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Home / Spectrum / South Africa family reunited after 17-year kidnapping mystery! (VIDEO)

South Africa family reunited after 17-year kidnapping mystery! (VIDEO)

Celeste Nurse getty images
Celeste Nurse getty images

A seamstress who kidnapped a three-day-old baby and raised her as her own for nearly 18 years was today jailed for ten years for ‘causing so much harm’ to the girl and her devastated birth parents.

The 51-year-old woman had ‘betrayed and lied’ to the stolen child, the judge told her in a stinging rebuke, before he sent her to the cells.

Outside court, the kidnapper’s relatives and the birth family of the girl – who has become known as South Africa’s Madeleine McCann – came close to blows following the short, but tense hearing in Cape Town.

The story of how the girl named Zephany by her birth parents, Morne and Celeste, was snatched from her sleeping mother’s arms in April 1997, has gripped South Africa for almost two decades.

The incredible turn of events that led to her recovery 18 months ago, seemed to be the happy ending everyone had hoped for.

After losing Zephany when she was just three days old, Morne and Celeste never gave up hope that she was alive – throwing parties every year on her birthday to keep her memory alive, which were widely covered in the media.

But it was not until last year when their 13 year old daughter, Cassidy, told them about her new, older friend at school with whom she felt an inexplicable bond, that Morne became convinced that his long lost daughter had finally been found.

Cassidy said her new friend bore a striking resemblance to her and her parents and DNA tests later confirmed the teenager was Zephany.

In fact, the teenager – now 18 – was living just a few streets away from the Nurse family.

Like the kidnapper’s husband – whom she believed to be her father – she had no idea of her true identity.

Today Judge John Hlope condemned the kidnapper, who cannot be identified, for failing to return the stolen child to her distraught birth parents and showing ‘no remorse’ for the appalling deception against her own and Zephany’s family.

He told the packed court: ‘You had all the opportunity in the world to return to the child.

‘Year in and year out, the parents marked the birthday and made the event public and there was wide publicity.

‘There is no way you did no know that this was their child, but you decided to keep her anyway.’

During her trial for kidnapping and fraud, the woman denied she had taken the baby and told the court she had suffered a string of miscarriages and heartbreak before meeting a mysterious woman called ‘Sylvia’ at a hospital in Cape Town, who later sold her a baby at a busy train station.

To date, she denies she had dressed in a nurse’s uniform in order to snatch tiny Zephany from her mother’s arms.

An earlier attempt to take another newborn at the Groote Schuur hospital had been foiled by the mother, the court heard.

Although the reunion between Zephany and her parents was initially celebrated as a ‘dream come true’ for both sides, relations between them have since soured.

In an exclusive interview with MailOnline earlier this year, Morne, an electrical sales rep, described feeling as if his daughter had been ‘kidnapped all over again’ after the teenager cut off her birth family in support for the woman who had raised her.

Today, after the 12 minute hearing, asked if he thought the jailing of the kidnapper would help heal their relationship, he said: ‘She’s my daughter, she has my DNA, I don’t know what will happen.

‘It’s up to her. I am just glad it is all over, she [the kidnapper] deserves what happened to her.’

Celeste was not in court to see the woman jailed – she has stayed away from court for much of the proceedings, and clearly found it distressing giving evidence against the kidnapper who took her child, and broke down on a number of occasions.

The loyal husband of the kidnapper – who told court he had no inkling that the beloved girl was not his own – blew kisses down from the public gallery to his wife, wearing a black coat, and wept as she descended into the cells beneath the court room.

Asked by MailOnline if Zephany – who is known by the name given to her by her kidnapper – was aware of the woman’s fate, he replied: ‘I am going to have to phone her now and tell her.’

Zephany gave evidence behind closed doors during the kidnapper’s sentencing hearing and was reportedly supportive of the woman, to whom she remains close.

Outside court, family confirmed to MailOnline newspaper reports that the 18 year old is now expecting her own child.

The court previously heard that the seamstress claimed she hid a miscarriage from her husband and had bought the baby for £50 at a train station from a woman who promised to help her with an adoption.

Her lies meant her betrayed husband brought the baby up as his own, unbeknown to him his wife’s dark secret.

But her web of lies came crashing down when she was convicted of kidnap and led down to the cells.

Speaking to MailOnline in March earlier this year, she said: ‘I’m not sorry I took her when the woman handed her over that day. I will always be in her life if she wants me.

‘To me, I will always be her mother. I am sorry she found out the way she did. I am sorry for what the Nurse family has been through and I am happy they found her, I am proud of her.’

