Hunt for depressed mother after children snatched in street

A mother suffering from depression was the focus of a nationwide police hunt yesterday after she allegedly abducted her two children at knifepoint from their foster carer in Middlesbrough.

Police said Shanaz Hafeez, 29, who was accompanied by two Asian men, threatened to stab the foster mother, who has been looking after her daughters for 18 months.

Ms Hafeezwas suffering from clinical depression and had been told that she faced losing the girls ­ Salina, five, and three-year-old Sarah ­ permanently through adoption.

Detective Superintendent Tony Hutchinson, in charge of the case, said: "The mother was in an extremely depressed state and we do have concerns not only for the children but also for her well-being.

"Since this incident took place, there have been no sightings. There are family links in Manchester and West Yorkshire, but searches there have drawn a blank." Ports and airports were alerted.

A red Ford Escort pulled up on a residential street in the east of Middlesbrough where the children were walking with the foster parent at about 3pm on Wednesday.

Police said that Ms Hafeez, who speaks little English, brandished the knife towards the carer and threatened to injure her before bundling one of the girls into the car.

One of the men took control of the second child and the group drove off. No one was injured.

The car, which had the registration number M679 NPY, had been bought in recent months, but the current owner is unknown and the vehicle has not been seen since Wednesday afternoon.

Ms Hafeez, who lives in Middlesbrough, is understood to have separated from her husband at least two years ago. Her daughters were taken into care by social services soon after the breakdown of the marriage.

She last saw the children six days before the abduction during a supervised visit where her distress at her situation was evident.

A police spokesman said: "She was extremely distressed during this meeting. We understand the mother was facing the loss of her children permanently.

Police do not believe that the children's father has any connection with the abduction. They admitted privately that they had no clear leads on where the group could be hiding.

Mr Hutchinson said: "What we want is for the public to be our eyes and ears. We especially want help from the Asian community. My primary concern is to ensure the safe return of the children."