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  1. ITV Report

Woman guilty of stealing baby from sleeping mother's hospital bedside in 1997

A South African woman has been found guilty of stealing a newborn baby from her mother as she slept in hospital nearly 19 years ago before raising the child as her own.

Video report by ITV News Africa correspondent John Ray:

Here's what we know about the extraordinary case.

  • Disappearance

Three-day-old Zephany Nurse was snatched from her mother's hospital bedside in April 1997.

The child's mother told authorities she saw a woman dressed in a nurse's uniform holding her baby before the child disappeared.

A nationwide search failed to find the infant.

Prosecutors said the woman also defrauded authorities when she registered the child as her own daughter in 2003, also changing her date of birth.

  • Reunited

It was a remarkable coincidence that brought the Nurse family together again.

Zephany's younger sister started at the same school and classmates noticed a striking resemblance between the two girls, who had become friends.

A police investigation and a DNA test revealed that the two friends were actually sisters.

Zephany’s biological parents, Celeste and Morne Nurse, were reunited with their daughter for the first time since the abduction last year.

  • Court Case

The woman - who is now 50 and can't be named for legal reasons - faced charges of kidnapping, fraud and breaking South Africa's child protection laws.

The woman told the court she had adopted the baby after struggling with infertility and was not aware the child was kidnapped, but was unable to produce any official paperwork.

But prosecutors said that the woman snatched the baby and tricked her husband into thinking Zephany was his biological daughter after suffering a miscarriage.

Judge John Hlophe said:

"You lied to him for almost two decades, made him believe he was the biological father.

You didn’t tell the father of the child that you had had a miscarriage. You made him believe you were still pregnant."

But in finding her guilty, judge John Hlophe dismissed the woman's defence as a "fairy tale", adding that "one doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to know you don't buy babies".

  • Family 'over the moon' at the return of their daughter

After giving evidence to the Cape Town court, Mr Nurse expressed how happy he was to have his daughter back.

"We're over the moon. My daughter is back and we just have to work our way, feel our way and just be happy," he said.