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Monday, 11 March, 2002, 10:48 GMT
Double pregnancy was a sham
Flavia D'Angelo and husband Riccardo
Flavia D'Angelo and husband Riccardo
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By Kevin Buckley
A young Italian couple who astonished the medical world late last year by claiming to have conceived triplets when the woman was already six months pregnant have admitted that the whole story was fabricated.

Flavia D'Angelo, 20, and husband Riccardo Tarquini 25, had claimed that during a routine scan six months into their first pregnancy their gynaecologist informed Flavia that she was also carrying three other foetuses, due to be born three months after the first.

We invented the story about the double pregnancy, and weren't able to stop it

Flavia D'Angelo
The controversial claims split Italy's leading medical experts.

Doctors conceded that such cases of 'super fecundation' were rare but not entirely unprecedented, with claims made of a similar case once reported in the United States.

But this week the couple, questioned by regional magistrate Umberto Monti as to why they had failed to register the birth of 'Denise' in December - the original arrival inexplicably slipped from November - confessed that they had fabricated the entire episode.

Flavia had not at any time been pregnant.

International story

Questions are now being asked as to how such a sham could ever have reached international proportions.

Yet last October when Ms D'Angelo, from Ascoli Piceno in central Italy, made an emotional appearance on one of the country's leading Sunday afternoon television programmes, neither journalists nor doctors demanded to see medical records to back up their story.

Lawyer Domenico Antonio Latino, Italy's answer to Britain's Max Clifford, took control of the couple's mushrooming media relations, and state broadcaster RAI controversially agreed an appearance fee of thirty million lire - around 10,000.

For two months the would-be parents maintained that baby Denise was expected in November, with Michelle, Nicolas, and Andrea, following in February or March.

The story rapidly attracted a curious media as the case attracted international attention.

But doubts began to grow when the baby failed to arrive in November and the couple insisted the birth was expected instead some time in December.


Local people feel they have had the mickey taken out of them

Claudio Romanucci

Questioned by the local press, a local medic, Dr Giuseppe Mercuri flatly contradicted the couple's claim to be his patients.

The tale began to unwind further in mid-December when Ms D'Angelo announced she was off to Rome for the birth, but the Sant'Eugenio hospital in the capital denied any knowledge of her.

A bemused Professor Emilio Piccione, one of its leading gynaecologists also denied any connection with the couple, although he generously said he would of course assist them if they did show up.

Claudio Romanucci, a journalist with the regional daily, 'il resto del Carlino', said: "We had been increasingly sceptical ever since mid-December, when they failed to present the first baby."

But it was would-be father Roberto's bizarre claim that his wife had given birth to the first baby, naturally, without recourse to a caesarean operation, that brought ridicule from medical observers, who pointed out that it would be impossible to naturally deliver one foetus without the others.

Bad image

The couple subsequently refused to talk to the press. Lawyer Lation also withdrew his services.

Romanucci said: "Local people feel they have had the mickey taken out of them.

"They're angry because it's a bad image for Ascoli."

After confessing this week, Ms D'Angelo blamed the pressure of expectation from her family and "the entire town".

She said a jokey comment at a party led to her gossipy grandmother Rosa spreading the word that she was pregnant.

She said: "We tried fertilisation treatment that went wrong.

"But then we invented the story about the double pregnancy, and weren't able to stop it."

The trainee paediatrician is understood to be about to start psychological counselling.

See also:

12 Nov 01 | Health
Woman pregnant twice
26 Oct 01 | Health
Sex warning for IVF couples
27 Feb 01 | Health
Human ovaries 'grown in mice'
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