A couple whose desperation for a baby led them into the arms of cruel fraudsters, whose bogus herbal treatments convinced them that their wish had finally been granted, have been cleared of involvement in immigration fraud by a High Court judge.
The couple could not accept that the baby (A) they brought home from Nigeria in 2012 was not their own although DNA tests had proved conclusively that they were not the natural parents. A Nigerian ‘doctor’ had fed the couple herbs that mimicked the effects of pregnancy and the ‘mother’ had been drugged and put through a charade labour before holding what she believed to be her daughter in her arms.
Speaking of the tragic fall-out from the scam, Mrs Justice Hogg said: “The fact remains that A is effectively an orphan. There is no one in this country that has parental responsibility for her and no information as to her birth, parentage, or background”.
Social workers and A’s guardian had argued that the couple were ‘knowing parties to an elaborate fraud and charade upon the British immigration authorities and now parties to an attempted fraud on the Court”. Their account of the birth was said to be ‘littered with inconsistency’ and implausibly embellished.
However, the judge ruled that the ‘intelligent, educated, hard-working’ couple were themselves victims of the fraud. She observed ”They so much wanted a baby….they allowed themselves to fall under the spell of the herbalists, believing what was said to the mother and acting faithfully upon the instructions given to them”.
Following a fact finding hearing, she concluded: “Contrary to the submissions of the local authority and guardian, I do not find that the parents were wilfully and knowingly involved with or parties to a wrongful removal of A from her mother, or that they cynically ‘bought’ a baby”.
Despite 10 years of trying surgery, laser treatment and IVF, the couple, both British citizens, had failed to conceive a child. However, in 2010, the father bumped into a friend from university who told him of a couple who had had twins after undergoing ‘some herbal treatment’ in Nigeria.
Disheartened by science’s failure to give them a child, the couple clutched at the chance and travelled to Nigeria where man describing himself as a doctor prescribed a course of herbal treatments. On returning to Britain and taking the herbs, the mother noticed her body changing. Her face, arms and abdomen all swelled up and even a ‘kindly and well-meaning’ local GP was taken in, accepting that she was seven months’ pregnant.
The GP signed off a maternity certificate and the couple travelled back to Nigeria. At the clinic near Lagos, they handed over £4,500 and the mother was given a brown liquid to drink before entering what she thought was a delivery room. The father waited in the corridor outside and, after few minutes, heard a baby cry. He entered the room to find the baby girl lying on the bed beside his wife. He was even duped into believing he had seen the umbilical cord cut and was given a placenta to carry away in a plastic bag.
After pocketing the couple’s cash, the Nigerian ‘doctor’ wrote: “Treatment successful, patient delivered of a baby girl. All fees paid. God’s doing”. That was the only document that accompanied the birth and, when the couple flew home with their ‘daughter’, social workers were quickly on the alert.
They were later arrested and the baby girl was taken into police protection. To the couple’s ‘considerable dismay and shock’, DNA testing proved that the little girl was not their child. Having waited so long for a baby, the couple simply could not accept the truth. Far from seeing themselves as victims, they insisted that ‘the combination of spiritual and herbal treatments was so powerful as to be able to change DNA’.
However, the judge said: “There is no evidence before me to say that the result of the DNA testing was wrong or likely to be wrong. I do not accept the explanation of the parents. On that basis I have to accept the validity of the results and find that the baby is not the biological child of the putative parents”.
The judge observed: “At first blush, the immediate reaction of the ordinary man on the proverbial Clapham omnibus would no doubt be, ‘don’t be daft, it’s a fraud, they knew it’”. However, noting the ‘enormous difficulty’ the couple had had in conceiving a child, she accepted that they were not party to the fraud.
“What is clear to me, having found that she is not their biological child but the child of another mother and father, and having been removed from her mother very soon after her birth, is that A certainly is the victim of wrongdoing and illegality, and very possibly her mother as well”, the judge added. The Court directed a further hearing to decide where the little girl’s best interests lie. The judge’s finding that the couple were innocent dupes will greatly improve their chances of persuading the Court that A’s future should be with them.