Yesterday's change in the pace of the inquiry came as a distressed man, claiming to be the abductor's husband, made six calls to Central Television. Identifying himself as 'Gary', he said his wife had stolen Abbie when she was four hours old, but the baby was safe.
The man's calls came after an appeal by John Stalker, former Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, at the end of his programme Crime Stalkers, for Abbie to be returned.
Karen Humphries, 32, and her husband, Roger, 33, were reported by police to be 'on their knees' waiting for news of their daughter.
During one call, Mr Stalker spoke to 'Gary' off the air for 10 minutes. He said experience led him to believe the caller was genuine. 'He seemed to be a man wrestling with a deep and problematic loyalty, probably to his wife.' What shone through was his desire to 'do the right thing'.
Yesterday Central broke with scheduled programming to televise an appeal from the police to 'Gary' and the abductor. 'Gary' said his wife had been avoiding television news bulletins but at 2.20pm she would be watching her favourite soap opera and feeding Abbie.
During the broadcast, Inspector David Gilbert said the woman would be treated sympathetically. But he added: 'You also know that Abbie isn't your baby . . . Think of Abbie's parents. Think of that whole family who are agonising right now.'
While 'Gary' provided the police with their strongest lead so far he may yet prove to be a hoaxer and Detective Superintendent Harry Shepherd, who is leading the investigation, is anxious to focus public attention on the video- fits and video pictures.
He says their release marks phase two of a 'carefully planned' strategy. There has been criticism of the delay in releasing the pictures but Det Supt Shepherd and Paul Britton, the psychologist advising the investigation team, insisted that yesterday was the best time to release them.
Mr Britton said there was a risk that the abductor would panic when the pictures were released, endangering Abbie, but since the woman had yet to respond to appeals, phase two, which focused on relatives and friends who might recognise her, had to begin.
The first video picture caught by a security camera shows the woman walking down the corridor from the main reception of Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham towards the maternity ward wearing a nurse's uniform. The video records the time as 1511 (15.01 real time), the second picture 20 minutes later, shortly after Abbie's abduction, apparently shows the same woman walking back towards reception having changed out of uniform. A uniform was found discarded in a lavatory.
The photographs are rear shots and the woman is believed to be disguised in both. Det Supt Shepherd urged people to search 'their hearts and minds' and allow for the disguise.
In the second picture the woman seems to be carrying a bundle in front of her. The shot also shows the front view of a woman pushing a child past the suspect. Police are urging her to come forward as she may be a vital witness.
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