Tiny and fragile, little Renat was frogmarched into the waiting room by two determined Russian women and stripped of all his clothes.
It was minus 30C outside but waiting for Renat in the room was Glenn Hammet, a teacher from London, who quickly handed over a brand-new outfit he had been told to bring.
‘The clothes totally swamped him,’ Glenn recalls. ‘He was three but so malnourished, with terrible skin, he looked half that age.’
Despite the forbidding atmosphere, it was a moment of unbridled joy that Glenn had dreamed of for as long as he could remember – one that, as a gay man, he never believed was possible.
On November 12, 1998, in the unlikely surroundings of a Russian orphanage in Ulyanovsk, a frozen wasteland 550 miles east of Moscow, he had finally become a father.
Once the formalities were completed, Glenn rang his architect partner Keith Millay to tell him the good news. Keith had remained at home, allowing the couple to dodge Russian laws which banned gay adoption but allowed it for single men.
Two years later their little family was completed when they adopted three-year-old Max – who was not related to Renat – from the same orphanage. And so, with a beagle called Buddy as a family pet, their new life in London began.
At first, Glenn and Keith relished their new-found family life. But their hopes of a fairytale ending have turned into a living hell. They have been left penniless, and emotionally and physically shattered. Their kindness has even put their lives in danger. Over the past six years Renat, who is now 21, has tried to strangle Glenn, 59, with a dog lead, and assaulted both men.
He tried to suffocate his brother, threatened all three with knives and screwdrivers, hacked into their bank accounts and went on spending sprees with their credit cards.
He has punched huge holes in the walls of their London home and repeatedly smashed furniture, computers and TVs – causing tens of thousands of pounds of damage.
In desperation, Keith and Glenn eventually called the police and a restraining order was issued to stop Renat turning up at their East London home. He largely ignores the order, leaving the men fearful for their safety.
Glenn admits: ‘Our lives have turned into a nightmare. We are physically, emotionally and financially destroyed.’
Neither parent imagined that life would turn out like this for them – torn between feelings of love and responsibility on one hand and intolerable reality on the other. They are speaking now to highlight the risk every adoptive parent takes when they take a child from an orphanage into their home – a child who may already be damaged beyond repair, and who may find it particularly hard to adjust to life with gay parents.
‘We knew we took a risk taking toddlers from an orphanage,’ says Glenn. ‘Their dormitory had 40 small beds crammed together, each one with a red number on the headboard. No adult slept with them and I don’t know if anyone would have heard them cry. The babies were left in their cots for much of the day. Older children were left to their own devices.
‘We were aware that both of them could have been abused, physically, mentally or sexually. And when a child has been neglected, their ability to make relationships or trust people is affected. They can be prone to learning and emotional difficulties. But we were willing to take the risk with toddlers because that’s the age group I teach.’
Glenn adds: ‘I thought the critical time would be when the boys were little. Keith was more aware that toddlers become teenagers. He was right. It has been much worse than I imagined.’
All they were able to discover about the boys’ history is that Renat was dropped off at the orphanage by his 20-year-old mother the day he was born and Max had been looked after by his grandmother for nine months after his mother abandoned him, until she could no longer manage.
They hoped to give the boys a better future, but their lives in Britain were difficult from the start.
Max, who was tiny, struggled to speak. He had been so undernourished that his tongue hadn’t grown properly. Glenn and Keith paid for speech therapy for several years until he spoke perfectly.
As a child, Max would place a crocheted Chinese lantern carefully on his bedside table, explaining: ‘It’s to catch all my nightmares, because they are very scary.’
Renat was moody and occasionally aggressive, but articulate and extremely bright. Both boys were often withdrawn, but Glenn and Keith put it down to their traumatic experiences and difficulties with adapting to their new language and surroundings.
When Max was eight, he was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, which Glenn calls ‘institutional autism’.
He qualified for a Statement of Special Needs which meant, among other things, that the council paid his fees at a specialist school, Fairley House. Max believes the diagnosis saved his life.
‘It meant I could stay in a school for children with learning difficulties which had very small classes,’ he said. ‘It was a safe environment for me, and I made decent friends. I doubt I would have coped in a state school and it’s probably why I am here now and not insane.’
He is currently flourishing at Portsmouth University, where he is doing a degree in biology. Keith, 64, says proudly: ‘Max has aims, is organised and very driven.’
Both boys admit they had difficulties at school dealing with their fathers’ sexuality, and at the peak of his disruptive behaviour Renat would even resort to hurling homophobic abuse at his parents.
‘Some of the children bullied me because I had two dads and no mum so I used violence against their words,’ Renat recalls. ‘I also took it out on Glenn and Keith because I felt it was their fault. I went through a homophobic phase. I think gay parents need to be very sensitive when they adopt because of how other children may react.’
Renat was asked to leave his school and went next to a boys’ comprehensive in North London, where his behaviour deteriorated still further and he began to mix with a local street gang.
Glenn and Keith had paid for private mental care and therapy, but were told that full mental health assessments were not available for boys over 14.
Social workers were assigned, but appeared to take little action about the damage to their home. ‘At 15 he would sometimes be out all night and we were worried sick,’ said Keith. ‘After a few months he dropped out of school altogether, then refused to leave the house for six months. He became incredibly violent and we couldn’t cope.’
Finally the violence got so bad, they had no choice but to call the police and apply for the banning order. Keith was devastated. ‘The only thing left was to criminalise him, which is terrible. He has spent more than ten nights in a police cell since he was 15.’
After a period spent sleeping on park benches or sheltering in 24-hour McDonald’s restaurants, Renat has now found a job in a pub and is preparing to move into a flatshare in March.
He admits he is still violent, though he says his parents are no longer the target. ‘I break their property instead,’ he says.
The accumulated cost of Renat’s behaviour is shocking. Glenn estimates it at about £60,000 just in the last six weeks, involving damage to a new timber floor, walls, various antiques, electrical equipment and a computer.
‘We can’t afford to keep repairing everything because our finances are dire,’ says Glenn.
‘Our bank account is permanently in the red. Our three credit cards are maxed out and we can’t get through the month without taking payday loans.’
For Keith and Glenn, the result is a mixture of fear and guilt. ‘I feel bad about our failure to get any kind of proper help for Renat, spurning him and making him homeless,’ Glenn admits. ‘We also feel guilt about Max because we didn’t protect him and he has suffered badly at Renat’s hands.’