In a letter to newspaper editors last week, Ken Norman, organiser of the Portia Trust, explained bluntly how the deal would work. Mr Norman began his letter: 'This is a request for a cash payment from your newspaper in exchange for a series of exclusive interviews with baby- snatchers at a time when they are in the news . . . the Portia Trust asks you for a minimum of pounds 30,000; preferably pounds 100,000.' Some of this money, Mr Norman implied, would be spent so that when baby-snatchers appeared in court they could be offered 'free accommodation, care and psychiatric treatment in a nursing home', giving the judge in the case a ready alternative to a prison sentence.
Once the woman was in the trust's care, it would suggest that she might find it 'therapeutic' to give a newspaper interview. She could 'make public apology to the parents of the baby and also appeal to potential snatchers not to be foolish as she was but to seek help immediately.'
The untapped market in baby-snatching stories is large. Mr Norman continued: 'I have made personal contact by letter, phone or meetings with 48 women who have abducted babies and some 400 who are near to doing so. There could be some extremely good news items and features, all exclusive.'
A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission hinted that the regulatory body disapproved of the trust's tactics. 'Charities are free to raise funds by any lawful means,' she said. 'But we advise them not to use methods which would provoke public distaste.'
The Portia Trust has itself strongly condemned the cheque-book journalists who often bid for child-snatch stories. On 15 August, Mr Norman said: 'Competition to flog newspapers after a baby-snatch is contemptible and should be stopped.'
Yesterday he defended the charity's decision to join the competition. 'There is not a moral problem,' he said. 'We will try to guard them against exploitation. There will be no pressure to give interviews.'
His plea for money has been provoked by a financial crisis. The charity is down to its last pounds 300 and the Home Office and the Department of Health have refused funds.
Cash from a newspaper would allow the trust to support a nursing home with psychiatric staff, Mr Norman said in his letter. 'Women admitting the desire to abduct could take free residence. Eventually there need never be another baby snatch, and for this your newspaper could claim the credit.' The quality of mercy, he might have added, is not cheap.