Parents 'unable to care for snatched toddler'

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A Northern Ireland couple who took their child from state care and fled to Scotland are unable to look after the infant, police warned today.

The officer leading the search for 17-month-old Sophie Anderson appealed for help in tracing her parents, Lucy Anderson, 30, and Stuart Creaney, 22.

A police hunt was launched yesterday, but officers revealed today that the toddler has been in care since birth, sparking fears that the couple are too inexperienced to look after her.

Detective Inspector Stephen Wright said police services in the Republic of Ireland and in Britain have been alerted and he appealed for help from the public in tracing the little girl and her parents.

"We have a growing concern," he said. "We have a concern that they haven't those parenting skills."

The child was collected as normal from premises in Scarva Street in Banbridge, Co Down, at 10.20am on Monday, to be taken to a mother and toddlers' group.

They did not attend the group and travelled instead to Belfast, where the mother and child boarded the 11.45am sailing to Stranraer.

Police believe Sophie's father boarded the earlier 7.30am sailing.

Mr Wright said: "Our inquiries are concentrating in the Stranraer area, to establish where they went after they left the ferry."

Sophie is described as having dark, wavy hair. She was wearing a cream John Rocha top with rust-coloured flowers, cream jeans with pink flowers and pink Doodles shoes. She may also have been wearing a yellow coat and was in a pink pushchair.

Ms Anderson is described as approximately 5ft 5in or 5ft 6in with a flushed complexion, a protruding lower lip and dark, straight hair parted in the middle. She speaks with a strong Derry accent and was wearing jeans and a grey hoodie.

Mr Creaney is described as being boyish-looking with auburn, wavy hair and a light beard. When seen at the ferry terminal he was wearing a black coat with a red hooded top underneath and was carrying a boxed TV, a black rucksack and pulling a black suitcase.

Police are appealing to the couple to return Sophie to her carers as soon as possible or contact social services, close family or police.