Third arrest as hunt for Abbie continues

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The Independent Online
A THIRD person has been arrested on suspicion of wasting police time by officers investigating the abduction of newborn Abbie Humphries from a Nottingham hospital.

The 32-year-old man from Burnley, Lancashire, had contacted a tabloid newspaper claiming he had information about Abbie, who was taken from the Queen's Medical Centre 12 days ago, just four hours after she was born, by a woman disguised as a nurse. The man was arrested by police at a rendezvous with reporters in a Burnley pub.

Nottinghamshire police yesterday continued to complain that hoaxers were hampering their efforts to find Abbie, as Adrian Brooks, 36, a former dental technician from Gloucester was remanded at the town's magistrates court charged with grievous bodily harm against Abbie's mother Karen, 32, and her father Roger, 33, in connection with calls concerning the kidnapping.

On Monday police arrested an unnamed woman from Underwood, near Nottingham, suspected of making calls claiming she had the baby.

Detective Superintendent Harry Shepherd claims hoaxers have already wasted 60 hours of the investigation to find Abbie.

Police divide hoaxers into malicious callers, who have tried to settle a score by implicating a neighbour, relative or estranged partner in Abbie's disappearance, and attention seekers, who claim to have Abbie or information about her in a desire to be the centre of the drama.

Dr Eric Shepherd, a forensic psychologist, said national appeals for information always attract people who 'wanted to hurt or stitch someone up'. But he compared attention seekers to people who make false confessions. 'People mistakenly have narrow ideas about hoaxers, dismissing them as nutters, but they need not be psychologically ill,' he said.

'They can be people who are so deprived of attention that they would gain recognition even through notoriety. It is attention for attention's sake, a bit like streaking.

'There are also people who are simply unable to separate fact from fiction and actually believe they have committed the crime.'

According to Dr Barry Irving, director of the Police Foundation, motivation is complex and diverse. 'Malicious is a catch-all. It does not explain anything. Even if people are acting on jealousy or frustration they have reached an advanced stage of emotional disturbance.'

Dr Irving said hoaxers may be reliving a past personal trauma. People suffering from borderline psychriatric conditions could 'mug up' on all the details and become very convincing.

But the real problem for police, according to psychologists is not the presence of hoaxers, but officers' difficulties in distinguishing them from genuine callers. Police are caught in a dilemma. Every appeal for information brings a further flood of calls and the chance of more hoaxes to a system already choked by previous bogus lines. They worry the arrest of hoaxers might discourage genuine people, who may doubt the usefulness or veracity of their information, from calling.

Dr Irving said the 'information explosion' meant appeals now reached far more people and attracted more 'eccentric and pathological responses'. Without research into the problem and courses for officers on effective interviewing, police would continue to waste time on wild goose chases, or miss the crucial lead.