A Roma couple accused of abducting a mystery girl dubbed the “blonde angel” have been jailed pending trial by a Greek court.
The 39-year-old man and 40-year-old woman told a court yesterday that the girl, known only as Maria, was freely given to them as a baby because the biological mother could not look after her.
They have been charged with child abduction and falsifying birth records, after police found the girl - now thought to be around five or six years old - and used DNA tests to prove she was not related to the couple raising her.
And though the couple deny they snatched the girl and say her mother handed the girl to them shortly after giving birth, court officials were reportedly unconvinced and said that the pair would be detained until a trial at a later date.
“It was an adoption that was not exactly legal but took place with the mother’s consent,” Constantinos Katsavos, one of the lawyers representing the 39-year-old man, told reporters.
A worldwide appeal launched to find the girl's parents has yielded 10,000 responses.
Social workers suspect the couple of kidnapping the girl and sending her out to beg, or involving her in a sex ring, the BBC reported.
Maria was found by the police after officers raided the Roma camp in which she was living in order to search for drugs and weapons.
They noticed how little the blonde-haired, green-eyed, pale-skinned girl physically resembled her parents. Authorities found further discrepancies when examining the family's documents.
The broadcaster reports that the couple had registered different numbers of children with different regional family registries.
The woman claimed to have given birth to six children within the space of 10 months.
Thessalia Province's Police Director Vassilis Halatsis said that the couple gave “constantly changing claims” about how they came to have Maria.
The Roma community in Greece where the girl was found has come together to support the couple. The head of the Roma association in Farsala in central Greece has said that the couple treated the young girl better that their biological children and that she loved them.
Greek Police appealed internationally to find the girl's parents as the girl looked as if she might be from northern or eastern Europe.
Two families in the UK with long-missing children have also responded to the appeal.
The family of Ben Needham, a toddler from Sheffield who disappeared on the Greek island of Kos in 1991 aged 21 months, said Maria's discovery gave them “great hope”.
The missing boy's sister said she wanted police to carry out an investigation based on her own DNA - beginning at the encampment near Farsala where Maria was found.
Clarence Mitchell, a spokesman for Kate and Gerry McCann, whose daughter Madeleine went missing in 2007, said Maria's case had renewed their hope that Madeleine would also be found.
“They have always maintained that until there is evidence to prove otherwise missing children can still be out there waiting to be found,” he told the Daily Mirror.