Page last updated at 12:03 GMT, Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The story of the abandoned 'rainbow baby'

David Stevenson in February 2009 with the Daily Mail front page

By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine

When just a few days old, David Stevenson was abandoned outside a flat in London. Forty-nine years later, he's trying to piece together what happened on that fateful day in 1960.

Taking a deep breath, David Stevenson felt like he was opening his life story and about to read the first page.

Inside the red-brick mansion building in front of him, in the winter sunshine, lay the clues to his true identity.

He imagined being carried through those front doors in his mother's arms, 38 years before, then her leaving empty-handed, never to see her son again.

This was his first visit, in 1998, to the flats in north London where he was abandoned as a newborn baby.

Retracing his mother's steps, he waited for someone to leave so he could slip in the front door and make his way up two flights of stairs to the second floor. Outside Flat 39, he looked at the spot where someone - he believes his mother - placed him on the cold, concrete floor. If it was her, it was the last time they were ever together.

"My story starts at that point. Everything I know about my life since then starts there.

"I was trying to imagine a young woman carrying a baby walking through the doors and leaving a baby on the floor in the corridor.

"I've been back a few times since and there's still an emotion associated with going there because that's the first location I can identify of me being somewhere. It's very poignant - there's a ghost there somewhere."

At 5pm on 15 December 1960, the police station in Golders Green received a phone call to say a newborn baby had been left abandoned in West Heath Court.

As one of the few female officers, Wpc Tegwen Curl was sent to the scene, where she saw a crowd of residents in the corridor around the baby, which was still on the floor outside Flat 39.

Aerial view of the block of flats

"My overwhelming feeling is that I was left in that particular block of flats on that particular floor for a reason and there's a connection with someone who had lived there at the time."

When he got his adoption papers in the late 1990s, he visited the flats where he was left and looked at old newspapers to see what was reported at the time. He was stunned to find he and President John F Kennedy had together made the front page of the Daily Mail, who nicknamed him the "rainbow baby" because of the coloured clothes he was found wearing.

"There had always been an itch to scratch. But what sparked my interest was having children of my own. Holding my baby son in my arms for the first time was a realisation that this was the first blood relative I had ever met."

Attempts to find his parents were half-hearted and he had no idea how he would go about it, until his partner Julie Howell spurred him into action a year ago.

Emotional reunion

The software product manager, who lives in Watford and has three sons, began investigating who had lived in those flats at the time.

He immediately ruled out the elderly widow in Flat 39 and presumed he had been moved there by someone else in the corridor.

David as a boy with family
David (front) was adopted and had a happy childhood

David and Julie tracked down the officer who found him, Mrs Curl, and the two had an emotional reunion. They have since become very close, she like a mother figure to him.

She is Welsh and had named him David after her father and brother, and drew inspiration for his middle name, Charles, from a colleague called Charlie. A magistrate gave David the surname Archer, saying a name beginning with "A" would give him a good start in life. Archer was replaced by Stevenson when David was later adopted.

Mrs Curl told him it had immediately struck her as odd that the baby had not been gathered up in someone's arms.

"There's something suspicious," he says. "It's almost as though the baby was somewhere else and for the purpose of calling the police the baby was put back on the floor again. My extremities were cold so I had been there for a while, on a cold floor."

The nephew of one couple who lived in Flat 36 came to the UK and took a DNA test to see if it matched David's but it was negative, so he was ruled out as a relative.

The focus for David and Julie's investigation is now on a man called Richard Hamer, who lived on that second floor at the time.

Born in 1898 in Shropshire, grew up in Rhayader, Mid Wales
Still in Rhayader in 1911
Records show he was in West Heath Court, Golders Green, in 1937
No records found for 1911 to 1937
Film booker for Odeon Cinemas during the 1940s
Marries Janet Cram in 1945
Moved to Brighton in 1956, but keeps London flat
Wife dies in 1964 and Hamer remarries two years later
He died in 1978

David would like to speak to anyone related to Mr Hamer, who died in 1978.

