July 1907: In a stuffy Liverpool court room, the public gallery packed, and the press in full attendance, Sgt Moore appealed for the identities of the mothers and children to be kept secret from the public in order to protect them.
The prosecutor then outlined the case against the young couple – the conjurer and his assistant, Herbert Smith and Lottie Roberts.
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Both were charged with 5 counts of obtaining money ranging from £10- £15 on false pretences – but he said he also had information of cases involving 19 other children.
The first female witness was called. A well-to-do young married women took the stand, but with her was a sweet little baby girl, about 6 months old who was beautifully attired.
Lottie broke down and starting sobbing. The witness described how her and her husband had taken on the child but maintenance payments from the defendants soon stopped. But they’d grown so fond of the little girl they decided to adopt her.
This child, now produced in court was Lottie’s little baby that she’d given up in the months before Christmas.
More witnesses were called to the stand. And the judge asked the prosecuting lawyer if he was going to bring any more children to the assizes? If so “you’ll have a crèche”, he joked as laughter rippled through courtroom.
One after the other a series of single young women took the stand and described how they’d seen adverts in the paper from a married couple keen to foster a child, the women had responded, met up with the defendants and handed over their children and money.
Other witnesses gave evidence that they’d seen adverts from a woman looking to put a child out to nurse for modest maintenance payments. But when they’d taken on the child the promise of weekly cash, often just shillings, dried up. And when they tried to contact the parents it was clear they’d been given false names and addresses.
It didn’t take long before the full scale of the defendants’ activities, and their motive, became clear.
After their own child was born they realised there was big money to be made by offering a home to the babies of desperate single young women – these girls would pay Lottie and Herbert a lump sum to take the children.
Some days later they’d often then write to the parents demanding more money.
In the meantime the conjurer and his assistant would palm off the babies at a fraction of the cost to other foster parents – leaving a false name and address so they couldn’t be traced when the cash never materialised.
These children were then often put in workhouses or just cruelly abandoned on the streets.
From train station to train station, house to house, advert to advert, Lottie and Herbert trafficked children across the country at an astonishing rate; as soon as they saw an ad for a child they were already planning how to offload it.
Two more witnesses who took the stand were Mr and Mrs Kitching from Grimsby , the grandparents of the baby boy that the police had been desperately searching for, for weeks.
So what had happened to the Grimsby baby whose case lifted the lid on Lottie and Herbert’s baby trafficking operation? And what could the conjurer and the waitress possibly say in their defense?
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