Various versions of this feature appeared in The News of the World, Daily Star on Sunday, The Sunday Sun and The Sunday Post. The pictures were taken by Adrian Don.
Kidnap Family Finally Finds Happiness
A TRIP to London to see a top show would be a treat for any girl celebrating her 18th birthday. But Alex Griffiths had more reason than most to be happy. For the last 18 years have been an incredible journey for the teenager and her mum Dawn. The pair have come a long way since January 1990, when their dramatic story made headlines around the world.
Alex was just two days old when she was kidnapped from a hospital and held hostage. Dawn eventually had her baby safely returned but the ordeal was to haunt her for years. The trauma left the young Teesside mum unable to bond with her daughter – a fact that would drive Dawn to the brink of suicide. This week, the pair strolled around London, laughing and joking before being treated to front row seats at a top show. “She’s more than just a daughter now. She’s my best friend,” said Dawn, aged 38, from Thorntree, Middlesbrough. Alex replied: “My mum’s been to hell and back because of what happened to me and it’s just great to see her happy.”Alex outside the Apollo Victoria Theatre.
Dawn was 20 and living in a damp flat in London, when she fell pregnant with Alex. She was working as a nanny when she had met Alex’s dad, a 23-year-old painter and decorator called Jeff Harris. Just two days after Dawn gave birth in St Thomas’s Hospital, a woman came into the ward and sat next to her bed. Dawn said: “She told her she was a health visitor and asked to take Alex into another room so she could be weighed.”
The woman never returned and Dawn was hit by the terror of realizing her baby had been kidnapped. She said: “I started panicking. I told a nurse what had happened. She said: “You stupid woman – why have you given the baby away ?” “I fell on the floor crying and all hell let loose.”
The kidnap made national headlines and Dawn and Jeff had to face the glare of the world’s media at press conferences. Dawn said: “There were times when I thought she must be dead. I had to look out of the window of my hospital bedroom and watch police frogmen search the river.” Police tracked down the kidnapper and Alex to a cottage in the Cotswolds. Janet Griffiths – no relation to Dawn – was a nurse. She wanted to pretend she had had a baby in a bid to persuade her lover to leave his wife. The 33-year-old was sent to a psychiatric hospital, although she was released after seven months. Four years later, she died of cancer.
The story aroused massive media interest and Dawn was paid £110,000 by a national newspaper. Dawn put the money into a trust fund for Alex. Four months later, Dawn and Jeff separated. “There was too much pressure. I was a nervous wreck,” she said. Dawn returned with her daughter to Middlesbrough. She said: “I kept hoping things would get better but the nightmare just got worse. “I had graffiti sprayed on my door. It was the word “bitch” in big letters. “Everyone was jealous.”Wicked…the cast of the hit show.
Dawn met a new partner but she suffered severe depression, aggravated by an inability to bond with the daughter she so nearly lost. She said: “I kept thinking she was going to die. When she slept at night, I had to sleep alongside her with my hand on her, just to make sure she was breathing. “But, while I worried about her all the time, I felt I didn’t love her like I should.” Dawn had a nervous breakdown and tried to kill herself with an overdose. Her partner found her unconscious on the settee and she was rushed by ambulance to hospital.
In 1995, Dawn gave birth to her son Charlie, now aged 12. The next year, she split from his dad. But, three years ago, she met window cleaner Mark Hunter. Last summer, the pair married. Dawn said: “We love each other to bits and, most importantly, he gets on really well with Alex and Charlie.” While Dawn still suffers from depression, her condition has improved and, in recent years, she has finally been able to bond with Alex. Dawn said: “We’re really making up for lost time now.” Dawn spent the £110,000 made from newspaper deals on Alex’s education at Polam Hall, near Darlington. Dawn said: “Alex works very, very hard. I’m proud of her. “She’s done really well in her exams. In her GCSEs, she got four A stars, four As and three Bs. “She is now doing five A levels in Maths, Further Maths, Business Studies, Drama and General Studies.”
Alex plans to do a maths degree at Leeds University. After university, she is considering spending a year working as a dancer on a cruise ship, before possibly joining the police. Alex is a member of the Samantha Moore Academy of Performing Art and has starred in a musical featuring extracts from Wicked. On Thursday, Dawn and Alex caught a National Express East Coast train from Darlington to London. Just two and a half hours later, they were in the capital, enjoying a tour of the sights. But the highlight of the day was meeting the cast of Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre.
The show is built around the famous Wizard of Oz move and is Alex’s favourite. She spent half an hour getting tips from top actresses Kerry Ellis, Dianne Pilkington and Susie Blake, before watching the show. Alex said: “It was a fantastic night. “It was brilliant meeting the stars and the show was wonderful – so colourful. “But the best part of all was seeing my mum have such a good time. “She can be a pain in the bum at times but I love her. I want her to be really happy. She really deserves it after everything that’s happened.”<-----