POLICE have today defended their actions in launching a major search for missing five-year-old Ashya King - saying they did what was necessary because they believed he might die without medical help.
At a press conference this morning Hampshire Constabulary's Assistant Chief Constable Chris Shead said the forced made "no apology" for the search, triggered by hospital bosses who said the youngster could lose his life without specialised care.
And NHS England has this afternoon issued a statement, saying: "We all want what is best for Ashya, and it is for the cancer doctors and oncologists involved to advise on what is the best treatment for each child.
"Where doctors recommend it, the NHS does fund proton beam therapy, including supporting 99 children last year to travel abroad for treatment."
Mr Shead's comments earlier in the day came as a short statement was this afternoon made by hospital bosses regarding Ashya, telling of their delight he had been found.
As reported, Ashya had undergone surgery for a brain tumour at Southampton General Hospital, and was taken by his parents Brett and Naghmeh on Wednesday afternoon.
They were found yesterday evening in Spain.
Assistant Chief Constable Shead said officers were acting on medical advice and that the search was launched on Thursday as the five-year-old's life was potentially at risk.
He said: "I am aware that there has been a significant amount of debate going on around the appropriateness of police action in this case.
"I think it's safe to say that faced with the situation we were, we had medical experts telling us that Ashya was in grave danger.
"Medical experts were saying to us if he didn't get the care that he needed there was a potential threat to his life.
"Faced with those circumstances, I make no apology for the police being as proactive as we possibly can to actually find Ashya and ensure that he gets the help he needed.
"I would much sooner be standing here facing criticism for being proactive than to stand here and face criticism for doing nothing and potentially having to explain why a child has lost his life.
"I make no apologies for being as proactive in this investigation as we have been.
"I think it's also worthy of note that we need to thank the public, the media and indeed everybody who has been involved in the investigation in Spain."
He added that the family had been found "as a direct result of the media and publicity campaign", after a worker at the hotel in Spain where the family were staying recognised the Kings and contacted the police.
He also thanked the Spanish police, the Civil Guard and the Spanish national crime agency for their "hard work that they have done in Spain and indeed before that in France, over the last few days which has resulted in finding Ashya and making sure he has got the care he definitely needed."
Responding to a question about Ashya's father Brett's statement that it had been a "ridiculous chase", that the family felt like "refugees" and that they had done "nothing wrong" and been "persecuted", Ass Chief Const Shead said: "All along I've said this has been a terribly difficult time for Ashya's family and I don't deviate from that.
"Heaven knows what they've been going through, it must be a terrible situation for anybody who's got a small child with that type of illness and I fully get that.
"But the reality of it is from the police and myself when we are told by medical experts that they have got grave concern for the health and wellbeing of a child because they feel that he has been taken from a safe environment in the hospital, is not getting the care that they actually need to give to ensure Ashya's health then we have to act.
"And I get it, there will be a whole range of opinions on what is the right thing and what is the wrong thing and I fully understand how Ashya's parents feel.
"But the reality of it is, we have to act in the interests of Ashya and when medical experts say to us we need to find him to ensure he gets the help he needs, or he may die, then the police are faced with no option and any police force would pursue the actions we have.
"Our primary concern was always to find Ashya and make sure he got the treatment he needs."
When asked if he thought medical staff's advice had been incorrect, he said: "I am not qualified to say whether that advice was good or bad, the reality of it is that I have to act on the basis of what I am told.
"The medical staff who are experts in their field, told us they had grave concerns for Ashya's health and that's why we have acted as we have.
"My hope is that Ashya gets the medical care he deserves and needs and that he is able to become as well as he possibly can.
"It is an investigation that the police now need to conduct on the circumstances of the parents taking Ashya. We will do that in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service and the CPS will apply their usual tests and if there is a case to answer then it will go down that route, but I just hope that Ashya gets the medical help he needs and he's able to make as best a recovery as he can.
"Whenever we go outside our own jurisdiction and into a foreign land the complexity increases.
"I can't underestimate the complexity of it, but at the outset, throughout all of this our total focus has been on finding Ashya because that's been the single most important thing in this, I said all along the most important thing was to find Ashya, get him back to a hospital and make sure he gets the care he gets, thankfully we've now been able to do that, all the rest has been a minor consideration."
He added that extradition proceedings for Ashya's parents were due to start, with a hearing in front of a Spanish judge due to take place within the next few days, although that may be delayed if they decided to appeal.
He said Mr and Mrs King were being supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, while it is understood that Ashya's six siblings had remained at the hotel in Spain where they had been found, with the oldest members of the family looking after the youngest.
This afternoon bosses at Southampton General Hospital released a breif statement.
A spokesman for University Hospital Southampton said: "Our priority has always been Ashya's welfare and we are delighted that he has been found. We are now working closely with colleagues in Malaga to ensure he receives the essential medical support he needs.
"We are aware of the comments made online by his father. Throughout Ashya's admission we have had conversations about the treatment options available to him and we had offered the family access to a second opinion, as well as assistance with organising treatment abroad.
"We understand how distressing this situation is for everyone involved, particularly Ashya's family. We will continue to do what we can to support them and assist the police in providing any information they require."
CLICK THESE LINKS FOR MORE COVERAGE ON THE SEARCH FOR ASHYA KING
- Police now armed with European arrest warrant for parents of seriously ill Ashya King
- Team from Hampshire police fly to Spain after Ashya King, 5, was found with his parents last night
- VIDEO: 'We couldn’t take it anymore' - terminally ill Ashya's father reveals why the family went on the run
- Missing Ashya is found