Thomas Sørensen, the father of five-year-old Oliver, was sentenced to twelve months in prison by a court in the Austrian city of Graz today.
The 41-year-old Sørensen was convicted of unlawful imprisonment, child abduction and serious assault for going to Austria on April 3 and taking Oliver out of the car belonging to his Austrian mother, Marion Weilharter, while she was dropping the boy off at kindergarten. A co-conspirator held Weilharter down while Sørensen grabbed Oliver and subsequently drove him back to Denmark.
In emotionally charged testimony, Weilharter told the court that she had to watch as Sørensen grabbed a petrified Oliver from the car.
“I tried to scream, but I couldn’t make a sound,” Weilharter told the court.
The custody case has been going on since 2010, when Weilharter, who held sole custody of Oliver at the time, left Denmark for Austria and took her son with her. A Danish court later gave Sørensen custody of Oliver while an Austrian court did the same for Weilharter.
Sørensen continued to contend that he had done nothing wrong and that he, not Weiharter, should have custody of Oliver.
Sørensen’s Austrian attorney, Barbara Prasthofer, told Austrian media that while the couple lived in Denmark, Oliver’s father had been completely involved in the boy’s life.
"When Oliver then went to kindergarten, he had the overwhelming support of his father,” said Prasthofer. “He worked at home as a computer engineer while the mother worked outside the home at a company, so he was Oliver’s primary caregiver.”
The judge in the case disagreed, saying that Sørensen’s actions had “traumatised the child”.
A child psychologist called by the mother’s attorney – not as an expert witness by the court – agreed with the judge.
“There is no doubt that the child is severely and permanently emotionally traumatised by the manner in which it was separated from the mother,” the psychologist said, adding that the negative consequences of Sørensen’s actions could plague Oliver even into adulthood.
Sørensen denied that Oliver was suffering emotional distress and questioned the psychologist’s method of diagnosis which was done by comparing videos of Oliver while he was with his father in Denmark to those taken while the boy was living with his mother in Austria.
Oliver’s father claimed that the boy received psychological support while in Denmark. The Copenhagen Post has received an email from Oliver’s mother saying that he received no counselling for the five months that he was in Denmark.
Sørensen said that he will appeal his conviction.