British aid worker `stole baby in Romanian smuggling racket'

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The Independent Online
A British aid worker accused of smuggling an infant out of a Romanian orphanage claimed last night he was the victim of a corrupt political and legal system.

John Boast, a former businessman, appeared before a Romanian court to admit he had taken the 15-month-old child from a hospital orphanage but denied he had hidden her in his lorry or brought her to Britain for adoption. The 46-year-old father of three, from Blackburn, in Lancashire, also denied he had been the middleman who handed the child to a British family at a motorway service station as part of a baby-smuggling racket.

The child, who can only be identified as baby Laura because she has been made a ward of court, has been legally adopted by a family in Yorkshire. Mr Boast admits he believes it was in the child's best interests to be taken out of Romania.

He said yesterday: "It doesn't matter what I say in the court; they already have decided to find me guilty to make an example of me. I am a victim of a judicial and political system which is completely upside down. By punishing me they are in reality punishing the children that I have been helping since 1990."

Outside the court Mr Boast denied he had been running a baby-smuggling ring for profit. "I came out here because I was touched by the plight of the orphans." Mr Boast yesterday appeared in court in the north Romanian city of Oradea for the first time formally to plead not guilty to a charge of conspiring to transport the child out of the country. If found guilty he faces five years' jail.

The prosecution case was outlined to an examining judge, who adjourned the hearing for a month to allow Mr Boast to "prove his innocence". The court heard how he had been on more than 40 aid trips to Romania with his lorry since 1990.

The Oradea district prosecutor, Lucian Negrutiu, said Mr Boast had also regularly visited the city's main hospital, home to more than 450 abandoned and orphaned children.

Mr Boast told the examining judge, Dumitru Marc: "I would like you to understand a little about the child. She was 15 months old . . . but did not look that age because she was not well fed and had been neglected. When I saw her sitting in her bed rocking backwards and forwards, I did what any normal parent would do: I picked her up and took her out for a walk to talk to her."

Mr Boast, who now lives with his Romanian girlfriend in the village of Finis, 40 miles from Oradea, said he had taken baby Laura out of the hospital "because I wanted to take care of her. She had been abandoned and needed affection; she needed loving." Mr Boast said he took the child out for nearly four hours and claimed he returned her the same evening. It was not until five weeks later that the child's absence was noticed by hospital staff, after being told about her by British Embassy officials in Bucharest.

Baby Laura had been discovered by a social worker on a routine visit to the Yorkshire family who already have an adopted Romanian orphan. The couple would only reveal they had been given the child "by a man named John" who handed her over at the Watford Gap service station on the M1.

The British Embassy was then asked to investigate the case by the Official Solicitor.

The child's parents were traced and admitted they had abandoned her.