Although they have been reunited with their long lost daughter, the reunion between the family appears to have been fraught.

In March, the kidnapper’s husband, a 52-year-old electrician, was left ‘broken’ last year when he discovered his beloved ‘daughter’ was not his.

He told MailOnline how the teenager remained ‘close’ to him and his wife, despite the defendant’s appalling deceit.

He said: ‘She has abandoned the Nurses as a result of what has happened.

‘The main thing is that all of us should act like adults and put this child first.

‘She is the most important person in this situation. Whatever happens now, she won’t be made to stay away from us, that is her choice, she is an adult.’

Giving evidence at her trial at the Western Cape High Court, the defendant admitted she had deceived her husband and ‘child’ for almost two decades, choosing not to tell them the truth until she was arrested by police last year.

She had miscarried a baby in December in 1996, she told the court, but decided not to tell her family or friends.

In his testimony, her biological father Morne told the court how he had solved South Africa’s most famous missing person mystery after the couple’s daughter Cassidy, now 16, struck up a friendship with a girl at school, in January last year.

After seeing a remarkable resemblance between the older girl to his two other children, Mr Nurse began to suspect that the teenager was his missing daughter and launched his own investigation.

He gently quizzed the then 17-year-old about her date of birth and other family details and downloaded a picture of the girl’s ‘mother’ from her Facebook page, which he sent to an eye witness who had helped police at the time of the kidnapping.

Convinced that the teenager was in fact his own long lost child, he approached the police who interviewed the defendant and carried out DNA tests, which confirmed the father’s suspicions.

KIDNAPPER: ‘I WILL ALWAYS BE IN HER LIFE IF SHE WANTS ME’

As she prepared to hear her fate, the kidnapper gave an impromptu interview to MailOnline at a busy coffee shop opposite court, insisting that she would ‘always be the girl’s mother’.

‘I’m not sorry I took her when the woman handed her over that day,’ she said. ‘I will always be in her life if she wants me.

‘To me, I will always be her mother. I am sorry she found out the way she did. I am sorry for what the Nurse family has been through and I am happy they found her, I am proud of her.’

The woman, who was banned under the terms of her bail conditions from having contact with the girl, added: ‘I miss making food and clothes for her, we used to go shopping together. I miss her a lot.

‘I used to do everything for her, it is hard not to be able to do that now. I am not afraid of losing her, we give her love.

‘She was raised well, she had everything a child wanted. Whatever decision she makes, we will still be in her life.’

The accused’s husband, a gentle, quietly-spoken electrician sitting next to his wife, revealed their ‘daughter’ is still living with him and is standing by the woman who raised her.

‘She is strong, but I am also worried about her,’ he said. ‘I want her to have a relationship with her birth parents, I can’t stand in the way of that, we both want that.’

Asked if he forgave his wife for lying to him for so long, he said: ‘I still feel the same for my wife, I have all the love still for her. My family is split up now, my wife can’t be with us.

‘Our daughter wants her mother to come home, to be a family again. She has forgiven her and still thinks of her as her mother.’

He revealed that following a row some months ago, the teenager had not had contact with her biological parents.

‘She is not having any contact with them. She had a tiff with them and just blocked them out, I don’t want to say any more than that.’

During the trial, the atmosphere between the two families and their supporters in the public gallery was fraught.

Outside court, Morne Nurse had dismissed the kidnapper’s husband as ‘an idiot’ for not realising his wife had deceived him. But the defendant’s husband refused to hit back.

‘We are family, we are fathers, we are examples to our children,’ he added. ‘We must respect each other as grown ups, our children look up to me.

‘Really, I had no idea that she wasn’t my child. People used to tell me she looked like me and I thought she was mine.’

The accused was picked out from an identity parade last year by Shireen Piet, a patient on the maternity ward in April 1997, who told how she had caught the defendant attempting to snatch her own newborn baby.

Mrs Piet had helped create a photo-fit of the defendant at the time of Zephany’s disappearance that bears a striking resemblance to her.

At the time of her arrest, the accused claimed she had given birth to her daughter at a mobile maternity unit, but changed her story once DNA results revealed they could not be related.

Rejecting her testimony to the court in March, Judge Hlope told the accused: ‘One does not have to be rocket scientist to know that you don’t buy a child.

‘Human beings are not bought, you don’t buy a child in South Africa. Your story is a fairytale and this court rejects it with the contempt it deserves.’

In addition to being found guilty of kidnapping, the accused was convicted of fraud relating to an application for a birth certificate for the stolen child in order to get her into school.

She was also convicted of breaking child protection laws for knowingly raising a child she knew not to be her own.

(Mail Online)

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