There are many unanswered questions that push him forward in trying to piece together the events of that day, but he has his theories about what happened.

"What drives me forward with this search is trying to discover the truth and the circumstances that led me to be left there.

"Why did it happen? Did a young woman in her teens get pregnant? The social mores at the time looked down on unmarried mothers.

"Was she in desperate straits or was she a bit older and possibly even married and had an extramarital affair? One can imagine all sorts of possibilities."

West Heath Court
David says he was relieved to find the block was not shabby

A doctor who examined the baby David soon after he was discovered estimated he was about four days old, and his new birth certificate put his birthday as 10 December, which is the date David accepts and celebrates.

"Those details I'm quite likely never to know unless my birth mother was to come forward and reveal all. A lot of people take these things for granted but I can't."

Many other people can empathise with David, as there are dozens of babies that are abandoned in the UK each year, and what happens to them is an issue covered by the Magazine in the past.

David says he has no anger towards his mother, accepting that she acted in a way she felt she had to. His adopted parents fully support his quest and are excited by it, and he hopes more details will emerge as he widens his search.

"I do feel a bit incomplete. It's part of my identity and part of my children's identity. Doing this story is about pursuing information for them, as well as for me."

Below is a selection of your comments.

Keep up the search, David. I was born in the same year as you and adopted at 10 days old. I met my biological parents at age 35, pushed by a then girlfriend who wanted to know more about my health history for marriage. It was a sense of completion and context meeting them; you'll see genetic traits that amaze and implicitly explain numerous characteristics (nature mixed with nurture). I've not kept in touch with my biological parents, as the wounds between them (especially my mother) seemed still too deep for them. However, despite this emotional mix the journey was well worth it for me.
John Ames, Vancouver, Canada

David, I want to wish you the very best of luck in finding your birth mother and birth family and hope for you that one day you will all be able to give each other a big hug and feel at peace that you know where your life began. When I was younger, my mother got pregnant by a man she was having a relationship with. Unfortunately he wasn't interested and as she already had four children and as a deserted wife she felt no choice but to give the baby up for adoption. I looked after Mum and her new baby in the hospital. No-one else knew and the other children were too small to understand. About a week later, the people from the adoption agency came to the hospital. We waited in the car park and I had to hand him over to the adoption agency as my Mum was too distressed to do this. There's not a week goes by when I don't think about him (he is 19 now) and hope and dream of the day when he finds me. I know I will know him - and then I can give him a big hug too.
Nicole, Portsmouth, Hampshire

I was abandoned in a train toilet at Paddington station July 1943. I only found out I was adopted after my last surviving family member died in 2005. I was then aged 62. I cannot or do not want to start searching for my "blood parents" - I am surrounded by a loving family and that's enough. Can you imagine the scene if I suddenly found my real mother after all these years, I think it would be a real catastrophe for all. Please accept what you have already got and leave that skeleton in the cupboard.
Philip Monks, Banbury Oxon

I have an adopted daughter and I try to explain to her how much she must have been loved by her biological mother to put her up for adoption. She knew she would not be able to take care of her as a teen mother and it is sometimes more loving to give your child up than other options... Perhaps this mother was in a similar situation and perhaps her love for her child and her child's well-being allowed her to leave him that day, knowing he would be found and taken care of.
Abby Murray, West Harrison, NY

Why would you do this? You are looking for a stranger who has no knowledge of your life and who may very well not even want to know you. Blood is not necessarily thicker than water. Why not just enjoy the company of people who do know and care for you?
Gareth Gouldstone, UK

