Zephany Nurse: 'South Africa's Madeleine McCann'

Celeste Nurse with her daughter Zephany before she was abducted. Photo / Supplied
Celeste Nurse with her daughter Zephany before she was abducted. Photo / Supplied

A mother who was reunited with a daughter nearly 18 years after she was snatched from the maternity ward in South Africa broke down today as she faced the woman accused of taking her.

Celeste Nurse wept as she recalled the day her little girl - known as "South Africa's Madeleine McCann" - was abducted from her hospital cot by a woman "dressed like a nurse".

The girl, now 18, was reunited with her parents last year following an extraordinary twist in the hunt for her in which she befriended the couple's other daughter at school.

A seamstress, 50, who cannot be named because it would identify the girl, denies kidnapping the baby, who her parents had named Zephany.

She raised the child as her own just a mile or so from where the girl's biological parents lived, in a run-down suburb of Cape Town.

Ms Nurse, 37, sobbed uncontrollably as she recalled the day her newborn was taken as she recovered from a caesarean section in a bed nearby.

She told the court: "The child was crying and there was a person sitting at the door. I couldn't function properly because I was under medication.

"The woman said to me 'your baby is crying'. She asked me if she could pick up the child, I said she could and that's all I can remember."

She was later woken by a nurse who was "frantically" asking her, 'Where is your child?'

Zephany's mother Celeste Nurse (right). Photo / AP
Zephany's mother Celeste Nurse (right). Photo / AP

"I said, 'the nurse was just here with the baby'. The two of us then ran through the hospital, along every floor, but the child was missing, nowhere to be found. She was gone, just gone."

The defendant looked directly at Ms Nurse throughout her evidence, but dropped her gaze when her voice cracked and she broke down as she told the names she had chosen for her first-born.

Earlier, both women had smiled as mother-of-three Ms Nurse told how she had given Zephany her first bath in hospital and described the mop of hair she had been born with.

"She looked like Simba the lion from the Lion King. She was so cute," Ms Nurse told the court.

Her ex-husband, Morne Nurse, followed her into the witness box at Cape Town's High Court.

He described the extraordinary coincidence last year which had led the couple to realise that the girl, by then 18, was their abducted daughter.

By chance the girl ended up at the same school as their younger daughter, Cassidy, and the pair became friends.

He told the court he noted how the girl resembled him and his other children and was approximately the same age as his missing daughter - and launched his own investigation into her true identity.

Mr Nurse described how he had orchestrated a meeting in order to question the girl.
He said: "We went to McDonalds and I started questioning her. I asked what her date of birth was - her birthday was the date my daughter was abducted.

"She said she didn't look like her own folks, and she told me that she had thought about that over and over.

"She offered to show me a picture of her folks on her phone and she showed me what they looked like.

"I asked her why she thought she looked like me and Cassidy. She laughed and said she didn't know, she said she felt confused. I didn't want to scare her. I wanted to protect her at all costs. I left with the information I was looking for. I went on to Facebook and got more information on this girl, I scrutinised her account. I saw pictures of her and she resembled my kids completely," he said.

He told prosecutor Evadne Kortje that he downloaded a picture from Zephany's Facebook account of her "mother" and sent it to a witness from the hospital, who was on the same ward as his wife on the day his child went missing in April 1997. She confirmed she recognised the defendant.

After spending weeks secretly digging for information on the girl he was now convinced was his own daughter, Mr Nurse contacted the police.

"It took me a month to get it all sorted, felt strong enough that this was my daughter. I took it to higher authorities then - I had all the information I needed," he told the court.

Friends and relatives from both families filled the public gallery above the court, many of them in tears as they listened to the testimony. The case of missing Zephany Nurse was one of South Africa's biggest and longest running news stories. Each year, her birthday was marked by a new appeal for information about her whereabouts.

The husband of the accused - who is expected to be called as a witness - accompanied his wife to court. According to reports, he had no idea the girl he raised was not his own.

Zephany's whereabouts have been kept secret since the arrest of the woman she'd believed to be her mother, in February last year, and the pair have not been allowed to meet or speak as part of the woman's strict bail conditions.

In an exclusive interview with Mail Online in the wake of the dramatic reunion with her long-lost child, Celeste thanked her child's kidnapper for "giving her a good life".

According to neighbours, the defendant reportedly had a series of miscarriages before allegedly abducting Zephany.

The defendant denies three charges, including kidnapping and fraud and faces a minimum of five years in jail if convicted of kidnapping.

In a lengthy document explaining her not guilty plea, the defendant described how she had suffered a string of miscarriages during her life and had lost a 6-week-old daughter.

Following another miscarriage in early 1997, she decided to keep the news from her husband after meeting a woman who promised to help her to adopt a newborn baby, who was not wanted by its mother.

Later, a tiny baby wrapped in a blanket was handed over to the defendant at a scruffy bus station in Cape Town, she claimed in her "plea of explanation" and she introduced the little girl to her husband, family and friends as her own. She later falsely registered the birth when the child was 6.

"I had on occasions thought about telling Michael and Zephany about the adoption but they had a very close relationship and I did not want to destroy it.

"As we grew closer it became harder to tell them the truth. I was also concerned that the truth might affect her education," her statement read.

"I initially struggled to be close to her," she revealed in the document. "It took me years to accept her as my own daughter.

"Although I was not her biological mother, I raised her as my own child. I recall sitting with her, brushing her hair, bathing her and always wondering where her parents were and why they did not want her as I found her to be pretty and cute.

"I thought I was helping a child who was not wanted and would not be cared for sufficiently by her biological parents."

-Daily Mail

- Daily Mail

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