Parents' nightmare as tiny baby is snatched

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The Independent Online
Police in Essex were engaged in a race against time to find a newborn girl snatched from her mother's side in a maternity unit. Clare Garner was at Basildon Hospital to hear a harrowing tale.

The father was making a telephone call to relatives to share the joyful news of the birth when the baby was grabbed from her cot at the foot of her dozing mother's bed, just three hours after being born.

The baby, Karli, was last seen being smuggled out of Basildon General Hospital, in Essex, just before 1pm under the left arm of a blonde-haired woman, aged between 25 and 30. Karli had not been fed since being born at 9.50am.

At the time of the kidnap, Karli's mother, Tanya Hawthorne, was still drowsy from the anaesthetic. But the woman in the bed opposite saw what happened and raised the alarm. Maternity nurses chased after the kidnapper but failed to catch her. It is believed she had gone into the main maternity ward first before heading for the recovery room. Karli was in the first cot, where three other mothers were with their babies, suggesting that she was the first available baby.

No doors in the unit were locked so it took less than a minute for the woman to go from the first floor to the ground floor and out into the car park. She was last seen leaving the grounds in the passenger seat of a black Renault Laguna, thought to be driven by a man. The registration is believed to contain the letters "P" and "MFR". The pair then accelerated at high speed the wrong way down a short road with headlights blazing. Police said it was possible that Karli was not with them because "from the maternity ward to the ground floor anything could have happened".

The anguished parents, who were in a "very distressed state" have two other children, Nicola, nine, and Ben, four. Yesterday was Ms Hawthorne's 30th birthday. Last night the baby's father, Karl Hawthorne, a self-employed businessman, was staying at the hospital to comfort his partner.

Karli's grandparents, Eric and Sheila Hawthorne, said the family was distraught. A tearful Mr Hawthorne said: "The family have gone to pieces. I'm so upset I can't really talk about it."

Detective Superintendent David Bright, of Essex Police, appealed to anyone with any information to contact the emergency line immediately, on 01245 490990. He said people should be alert to "anyone buying baby food, baby clothes or seeking advice about how to look after a baby".

As darkness fell and temperatures dropped, concern grew for Karli's welfare. She weighed 6lb 15oz and was wearing a hospital smock and was wrapped in a blanket. Christopher Welch, consultant obstetrician and clinical director of maternity and paediatrics at the hospital, said: "As the hours march on our concern gradually deepens ... this baby is small. She requires food, milk and warmth. If she goes without, she will be seriously damaged."

Police officers were preparing to spend the night searching the hospital and grounds from "top to bottom". They were examining video footage - only available to them because 13 video cameras were installed at the hospital following the inquiry into the kidnapping of baby Abbie Humphries in Nottingham in July 1994.

Sue Jennings, chief executive of the hospital, explained that following the full security review after Abbie's abduction, the hospital had decided against tagging babies, adding: "In this case the tagging wouldn't have made any difference."

Asked if she felt the hospital could have had tighter security, she said: "It's always easy to do more and, until we know precisely what's happened in this case that's all I can say. We will have a future review to make sure that any other loopholes are tied up."