A young girl who had been on the run with her mother for four days was uplifted by authorities at the Whakapapa skifield last week.
The mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, lost custody of her daughter more than a year ago. She took the girl from school for the skiing trip, breaching a court order, and the authorities spent several days trying to find them.
"I was desperate," the mother said.
When the mother and her daughter were finally found, they were on the ski slopes at Mt Ruapehu. Video footage supplied to the Herald on Sunday showed two police officers at Whakapapa trudging through the snow, following behind the mother and her daughter.
The girl was crying and pleading with her mother: "Why do I have to go? Please, mummy don't let them take me away. No, no, no, I don't want to go."
"I told my daughter I loved her," the mother told the Herald on Sunday. "Even the social workers had tears in their eyes."
She is speaking publicly for the first time now, she said, because she believes the Family Court system is "completely and utterly broken".
The girl's grandfather, who has day-to-day care of her, told the Herald on Sunday the girl was abducted from school against a court order.
"We had no idea she had gone to Whakapapa," the grandfather said. "This poor little girl, she was absolutely distraught, she should not have been subjected to this ordeal, it's terrible.
"This whole thing is a travesty. Here's a little girl enjoying herself in the snow and then she's taken away by the police and two social workers. She doesn't know what's going on. You would think any mother would have thought of the ramifications."
Before the Covid-19 lockdowns began in March last year, the mother was embroiled in an acrimonious custody dispute with her former partner and his parents.
"The primary allegation was I was using methamphetamine but I have been able to squash that over and over again with numerous drug tests," the mother said.
Her house had been broken into and a P pipe and an empty bag with traces of methamphetamine were discovered by police.
The mother is adamant she has never taken drugs and said the drug paraphernalia was not hers. She was never charged with any offences and had drug tests which were negative.
Video footage and photos seen by the Herald on Sunday appear to show the woman's ex-boyfriend holding a P pipe, and her daughter's father licking a cannabis plant.
When police discovered the P pipe and an empty bag with methamphetamine residue in the house, the girl's grandfather made an application to the courts for day-to-day care.
"He came over with a policeman and claimed, 'We have a warrant to take [the girl] for day-to-day care and it will only last a couple of weeks'," the mother said. "But in a legal parenting agreement in 2019, it stated we would have a meeting, go into mediation, and then go to court to finalise everything but he went straight to the courts.
"I am not fighting the father, I am fighting the grandfather. He is wealthy and has a lot of power," the mother said.
The mother claimed she wasn't allowed to see her daughter for eight months because of Covid and lengthy court delays.
"I missed her birthday, I wasn't there for her first day at school, and I missed out on her losing her two baby teeth. I am her mother, her legal guardian, but I don't have day-to-day-care - it's unfair and heartbreaking."
The mother, a teacher, was distraught that she has the support of her students, their parents, and her employer, but is not trusted to care for her own daughter.
"My partner, his ex, and their wider family trust me with their three children, work is fully aware of what's going on. I said to them, 'if you don't think I am a safe person then please fire me.' "
After the mother was told by the Family Court judge it was going to take another six months for him to make a decision about who should have primary care for the child, she became "desperate".
She meticulously planned the day she would take her daughter from school and discussed the idea of a holiday with her daughter the week before she took her.
"I emailed them informing them [the girl] was in safe hands. I had pre-planned it; I'd met the teacher the day before. I had a rundown with friends about what classes were happening, when the assembly was and where my daughter was going to be.
"I told my daughter we were away for a week. I said, 'If you want to come with mummy that's fine you can come, but if you don't that's okay so I'll give you a hug and a kiss.' She jumped and said, 'Mum, let's go.' "
The mother was entitled to supervised visits with her daughter every two weeks at a location run by a childcare provider.
"We sit in a cold dark room where I am supervised on a play date with my daughter," the mother said. "I am not allowed to discuss anything about my daughter's emotions. I have recordings of her saying how unsafe she felt.
"The last time she whispered in my ear, 'Mummy, I don't want to do this any more.' Every child should be encouraged to say how they feel, the system is telling me I can't parent my child the way a parent is supposed to."
The grandfather said the supervised visits stopped because the mother had issues with all the supervisors.
In a reserved judgment the previous week, an interim contact parenting order was made for the girl to spend up to one week of each school holiday period in the care of her father, who lives overseas, subject to certain conditions. The mother denied this was the reason she took her daughter out of school.
"No, not at all, she couldn't go because of Covid. We had a parenting agreement that was signed in 2019 by my daughter's father and me that she was to spend a week with her dad but with what's gone on they know I would be more than likely be stopping any contact because my daughter has been out of my care for 18 months."
The woman met the father's child overseas. They decided to return to New Zealand to start up their own business, but this never eventuated. The woman came back to New Zealand with her daughter and the father remained overseas.
"He told me he was enjoying the bachelor lifestyle and never came back. We were back for two years then I found out he was cheating on me so we broke up.
"I have a recording of the father saying I am a fantastic mother, that he loved me and would never do anything to hurt me.
"I want the grandfather to back off. He's all about power, money, and control. She is a beautiful girl with incredible confidence. She's been put into a traumatic situation where her father and mother can't care for her. An elderly grandfather and an old step-grandmother who has never had children have the care for my daughter. She is isolated from her friends and isolated from life. She has told me she is scared. It's disgusting."
The mother and partner were in daily communication with the police. They sent videos and photos to prove the girl was happy and safe.
When the police and social workers turned up on the mountain the mother was tempted to do another "runner", she said, but she decided against it because she knew it was wrong and felt she has made her point with the authorities.
"We discussed it as a family, I knew what the implications were. I think I've made enough noise now so many people will find a voice in what I am doing. Hopefully, we can create change in the Family Court to recognise what it is doing is wrong and not in the best interests of the children.
"It's like you are living in a small box screaming at the top of your lungs, 'where have I gone wrong?' I question myself every day."
On Friday, the grandfather made a protection order against the mother and her partner.
He said: "Every mother should be with her child but you need to find out the full circumstances in this case. I have never felt such a strong emotion, I am highly upset at the mental state my granddaughter is in. Everyone should stop pulling each other apart and think about this poor little girl."