Black depression that leads to abductions: Women who take other people's babies have often lost their own, or suffered a miscarriage. Mary Braid reports

THE PARENTS of Abbie Humphries share an abject despair that most people can barely imagine.

Officers investigating the disappearance of Abbie, only four hours after her birth at the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham on Friday, are optimistic their inquiries will have a happy ending.

Ken Norman, 73, organiser of the Portia Trust, which works to support women child abductors, also believes she may be found safe, with a woman who has lost her own baby. The trust has dealt with more than 50 baby snatches since it was founded in 1971. None of the stolen children was older than 12 months.

'Women who take babies have usually suffered a miscarriage, lost their own child in infancy or found out they are infertile,' he said. 'They usually want babies that they can pretend are theirs.'

Mr Norman appealed to the woman who took Abbie to get in touch. He is offering total confidentiality. 'The police disapprove of this approach at first but eventually they change their minds,' he said. 'We just want to get her reunited with her parents.' He said it was possible that the woman who abducted Abbie was unaware of the emotional appeal for her return made on Saturday by her mother, Karen Humphries.

'Women who abduct are often in a state of black depression, cut off from friends and uninterested in television or newspapers.' He pointed to the case of Pauline James, whose three-year jail sentence for baby abduction in 1971 led to the establishment of the trust. 'When the baby was recovered . . . Pauline did not even know its real name although it had been repeated on television. The judge said Pauline was utterly calculating and selfish. In fact she was the opposite. Today she is married and has a child of her own.'