A High Court judge has raised concerns about “desperate childless parents” being caught up in “strange” baby-selling scams in Africa.
Mr Justice Coleridge said there was evidence that women were going to Nigeria seeking fertility treatment then being sold unwanted babies “for very substantial sums of money” after fraudsters had tricked them into thinking they had become pregnant and given birth.
He said there was more than one case “featuring almost identical facts” before English courts, described the situation as “very serious” and questioned the “lack of involvement” of Nigerian authorities.
The judge raised concerns after giving journalists permission to report details of one case aired before him in the Family Division of the High Court.
Mr Justice Coleridge said the case – involving a Nigerian couple from London – was “very worrying” and gave rise to “very real public interest”.
And, at a hearing in London, he agreed to release parts of a written ruling he had made on the case to reporters.
“I am entirely unsurprised by the media interest,” said Mr Justice Coleridge, at the hearing. “This is a very serious situation.”
The judge added: “It is not the only case, on almost identical facts, before the courts at the moment. It certainly gives rise to very real public interest, particularly the lack of involvement by the Nigerian authorities.”
He went on: “The circumstances in this case are completely unusual, very bizarre and truly worrying.”
In his written ruling, the judge said the couple involved were members of a charismatic church and had a “strong faith and belief in the power of prayer”.
He said the woman was “immersed in a Christian religious environment where miracles are not regarded as impossible”.
“All the mother’s actions, in my judgment, both in this country and Nigeria, are consistent with her evidence that she had no idea she was involved in this strange scam, designed to put together unwanted children with desperate, childless parents. Her complete desolation when confronted with the reality, as attested to by ... the police ... supports her credibility,” he said.
“I am totally satisfied on an examination of all the evidence that this mother had no idea she was taking part in bogus fertility treatment, much less an elaborate and well-tried system for selling unwanted babies to desperate parents in exchange for very substantial sums of money.”
He added: “Both she and her husband were hoodwinked and are innocent victims so far as their involvement in these matters is concerned. They neither knowingly participated in the wrongful removal of the child from her natural mother nor in the wrongful importation of her into this country.”
Mr Justice Coleridge’s written ruling outlined evidence from the mother and arguments from UK local authority social workers responsible for child welfare.
The woman told the judge she regularly travelled to Nigeria to visit family. She said she underwent fertility treatment in Nigeria after paying about £6,000, then “gave birth” to a girl and returned to the UK. The woman said she was “shattered” when DNA tests instigated by social workers and police in England showed that she and her husband were not the baby’s biological parents.
She said she “gave birth” in January 2011 at the God’s Gift Clinic in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The woman said fertility treatment started in late 2009. She said she had been cared for by a doctor called Chineri Emica Precious, who had given her “a number of injections and tablets and capsules”.
Mr Justice Coleridge agreed that the little girl could now live with the woman and her husband.