The mother of three sons had spent the last nine months pretending she was pregnant. Her house, on a middle-class estate three miles from Basildon Hospital, Essex, contained baby clothes and nursery equipment.
When officers arrived at her door at 3.45am yesterday a woman "confirmed that there was a baby there, a very young new-born baby", said Detective Superintendent David Bright. He added: "She had been carrying on the charade of being pregnant for many, many months. She had been wearing cushions."
The woman's estranged husband was at the house when the police arrived. Karli, thedaughter of Karl and Tanya Hawthorne, was sleeping in a cot in a small back bedroom which was covered in football posters. She had been fed and well cared- for. Det Supt Bright said: "It's a nice house, a nice family home ... it is not like dealing with a hardened criminal."
Sixteen hours had passed from the time Karli, weighing 6lb 15oz, was snatched from a cot beside her mother's bed in the post-natal recovery room of Basildon Hospital. Mrs Hawthorne, who gave birth by Caesarean section on her 30th birthday, was still drowsy from her anaesthetic when her baby was taken, but the woman in the opposite bed raised the alarm. Maternity staff chased the abductor but could not catch her.
Following nationwide news coverage of the case Essex police received 300 calls from members of the public. The vital call came shortly after midnight. Several other calls completed the picture.
Yesterday an exhausted and tearful Mr Hawthorne posed for photographs with Karli at the hospital. Cradling the baby he thought he had lost, he said: "I'm just happy to get her back. Thank you. I'd just like to thank the police and everybody for what they've done." That was as much as he was prepared to say because the couple's story had been bought by a national newspaper after a fierce bidding war.
Meanwhile a full review of Basildon Hospital security was under way. Sue Jennings, chief executive of the hospital, said 13 video cameras, installed in the maternity unit following the inquiry into the abduction of Abbie Humphries in 1994 from a hospital in Nottingham, had speeded up the search.
Basildon police last night charged Denise Giddings, 33, of Langdon Hill, Essex, with the abduction of a child.