Doctor found guilty but not convicted in Spain ‘stolen baby’ case

Demonstrators hold baby dolls and placards reading ‘Human rights for stolen babies’ outside a provincial court in Madrid on June 26, on the first day of the first trial over thousands of suspected cases of babies stolen from their mothers during the Franco era. (AFP)
Updated 08 October 2018
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Doctor found guilty but not convicted in Spain ‘stolen baby’ case

  • The Madrid court ruled that the deed was committed too long ago for the defendant to be legally convicted
  • The baby-stealing practice began after Francisco Franco came to power following the 1936-39 civil war
MADRID: A Spanish court found an 85-year-old former doctor guilty Monday of taking a newborn away from her mother under the Franco dictatorship but refrained from convicting him, in the first trial of the so-called “stolen babies” scandal.
The Madrid court ruled that the deed was committed too long ago for the defendant to be legally convicted.
It found former gynecologist Eduardo Vela guilty of taking Ines Madrigal, now 49, away from her mother as a newborn in 1969.
During and after the 1939-1975 dictatorship, thousands of babies were taken away from their mothers, who were told they had died after birth.
The babies were adopted by infertile couples, preferably close to the far-right regime, often with the help of the Catholic Church.
Vela, who used to run a clinic, was the first to stand trial for alleged involvement in the baby trafficking.
Prosecutors wanted him jailed for 11 years.
He was accused of taking Madrigal from her biological mother and giving her to another woman, who was falsely certified as her birth mother.
Madrigal hopes her case will help open “thousands of cases that are closed” — even if she will never know who her real mother was.
“In this country, a person who played God ... cannot remain unpunished,” she said in September at the end of the hearings.
The baby-stealing practice began after Franco came to power following the 1936-39 civil war.
Initially, newborns were taken from leftwing opponents of the regime.
Later, the practice was expanded to supposedly illegitimate babies and those from poor families.
Perpetrators wanted the children to be raised by affluent, conservative and devout Roman Catholic families.
Even after Spain transitioned to democracy following Franco’s death in 1975, the illegal trafficking went on up to at least 1987.
Campaigners estimate tens of thousands of babies may have been stolen from their parents over the decades.
Vila was accused of falsifying documents, illegal adoption, unlawful detention and certifying a non-existent birth.
During the trial, he said he could not remember details about the operation of the clinic, which he ran for 20 years up to 1982.
A policeman who probed the case and testified in court said the clinic was a center for baby trafficking.
He said Vela had burnt the clinic’s archives.
The policeman said Vela was part of a “plot” to take babies from single mothers in shelters often run by religious orders.
Emilie Helmbacher, a French journalist, also testified by video conference.
In an investigation in Madrid in December 2013, she used a hidden camera to record Vela as he appeared to confess to having given Madrigal away as a “gift” in June 1969.
Vela’s lawyer Rafael Casas criticized the hidden camera recording. He said his client had “nothing to do” with the alleged deeds.


At least three dead in multiple shooting in Utrecht, police hunting Turkish-born man

Updated 2 min 56 sec ago
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At least three dead in multiple shooting in Utrecht, police hunting Turkish-born man

  • Police are not ruling out terrorism as a possible motive
  • ‘Threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province’

DUBAI: At least three people have been killed and nine other injured in a shooting incident in Utrecht, in The Netherlands on Monday morning.

Dutch security forces were hunting for a 37-year-old Turkish man in connection with the incident, in what authorities said appeared to be a terrorist attack. The city's mayor confirmed the death of three people on Monday afternoon.

"At this stage, we can confirm three deaths and nine wounded, three of them seriously," Utrecht Mayor Jan van Zanen said in a video statement on Twitter.

"We are working on the principle that it was a terrorist attack," he added.

Police forces walk near a tram at the 24 Oktoberplace in Utrecht, on March 18, 2019 where a shooting took place. (AFP/ANP)

Dozens of armed police plus canine units later surrounded a building a few hundred metres away, an AFP reporter at the scene said, but it was not clear if the gunman was inside.

Police said they believed a red Renault Clio had been carjacked around the time of the shooting and had been found abandoned later.

The Utrecht municipality said it advised "everyone to stay indoors until more is known, new incidents are not excluded," but this was withdrawn at around 4:30pm local time. The local hospital said it had set up a crisis centre. Tram traffic in the area was halted.

Emergency services stand at the 24 Oktoberplace in Utrecht, on March 18, 2019 where a shooting took place. (AFP)

Authorities raised the terrorism threat to its highest level in Utrecht province, schools were told to shut their doors and paramilitary police increased security at airports and other vital infrastructure, and also at mosques.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte convened crisis talks, saying he was deeply concerned about the incident.

Utrecht Police tweeted an image of a man named Gökmen Tanis, asking people for information on him in connection with the incident — but warned members of the public not to approach him.

The main counterterrorism unit in The Netherlands, the  National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), told the Dutch public broadcaster that the incident had all the characteristics of a terrorist attack.

Counter-terrorism forces have surrounded a building where the gunman may be located, local broadcaster NOS News reported.

There was gunfire at several locations in the city, the Dutch national counter-terrorism chief said.

“Shooting took place this morning at several locations in Utrecht,” Dutch anti-terror coordinator Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg told a news conference in The Hague. “A major police operation is under way to arrest the gunman.”

Aalbersberg said in a statement that the “threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province,” referring to the highest level. 

“The culprit is still on the run. A terror motive cannot be excluded,” he said in a Twitter message. He called on citizens to closely follow the indications of the local police. 

Police spokesman Bernhard Jens did not exclude more people might be involved. 

“We want to try to catch the person responsible as soon as possible,” Jens said.

A hotline to address queries about the situation. The Netherlands has one of the strictest gun laws and ownership is limited to law enforcement, hunters and target shooters.

Local media reports have said counter-terrorism police were seen at the scene.

“Shooting incident... Several injured people reported. Assistance started,” the Utrecht police Twitter account said. “It is a shooting incident in a tram. Several trauma helicopters have been deployed to provide help.”

The 24 Oktoberplein is a busy Utrecht traffic junction, with a tram stop. Tram traffic was temporarily stopped due to the incident, but the trams are currently running again between Zuilenstein, Nieuwegein and IJsselstein.

(With AFP and Reuters)