The Secrets She Keeps Book Was Inspired by a True Story

Laura Carmichael-starring Australian psychological thriller The Secrets She Keeps is based on a book inspired by a real British criminal case from the 1990s. Major spoilers ahead

The Secrets She Keeps

Warning: contains spoilers for The Secrets She Keeps

First: if you’re watching The Secrets She Keeps on BBC One on Monday and Tuesday nights and don’t want to see plot spoilers for how it unfolds, please walk away now. However, if you’ve already binged all six episodes on BBC iPlayer, step this way. 

The Secrets She Keeps is a 2017 novel by Michael Robotham, a former investigative journalist turned ghost writer, now a leading Australian crime author. The book is fiction, but its central plot – the abduction of a new-born from a hospital hours after birth – is reported to be inspired by a real life kidnapping. 

In July 1994, Abbie Humphries was abducted from the Queen Elizabeth Medical Centre in the UK city of Nottingham by a woman posing as a nurse. Dressed in a wig and nurse’s uniform, 22-year-old Julie Kelley took the five-hour-old baby from her father on the pretext of administering a routine hearing test. She then held the child captive for 15 days before she was discovered in a house near the hospital and Abbie was reunited with her parents and two siblings.

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It was explained in court that Kelley, who suffered from Personality Disorder, had faked a pregnancy and pretended that she had given birth to the child, lying to her boyfriend in an attempt to maintain their relationship. Kelley was sentenced to three years on probation and ordered to receive psychological treatment for her mental health issues. Years later, the Humphries family emigrated from the UK to New Zealand where they currently live. 

While that basic premise inspired the plot of Robotham’s novel, The Secrets She Keeps remains a work of fiction. The location was shifted from Nottingham in the UK to a suburb of Sydney, Australia. The characters of Meghan and Jack Shaughnessy (Jessica de Gouw and Michael Dorman), a parenting blogger and television sports presenter whose new-born son Benjamin is stolen from hospital, are fictional. Details about their marriage being rocked by infidelity and the lingering question mark over the identity of Baby Ben’s biological father, are inventions for the novel and TV adaptation.

Similarly, the character of the kidnapper – Agatha Fyfle, played by Downton Abbey’s Laura Carmichael – is a creation. In the TV series, Agatha is an English supermarket worker living in Sydney who ran away from her Jehovah’s Witness home aged sixteen after she was raped by a religious elder and became pregnant. Forced to give up her baby for adoption, Agatha eventually married an older man – Nicky – and went through IVF treatment to conceive again. She became pregnant but her daughter Chloe was stillborn and Agatha was told that chances of her conceiving again were very low. 

In the series, Agatha is revealed to also have previously abducted two other babies – having taken one from a pram outside a shop and another through an open window. Both died in her care and were buried by her alongside her own daughter on scrubland, their graves marked by handmade floral wreaths.  

The dramatic conclusion in which Agatha returns Baby Ben to Meghan in person, then shoots herself in the head, survives the injury and goes to prison, was also an invention and not part of the original case. 

The Secrets She Keeps is available to stream on BBC iPlayer now.