I was adopted in 1948 after being given up at birth by my mother. When my adopted parents had passed away I set about tracing my birth mother. But she will not acknowledge me at all despite many letters, photographs etc. She in fact denies she ever had me. I have however traced her brothers' children (my cousins) and have been made welcome. Please accept that your search may also end like mine in disappointment. I accept she is not going to change her mind and that not only will I not get to know her, but will never know who my father was. This longing to know does not go away but sometimes you just have to give up.
Carolyn Davies, Holsworthy, Devon

Being adopted myself as a baby, I can understand David's feelings about not knowing his full identity. I was lucky enough in later years to trace my natural parents, which led to greater self understanding and 'wholeness'. Unless you are in this situation it is difficult to appreciate fully the importance of one's genetic and familial history. I wish him good luck in tracing his roots, and hope this feature helps him.
Alan Stacey, Brighton

I was abandoned by my mother at one month of age and found her 26 years later and my father a decade after that. It has resolved no issues in me. The loss at the abandonment is the only issue that matters and one that cannot ever be reconciled, not through reunion, counselling, nor medication. Only accepting that one is "different" and embracing one's self and one's life, however depressing and empty, can lead to some sense of oneness. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for abandoned babies; the damage is done at the doorstep. We just have to trudge on through life making the best of a terrible circumstance. Finding out the truth is a waste of time because like ex-girlfriends, those folks who've abandoned you made themselves strangers, and can offer you nothing.
James, San Francisco, US

I wish David luck and hope he can find some information about his birth family. My mum does not know who her father is, and her mother now has Alzheimer's, and she has had to come to terms that she will probably never know. I had a loving, adoring father, and can not even imagine how it would feel to have one or both parents a mystery. I am not sure our liberal world is improved on the prudish past, (multiple step-fathers!) but it has to help that mothers are not stigmatised in such a way that caused all this heartache for the past generations. Best of luck David, but hold your little one a little closer and rejoice in his life.
Ruth Dearing, Beaconsfield, UK

I can completely empathise with David. I am an adopted child, and as I am now a couple of years short of seventy, I am resigned to never knowing the truth. There are people still alive who know the truth surrounding my birth but they can not be persuaded to tell me. I found my birth mother many years ago and she took the information to her grave. Maybe it might be better to not know! I also felt no anger towards her I just wanted the truth but never got it. Like David there is an important part of my life missing. I wish David good luck in his search.
Anjana-Victoria Waring, Poole, Dorset, England

Don't give up David, keep looking, keep going by instinct also. My late mother in law was fostered out at a young age she knew no one, after she died I tried looking for her relatives for our family tree, my first stumbling block was Hampshire county council, gave us a birth certificate with all the wrong names on it. We searched for years for someone that did not exist. Curiosity about the place that my mother in law was born in (ie workhouse) made me enquire about the people there at that time, it evolved that the master of the workhouse had registered her, and that was how the names got mixed up. Since this time, I have found six brothers and sisters, and families. I just wished she had known about them all before she died.
Carol Frost, Tamworth, Staffs

You are not alone mate. I never saw my biological father but have heard of people related to him but I can not go looking for relatives who never sought me. You might find grief instead of solace in your quest. My belief is some things are best left as alone.
Lastchando, Salford

I can only imagine the pain that this man has endured in his life - but having watched a programme on similar incidents - babies are abandoned in two ways - those who are found by pure chance & run the risk of not being found in time & those babies who are left in a place where they are sure to be found therefore guaranteeing them a better life - so perhaps being in the latter category hopefully could provide some comfort to this gentleman.
Christine Gowing, Lancaster

What a sad, desolate and cruel beginning for a human being - to be left abandoned and cold on a cold floor when only a few days old. Yet, what a triumph for the human spirit by way of the police officer, the magistrate, the adoptive parents, and now, David and his own family that he has chosen to stay with and nurture despite the circumstances of his birth. I wish David inner peace and can certainly understand his quest for the truth. However, I also wonder if he might not be better off focusing on the people who have invested in him rather than expending energy on those who discarded him.
Surekha Dangoor, Ann Arbor, US

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