Doctor at centre of Spain’s ‘stolen babies’ scandal walks free
Eduardo Vela found guilty, but statute of limitations means he avoids jail
Inés Madrigal, who was abducted as a baby in 1969, speaking to journalists outside a Madrid court on Monday. She described the verdict as “bittersweet”. Photograph: Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images
A retired doctor who was found guilty of taking a newborn baby from her mother and giving her up for illegal adoption has been allowed to walk free due to a legal technicality.
Eduardo Vela, an 85-year-old former gynaecologist, was accused of taking the child from her mother in a Madrid clinic in 1969 and of giving her to a couple who then pretended they were the biological parents. As well as facing charges of abduction and falsifying documents, Dr Vela was accused of faking a birth.
The prosecutor had called for him to be given an 11-year jail sentence.
This was the first time somebody had gone on trial for their alleged part in what is believed to have been a widespread practice, known as the “stolen babies” scandal. Campaigners say that thousands of children were forcibly taken from their mothers during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, which began in 1939 and ended in the 1970s, and beyond.
The Madrid court found that Vela was indeed responsible for the crimes he was charged with, stating that he “certified with his own handwriting that Inés Pérez Pérez gave birth in his presence on June 4th 1969 to a girl, which never happened, [and] this girl was handed over without consent to the married couple […]”.
However, the court ruled that the statute of limitations for the crimes had expired, meaning Vela, who had denied any wrongdoing, could not be punished. Under the law, the abduction of the child, Inés Madrigal, ended in 1988, when she turned 18 and legally became an adult. Because more than 10 years passed between then and the start of Ms Madrigal’s legal action against Vela, in 2012, the crimes could no longer be punished, according to the court.
Ms Madrigal described the verdict as “bittersweet”.
“This is a landmark for Europe, maybe for the world,” she said. “It’s the first verdict related to the stolen babies. And they have acknowledged that there was an abduction, that I was taken from my mother and now the thing we don’t agree on is that [Vela] has been absolved.”
Ms Madrigal plans to appeal against the decision before the supreme court.
She began the legal action after her adoptive mother told her what had happened in the clinic in 1969. Her mother co-operated with the investigation, providing crucial testimony, but died in 2013.
Spain’s high court has calculated that about 20,000 newborn babies were taken from their mothers until 1952 alone. An organisation representing people who believe they are among those affected, SOS Bebés Robados (SOS Stolen Babies), says that a total of 300,000 babies were unlawfully adopted.