A mother who ran away with her seven-year-old son, preventing him from having urgent cancer treatment, has spoken of the domestic heartache surrounding the breakdown of her marriage.
Sally Roberts, who ran away with son Neon a year ago, has said the time surrounding the high profile case had also seen the end of her relationship with the boy’s father, Ben, who was having an affair with musician Michele Adamson.
She said old friend Michele haunted the couple’s fledgling relationship and subsequent marriage and eventually moved into their home in Devon.
Throughout the ordeal, Sally has always maintained a dignified silence - until now. It followed a decision by close friends and relatives, on the first anniversary of the police hunt for her and Neon, to tell the truth behind the public image.
Ben and Sally have been locked in a protracted legal battle after a court ordered Neon should be taken into the care of the NHS in December last year in order to undergo compulsory treatment.
She was effectively branded a witch for her beliefs in complementary and alternative therapies which she felt would mitigate the effects of debilitating radiotherapy Neon needed after surgery to remove his brain tumour.
Police took the unusual step of releasing a picture and making a nationwide appeal for help in finding mother and son after they vanished three weeks before Xmas 2012.
The pair were found 48 hours later in East Grinstead, Sussex, where Sally had taken Neon for treatment in an oxygen chamber – and he was removed into the care and control of the Court of Protection.
What did not become clear at the time was the full family circumstances in which Sally found herself – trying to come to terms with a bizarre marriage breakdown as well as fighting for her son’s life.
Ben, 35, the son of former actor and wealthy hotelier Christian Roberts, has known Michelle for about 15 years since he met her in Barbados when she was in a long term relationship with the brother of a close friend.
Sally, 38, was born and brought up in Auckland, New Zealand, by her English mother Lillian and her Kiwi father, Don, who worked for Air New Zealand.
The two met in 1999 in London when she came to Britain to follow her love of music and technology, particularly computer-based composition and mixes, and enrolled on a sound engineering course.
They began a relationship and in 2000 moved to North Tawton, near Okehampton, in Devon, where they found their dream home – an 800-year-old, five bedroom, detached property called Week Barton.
Twins Neon Luca and Elektra Lily were born on April 2005, in hospital in Exeter.
Sally and Ben were convinced things would last and married in November 2009. But less than three years later their dreams lay in tatters when he confessed to an affair with Michele.
A musician, Michelle was often on the road but when she was back in England she would often stay with Ben and Sally sometimes for extended periods of up to three months.
In May 2011, she moved into an accommodation annexe above the recording studio Sally and Ben had built in a former stables at Week, which they renamed Mysteria, to make and record their own music.
Finally in May 2012, Ben confessed after being confronted by Sally. He immediately left the marital home but only moved across the courtyard into the stables with Michele.
A friend of Sally’s said :“It was an intolerable situation for Sally. They suggested she should leave but she was determined to try and keep things going for he twins. She did her utmost to carry on as normal.
“It was absolutely heartbreaking watching the kids though because they were bewildered at what was going on. They would ask why Daddy was living with another woman and was she going to become their Mummy too.”
In October 2012, the house was finally sold and Sally and Ben and Michele went their separate ways. But the weekend they were moving out, Neon had been diagnosed and underwent surgery.
The relative explained: “Sally was under the most phenomenal pressure. Her marriage had fallen apart as a result of the behaviour of a woman who she had welcomed into her home.
“On top of that her seven-year-old son was fighting for his life and she had to be strong for him too. Where she found that strength I don’t know but she did. She was incredible.”
Towards the end of the summer of 2012 Neon had been complaining of a stiff neck, blurred vision and kept bumping into things. First meningitis, then scarlet fever and even tonsillitis were suggested causes.
Eventually, on October 24th, he was referred to the Bristol Children’s hospital where he underwent an MRI scan. Within 24 hours he was having a medulloblastoma removed by surgery.
None of the domestic background emerged in the High Court hearings where Sally unsuccessfully challenged the accepted wisdom of conventional surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy for cancer.
Back in North Tawton, the pieces of the jigsaw finally fell into place. One former neighbour said: “We always thought the set up at Week was a bit odd. We knew Sally was there but we knew Ben was seeing someone else.
“The two of them were as bold as brass. They would walk through the village hand in hand, sometimes with their arms around one another and they were even spotted kissing in public.”
Sally now lives in Brighton with her daughter Elektra. She was approached for a comment about the real story which had been carefully pieced together, she said: "I am not prepared to lie.
“Ben and Michele have in a relationship for more than two years now. They embarked on that relationship in our marital home and while I was still married to Ben. He finally admitted to me he was having an affair in May 2012. It was an awful period in my life."
Sally's mother Lillian, who has moved nearby to stay close to her daughter, admitted she had confronted Ben about his affair in early June 2012.
She said: "I asked him what the hell was going on. I'm afraid I can't repeat exactly what he said but he told me it was none of my business and to get off his property. I said I wasn't going to leave because it was supposed to be the marital home and Michele shouldn’t have been living there."
Her father, Don, added: "It was heartbreaking to witness what was going on. We only lived a mile up the road from our daughter and it was obvious what was happening between Ben and Michele."
Michele, who answered the door at Ben’s home near Farnham, was asked about her affair with Ben. She replied: “Oh God. I am going to have to say no comment.
“We came here in the hope that we would avoid media because we wanted to create a safe environment for Neon and I am shocked at you appearing at my doorstep. Please leave.”
But she continued: “I don't know what to do. I'd rather put my side forward, I'd love to put our side forward but the stance of Ben and his family is that this is a private matter and not for media or anyone like that and I have to respect his wishes. There's no way you can speak to Ben.”
When asked whether her relationship with Ben was the reason behind their planned divorce Michel added: “That's not true, totally not true. Now I've asked you to leave.” She then shut the front door.