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British couple sues over arrest in St. Pete Beach

The pair had faced child abuse charges, later dismissed, for leaving their young children alone in a hotel room.


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2000

CLEARWATER -- Customers constantly drop by Philip Adam's antique shop -- not to buy anything but to hear details about how he was taken to jail last year for leaving his young children unattended in a hotel room during a family vacation in the states.

His wife, Jill, a university lecturer in child education, faces questioning glances by those in her profession for the incident that attracted international headlines last year.

Now, the prominent Yorkshire, England, couple want to make the St. Pete Beach Police Department pay for their arrest, which inadvertently made them British celebrities.

On Friday, the Adams filed suit in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court accusing the department of false imprisonment, battery and failing to train and supervise the arresting officer. They are seeking damages in excess of $200,000.

"They're still reeling from the arrest," said attorney John Trevena, who represents the couple. "They really want the entire story told."

Prosecutors dropped child abuse charges against the couple, saying their actions -- leaving their two young children at the Tradewinds Resort to go to watch nearby fireworks -- did not rise to the level of a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

The dismissal closed a case that a member of British Parliament promised would have mushroomed into a "minor international incident" had it moved to trial.

The Adams, who Trevena said have been inundated with letters of support, declined to comment this week.

But the couple told the Times last year that the arrest was a result of cultural differences between Americans and Brits.

Fueling the controversy is the fact that the Adams are members of a prominent British family. Mrs. Adam's father, Sir Lawrence Byford, 73, is Her Majesty's former Chief Inspector of Constabulary, the nation's top police post.

"They're definitely cheering on the other side of the Atlantic," Trevena said Friday.

The lawsuit names the Police Department and Capt. Joe Cornish, then the acting police chief, who supervised the arresting officer, Sandra L. Hughey. She resigned shortly after the arrest.

James Yacavone, an attorney representing the department and Cornish, said Hughey had probable cause to arrest the couple.

"I'm not unsympathetic," Yacavone said. "But given facts of the case, as I understand them, it's just going to be legally tough for them to prevail."

The Adams settled a suit with Tradewinds in December for an undisclosed amount of money, Trevena said.

On May 30, 1999, the Adams left their then 1-year-old son, Daniel, and 5-year-old daughter, Maisie, sleeping in their room so they could watch a fireworks display poolside about 100 yards away.

While they were gone, the fireworks awoke their daughter, who left the room and tried to get into her grandparents' room next door. But the door locked behind her. Unable to get back in, she began crying hysterically until a stranger found her and called hotel security.

Security called St. Pete Beach police, who arrested the Adams on child abuse charges when they returned.

The couple spent the night in the Pinellas County Jail before being bailed out.

St. Pete Beach police defended the arrests, saying the children could have gotten hurt. But police later agreed the charges should be dropped because the Adams had learned their lesson.

To be charged with child abuse, a person must place a child in a situation that a reasonably prudent person would realize creates a serious jeopardy: for example, a parent who leaves a child in a car without air conditioning and with the windows rolled up on a hot day.

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