Police foiled in dead baby case

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THE BABY was found wrapped in a pale-blue towel. Grass from the muddy field was tossed over her body. On top was a cast-iron water trough. A pathologist said that the child had been fully developed, but her body was badly decomposed, making it impossible to be sure whether she had been born alive or dead.

The police are sure they know the identity of the parents. The mother was 14 years old; the father, 52. DNA tests make the chance of a mistake about one in 40,000. Yet six months after the tragic bundle was found near the commuter town of Tonbridge, Kent, the body is still in the mortuary. No one is expected to claim it or face criminal charges.

Police in the case feel frustrated and angry. They believe they know the whole story, but cannot act. Inquiries began last October after an anonymous caller said that a girl had been pregnant, but there was no sign of a baby.

Police questioned the girl, by then 15, her sister, 12, her mother, and a 52-year-old man living with them. Neighbours said the householders were a 'problem family'.

Clothes stained with blood that matched the baby's had been found inside the house. Inquiries revealed that the 15-year-old had not seen her doctor and that both girls had been taken out of school to be taught at home.

After consulting a solicitor, the suspected parents exercised their right to silence. A few weeks later, a lodger at the house contacted the police. He said that one night in October he had taken the man for a drive. They travelled along the wooded lanes for about three miles to the hamlet of Tudeley. They stopped by a gateway. The man got out carrying a black plastic bag and a spade and disappeared into a field.

On 22 November police found the blue bundle under a trough in the field. The man was arrested and given police bail, but fled to Scotland with the girl. On Christmas Eve they were arrested.

Police believed they had enough evidence to bring charges, but they were wrong. A charge of murder or manslaughter cannot be brought because the pathologist could not tell whether the baby was killed or stillborn. Concealment of a birth, which carries a maximum two-year sentence, was ruled out because the only witness was technically an accomplice. A charge of unlawful sexual intercourse has to be brought within a year and there is not time for all the necessary tests to be carried out.

A date for an inquest will be set this week. After it is completed, the body can be released and cremated. The suspected father is now in prison for burglary. The girl is in a children's home.