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Chris recalls the cuddle that ended baby kidnap nightmare nearly 50 years ago
10:07am Thursday 21st February 2013 in News
This image is almost 50 years old, but that special cuddle remains vivid in the memory of the man who was left holding the baby… Tom Mousdale.
IN a special feature starting this week, former journalist Chris Barrow – looks back 48 years on a story that shocked the St Helens community... but had a happy ending. More in next week’s Star
HOLD the front page! These are four words that every newspaperman dreams of calling out…but few ever utter them.
I was luckier than most. My big moment came on April 2, 1965.
A telephone call from my mother, shortly after 1.30pm, alerted me to a police search for a baby girl, who had been wheeled away from the spot outside Marks and Spencer in Church Street, where she had been left by her mother.
That dramatic call – during which my mother told me a policewoman had knocked on her door in Bold Street to quiz her on whether she had seen a woman pushing a baby in a pram – came some three hours before my newspaper was due to be “put to bed”.
I was on countdown and my initial call to police drew a blank.
However, a trusted contact gave the bare lead that confirmed the disappearance of an 11-week-old little girl.
The hunt was on for a needle in a haystack and my suggestion for a solution to breach the wall of silence was described as madness by my editor.
Nevertheless, I put in a call to the Register Office and asked if they could supply me with the names and addresses of any baby girls whose births had been recorded around 11 weeks earlier.
Incredibly, only one was listed.
She was Karen Lightfoot, of 44 Singleton Avenue, Blackbrook.
When I arrived there, Detective Inspector Cecil McColl – second-in-command at St Helens CID – was incandescent with rage, because he firmly believed someone had leaked news of the baby snatch to me, in spite of his order for a news blackout.
Mum Brenda Lightfoot was understandably desperate to locate her little one and waved away the tough cop’s objections to ask – almost beg – for publicity.
That meeting gave birth to my friendship with the heartbroken mother, her husband Robert, a 33-year-old Ford car worker, and their four other children, Neil, Stephen and twins Jacqueline and Janet.
I ended up with my page one story ahead of deadline.
CUDDLE THAT ENDED KIDNAP NIGHTMARE
THIS is the magical moment when the long arm of the law reached out to comfort a baby girl, who had just been rescued from the clutches of her kidnapper.
The image is more than 47 years old, but that special cuddle remains vivid in the memory of the man who was left holding the baby… Tom Mousdale.
Karen Lightfoot was just 11 weeks old, when a woman took her from outside the Church Street store of Marks and Spencer on April 2, 1965.
Former police officer Tom – a detective when the photograph was taken – has treasured it ever since and has kept the memento under wraps… until now.
And today, he has given the St Helens Star exclusive rights to publish it.
“I feel it is part of the history of our town and should have a much wider audience,” said Tom, reflecting on his decision to share the picture.
Tom – promoted to uniform sergeant a little while later – had been working crazy hours, like all CID officers at the time, covering the investigation.
Then, four days after the baby snatch, came news of a breakthrough.
A baby had been found at a house in Wigan and all the indications were that it was Karen.
Tom and his colleagues raced back to their Birchley Street CID headquarters and shortly afterwards the silence was shattered by a screaming baby. And it was Karen.
“She certainly had a good pair of lungs,” chuckled Tom, when I met up with him again at his home in Regal Drive, Windle.
“She could not easily be placated and it was decided that because I had four children I ought to be good at handling a screaming little one. So I caught the bundle that was Karen!”
A colleague took the photograph showing Karen in full roar, the back of Tom’s head and fellow detective constable Ray Douglas, “who didn’t exactly go out of his way to offer a helping hand”.
The disappearance of Karen greatly affected the team of detectives, who doggedly shrugged off acute tiredness to help her distraught parents, Robert and Brenda Lightfoot, who lived in Singleton Avenue, Blackbrook.
The crime-busters worked hard and skipped meals, as well as sleep, in their relentless bid to find the blue-eyed infant safe and well. Some I met during the investigation were close to exhaustion and quite emotional – in common with the entire community, many of whom privately thought there could never be a happy outcome.
But the smile rapidly returned to St Helens, when news leaked that Karen was back and safe in the arms of mum Brenda.
The normally tough-as-teak detectives showed their tender side by showering the baby with presents. And, for quite some time, the entire police force supported a series of collections and events to ensure that Christmas and Easter were extra special for the little girl who had captured their hearts.