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South African woman guilty of abducting baby she raised for 17 years

The Guardian

Celeste Nurse, the mother of the kidnapped girl, outside the court. Photograph: Schalk van Zuydam/AP

A South African woman has been found guilty of kidnapping a newborn baby, raising her for 17 years until her real identity emerged through a remarkable twist of fate last year.

Zephany Nurse was abducted from a hospital in Cape Town in 1997, three days after her birth. Her parents, Morné and Celeste Nurse, never gave up hope of seeing their first-born again and celebrated her birthdays without her.

For those years, Zephany grew up just a couple of miles away with a different name and a different family, never suspecting she was not their real daughter. But in January 2015, her biological sister, Cassidy Nurse, began at the same school. Soon fellow pupils noticed a startling resemblance between them.

Morné Nurse then saw Cassidy and Zephany eating burgers together in McDonald’s, and, struck by the physical similarities, contacted the police. DNA tests confirmed that she was the Nurses’ long-lost daughter and Zephany was placed in the care of social services, while the woman was arrested.

The 50-year-old cannot be named in order to protect the new identity of Zephany Nurse, who requested protection from international media interest.

Celeste Nurse, 36, wept as she described in court how she woke up in the maternity ward in Groote Schuur hospital to find her baby had vanished from her cot.

Witnesses said they had seen an unknown woman in a nurse’s uniform at the hospital around the time of the kidnap, and one of them picked out the accused at an identity parade.

The accused woman also sobbed in court as she told of being barred from seeing the girl after her arrest in February 2015. She said that after a miscarriage in 1996 she paid a woman who promised to find her a child to adopt, and in April 1997 was handed a baby wrapped in a blanket at a train station. She had not told her husband of her miscarriage, so presented the baby to him as their own.

Giving his verdict, Judge John Hlophe described the defendant’s account as a fairytale. “You must have been the person who removed the child from hospital,” he said. “Your story, if anything, is a fairytale and the court rejects it with the contempt it deserves.”

The accused was denied bail and ordered to return to court for sentencing on 30 May. She faces a minimum of five years in jail.

Source: The Guardian

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