Former journalist Chris Barrow continues his memories of the day a tiny child was snatched in St Helens (From St Helens Star)
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Former journalist Chris Barrow continues his memories of the day a tiny child was snatched in St Helens
5:00pm Friday 1st March 2013 in News
BRILLIANT sunshine encouraged Brenda Lightfoot to push her newly-born baby to the shops in St Helens town centre.
Toddling alongside her was her four-year-old son, Neil. Baby Karen – born 11 weeks earlier at Cowley Hill Maternity Hospital – was in her high pram.
Friday, April 2, 1965, was wreathed in sunshine and Brenda set out for town at 11am. They took their time and reached the Marks and Spencer store in Church Street, at 12.45.
At that time, stores could not cope with mothers wheeling prams through the narrow aisles around the display counters and it became common practice to park babies outside.
Brenda popped the brake onto her pram and strolled into Marks holding Neil’s hand. They stayed for just a couple of minutes and stepped outside to find – NOTHING.
Pram and baby had disappeared.
With Neil in tow, a frantic Brenda ran across Church Street to find a policeman standing outside the Parish Church. Choking back tears, she blurted out: “Someone’s stolen my baby.”
An SOS went out to the police headquarters – then housed at the Town Hall – and every available police officer was put on high alert.
While police searched the immediate vicinity, Brenda was put into a police car and toured a wider area, hoping against hope that she would spot her pram.
Then came the news that it had been found empty and abandoned outside the police Bridewell in Arthur Street, off Liverpool Road.
And the hunt for a kidnapper was well and truly on.
It was co-ordinated by Ken Collett, an archetypal pipe-smoking Detective Chief Inspector, and he rapidly found police officers – men and women – volunteering to work around the clock to find the missing baby.
The good weather that had encouraged Brenda Lightfoot to make her fateful trip from Blackbrook also conspired against her. Scores of other new mums had come up with the same idea and made a beeline for the town centre with their prams. Each had to be checked by police to eliminate them from suspicion.- Reports came in that a woman had been seen carrying a baby dressed in white in two of the town’s parks, so teams of officers raced to Queens Recreation and Taylor parks. They drew a blank each time.
As she fondled her baby’s clean clothing at her home, Mrs Lightfoot said “I would give anything to have her back. When the kiddies came in and asked about her we decided to tell them Karen was with her grandmother.”
She had to maintain that pretence for four more days - until the following Tuesday, when a 34-year-old housewife, was arrested in Wigan.
A member of the public – having read about the police dragnet – tipped off police that the woman had suddenly acquired a baby that appeared to be older than a newborn.
Bob Whitfield, a detective inspector, raced to the neighbouring town, and found Karen sleeping contentedly in an upstairs room.
He alerted his bosses and while he was returning to St Helens with suspect and baby, the Lightfoots were told their daughter may have been found and they were brought to the Central Police Office for a possible reunion.
The tearful couple waited in Ken Collett’s office and could hear a baby crying. They uttered a prayer under their breath hoping their nightmare would soon be over.
Suddenly, the door opened and the normally poker-faced Detective Chief Inspector walked in and smiled “Does someone want a baby?”
It was Karen. And there were screams of delight from a man and his wife.
After the relief of the reunion, Brenda told me “I was thrilled when I knew it was Karen. But I had never given up hope…I knew she would be found safe.”
Her delight was clear to everyone looking on and she added “If I was a rich woman I would gladly give it all away to the police officers who looked for my baby; they have been wonderful throughout.”
News that Karen had been found safe and well spread rapidly and the smile finally returned to a town that had been in torment.
- Chris concludes his amazing story in next week’s Star