A fugitive mother, who went on the run with her son after losing a custody battle, has been spared jail.

Rebecca Minnock, 35, left her home in Highbridge, Somerset with Ethan Williams, the day she was due to hand the three-year-old over to his father, Roger Williams.

At the missed hearing, the judge ruled that Ethan, should live with his father and Minnock should only have supervised contact.

After 17 days on the run, which sparked a nationwide search for the pair, the mother handed herself in to police in Oxford on 12 June after admitting "her time has run out".

Judge Stephen Wildblood QC last week received an application from Mr Williams to commit Ms Minnock to prison for contempt of court.

However, Williams has now dropped that application, which alleged 10 breaches of court orders, saving his ex-partner from jail.

Describing her actions as "utterly irresponsible" a judge has said she was spared a prison sentence due to the "mercy" of the boy's father.

"Parents who flout court orders are the scourge of the system," he said. "It is only the mercy of the father that spares this mother. Had the contempt proceedings continued before me and led to a finding of contempt, I make no concealment of the fact that I would have sentenced her to immediate imprisonment which I anticipate would have involved a sentence of at least 28 days in prison," he explained.

"As it is, I think that the father's wishes should be respected. He and Ethan are the victims of this mother's actions and I consider that the father's voice should prevail. She owes her liberty to him."

Father praised for keeping feelings to himself

While the judge took the unusual step of lifting reporting restrictions during the search for Ethan. He praised Roger Williams for keeping "the pain, frustration and distress that he must have been feeling to himself".

"Mr Williams now wishes to end the public displays of the difficulties that affect Ethan's upbringing and wishes the remaining disputes to be heard away from the glare of publicity. If the committal application is continued, he feels that there will be a dramatic increase in the emotional focus that has been directed to him, Ethan and the family as a whole.

"He wishes that to stop and that is why he does not wish to pursue this application. Once again I commend him for his decision."

Minnock told the court she had only had one hour of supervised contact with Ethan since she returned.

She said: "My big concern at the moment is, I got to see Ethan yesterday, if I am going to go to prison what emotional damage is that going to do on Ethan, after seeing me yesterday?"

Earlier this month, Minnock's mother Louise Minnock, of Highbridge, and her mother's partner Andrew Butt, of Cheltenham, were jailed for withholding information about Ethan's whereabouts.

They have both since been released from prison.