Damilola Oyedele for THISDAY
A British couple – Simon and Gladys Heap from Oxford – have been convicted by a UK court for attempting to pass off a Nigerian baby as their biological child in a bid to smuggle it into the UK.
The couple was sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for 12 months, and 250 hours of community service after pleading guilty on April 16, 2013.
Gladys aged 52 and her husband, 47, had entered Nigeria in July 2010 and had gone to the British High Commission in Lagos to apply for a British passport for the baby girl claiming Gladys had a baby just a few days after entering the country.
According to the British High Commission in Abuja, the staff at the High Commission were however suspicious.
“…DNA tests later confirmed that neither adult was related to the child. A birth certificate they had presented was also found to be fraudulent. They flew home without the baby,” the statement issued in Abuja yesterday said.
Although the statement was silent on how the couple came about the child, it implied that the child may have been purchased.
Following an investigation by a joint Border Force and Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), the couple was arrested and charged with facilitating a breach of immigration law. They were sentenced by the Isleworth Crown Court.
The head of the Border Force at Heathrow, Mr. Marc Owen, described the case as shocking. “Thanks to the close co-operation between Border Force, the Metropolitan Police and staff at the British High Commission they were stopped and we were able to bring them to justice,” he said.
The leader of the investigation team, Detective Inspector Kate Bridger, said the couple tried to circumvent the adoption system and deceive the authorities.
“A child should not be treated as a commodity to be bought and sold,” she said, adding that the system is in place to protect children. The child has remained in Nigeria.
Heap, an expert on Nigeria, works with companies trying to forge international trade links. His wife is a nurse.
Heap has a BA in History from Cambridge University, an MA in African Studies from the University of London and a PhD in History from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. He also studied History at Oxford University.
He has previously worked as a researcher for child rights organisation, Plan International; a fellow at the University of Ibadan and is currently a senior researcher at the development agency Japan International Cooperation Agency.