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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Teenager who doesn't exist: Birth certificate blunder in Spain means British girl can't get passport or even a bus pass

By Andrew Levy and James Chapman

A teenager is trapped in a ‘bureaucratic nightmare’ that means she may never be able to leave the country or open a bank account – because she does not officially exist.

Aimee Rayner-Okines, 14, was not issued with a birth certificate to prove her identity due to a registering mix-up after she was born prematurely during a family trip to Spain.

The blunder has meant that she is unable to get a passport to go abroad and has even been refused a bus pass.

Bureaucratic nightmare: Aimee Rayner-Okines was born in Spain and still has no birth certificate or passport

Her parents Steve Okines, 45, and Claire Rayner, 35, have spent their daughter’s entire life trying to correct the mistake – but Spanish authorities have repeatedly refused to provide a certificate.

Aimee was born after her father, who was considering emigrating, went to Spain in 1997 to help friends run a bar in Denia, near Alicante.

Miss Rayner joined him when she was six months pregnant and expected to return to Britain to give birth.

But she was taken to hospital after her waters broke on July 6, 1997, and Aimee was born seven weeks premature by emergency Caesarean that night, weighing 4lb 9oz. Staff at the hospital asked Mr Okines to fill in some paperwork and assured him they would take care of everything.

But after the family returned to the UK they found they could not claim child benefit without a birth certificate.

‘It turned out that the bit of paper supplied by the hospital which I thought was a certificate was only some health notes,’ Mr Okines said. The

No identity: Claire Rayner in Spain with her newborn daughter Aimee Rayner-Okines, in July 1997

Benefits Agency finally agreed to pay child benefit when Aimee was three after her parents sent copies of her medical records to prove she existed.

But the Home Office has told the family that it cannot process a claim for Aimee to be registered as a UK citizen unless she can produce a certificate from her country of birth. Attempts to intervene by their MP, Government minister Grant Shapps, have so far failed.

The family, who live near St Albans, Hertfordshire, fear that as a result, Aimee will be unable to marry, get a job or apply for a driving licence or bank account.

Aimee said: ‘I feel angry and upset. I sometimes feel like I don’t really exist and nobody knows I am really here. All my friends go on holidays and school trips abroad but I cannot go.

‘The local council would not even give a bus pass for me to get half-price fares. It means I have to pay the full fare of £5.’ Former publican Mr Okines said: ‘It is sad for Aimee because she has absolutely no identity in the eyes of the law. It is as if she does not even exist.

‘We have never been able to go on a family holiday abroad because she is not allowed to leave the country without a passport. She cannot even get on a ferry. She has never gone away to the sunshine and we cannot take her back to Spain to see where she was born.’

Mr Shapps, MP for Welwyn Hatfield, said he had first asked the Foreign Office to assist the family five years ago.

He has now asked foreign minister David Lidington to take up the case. ‘This has turned into a 14-year bureaucratic nightmare for Aimee and her parents,’ he said.

‘It’s having a direct impact on her life and it’s time for the Spanish authorities to cut through the red tape and issue Aimee with her birth certificate.

‘I won’t rest until the entire family can finally leave the country to go off on holiday together for the very first time.’

Mr Okines, a full-time carer to Miss Rayner, who has multiple sclerosis, wrote a dozen letters over several years to the hospital in Denia asking for proof of Aimee’s birth, but never received a reply.

In 2006, he asked the Home Office if Aimee could be automatically granted UK citizenship after living here for ten years. But he was told he would still need to provide her birth certificate.

Finally the couple, who also have a son Jake, 11, flew out to Spain for a week in April last year to find that a new hospital had since been built in Denia.

Staff there ‘said I should write to the Spanish president to get it sorted’, Mr Okines said.



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