Parents' nightmare as tiny baby is snatched

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Essex police were engaged in a race against time to find a newborn baby 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, named Karli, was last seen being smuggled out of the hospital 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, 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.

No doors in the unit were locked - they are only locked at night - 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 hospital grounds in the passenger seat of a black Renault Laguna being driven by a man. They 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".

At a press conference 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, the hours passed, and temperatures dropped, concern grew for Karli's welfare.

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."

He added that, without adequate milk and fluid, Karli's blood sugar levels would be affected, causing dehydration and brain damage.

Karli weighed 6lb 15oz and was wearing a hospital smock and was wrapped in a blanket.

The parents, who were a "very distressed state" last night have two other children Nicola, 9, and Ben, 4. Yesterday was tanya's 30th birthday. Det Supt Bright said: "The mother is never ever going to forget this day. What a terrible, terrible day. It's lovely to give birth on your birthday. Terrible to lose it hours later."

Sixty polices officers were preparing to spend the night searching the hospital "top to bottom" as well as the grounds. They were examining video footage - evidence that is 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.

However, the hospital was anxious to stress that now was not the time to apportion blame.

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."

Measures that were taken included issuing specific instructions to parents not to let their child go with anyone they did not know. She added that, for a long time, children had not been left unsupervised in the nursery area. 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."

Tanya was admitted at 3pm on Thursday. Her pregnancy was full term and she opted for a caesarian section.

Why steal a baby? page 3