A former soldier turned child recovery expert has slammed Cleo Smith’s parents, calling the kidnapping “the most suspicious on the planet” and demanding a royal commission into her disappearance.
Adam Whittington, who was part of a A botched “child rescue” funded by 60 Minutes in 2016 also called the same show’s interview with Cleo’s parents on Sunday night “checkbook journalism.”
Six years ago, Whittington spent four months in prison in Lebanon after the failed attempt to kidnap the children of Queensland wife Sally Faulkner from her former partner in Beirut alongside journalist Tara Brown.
Channel Nine reportedly paid $2 million for Brown’s exclusive interview with Cleo’s mother Ellie Smith and stepfather Jake Gliddon, which aired Sunday night.
The couple opened up during the hit TV event about the online abuse, and even threats, they received from people falsely alleging they were involved in the disappearance of the four-year-old .
Cleo Smith (pictured) was kidnapped on October 16, 2021 and rescued 18 days later on November 3. She had been abducted by Terence Kelly, a local man whom neither her mother nor her stepfather had ever met.
Former soldier Adam Whittington (pictured) called Cleo Smith’s kidnapping case ‘suspicious’
Cleo was kidnapped on October 16 last year and rescued on November 3 after an 18-day search.
On January 24, Terence Darrell Kelly pleaded guilty to abducting 4-year-old Cleo, which quickly concluded the child abduction case against him.
Speaking in an interview with Gold Coast Sea FM radio station, Whittington, the founder of Project Rescue Children, said the Channel Nine special was “an absolute disgrace”.
“I think that’s a clear exploitation of Cleo. It shows again that Channel Nine and 60 Minutes are the leaders in checkbook journalism.
“They did (sic) the same thing in Lebanon, paying half a million US dollars to a kidnapper, and here they are again paying $2 million, which is extraordinary in this situation… a case that is the most suspicious kidnapping case in history”. the planet,” he said.
Cleo’s mother Ellie Smith (pictured right) and her stepfather Jake Gliddon (pictured left)
Whittington, whose charity was investigated by Kenyan police over allegations of exploiting local children to raise money from foreign donors, said Kelly was a ‘scapegoat’ .
“I think there is more than the scapegoat who is in prison, who has just admitted that he is guilty of what they are trying to frame him on.
“But I think he’s not too smart, he couldn’t have done it himself and there are a few people who are quite rich now while he’s in jail.”
Whittington, who was convicted in Sweden last year of molesting two teenagers, said he was ‘absolutely bombarded with disgusting comments, all negative towards the parents for taking the money’, when he wrote about it on Instagram.
“There are so many suspicions about this case and I really believe there needs to be a royal commission because nothing adds up in this case – contradicted statements from police and parents and things that get swept under the carpet,” he said.
Cleo’s mother Ellie spoke on 60 Minutes about the hateful messages she received from strangers when her daughter was kidnapped, with some people accusing her or her partner of being involved.
“They have no idea what the situation is, but they still had the (the audacity) to send us a message and accuse us,” she said.
“You get these messages. They had never met me. Some people have no idea who we are.
“It just confirmed to the world that there were such terrible people who could write these messages.”
Adam Whittington has questioned Cleo Smith’s kidnapping case (pictured)
Whittington also took issue with how Cleo would cope.
“The way Cleo was found and the way she’s driven so far, I’ve dealt with so many kidnapped children, trafficked children, exploited children, serious cases.
“None of them want to be in the media and jolly and happy like Cleo. So there are too many things in the case that will hopefully one day (come out),” he said.
Whittington, whose team was directly paid $115,000 by 60 Minutes to cover the costs and expenses of Lebanon’s botched ‘rescue’, said ‘$2 million (apparently paid to Cleo Smith’s parents) is astronomical’ .
“I believe this is Australia’s highest paid interview…and for a story that just doesn’t make sense, it’s even worse.”
Police officers involved in the search for Cleo Smith are seen leaving Carnarvon, 900km north of the capital Perth in Western Australia on Friday November 5, 2021
One of the radio presenters encouraged Whittington, saying: “It’s a strange inducement structure, and you’d hope it never happens, but it now seems like an incitement to fabricate child abduction because you become famous and you get money.
“That’s kind of not what we should be pushing our society towards. It makes you uncomfortable.
Whittington responds by raising the case of missing daughter Shannon Matthews in the UK.
“There was actually a case in the UK, exactly the same, and eventually the parents were arrested, charged with fraud and they are now in jail. Exactly the same situation,” he said.
“I have many followers in the UK and they’ve all been bombarding me with messages, and that’s exactly the case.”
On January 24, Terence Darrell Kelly (pictured) pleaded guilty to kidnapping Cleo Smith
“I hope I’m wrong, and if I’m wrong I’ll raise my hand, but there are too many questions in this case.”
Amid all the hateful messages Cleo’s parents received over her disappearance, her mother Ellis said there was “so much positive too…with such great stories”.
“You know, people were messaging and being so sweet,” she said.
Mr Whittingdon’s comments about Cleo’s parents come after his own organization was investigated by law enforcement in Kenya.
Kenyan police have claimed a center their charity claims to be funding is ‘not registered or operational’, the official said. Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Kenya’s Criminal Investigations Directorate wrote a letter to the Australian Embassy, saying: “The organization has not saved a single child from child trafficking and sexual exploitation as claimed on their website.”
He continues: “After further investigations, it has been established that the organization takes pictures of children in the street, when they go to fetch water in [the] river and download[s] these images on their website without regard to the protection of their identity. »