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Media captionNazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s daughter, Gabriella, cuts her own “welcome home” cake with help from her dad, Richard

The five-year-old daughter of a British-Iranian woman jailed in Iran on spying charges has returned to the UK.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 40, a charity worker from London, has been detained for three years over the allegations, which she denies.

Her British-born daughter Gabriella, who has been living with her grandparents in Tehran, returned on Thursday to start school in the UK.

Her father Richard said it had been a “long journey” to having her home.

“Gabriella came back to us late at night, a bit uncertain seeing those she only remembered from the phone,” Mr Ratcliffe said in a statement released shortly after she landed.

“Now she is peacefully sleeping next to me. And I am just watching.”

Mr Ratcliffe and his daughter appeared together at a news conference at the Houses of Parliament.

He said Gabriella struggled speaking English but had been keen to tell him that she wanted to visit a toy shop.

Mr Ratcliffe said: “She’s been so brave and told mum that she’ll see her back in London.”

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Richard Ratcliffe embraces his daughter, Gabriella, after she landed back in the UK

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Gabriella brought a cake into a press conference at the Houses of Parliament on Friday afternoon

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016 during a visit to introduce Gabriella to relatives, her family said. She is now being held in Tehran’s Evin prison, where Gabriella visited her at least once a week.

But in April the family said new prison rules meant Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe could only see her daughter once a month and that she was banned from making international calls.

Last week, they told the Times that her parents had agreed Gabriella should return to the UK for the start of the school year in September, but postponed the decision after Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was taken to a psychiatric hospital.

‘Hard goodbye’

Earlier this month Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe wrote an open letter to mothers of Iran, in which she said “in the near future, my baby will leave me to go to her father and start school in the UK. It will be a daunting trip for her travelling, and for me left behind.”

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British-born Gabriella has lived longer in Iran than the UK

Mr Ratcliffe, from West Hampstead, had told the BBC that his wife was hoping for a “magic” last-minute release to enable her to come home with Gabriella.

Speaking after being re-united with his daughter, he said: “Of course the job is not yet done until Nazanin is home. It was a hard goodbye for Nazanin and all her family. But let us hope this homecoming unlocks another.”

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Richard and Nazanin agreed that Gabriella should return to the UK to begin school, the family said

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Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was temporarily reunited with her daughter Gabriella during a three-day release from prison in August last year

In response to Gabriella’s return, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab reiterated his earlier calls for Iran to release Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and said the family’s situation was one that no parent “should ever have to face”.

“Gabriella is an innocent child and should be able to go to school and be with both her parents,” he said. “We continue to urge Iran to release Nazanin immediately so the family can be reunited in the UK.”

His predecessor, Jeremy Hunt, described the news of Gabriella’s homecoming as “the definition of bittersweet”.

He called on the British government to “redouble” its efforts to secure Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, tweeting: “Now more than ever, she needs to know she’s not alone”.

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Media captionWhy one mother’s personal plight is part of a complicated history between Iran and the UK (video published August 2019)

Iran has detained a number of dual citizens and foreign nationals in recent years, many of them on spying charges. The exact numbers are not known.

The arrests and a row over the seizure of oil tankers in the Gulf. have led to increasingly tense diplomatic relations between the UK and Iran in recent years.

The family’s MP, Labour’s Tulip Siddiq, called on Iran to end its “hostage diplomacy” and release Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

‘Breaking point’

“It is heart-warming to see Gabriella reunited with her father after 1,300 days in Iran, but heart-breaking that she is separated from her mother Nazanin,” Ms Siddiq said.

“Nazanin is at breaking point, and today is yet another reminder that she has been failed at the very highest levels of government.”

Last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for the release of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe during a meeting with Iran’s president.

In 2017, when he was foreign secretary, Mr Johnson had to apologise after saying she was in Iran “teaching people journalism” – despite her family’s insistence she was there on holiday.

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