A British mum told yesterday how she fought off two intruders who tried to snatch her toddler daughter in Spain - in a chilling echo of the abduction of Madeleine McCann.
Brave Adele Spencer, 28, wrestled with the Moroccan-looking women when they broke into her home and tried to pluck 18-month old Annabelle from her high-chair.
They were forced to flee emptyhanded, leaving Adele clutching her child and screaming for the police.
The abduction attempt came just THREE days after another British family in the same town were targeted by women police believe could be the same child snatchers.
And last night aides to Kate and Gerry McCann said they are keen to find out more about both cases - to see if there are any links to four-year-old Madeleine's abduction in Praia da Luz, Portugal, last May.
Yesterday tearful Adele cuddled her blonde daughter and admitted: "If I had been 10 seconds later she would have been gone. I'm just thankful I managed to get to Annabelle in time to save her.
"I never thought we would come close to suffering the same fate as Madeleine's parents. You read about horrific stories like theirs but you don't expect it to happen to you."
The abductors struck just after 3pm on Tuesday. Hairdresser Adele, from Wakefield, West Yorks, was alone with her daughter when the pair targeted her rented home in the popular expat town of Moraira, Costa Blanca.
She had left Annabelle fast asleep in her high chair in the living room and was hanging up clothes in an adjoining bedroom in the whitewashed villa.
Fiance Carl, 38, from Leeds, was at work spraypainting cars in the nearby town of Benissa.
Adele said: "When I am alone I always lock the front door from the inside but I'd just put some washing out to dry on the terrace and was busy with other things so it slipped my mind.
"Annabelle had fallen asleep in her chair in the living room with the fastening-in straps still on and cuddling up to her favourite comfort blanket. I often leave her to drift off in her high-chair after feeding her, then put her down in her cot.
"I'd hung two or three items of clothing up in the next bedroom when I heard a tiny noise.
"I thought it was Annabelle waking up but when I went in to see her two Moroccan-looking women were standing over her, one on either side.
"They had taken her blanket from her and were about to try to lift Annabelle out of her chair. My legs buckled under me at first and I felt like I was going to be sick with the shock. But suddenly I came round and I just started screaming over and over, 'Get out of my house, get out of my house'.
"They started walking backwards slowly towards the door and the next minute, I threw myself at the older woman. I lunged at her face and throat as I tried to push her out of the house."
The pair ran outside where a blue car was waiting for them. A man, in his sixties, was driving the car which raced away when Adele screamed for someone to call the police.
While she waited for officers to turn up hysterical Adele called fiancee Carl to tell him someone had tried to take their baby.
Carl, 38, said: "The feeling that goes through your body when someone rings to say they've just tried to snatch your daughter is indescribable.
"I gave Annabelle the biggest cuddle of her life when I got back home and saw she was safe."
Adele told police one of the would-be abductors was aged between 50 and 60, overweight and of Moroccan appearance with a black headdress. Her accomplice was in her 30s, wearing black trousers and a dark-coloured baggy jumper.
Spanish police are linking the attempted kidnap to a separate bid to snatch a three-year-old British boy in the same town.
The incident happened three days earlier, raising fears that a gang are looking for young children to steal.
Mandy Crew, 40, has picked out a police photofit of a Spanish gypsy as the woman who tried to snatch her three-year-old son Jack from her home - a five-minute walk from Adele's villa.
"The woman was overweight and in her fifties just like the one Adele saw. She also got into a car similar to the one Adele has described. It was also driven by a man in his sixties but there was another passenger in the back. I don't know if it was the same woman but I do know that she was after my son.
"When I ran after her screaming, she claimed she was only after clothes. But she walked past a clothes horse, Jack's expensive toys and my handbag full of valuables to get to within inches of my son. There's no doubt in my mind she wanted to snatch my child."
Civil Guard officers who quizzed Adele and her fiance have told them they believe the intruders were thieves. And locals say a gypsy woman fitting the description of the older intruder preys on homes along the Costa Blanca and is well-known for trying to steal people's washing.
But Adele, who is finalising plans to move to Spain to join Carl permanently, is certain there is more to it and doesn't think the police are doing enough.
She said: "I'm sure the language I heard the woman speaking wasn't Spanish. And shortly before I caught her in our house, I'd just hung a load of washing out to dry on the front terrace. She walked past that and Gucci sunglasses, car keys, a pop-out car stereo and my mobile phone to get to Annabelle.
"The police have shown us photofit pictures and I picked out one woman who could have been her, but it's all still a bit of a blur. We are not satisfied with the police response. We feel as if they're trying to brush things under the carpet because it's coming up to the holiday season and they don't want tourists scared off by admitting there are child snatchers in the area."
The McCanns have been made aware of both incidents after a message about them was posted on the Find Madeleine McCann website.
Their spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, said last night:
"The parents have done the right thing by contacting the police. Our investigators will be seeing if there are any links between them and the disappearance of Madeleine."
Carl added: "What has happened to Madeleine is awful and it so nearly happened to us. No other parent should have to go through that suffering. We are happy to help Kate and Gerry in any way we can. Our heart goes out to them for what they are going through.
"For a brief moment we came close to losing our child and the pain is beyond words."
Children at riskPolice in Spain are looking for more than 200 children who have disappeared in the mainland and islands. In 2006, they investigated more than 80 suspected child abduction cases. Police in Portugal have 21 missing children's files and are looking into 40 abduction complaints.
'For a moment we knew what McCanns suffer'
Sunday Mirror 9th March 2008
- What Do You Think?
- Is There A Much Bigger Problem In Portugal and Spain?
- How Safe Are Our Children and Grandchildren When On Holiday In Portugal and Spain?
- Is There A Problem Which Is Being Covered Up? For Fear Of Damaging Two Countries Who Rely On Multi-Billion Pound Tourist Industry?
- We Are All Part of the European Union, What Is The EU Doing To Investigate This Matter?
- What Can We Actually Do To Put Pressure On The Governments of Portugal and Spain To Act?