and one girl aged between 23 and two - they moved into the larger duplex, while the King grandparents used the smaller apartment.
The Kings quickly made their Jehovah's Witness beliefs apparent by hanging placards with biblical quotations over their balcony and placing similar boards on the windscreen of their people carrier.
Casares del Mar is run, according to Spanish law, by a community association. This draws up the community rules to ensure that everyone behaves properly and looks after common areas, such as gardens and swimming pools.
The Kings made no attempt to integrate into the community. They were on passing acquaintance terms with most of the residents, including myself, and had no close friends at Casares del Mar.
They made their presence felt, however, by their noisy behaviour at the pool and by the almost incessant noise from their apartment.
Casares del Mar is a picturesque development 50m from the beach, with views across the Mediterranean to Gibraltar and Morocco.
The residents are a mixture of Irish, Spanish, British, Dutch and Germans - and the Kings had several run-ins with many of their neighbours.
The Kings regularly attended the Jehovah's Witness community in nearby San Pedro de Alcantara and they would disappear for several weeks at a time, mostly back to Britain.
On one occasion they spent almost a year in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The boys attended a local school on the Costa del Sol and on their return from school would regularly be seen jumping in and out of the community pool to a cacophony of sound.
Brett King was often seen on his terrace with his laptop and using his mobile phone, but the family rarely entertained outside visitors.
Interpol issued a red alert after gardai tipped them off that the Kings owned a property in Spain. On Saturday night the Kings were finally found as time was running out for the seriously ill Ashya. The King parents are now in the hands of the Spanish police, and the Spanish judicial system is notoriously slow and bureaucratic.
There are an estimated 250,000 British expats living on the Costa del Sol. For many the attractions are obvious - over 300 days of sunshine a year, a cheaper cost of living, only two and half hours away from Britain and the availability of anonymity if needed.
Some of the expat community use Spain's southern coast to escape unwanted baggage - broken marriages, unpaid taxes or fines and sometimes more serious criminal offences. The King family did not fit in to any of these categories, but their Jehovah's Witness beliefs set them apart from the run-of-the-mill expat community.
For the Kings, the Casares del Mar urbanisation offered a relatively inexpensive place to live in idyllic surroundings. The unfortunate illness of Ashya threw the Kings into the limelight, despite their best efforts to escape.
It was inevitable, given their connection to the Costa del Sol, that they would travel there once they made the decision to flee Britain.