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The husband of a woman on trial for kidnapping a baby sobbed today as he described feeling ‘broken’ after discovering that the ‘daughter’ he had raised for 18 years was not his.
The 51-year-old choked back tears as he described being left ‘devastated and in shock’ when police told him the child he adored was in fact South Africa’s most famous missing person.
The girl, who is known as South Africa’s Madeleine McCann, was found last year after becoming friends with a younger girl at school who turned out to be her long-lost biological sister.
A 50-year-old seamstress is on trial for kidnapping the girl when she was three-days old from the maternity ward where her real mother, Celeste Nurse, dozed in a nearby hospital bed.
The accused woman’s husband nodded sadly and wiped his eyes, as he agreed with prosecutor Evadne Kortjie that his wife had deceived him for nearly 18 years.
‘That is right,’ he said in a quiet voice, his eyes brimming.
He had never suspected the girl was not his. ‘She has my complexion, my colour. I believed she was my child,’ he told the Western Cape High Court.
The dark-haired man told the court he had believed his wife had been pregnant until he came home from work one day and found her with a newborn girl in April 1997. He admitted the plan had been for him to be present at the birth.
‘Wasn’t it strange that she would go to hospital and have this baby and come home like that,’ the prosecutor asked him. ‘You weren’t notified?’
‘No,’ he admitted, looking at his wife in the dock.
When asked him to cast his mind back to the moment when he had held the newborn for the first time, his faced creased in a smile at the memory.
‘I felt joy, to see the child,’ he said.
During her own evidence to the court, the defendant claimed she had a miscarriage in early 1997, which she had kept secret.
She described how she had been offered ‘fertility treatment and/ or adoption’ by a woman called Sylvia she had met in hospital in Cape Town following the miscarriage.
After paying ‘Sylvia’ installments towards the £450, the accused woman was unexpectedly handed a new born baby at a busy train station by another woman sent by ‘Sylvia’, who then ‘disappeared’.
She claimed she had signed some adoption papers for the baby girl, but no longer had any records.
Asked by Judge John Hlope if she still had ‘Sylvia’s’ phone number, the defendant told him: ‘I lost it somehow.’
Today, as she concluded her evidence, the dark-haired woman apologised to Morne and Celeste Nurse for suffering during their daughter’s entire childhood.
‘Celeste, I never took your child. I didn’t take her out of your arms,’ she said, glancing up at the public gallery where Mr Nurse and family members sat. Mrs Nurse has not attended court since she gave evidence on the opening day of the trial.
Accused: A 50-year-old seamstress (pictured right) is on trial for kidnapping the girl when she was three-days old from the maternity ward
‘I am sorry for what the Nurses went through. I didn’t know she was kidnapped,’ the defendant added.
The stocky defendant brought up the girl in Lavender Hill, a poor suburb of Cape Town, only a few streets from where the child’s natural family was living.
She described how the girl – who was named Zephany by her natural parents – had a close relationship with the man she thought of as her father.
‘Her first word was “daddy”’ the accused testified. She said she had not told the girl or her husband the truth as they had ‘such a close bond’.
During his own evidence to the court, Mr Nurse described the extraordinary coincidence last year which had led the couple to realise that a 17-year-old girl, who had befriended their younger daughter, Cassidy, at school was in fact their missing child.
He told the court how he noted how the girl resembled him and his other children and was approximately the same age as his missing daughter – and launched his own investigation into her true identity.
He arranged to take her and Cassidy out after school and, after quizzing the girl and his own detective work, became convinced she was his own long lost child, and reported the matter to police.
The woman on trial faces charges of kidnapping, fraud and contravening the Children’s Act. She has pleaded not guilty.