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article imageMother tells S. Africa court how newborn baby was kidnapped

By Lawrence Bartlett (AFP)     Feb 23, 2016 in World

The mother of a newborn baby kidnapped from her hospital bedside 18 years ago broke down and wept in a South African court Tuesday as she described how she awoke to find the girl had vanished.

Celeste Nurse, 36, gave evidence in the Cape Town High Court in a case of astonishing coincidence which saw her finally reunited with her daughter only last year.

Standing in the witness box, just metres from the 50-year-old woman accused of kidnapping her baby, Nurse kept her composure before bursting into tears when she was asked what she had named the girl.

"Zephany Joy Nurse," she replied.

The accused woman, who has pleaded not guilty to kidnapping, cannot be named as this would reveal the stolen girl's new identity.

The kidnapped girl, who is now 18, asked for court protection from the media storm which greeted her discovery in February last year.

That came about when a younger daughter of the Nurses, Cassidy, began attending high school and pupils pointed out her remarkable likeness to a final year student.

The younger girl told her parents, who met the older girl and immediately believed she was their long-lost baby.

Her parents called the police, and DNA tests confirmed that the girl was indeed Zephany.

In court, Celeste Nurse, in a checked skirt and black T-shirt, described how Zephany had been stolen at Cape Town's Groote Schuur hospital on March 30, 1997, when she was just three days old.

Nurse, who was 18 when the child was born, said she was sleeping under medication in a bed closest to the ward door with her baby in a cot next to the door, when she woke groggily to hear the girl crying.

"I saw a person sitting at the door" dressed as a nurse, she said.

"She asked me 'can I pick up the child?' I said yes. That's all I can remember until a nurse woke me and asked where the baby was.

"I asked 'what do you mean, the nurse was just here with the baby'.

"We ran everywhere in the hospital. The baby was nowhere to be found. Missing. Gone."

- Never gave up hope -

The accused woman, dressed in slacks and a striped top, listened intently at times and at others gazed down into her lap.

In a 35-page explanation of her plea of not guilty, which was handed to the court, she described being abused as a child and raped and beaten by boyfriends before having a series of miscarriages.

After a miscarriage in December 1996, she said she did not tell her husband about it and began exploring options to adopt a child.

She says she paid a woman who promised to find her a child to adopt, and in April 1997 she was handed a baby wrapped in a blanket at a train station in Cape Town "by an unknown female".

The baby turned out to be Zephany, who she presented to her husband as her own child.

Without knowing it, the Nurse family lived within a couple of kilometres (miles) of their kidnapped daughter, celebrating her birthday every year and never giving up hope of finding her.

Zephany is now approaching her 19th birthday after reportedly being raised with love and kindness by the accused woman and her husband, who she believed were her real parents.

In a statement read on her behalf by a lawyer shortly after Zephany discovered the truth about her past, she said: "I want to say thank you to all the people who supported me through this, for continuously praying and never giving up on looking for me.

"Under the circumstances I am doing fine."

The accused woman has been free on bail on condition that she does not contact potential state witnesses -- including her own husband and Zephany.

She faces a minimum of five years in jail if convicted of kidnapping.

The trial is expected to last at least a week.

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