Couple 'made mistake' over baby smuggling: Woman asks Romanian authorities to be understanding with her situation

THE BRITISH couple accused of trying to smuggle a baby out of Romania yesterday appealed to their jailers to show understanding for what both described as a 'stupid mistake'.

In written statements accompanying an application for bail, Adrian and Bernadette Mooney of Wokingham, Berkshire, said they were sorry for what they had done. 'Please be understanding with my situation,' wrote Mrs Mooney. 'This was only a stupid mistake.'

British diplomats in Bucharest expect the Mooneys, aged 41 and 39 respectively, to be freed on bail today pending trial on charges of breaking Romania's adoption and border laws.

Hopes are rising, moreover, that rather than facing jail if found guilty, the Mooneys could get away with a heavy fine.

'We do not wish to make an example out of the British couple,' Emil Dinu, the chief prosecutor in the case, told Reuters news agency yesterday. 'They seem a nice couple who were led into doing the wrong thing . . . They will have a fair trial.'

The Mooneys were arrested earlier this month after border guards caught them trying to cross into Hungary with a five-month-old girl concealed in a picnic basket.

According to the police, Mr and Mrs Mooney paid dollars 6,000 ( pounds 3,900) to a Romanian middle man and two accomplices responsible for setting up the deal.

The three Romanians, together with the 17-year-old parents of the baby, will join the Mooneys in the dock for the trial, expected to take place later this month.

The Mooneys' case is the first involving allegations of child trafficking since the Romanian government sought to clamp down on the problem by introducing strict new adoption laws in 1991.

However, charity workers in Bucharest fear that, although not nearly so frequent, illegal baby sales are still common.

According to Jeremy Condor, of the Romanian Orphanage Trust, a British-funded charity which is helping with adoption and child welfare issues: 'We have clear evidence that it still happens - particularly near the borders with Hungary and Turkey.

'Village girls of 16 or younger who get pregnant are seen as having brought shame on the family. Selling the baby sometimes appears as an easy solution.'

In the immediate aftermath of the Romanian revolution, child trafficking boomed. With more than 100,000 babies and children discovered to be in poorly- equipped orphanages, the country became a magnet for childless couples from the West seeking babies for adoption.

Between December 1989 and July 1991, foreigners adopted more than 7,000 babies legally and an estimated 10,000 illegally.

Under the law passed in 1991, such trading was made illegal and the process of adoption by foreigners was made considerably harder.

Instead of the previous free-for- all, prospective parents are now carefully screened by the authorities in both their native countries and Romania and all applications generally take a minimum of one year.

Under the new regulations, the Mooneys, who successfully adopted a Romanian girl in 1991, were barred from adopting another child from the country on the grounds of their ages.

But even if they had been younger, the chances of success would have been small - under the new law, only five applications from a particular country can be processed at any one time, which has resulted in a prohibitively long waiting list.