A bricklayer who passed a toddler walking alone in a village shortly before her fatal fall into a pond said yesterday he did not stop to help in case people thought he was trying to abduct her.
Clive Peachey, from Cornwall, told an inquest jury sitting in Stratford-upon-Avon that he had passed two-year-old Abigail Rae in his van shortly after 10am on November 28 2002.
This was just moments after the toddler disappeared from the Ready Teddy Go nursery in the Warwick-shire village of Lower Brailes, according to staff.
Abby was found an hour later in an algae-covered pond and rescued by her 36 year-old mother, Victoria Rae, before being taken to Birmingham Children's Hospital by air ambulance where she was pronounced dead later that afternoon.
Mr Peachey, who lives in Liskeard, told the inquest at the Town Hall he had passed the little girl as she tottered towards the road in High Street.
He said: "I kept thinking I should go back.
"The reason I didn't go back was because I thought people might think I was trying to abduct her.
"I was convinced her parents were driving around and had found her".
Nursery supervisor Celia Diston said the back door leading to the courtyard had been open for about ten minutes on the day Abby died while staff and children wheeled their "ride on" toys out to the shed to be stored.
Angela Doherty, who was helping that day, said she walked Abby, who was the last to bring her toy out, back inside the door of the main building where she could see the other youngsters queuing for the toilet.
She said she then went to help a screaming toddler at the other end of the hall.
It was only when Ms Diston took the register at about 10am that she said they realised Abby was missing.
During a search for Abby in the village, Sharon Hibberd bumped into Mrs Rae and her husband Justin, 39, as they returned to their home in the village. They asked her what the problem was.
Ms Hibberd said she told the couple they were looking for a missing dog and carried on her search.
Asked by the Warwick-shire coroner Michael Coker to explain her actions, a weeping Ms Hibberd said: "It was such a shock to see the parents, something came out of my mouth. I didn't know why, I've got no reason."
Mrs Rae said staff at the nursery, which she had only heard positive reports about, had received training to look after her daughter, who suffered from epilepsy and whose condition, she said, had been stabilised with drugs.
The couple subsequently moved to Southend Bradfield in Berkshire where they live with their seven-year-old son Joshua and 18-month-old Toby.
The inquest continues.