The baby in the brook

Body of baby found at Kirkham. Police vehicles near the scene.

Body of baby found at Kirkham. Police vehicles near the scene.

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Approximately four to six weeks ago – most likely in Lancashire, possibly within Blackpool, Fylde or Wyre or neighbouring Preston – a woman gave birth to a boy and almost certainly without medical assistance.

Soon after – within a week – the newborn was abandoned a few hundred yards from the Boys Brigade Club on Carr Lane, Kirkham. Police think, indeed hope, the baby was stillborn.

His mother (fathers seldom figure in abandonment) may have known the locality although locals doubt it. She may have been a resident, transient, visitor, worker, someone, possibly newly arrived and pregnant, passing through looking for a hiding place.

But was it to conceal the fact of the baby’s birth – or the nature of his death?

We know the baby was found in Spen Brook, approximately a month after being left for dead – or dead. He was found on Saturday, October 1, by a couple walking their dog.

That’s 10 days ago. While 37 per cent of mothers of abandoned babies are found, almost exclusively of older babies, rather than newborns, as this baby is believed to have been, most (92 per cent) are located within three days of abandoning their baby.

It’s two years since the UK Crime Statistics and UK Abandoned Children Register – one of the saddest, most shameful indictments of society – looked at infant abandonment, the what, where, why and who.

Researchers looked at seven years, from 1998 to 2005. Figures suggest an average of 16 babies are abandoned each year (it’s happened here in the Fylde as elsewhere) – but the study found more, 124 babies in all, were abandoned over seven years.

Most – as with our mystery babe in the brook – were newborns, 96 in all, a week old or younger. Twenty eight were older. Newborns were less likely to survive. Babies left in a remote location (34 per cent) had higher odds of death. Most (74 per cent) were left outdoors. Only 9.7 per cent were left with some token, memento, of their birth parents.

There is no such token with the dead baby at Kirkham.

One initially promising line of inquiry, a young woman sighted pushing a pram in the area, has been ruled out. She came forward and was eliminated from inquiries.

It’s unlikely that anyone proposing to dump a baby would push a pram. Prams attract attention and conversation.

A bin-bag was found near the scene along with two muddy towels. The baby may have been carried in his mother’s arms in such or concealed in a bag or rucksack.

The dead baby is a modern-day foundling. For many – the lucky ones who survive – the mystery of parentage is never solved. Earlier this year, Steven Hydes, 24, nicknamed Gary Gatwick when he was abandoned at 10 days old in the ladies toilet at Gatwick Airport, began his quest for his birth mother. “I feel I have no beginning or end,” he said.

In eastern Germany, five years ago, the rate of infanticide was so high, city councils urged desperate mothers to drop unwanted babies through hatches at hospitals, under the slogan “before babies land in the rubbish bin.”

In America, Illinois passed the Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act to protect parents who abandoned newborn to a safe shelter.

In December 1977, the partly decomposed body of a newborn baby girl was found in a plastic bag in St Annes. Four years later the discovery of a newborn, but dead, girl in a litter bin in Ansdell sparked a massive police inquiry and drove Det Supt Norman Finnerty to turn on the public in frustration.

“The price of life must be very cheap when a baby’s body is found in the high street and no one has shown sufficient concern or interest to give any information to police,” he said. “Someone somewhere must know who the mother of this child is.”

Those words ring true today. Det Supt Neil Esseen, leading the latest inquiry, hopes exhaustive tests post-mortem will provide answers. Elements and conditions had done their worst. The baby was initially identified as female. The hooded fleece he wore was so discoloured it was described as brown but later turned out to be a blue and white garment of a type last sold under Asda’s George label two years ago. Clues may rest in the fact it was second hand, sold or donated as such, or passed on as hand me down by friend, relative, older sibling.

We don’t know how much he weighed, what colour his hair was, what ethnicity he may have been, and whether the DNA, undisputable genetic fingerprint which matches us all to our own, will find a match in local, national or international data banks.

Det Supt Esseen, who took his first rest day since the grim find yesterday, urges the baby’s mother to come forward. His instinct tells him she is desperate and requires help and may be haunted by her action.

He also hopes further publicity may jolt a conscience, that others may piece the clues together, the clothing, time scale, sudden non-appearance of a baby born to a woman who will have carried him for up to 40 weeks full term, remember a woman’s distress or evasive behaviour.

“The smallest pieces of information may prove crucial in finding out exactly what has happened,” Supt Esseen stresses. “Someone out there knows something.”

jacqui.morley@blackpoolgazette.co.uk

n Call police on 08451 25 35 45 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or visit www.lancashire.police.uk or facebook.com/lancspolice.