Woman guilty of kidnapping baby and raising her for 17 years in South Africa

She claimed she entered into a private "adoption" programme

South Africa, baby, kidnapped, woman, guilty, High Court, Celeste Nurse

Celeste Nurse (right) the mother of a girl that was kidnapped as a baby nearly 19 years ago, arrives at a court for the appearance of a South African woman suspected of the kidnapping in Cape Town, South Africa | Image: Schalk van Zuydam / AP/Press Association Images

A woman has been found guilty of kidnapping a newborn baby and raising her for 17 years before she was reunited with her family.

The accused had pleaded not guilty, saying she had been given the baby at a Cape Town railway station after entering into a private "adoption" programme.

But High Court judge John Hlophe told the 50-year-old woman: "You must have been the person who removed the child from hospital. Your story if anything is a fairy tale and the court rejects it with the contempt it deserves".

The accused, who cannot be named in order to protect the new identity of the kidnapped girl, remained grim-faced staring at the judge.

The girl's biological mother, Celeste Nurse, sobbed loudly as the verdict was delivered, and there were chants of "Yes! Yes!" from the public gallery.

The accused was denied bail and must return to court on May 30th for sentencing. She faces a minimum of five years in prison.

The girl's true identity was revealed last February, when her younger biological sister started attending the same school - and pupils pointed out her remarkable likeness to a final-year student.

'Zephany Joy Nurse'

The younger girl told her parents, who met the older girl and immediately thought she was their long-lost child, who they had named Zephany Joy Nurse.

They called the police, and DNA tests confirmed their suspicions.

Without realising, the Nurse family had been living within a couple of miles of their kidnapped daughter, celebrating her birthday every year and never giving up hope of one day finding her.

The girl's mother cried in court as she described how she woke up in the maternity ward of a Cape Town hospital to discover that her three-day-old baby had disappeared from her cot on March 30th 1997.

Witnesses said they saw an unknown woman in a nurse's uniform at the hospital around the time the girl vanished, and one of them picked out the accused at an identity parade.

The accused woman told an earlier court hearing that after a miscarriage in December 1996, she had paid a woman who promised her to find her a child to adopt.

The woman said that in April 1997 she was given a baby wrapped in a blanket at a station in Cape Town.

She had not told her husband about the miscarriage, and presented the baby to him as their own child, she told the court.