Distraught: The couple took supplements that made the mother seem pregnant. But when they got back to the UK they were arrested and the baby seized.
A couple’s desperation for a baby led them into a programme of bogus herbal treatments that convinced them she was pregnant and had given birth - until DNA tests proved it was a lie.
The British couple, who have not been named, returned from the specialist hospital in Nigeria to bring up their 'daughter' in Britain when they were arrested, and the little girl seized.
They had gone to a doctor in Lagos, Nigeria, to spend more than £4,500 on 'herbs' in a last ditch attempt to conceive after a decade of trying.
Miraculously, the substances they ate seemed to mimic the effects of pregnancy. Even a London GP believed the symptoms, issuing a maternity leave certificate.
Nine months later, Dr Cletus Okolo staged a charade labour, during which the mother was drugged. At the end, she was handed what she believed to be her daughter.
But when they arrived back home, with little documentation, social workers were suspicious and eventually arrested the couple, taking the little girl into care.
Ten months later, they still cannot accept that the child they brought home from Nigeria is not their own, although DNA tests have shown conclusively that they are not the biological parents.
Now, in a unique decision by top family judge Mrs Justice Hogg, the ‘intelligent, educated, hard working’ couple has been cleared the of allegations that they were knowing parties to the fraud.
The judge said that, despite 10 years of trying surgery, laser treatment and IVF, the couple, both British citizens, had failed to conceive a child.
However, in 2010, the father bumped into a friend from university who told of a couple who had had twins after undergoing ‘some herbal treatment’ in Nigeria.
They leaped at the chance and travelled to Nigeria where a Dr Cletus Okolo prescribed a course of herbal treatments he claimed would do the trick.
On returning to Britain and taking the herbs, the mother noticed her body changing.
Her face, arms and belly all swelled up and even a ‘kindly and well-meaning’ local GP took the symptoms to mean she was seven months pregnant.
The doctor signed off a maternity certificate and the couple travelled back to Nigeria.
At the clinic near Lagos they handed over £4,500 and the mother was given a brown liquid to drink before entering what she thought was a delivery room.
The father waited in the corridor outside and, after few minutes, heard a baby cry.
He entered the room to find the baby girl - referred to in court only as ‘A’ - lying on the bed beside his semi-conscious wife.
He was shown a fake umbilical cord being cut and given a placenta to carry away in a plastic bag.
Afterwards, Dr Okolo wrote: 'Treatment successful, patient delivered of a baby girl. All fees paid. God’s doing'.
That was the only document that accompanied the birth and, when the couple flew home with their 'daughter', social workers were quickly on the alert.
They were later arrested and the baby girl was taken into police protection. To the couple’s ‘considerable dismay and shock’, DNA testing proved that the little girl was not their child.
Having waited so long for a baby, the couple refused accept the truth.
They insisted ‘the combination of spiritual and herbal treatments was so powerful as to be able to change DNA’.
But the judge said: 'There is no evidence before me to say that the result of the DNA testing was wrong or likely to be wrong. I do not accept the explanation of the parents.
'On that basis I have to accept the validity of the results and find that the baby is not the biological child of the putative parents.'
Social workers from the London Borough of Hillingdon, as well as the child’s court-appointed guardian, argued that the couple were ‘knowing parties to an elaborate fraud and charade upon the British immigration authorities and now parties to an attempted fraud on the Court.'
They said the couple’s account of the birth was ‘littered with inconsistency’ and implausibly embellished.
The judge conceded: 'At first blush, the immediate reaction of the ordinary man on the proverbial Clapham omnibus would no doubt be, "don’t be daft, it's a fraud, they knew it”.'
However, noting the ‘enormous difficulty’ the couple had had in conceiving a child, Mrs Justice Hogg took them at their word when they said they would ‘never seek to buy a baby’.
She added: 'Despite their education and intelligence, they are struggling with the result of the DNA test. Both of them say they still believe that A is their natural child.
'In the end, having considered all the evidence...I am driven to conclude that in some way they allowed themselves to be duped by fraudsters.
'They so much wanted a baby....they allowed themselves to fall under the spell of the herbalists, believing what was said to the mother and acting faithfully upon the instructions given to them.
'Contrary to the submissions of the local authority and guardian I do not find that the parents were wilfully and knowingly involved with or parties to a wrongful removal of A from her mother, or that they cynically ‘bought’ a baby.'
The judge concluded: 'What is clear to me, having found that she is not their biological child but the child of another mother and father, and having been removed from her mother very soon after her birth, is that A certainly is the victim of wrongdoing and illegality, and very possibly her mother as well.
'The fact remains that A is effectively an orphan. There is noone in this country who has parental responsibility for her and no information as to her birth, parentage, or background.'
Mrs Justice Hogg directed a further hearing to decide where the little girl’s best interests lie. Her finding that the couple were innocent dupes will greatly improve their chances of persuading the court that A’s future should be with them.
Source: Daily Mail