Stolen car toddler ‘given item of clothing by suspect’

A 17-month-old girl who was snatched along with the car she was sitting in may have been given extra clothing by the suspect before she was abandoned, police said.

Maria Tudorica was sitting in a passenger seat of an Audi A5 when a man – purporting to be interested in buying the vehicle – took the car from an east London street.

The car was ditched without the child as police searched frantically, but police said at about 8pm that she had been found “safe and well”.

Baby Maria search
Maria Tudorica was inside the car when it was taken (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Officers said on Monday that Maria was last seen wearing a white top and red trousers, but was found wearing “an additional item of clothing”.

Scotland Yard said: “Officers believe that either the suspect put the clothing on the child before abandoning her, or that a member of the public dressed her due to the cold, but who at the time did not wish to contact police.”

Her car trader uncle, Gheorghe Stelica, told the Press Association he felt “born again” after learning she had been located.

Earlier that day, he had asked his brother, 35-year-old Claudia Stelica, who is Maria’s father, to show the car to the prospective buyer as a favour because he was out of London.

“I put the car on sale today and one guy called me on my phone,” the trader said.

“He didn’t seem suspicious on the phone, he was talking very nicely. I said to him, ‘If you don’t want to wait for me, no problem.’”

The father met the stranger outside his brother’s home in Nine Acres Close, Manor Park, and placed the girl in the black car as he demonstrated the engine. But then the supposed customer asked to try it.

Nine Acres Close in Newham
The car drove off from Nine Acres Close in Newham (John Stillwell/PA)

“He jumped up in the driver’s side and – boom – straight away he went with the car,” Gheorghe Stelica said.

The family were in pieces.

Teacher Nazneen Saleh, a 25-year-old visiting her parents in the street, said a woman she believed was Maria’s grandmother was in a “frenzy”.

The car, listed on Gumtree for £4,650, was found abandoned in Hathaway Crescent but Maria was absent.

Scotland Yard, however, announced at 8pm that she had been found “safe and well” in the nearby Ruskin Avenue area.

Delighted to report that missing child Maria Tudorica aged 17months has now been found safe and well in the Ruskin Avenue, E12 area. Thanks to media and all members of the public who have helped with this appeal.

— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) January 6, 2019

“God bless,” the 25-year-old uncle told PA. “I feel born again.”

He continued: “I feel over 1,000-times relief.

“(My brother) he’s happy. He thanks so much the police for their service.”

Police were yet to apprehend a suspect, who they described as a slim Asian man dressed in black clothing.

Anyone with information should call the police or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.