Australia 60 Minutes producer sacked over Lebanon 'kidnap' case

Stephen Rice with his arm around Tara Brown, in an airport, pushing through a crowd of people with microphones Image copyright EPA
Image caption Producer Stephen Rice (seen here with reporter Tara Brown) arrived back in Australia in April after being released on bail from prison in Lebanon

The producer of an Australian TV programme has lost his job after his team was accused of kidnapping two children involved in a custody dispute.

The 60 Minutes team hired agents to grab the children from a street in Lebanon, where their mother said they had been moved without her permission.

Producer Stephen Rice will leave Channel Nine immediately.

An inquiry by the station concluded that "inexcusable errors" were made in the planning of the documentary.

Other staff have been given formal warnings.

The mother and four members of the TV team were arrested and imprisoned after the incident. They were released on bail, but two British men and two Lebanese men continue to be detained.

Seized on the way to school

The Australian mother of the children, Sally Faulkner, says her estranged husband Ali Elamine moved their six-year-old daughter Lahala and four-year-old son Noah to Lebanon from Australia last year without her permission, something he denies.

In April, Ms Faulkner and a TV crew from 60 Minutes went to Lebanon to cover her story.

The crew allegedly filmed the children being seized as they headed to school in southern Beirut on 6 April with a domestic worker and their paternal grandmother, who says she was knocked to the ground.

Ethical cloud hangs over freed 60 Minutes Australia crew

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The children's grandmother says she was knocked to the ground during the abduction
Image copyright Lebanese TV
Image caption CCTV footage broadcast by Lebanese TV showed the children being bundled into a car

Mr Rice, cameraman Benjamin Williamson, sound recorder David Ballment and reporter Tara Brown were charged with kidnapping, physical assault, hiding information and criminal conspiracy.

Ms Faulkner was charged with kidnapping and belonging to a criminal gang.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The TV crew and Sally Faulkner (C) were taken to Beirut's airport after being released in April

A judge allowed them to leave Lebanon after Mr Elamine agreed to drop all "personal" charges against them.

They could face trial in absentia if the "public" charges are not dropped.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Lawyers have confirmed that a settlement was reached so Mr Elamine can raise the children in Lebanon and allow Ms Faulkner to visit them

The founder of 60 Minutes, Gerald Stone, said on Thursday that the case was "the gravest misadventure in the programme's history".

Channel Nine's CEO, Hugh Marks, said: "We got too close to the story and suffered damaging consequences."

Lebanon, unlike Australia, is not party to the Hague Convention, a treaty designed to ensure the swift return of children abducted internationally by a relative.

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