Spanish nun Maria Gomez Valbuena (C) leaves a court in Madrid on April 12, 2012 after refusing to testify before the judge for her alleged involvement in a case of stolen children. AFP PHOTO / PEDRO ARMESTRE

Madrid, Spain - Spanish judges have launched a fresh investigation of a nun accused of stealing newborns in the 1980s, a suspected widespread practice dating from the Franco dictatorship, a lawyer said Friday.

Sister Maria Gomez Valbuena, 87, in April last year was the first person to go before a judge over the “stolen babies” scandal, in which the regime allowed children to be taken from their parents on moral or ideological grounds.

In that case she was questioned by a judge investigating her role in the kidnapping of a newborn girl from a Madrid hospital three decades ago.

Now she is accused by another mother, Purificacion Betegon, of taking away her twins in 1981, said the plaintiff's lawyer, Alipio Barbero.

Betegon “in 1981 had twin girls and after she told Sister Maria she did not want to give her daughters up for adoption, she was told they had died,” Barbero said, without elaborating.

Francisco Franco's regime allowed children to be taken away at birth, for instance, if the parents were left-wing opponents or were not married - and victims' groups say the practice continued after the ruler's death in 1975.

A hearing set for Friday in the latest case was postponed indefinitely after Sister Maria did not appear due to a heart complaint, Barbero told AFP, citing court documents. He said he had asked for the nun to be questioned at home if necessary.

Campaign groups such as SOS Bebes Robados and Anadir say hundreds of thousands of newborns were stolen under Franco.

They say some 1 500 court cases over such babies have been filed with prosecutors but that judges have shelved many cases on the grounds that the alleged deeds took place too long ago.

In the case in which Gomez was questioned last year, the child's mother Maria Luisa Torres was reunited with her daughter in 2011, a year after those affected began speaking out about the scandal.

Barbero said many people must have been involved in the kidnappings.

“Clearly, one person alone could not do all that,” he said. - Sapa-AFP