Axel Kahn

Newborn twins slept side by side in matching cots last night at the centre of a grotesque surrogacy controversy that has shocked the world.

One child, a little boy, was born to a woman of 62 after her brother provided the sperm to fertilise an egg donated by an American woman.

The other baby, a girl, has the same 52-year-old father but was born to the American surrogate and handed over last week.

The elderly siblings, Jeanine and Robert Salomone, had travelled from their home in France to a U.S. clinic and passed themselves off as husband and wife in order to get IVF treatment.

They were desperate to have a child to secure an heir to their 80-year-old mother's £2million fortune. They feared that the money would otherwise be split up among distant cousins.

The head of France's medical ethics committee said he was 'sickened, saddened and shocked' by the tawdry tale.

The desperately tangled family tree means that Mr Salomone is both the father and uncle of the little boy, five-week-old Benoit-David.

The other baby, four-week-old Marie-Cecile, is both his twin, (because Mr Salomone and the American woman are the genetic parents of both), his half-sister (because they have the same father but were born to different women) and his cousin (because she is the daughter of his birth mother's brother).

Miss Salomone is one of the oldest women to become a mother. The record holder is a Filipino living in California who was 63 when she gave birth to a daughter in 1997.

Defending her actions yesterday as she looked after the children at her Provencal farmhouse outside the town of Draguignan, Miss Salomone, a retired schoolmistress, said: 'I've done nothing wrong and I have nothing on my conscience. I am not irresponsible.

'I may be 62 and my brother 52 but we're better able to bring up children than a couple of heroin addicts depending on the state to bring up their child.

'Why judge us and not people like them? I've been battling to have a child for years.

'I treasure these little ones and I get up three times a night like all mothers. I sing to rock them to sleep. My son is more than I ever hoped for.'

She explained that she and her brother decided on the two pregnancies so that if she lost her baby, the American woman could still provide them with a child.

'I had IVF treatment in the past in France with my own eggs and my then boyfriend's sperm, but it failed,' she said.

'I could not pass on my genetic heritage because of my age so I wanted to carry on Robert's in order that our family lineage could continue.

'I went to Italy to consult Dr Severino Antinori, a specialist on late pregnancies, but he said he would give eggs only to women younger than me.

'After seeing a television programme and making numerous telephone calls, I found Dr Vicken Sahakian's clinic in the United States.

'Robert and I tried two years ago with his sperm and an egg from the same donor but it did not work.

'We went back in August last year and this time it did.

'Robert allowed me to become a mother and I helped him find a surrogate mother so he could have his first child, a little girl.

'Robert and I are both healthy in body and mind. We wouldn't have had these children if they didn't mean happiness for both of us.'

She denied directly misleading the American clinic about her brother's identity.

'We simply introduced ourselves to the doctor as having the same surname,' she said.

'In the past people have already mistaken us for man and wife because I look relatively young and we often went about together.'

However, the doctor who arranged the IVF treatment - at £56,000 for each child - said he was horrified to find out that the parents were siblings.

'I would never have carried out these

fertilisations if I had known,' said Dr Sahakian, of the Pacific Fertility Centre in Los Angeles.

'I am very disappointed that they lied to me.

'Jeanine told me Robert was her husband and they both had the same surname so I wasn't going to demand to see their wedding certificate.'

Neighbours say that the brother and sister have a tempestuous relationship and do not get on well. In a fit of depression, he tried to shoot himself in the head with a shotgun five years ago after she threw him out of their home. The suicide attempt left him severely disfigured.

A police report in 1993 stated: 'The members of this family ferociously hate each other and use the police to settle their fights. The situation is very worrying and is caused by family misunderstandings about future inheritance.'

It is understood that neither brother nor sister has ever been married.

The details of the case have caused outrage in France, with some denouncing the actions of the siblings as incest.

Professor Axel Kahn, of the French medical ethics committee, said: 'This sickens, saddens and shocks me. 'It disturbs all the family relationships because it means the little boy is the son of his uncle, while his genetic mother is a surrogate he will never know.

'This will be a difficult situation to cope with and I'm horrified that doctors have been so mercenary as to permit it.

'These doctors did not act in the interests of the children or for medical good but to satisfy the fantasies of clients who were prepared to pay them handsomely.

'French law bans such practices and I hope that if such a thing were ever attempted in France, the doctors concerned would be prosecuted and convicted.'

Jacques Montagut, chief biologist on France's National Medical Council for Ethics, said: 'There is a time in life to become a mother, but another to become a grandmother.

'This birth is a disgrace. The procedure is illegal in France.

'This woman has twisted the law. Just imagine, if she lives to be 82 her son will be only 20.'

French police have investigated the affair but decided that no offence had been committed. Last night the French social affairs ministry said that despite the initial police decision that there had been no offence of incest, it would be seeking a further detailed investigation into the issue.

A ministry spokesman said: 'This appears to be incest. We are very worried about the life ahead for Jeanine's child.'

The brother and sister were reluctant to discuss the financial background to their desire for a child.

But their mother, Marie, said the family was concerned that her £2million fortune, based on property, would ultimately go to distant relatives if neither her son nor daughter produced an heir.

'We feared that a lifelong struggle to build up our investments would eventually go to cousins for want of a direct heir,' she said.

'Our family has suffered a lot with my husband dying early and my son being handicapped.

'This baby, my only grandson, has finally made life beautiful.'

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