Page last updated at 15:21 GMT, Friday, 16 May 2008 16:21 UK

Woman jailed for smuggling baby

By June Kelly
Home affairs correspondent, BBC News

A Nigerian woman has been jailed for 26 months for bringing a child illegally into the UK.

Peace Sandberg, who was living in the UK, went to Nigeria and bought a baby to become eligible for a council flat, Isleworth Court Court heard.

She was convicted last month of bringing a child illegally into the UK.

She was reported to police after she initially told council staff she had given birth to the boy, then changed her story to say he was adopted.

Sandberg had a daughter who was living with her in council accommodation in the borough of Ealing in west London.

With dual nationality - Nigerian and Swedish - she knew that as a European citizen working in the UK she would be eligible for a council flat because she had a child.

But her daughter left the UK and moved to Sweden to live with her father, Sandberg's ex-husband.

With her daughter's departure Sandberg saw her hopes of a new home slipping away - which is when she hatched her plan to get a child.

Distraught appearance

At the end of 2006 she flew back to Nigeria.

She had already sent £150 which the police believe was payment for the baby boy.

She needed a visa to take him into the UK.

During the trial Andrea Charles, a visa officer at the British High Commission in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, described to the jury how a distraught Sandberg turned up with the baby.

There is a possibility this child will never know his true identity
Det Insp Gordon Valentine
Met police

She claimed she had given birth to him in Nigeria because she wanted him to qualify for a Nigerian passport.

Ms Charles said she had no reason to doubt her story and issued the visa.

When Sandberg arrived back at Heathrow airport she immediately went to the housing department.

Councillor Ian Green of Ealing Council says: "She told staff that the child was hers. But they had seen her only a few months before and knew that the child couldn't be hers as she wasn't pregnant at the time.

"She then changed her story and said she had adopted the child.

"Council officers were still not satisfied and alerted the police and the other authorities because they were of the opinion that she was using this child to gain council accommodation."

A criminal investigation was launched by the Metropolitan Police's Paladin Team, specialists in child trafficking.

Isolated case?

Det Insp Gordon Valentine, who heads Paladin, said: "This was clearly a case of trafficking.

"Peace Sandberg is a heartless woman. She brought the baby from his home environment for the purpose of her own ends without any regard for the future of that child."

Child protection campaigners believe this is not an isolated case.

Christine Beddoe, director of the children's charity ECPAT UK, said: "We get information brought to us about suspicions of child trafficking particularly for housing benefit fraud from social services and from children's organisations.

"They don't seem to be reported to the police. But we do believe it is much more widespread than people think."

Social services have been unable to find the child's real family in Nigeria.

He is now in foster care and looks set to be adopted and grow up in the UK.

Det Insp Valentine says: “There is a possibility this child will never know his true identity."


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