A couple were so desperate for a baby they were duped by fraudsters into believing bogus medical treatment had led to a pregnancy, labour and even birth, a High Court judge has ruled.
Despite DNA tests proving conclusively that the British couple are not genetically related to the baby girl they brought home from Nigeria in 2012, so convincing was the fraud they they still cannot accept they are not her biological parents.
The court heard that when the couple traveled to Nigeria to seek infertility treatment, the woman had been given 'herbs' by a man posing as a doctor, which caused her stomach to swell.
She was then drugged and put through a charade labour, before being passed the baby she believed to be her daughter.
When the couple flew back to London with the child, - who is known only as 'A' - they were arrested and the baby was taken into police protection.
In a unique ruling, family judge Mrs Justice Hogg has cleared the "intelligent, educated, hard working" couple of social worker's accusations that they were knowing parties to the fraud. She has taken the couple at their word that they would "never seek to buy a baby."
Mrs Justice Hogg told the court that the couple had been trying to conceive for 10 years, but despite trying surgery, laser treatment and IVF, they had been unable to have a child.
So when, in 2010, a friend told them of a couple who had twins after undergoing 'some herbal treatment' in Nigeria, they decided to look into it for themselves.
After flying out to Nigeria, they met a man known as Dr Cletus Okolo, who prescribed the woman a course of herbal treatments, which he claimed would help them to conceive.
On returning to Britain and taking the herbs, the woman noticed her body changing. Her face, arms and stomach all swelled. Looking at her symptoms a local GP accepted that she was seven months' pregnant and signed off a maternity certificate.
The couple flew back to Nigeria and visited a clinic near Lagos, where they handed over £4,500. The woman was then given a brown liquid to drink before entering what she believed to be a delivery room, while her husband waited outside.
After several minutes, he heard a baby cry, and he entered the room to find the baby girl lying on the bed beside his groggy wife.
So manipulative were the fraudsters, that they even managed to convince the man that he had seen the umbilical cord being cut, before giving him the 'placenta' to carry away in a plastic bag.
The couple were also given a letter from Dr Okolo which stated: "Treatment successful, patient delivered of a baby girl. All fees paid. God's doing".
That was the only document that accompanied the birth and social workers in the UK were alerted as soon as the couple flew home with their 'daughter', which led to their arrest.
Social services, as well as the child's court-appointed guardian, argued in court that the couple were "knowing parties to an elaborate fraud and charade upon the British immigration authorities."
But Mrs Justice Hogg ruled on the side of the couple. She said:
They so much wanted a baby....they allowed themselves to fall under the spell of the herbalists, believing what was said to the mother and acting faithfully upon the instructions given to them.
"Contrary to the submissions of the local authority and guardian, I do not find that the parents were wilfully and knowingly involved with or parties to a wrongful removal of A from her mother."
"The fact remains that A is effectively an orphan. There is no one in this country who has parental responsibility for her and no information as to her birth, parentage, or background."
Mrs Justice Hogg directed a further hearing to decide where the little girl's best interests lie, and whether the couple should be allowed to keep her.