A baby girl was forced to live hidden in the boot of her parents’ car for almost two years in a case that has appalled France and that investigators say “defies the imagination”.
Neighbours and the media today questioned how the tiny child could have been hidden undetected for so long.
Mechanics carrying out repairs on a Peugeot 307 family estate car in Terrasson-Lavilledieu in the Dordogne were alerted to the child’s presence after hearing “strange noises that sounded like moans” coming from the rear of the vehicle.
The mother, 45, a Portuguese woman known only as Rose-Marie, claimed that these came from “toys”. But the men insisted on opening the boot and were horrified to discover a small, dehydrated and apparently feverish child lying naked in its own excrement.
The mechanic who found the girl, Guillaume Iguacel, said today he was still in shock from the discovery.
"I’m still having trouble sleeping, it was a horrifying sight, seeing this little girl in her own excrement, not able to hold up her head, white as a sheet,” he said.
Mr Iguacel said the girl’s mother appeared to have little concern for her daughter.
"We were deeply shocked because she didn’t find this abnormal. We told her to remove the little girl (from the boot) and give her something to drink right away,” he said.
Paramedics were called and she was immediately taken to hospital.
The mother told investigators that she had kept the child’s existence from her husband, an unemployed builder, also Portuguese, who police were unable to question straight away given his drunken state. The mother said she gave birth alone then hid the baby in the boot. It has no birth certificate and apparently no name.
“It appears the child had been hidden from her birth, and even worse is seriously retarded,” said Jean-Pierre Laffite, the prosecutor in nearby Brive-La-Gaillarde. He said the girl’s height, weight and mental development didn’t conform to her age, estimated to be between 15 and 23 months. She cannot speak a word.
“It’s a situation that defies the imagination,” he added.
Shocked neighbours in the couple’s village of Brignac-la-Plaine in the department of Corrèze said they had no reason to suspect a hidden child.
“The car always stayed outside at night so if the little girl was inside it, we didn’t see anything,” said one.
“We didn’t have much contact with them. She barely said hello, and they didn’t really want to integrate into the neighbourhood. How could we have known?,” Claude, a pensioner who lives opposite the couple, told Le Parisien.
Pascale, another neighbour, said: “We had the impression that this woman lived in her car. She never left it.” "I recall seeing her several times a week with her car parked in a little lot about 200 metres from her house.” "But we couldn’t see what she was doing in the boot,” said Pascale. “We never heard a single cry, never saw a bottle or a pushchair,” said the nursery assistant.
Other neighbours said the mother often used cardboard to cover the car.
"When I think that her baby was locked in the boot of her car parked 100 metres from us, it sends shivers down my spine. She managed to fool everyone,” the mother of one of the other children’s classmates, told Le Parisien.
Her parents have been charged with child abuse and neglect, and social services have taken into care their three other children - a four-year-old girl and two boys aged nine and 10.
The couple, who remain under strict judicial supervision, face a maximum ten-year prison terms if convicted.
As to the motive for hiding the baby, a judicial source said: “(The mother) provided none. That remains the big mystery.”