Baby couple stunned by jail sentence: Romanian court's 28-month penalty is intended to deter traffic in children, reports Adrian Bridge

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The Independent Online
A BRITISH couple were yesterday jailed for two years and four months for attempting to buy a Romanian baby and to smuggle her out of the country for adoption.

Adrian and Bernadette Mooney were not in court to hear the verdict. A spokesman for the British embassy in Bucharest said they were 'deeply distressed' when they found out.

The Mooneys' lawyer, Ioana Floca, lodged an appeal against the sentences, which she described as 'unfair and unnecessarily harsh'.

Announcing the verdict, Judge Madalina Buta ordered that the Mooneys should be arrested. The court later agreed that the couple could remain free on bail pending the outcome of the appeal.

Laurie Bristow, spokesman for the British embassy in Bucharest, said the Mooneys were 'deeply disappointed' at the verdict and felt unable to make an immediate comment. He said it was unclear how long the appeal process would last.

The trial, which lasted six weeks, is the first involving westerners accused of breaking Romania's strict adoption laws. The couple admitted paying dollars 6,000 ( pounds 4,000) to a Romanian middleman for a five-month-old baby girl in July. They also admitted trying to cross the border into Hungary with the baby, Monica, concealed in a cardboard box in the back of their car. But they denied knowingly having broken the law.

'The Mooneys only wanted to do a good thing for the child,' Mrs Floca told the court this week in a final plea for clemency. Denouncing yesterday's verdict as 'hard and drastic', she said that Judge Buta 'should have considered the Mooneys' motivation - not just the facts'.

In addition to the 28- month sentences for breaking adoption laws, the Mooneys, of Wokingham, Berkshire, were given two-year sentences for violating border laws. The latter sentences were ordered to run concurrently. Judge Buta ordered that on completion of the jail term the Mooneys be deported.

The three middlemen involved in the case were each jailed for two years and eight months, while the baby's natural parents, both 17-year-old gypsies, were sentenced to one year's jail, to begin when they reach 18.

Judge Buta was expressionless as she read out the verdict, for which she offered no explanation. Others, however, saw its harshness as a clear indication of Romania's determination to clamp down on the illegal trafficking of babies.

'Naturally, one never likes to think of people going to jail. But no matter how sorry you feel for the couple, it is pleasing to see that Romanians are serious about stopping illegal adoptions,' said Anne Arthur, head of the Bucharest branch of the British- funded Romanian Orphanage Trust. 'This should certainly deter anyone else thinking of adopting illegally.'

Mr Mooney's brother, Kevin, said: 'They are absolutely devastated. I am worried that they are both on the edge of a nervous breakdown and I can't see suicide being far away from their thoughts.'

(Photograph omitted)