Men held after 'kidnap and rape' of girl aged 3

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The Independent Online

A three-year-old girl who is said to have been kidnapped from her home and raped was being treated in hospital last night. Three men are being questioned; one suspect is said to be known to the girl's family.

The girl disappeared from her home in Rumney, Cardiff, on Monday evening during a party. Police suspect the girl may have been raped at a flat in Newport, 30 minutes' drive from her home. Forensic specialists are examining the flat.

The girl was rescued when the car in which she was travelling crashed 80 miles away in Berkshire early on Tuesday. Police had been following the grey Ford Escort, which was being driven erratically, after a nationwide alert.

The girl was taken by police helicopter to hospital in Swindon and is still being treated for serious injuries from the sex attack, and cuts and bruises she suffered in the crash. A 26-year-old man driving the car was arrested at the scene.

Traffic officers began following the car after it was spotted jumping a red light with its headlights turned off at Blagrove in Wiltshire, near junction 16 of the M4 shortly after 1am. The police followed the car for 18 miles until the driver lost control and the vehicle crashed mid-way between Marlborough and Hungerford on the A4.

A huge police search had been set up after the girl, who has several brothers and sisters, disappeared from her home between 7pm and 11pm on Monday and the family called police.

The three-year-old's mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, described her "shock" at the kidnapping. She said: "It's like a nightmare. You don't expect this to happen to you. The police had everybody out looking for her. They were brilliant."

A 34-year-old man was arrested while the search for the missing girl continued, and a 47-year-old man was arrested in Cardiff yesterday morning. All three were being questioned in South Wales and police were given extra time to hold the 26-year-old and the 34-year-old.

Uniformed officers have been on high-visibility patrols in the Rumney area, with detectives making house-to-house inquiries since the girl's abduction.

Superintendent Josh Jones, the deputy divisional commander for Cardiff, said: "This is an extremely rare event which makes it all the more shocking. Rumney is a close-knit community and we ask the residents to work closely with us in providing any information that they can. We will continue to provide a very visible police presence in the area."

Terry Payne, the grandfather of the murdered schoolgirl Sarah Payne, said the incident bore similarities to her abduction. Sarah, aged eight, was snatched by Roy Whiting, from a country lane in West Sussex in July 2000, and taken away in a van. The following year, Whiting was sentenced to life for the kidnap and murder.

Mr Payne said: "It happened 25 yards away from where I am sitting. Our story had a terrible ending but at least this mother has got her little girl back. She will never let her out of her sight again now."