Jennifer Allen, Director within the family team of Hughes Paddison reports on a highly unusual and extreme case which seems so farfetched you would anticipate reading it in a fictional novel, but the case of Re D was dealt with by Mr Justice Coleridge and should serve as an example case of a highly elaborate scam.
A couple (herein described as “the parents”) had been trying to conceive a child for years without success. They became aware of a fertility clinic based in Nigeria, known as “The Miracle of God Fertility Clinic”. Upon making contact with the clinic the mother made a series of trips to Nigeria in February 2011. Dr. Chinyere told her that the clinic could assist the couple with fertility treatment and she paid £12,000 up front in fees. She was treated with injections and drugs which were allegedly designed to induce her to ovulate and create the best possible chance of conception. In April 2011 the mother was told she was pregnant and the baby would be due at the end of November/early December 2011. The mother was delighted and returned to the UK. She visited her usual GP to obtain confirmation of the pregnancy. Her pregnancy test and scan were both negative. The mother flew back to Nigeria and was told that the baby was fine and it was as a result of a “silicone lining” injected into her womb. He stated the usual test and scan would not detect her pregnancy. She was informed that the lining protected her womb and reduced the risk of miscarriage. The mother was convinced by this explanation.
Mother returned to Nigeria late November 2011 so the silicone lining in her womb could “be dissolved”. Whilst in Nigeria the mother went through a convoluted process designed to convince her that she had given birth. She was presented with a child, child D, in the early hours of 02nd December 2011.
Mother returned to the UK in April 2012 and when she returned she visited her GP so Baby D could be checked. The GP had no choice but to contact the authorities to raise concerns as to where Baby D had come from. In July 2012 DNA testing took place to confirm that Baby D was not the child of either parent. The child was taken into care. A Finding of Fact hearing took place and the task for Mr Justice Coleridge was to decide whether the parents had been complicit in removing the children from Nigeria and holding Baby D out as their own child, or whether they were innocent victims of a scam run by the clinic and Dr. Chinyere.
In his determination the Judge noted that there were certain facts that, when they were objectively considered, support the parent’s case that they were innocent victims of the scam:
- The mother made a number of visits to her GP in England, including immediately after her return to England with Baby D. Had she been involved in the scam, it is hardly credible that she would have made these visits;
- The mother made multiple trips to Nigeria at great expense to her and the father to seek clarification that her pregnancy was normal;
- The parents tried to register for antenatal classes in the UK. It does not seem logical the parents would do so if they were complicit in the scam;
- The reaction of the parents to the DNA testing could not be faked. Their shock and disbelief was genuine.
Mr Justice Coleridge was satisfied that the parents were the innocent victims of a highly distressing and elaborate scam. The parents had no knowledge that parents in Nigeria were selling unwanted children to the clinic for large sums of money as part of this scam. The Judge commented “gullible they may well have been, dishonest they most certainly were not”. This was an elaborate hoax that exploits vulnerable and desperate people that wish to conceive and must serve as a warning to those who are investigating fertility treatments.