A little girl at the centre of a ‘bizarre’ tug of love baby scam will finally today be returned to the London couple who believed she was their miracle baby.
High Court Family Division judge Mr. Justice Coleridge said the 21-month-old little girl should live with the couple who was the victims of greedy international child traffickers who charged them £6,000 for fertility treatment.
The ‘God-fearing couple’ identified only as Mr.S, 51 and Mr. S, a 50-year-old teacher, had been duped by Nigerian conmen into believing the child – ‘O’ – was the result of a miraculous conception.
This was a couple of the highest calibre and complete integrity who unwittingly had become ‘victims of the most appalling scam,’ said the judge.
After a long legal battle, the judge has given his approval to O going back to the couple as special guardians and they may be allowed to adopt her later.
He said the couple had conducted themselves with complete dignity and although victims of a scam it had achieved what they wanted most of all ‘to have a child to look after.’
He went on: ‘It is perfectly plain the mother now fully appreciates what was going on and what she has been involved in.’
‘On the face of it, the mother from what I know seems a good and experienced mother.’
The judge said the ‘unfortunate’ childless parents were ‘happy’ to be appointed special guardian for the moment and to be able to raise the little girl as their own . It was also important for her to be in a settled home.
The couple’s ordeal began in 2010 when Mrs S travelled to Nigeria to the God’s Gift Maternity Clinic in Port Harcourt, to undergo fertility treatment after failing to conceive in the UK.
The Nigerian couple came to live in England in 1987, and after spending nine years as a couple married in 2002.
After fertility treatment had a severely disabled daughter in 1994 who died in 2009.
So desperate, ‘to the point of obsession’, to have another baby it is claimed Mrs S was drugged and led to believe the new born baby she was handed was hers.
Mr Justice Coleridge said the honest pair had been tricked by the scam.
But after returning to the UK and following a visit to her GP the doctor alerted the authorities of his suspicions that things were not all they seemed.
The local authority became involved and following DNA tests it was clear that Mr and Mrs. S were not O’s biological parents. ‘The mother was apparently stunned when she was told the results,’ said the judge.
It was confirmed that the ‘birth’ had been ‘staged’ in Nigeria and that the child had been stolen or bought from unknown parents in Nigeria. The local social services then took O into care.
In a statement Mrs S told the court: ‘In January 2011 during what I perceived to be the birth of O, I recall a doctor inducing labour through intravenous drip and I experienced what was labour, a very traumatic delivery and a baby was presented to me covered in blood as would have been normal in a delivery room.
‘I felt all the natural manifestations of labour and delivery and my baby, O, was presented to me in the manner described.’
She added that after fully cooperating with the DNA test and learning the results and when O was taken from her ‘my whole life has been shattered.’
She felt as if she had suffered the bereavement of her first daughter all over again.
‘In short, I have been depressed and traumatised.
‘We have struggled to maintain any level of sanity as I am now convinced that I have been a victim of a very serious fraud by those who have exploited my vulnerability and infertility for their own financial gain.’
The judge said the question for him to decide had been whether Mrs S took part in the charade or if she was an innocent victim.
The judge said Mrs S ‘also described to me how she had been given tablets by the clinic to help with the production of milk for breast feeding and that she had in fact breastfed within hours of the child’s birth.
‘She ended by emphasising that she had been duped and that at no point did she believe at the time she was involved in a massive con.’
Mr S had also given evidence that he thought his wife was pregnant as she had put on weight, and was suffering from fatigue and other symptoms associated with pregnancy. The couple had a strong faith and believed in the power of prayer.
The local authority’s approach has always been that the mother was a knowing participant.
But it was argued that they ignored the fact that Mrs S was a parent who had suffered a tragic loss of one child and had been desperate for a second child for a number of years.
The judge said Mr and Mrs S were honest witness: ‘Both she and her husband were hoodwinked and are innocent victims so far as their involvement in these matters is concerned.
‘They neither knowingly participated in the wrongful removal of the child from her natural mother nor in the wrongful importation of her into this country.
‘The highest it can be put, as I find it, is that the mother unwittingly took part in an unorthodox adoption process surrounded by an elaborate piece of play acting.’
O is currently a stateless child but it was hoped her immigration status would be resolved shortly.