FIVE women are awaiting trial in the UK for snatching babies. One of these is 22-year-old Julie Kelly, charged with the abduction of Abbie Humphries in July. Last month a partially blind 17-year-old girl was put on probation for two years after snatching a six-day-old boy from University College Hospital, London. According to the Portia Trust, a charity that supports such women, baby snatching is the desperate act of a mentally disturbed woman who is unlikely to have previous criminal convictions.

Since it was established in 1971, the trust has counselled 48 women who have been found guilty of baby snatching. A further 400 have contacted the helpline because they feel an overwhelming desire to take another woman's baby. Often these women have lost a child of their own through cot death, miscarriage, abortion or stillbirth.

What are the emotions that lead a woman to take such a dreadful step?

Joanna is 30. She lost her daughter through cot death at 17 weeks. Her eight-month-old son, Anton, was taken into care when he was two months old; he is settled with foster parents and Joanna has not seen him since the day he was taken from her. She struggles daily with her desire to take another woman's baby. Here is her story.

The names have been changed.

The Portia Trust can be contacted on 06973 51820 in confidence.

WHENEVER I go to the supermarket I look at other people's babies and try to imagine what Anton looks like now. If I see a little boy about the same age as Anton I sometimes follow his parents home to see where they live. Once I know their address I usually go back a couple of times just to check whether they have left their baby outside in a pram. I would probably take it if they had.

Only two things have stopped me so far. There have always been lots of other people around, and deep down I know that if I snatch someone else's baby I will never get Anton back.

But I've planned it meticulously. I've been to my local hospital three times to work out where the exit points are and how to get out without being seen or arousing the suspicions of the staff.

It's very easy to get in there. You just walk in the main entrance and no one asks you what you are doing or who you are visiting.

I worked out a route from the maternity ward down through the chapel and out into the grounds by a side door. There's never any staff anywhere near the side exits.

Once I got outside into the grounds it would be easy to get away without being noticed. The entrance to the hospital is lined with trees and bushes. There's also a lot of building work going on at the moment. Plenty of distractions and plenty of places to hide.

The social services took Anton from me in February this year. I still can't understand why. I hadn't hit him. I hadn't ill-treated him in any way. There were no marks or bruises on his body. The doctor who examined him at the police station said he seemed perfectly healthy.

My memory of that time is a bit of a blur now. Several of my neighbours had phoned social services and told them I was threatening to barricade myself and Anton in the flat. I can't remember whether I said that or not. I thought I was coping with looking after Anton, but perhaps I wasn't.

My feelings of wanting to snatch a baby started a few weeks after Anton had gone. One of my neighbours is a 16-year-old girl who has two children. Why should everyone think she was a good enough mother at her age, when the social services decided I wasn't at 29? I used to watch her going out a couple of evenings a week and leaving the kids with her parents and I began to think I would make a far better job of looking after two children than she would. I never go out in the evenings. The more I thought about it, the more resentful I became.

One afternoon my neighbour asked me if I would babysit for a couple of hours whilst she popped out to the shops. Her little boy Terry is the same age as Anton will be now. Two hours passed and my neighbour hadn't come home. Terry was crying and I didn't know where his bottles were kept or what mixture his mum fed him. So I picked him up and brought him over to my flat. I got Anton's things out and began to make Terry a bottle.

By then Terry's mum was hammering on my door shouting at me to let her in and give Terry back. She was frantic with worry. I tried to explain that she hadn't come back on time and Terry was hungry, but I don't think she believed I was only trying to do what I thought best. Four weeks later she moved away with her children.

Life isn't worth living now I have lost Anton. I spend hours in Mothercare looking at clothes for little boy babies and imagining what Anton would look like in them. I wonder if his face still looks the same. I remember his smile and it hurts to think that someone else is getting pleasure from it every day.

It was so wonderful having a baby to love. My life is very isolated. My mother and I had a huge row four years ago and haven't spoken since. The father of my two children is married and he ended our relationship when I became pregnant with Anton. I don't have friends as such and the only people I really speak to are neighbours I meet out shopping.

It would be wrong to take another woman's baby, but it was very wrong for the social services to take mine. I feel I am going through exactly what Abbie Humphries' mother went through for those two weeks. Every minute of the day there is that horrible sinking feeling of not knowing where my baby is, how he is, whether he is being looked after and by whom. Another baby will never be able to replace Anton, but no one from the social services department phones me back when I ring to find out how he is.

I know I need help. I'm still trying to come to terms with my daughter's cot death and a son I loved very much has been taken away from me. Some days I wake up in the morning and tell myself that today I will go out and find another baby to love. I've even gone as far as finding out the bus routes down to Southampton or Devon so we could escape quickly before the police found out. Then I start to tell myself that if I snatch a baby today, I will never ever be able to have the thing I want most in the world: my son back.