50 years after, doctor convicted of stealing newborn, escapes punishment

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A Spanish doctor who stole and sold a baby during the country's dictatorship has avoided punishment because the statute of limitations has expired.

But he can not be punished because Ms Madrigal did not make her complaint until 2012, meaning the statute of limitations had expired.

The court said 85-year-old Spanish gynecologist Eduardo Vela was responsible for the abduction of a child, faking a birth and falsifying official documents but was absolved after the baby reached adulthood in 1987.

Monday's verdict is Spain's first in relation to the abduction of thousands of children during the country's Civil War in the 1930s and the decades of General Francisco Franco's dictatorship that followed.

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Vela, who was the director of a Madrid clinic considered at the epicentre of the scandal, denied the accusations during this year's trial. But the cleared him because the statute of limitations had expired.

Prosecutors had called for him to face an 11-year prison sentence.

Madrigal, who learned at 18 that she wasn't living with her biological parents, argued that she couldn't have lodged her complaint against Vela any earlier because she only learned about the scheme in 2010, when her adoptive mother told her about it.

The right-wing regime waged a campaign to take away the children of poor families, prisoners or political enemies, sometimes stripping women of their newborns by lying and saying they had died during labour.

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Ms Madrigal told reporters outside the court that she would appeal against the decision.

"I'm happy because the judges are acknowledging that there was theft, that I was taken away from my mother, but I didn't think they would stop short of convicting him", she told reporters, adding that "the judges should have been fearless".

Madrigal's was the only case of "stolen babies" - as they are known in Spain - that has made it to the trial stage.

A decade ago, a Spanish judge recorded the cases of about 30,000 Spanish children taken at birth during Franco's rule.

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