Pontefract woman 'stolen' as four-year-old reunited with family 53 years later

Susan Gervaise, front left, visited her Pontefract family to celebrate her 57th birthday. Credit: Glen Minikin

A woman who was "stolen" by travellers at the age of four has been reunited with her family 53 years later.

Susan Gervaise, 57, disappeared in 1969 when a traveller family offered to take her from her home in Yorkshire to Disney World in Florida with their own children.

Instead she was taken to Canada, Australia and New Zealand by the couple, who told her she had been disowned by her family.

It was only years later she discovered the truth – and after an appeal on Facebook she managed to track down her real siblings in Pontefract.

Susan said: "When I spoke to my family they were crying hysterically because I was alive.

"It gives a message to anybody who has lost somebody that miracles do happen. There is hope."

Born Susan Preece, Susan had a difficult early life with her six brothers and sisters in an old vicarage on a travellers' site. But she was promised a dream holiday after her mother was befriended by a traveller family.

Susan Gervaise was born Susan Preece.

"We weren’t travellers," she said. "My mum was on her own and we were all in and out of foster care.

"I was befriended by a couple on the site who were from Scotland, the woman had MS and they had two sons. I think they wanted a girl.

"They asked my mum if they could take me to Disney World and she gave them my birth certificate so I could be put on their passport.

"Instead, they took me to Canada then Australia and later New Zealand. This was always their plan."

Susan, who now runs a charity with her traveller husband Hamilton, found out she was stolen when she was 16 after trying to get a passport to return to Australia from New Zealand.

"I applied, but I needed a signature from my mother or father - that's when dad told me they didn’t adopt me, I had been stolen," she said.

"The enormity of what happened to me didn’t hit me, I just carried on with my life.

"It was only when somebody who was adopted asked me what my family back in the UK would be feeling and that was a lightbulb moment for me."

Susan Gervaise, second right, is now a grandmother of four. Credit: Glen Minikin

Hamilton put out an appeal on the Knottingley and Ferrybridge Community Facebook page and, within 30 minutes, Susan's family were found.

While her mother had died, she found out that all but one of her siblings still lived around Pontefract. She flew to the UK to meet them for her 57th birthday.

Her niece, Emma McFadyen, said: "We never thought this would happen. It’s been amazing – especially for my mum. She has Parkinson’s and dementia, so it’s amazing she’s been reunited with her sister before she deteriorates. She’s now complete."

Now a grandmother of four, Susan said she had a "cherished upbringing" with her kidnappers and was "spoiled rotten", but admits she does not know why they never faced a police investigation while they were alive. They have since died.

Susan said: "To this day we don’t know why the police were never involved. I’m thinking it must have been because my mum gave them permission to take me and the fact we were in and out of foster care.

"But there have been several appeals through Missing Persons over the years and my mum continually returned to the traveller’s site after moving away to look for me."

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