Law Report – A Local Authority v A Mother & Ors  EWCA Civ 799
Date posted: 27 June 2019
Edward Keeling, assistant solicitor in the family team considers this recent decision concerning care proceedings
This case concerns an Appeal by a local authority against a finding in care proceedings regarding injuries suffered to a baby.
The background to this case is that the baby was born in April 2018 and was the first child of the parties; the baby was restless and difficult. Prior to injuries being sustained there were text messages from mother to father referring to the baby in derogatory terms which included threats from mother to harm the baby. Despite this the baby appeared well to health professionals albeit mother did not heed professional advice on the risk of ‘safe sleeping’ i.e. not sleeping in the same bed as the baby.
In June 2018 the mother noticed bleeding in the baby’s mouth and took them to hospital on the advice of a health visitor. Injuries sustained were severe including multiple rib fractures, bruising and a torn upper frenulum (injury to the mouth). The baby was taken into care under an Interim Care Order by the Local Authority within the week. The parents were interviewed by the police and nether admitted to causing injury to the baby although mother admitted to co-sleeping.
The matter proceeded to a Fact Finding Hearing with the crux of the case whether the injuries suffered were accidental or non-accidental.
Expert evidence from paediatric radiologist (Dr. Karl Johnson) and consultant paediatrician (Dr Russell Croft) was obtained and they were cross examined in Court. Both gave compelling evidence that, in particular, the rib fractures suffered to the baby could only be caused by “excessive/abusive squeezing” or “gripping of the chest”. Dr Croft in particular found that the ensemble of injuries suffered are typically seen in abusive babies.
The prospect of whether rolling over could have specifically caused the rib fractures was raised at the Fact Finding Hearing. Dr. Johnson stated that the mechanism of rolling is unlikely to create enough force to cause the injuries but there are many factors (e.g. type of mattress and weight of the mother).
Only once the mother had read the expert reports did she change her story in her witness statements from “I never rolled over [on to the baby]” to “I cannot exclude the possibility”. The father on the other hand admitted at the Fact Finding Hearing that he caused the baby to suffer the torn upper frenulum with a bottle whilst feeding but denied causing any other injuries.
HHJ Middleton-Roy heard all the evidence and found the parents to be honest and compelling witnesses and thus determined the rib fractures were caused by mother rolling onto baby when co-sleeping. The Judge accepted father’s account and therefore all injuries except the torn upper frenulum were found to be accidental.
The Local Authority appealed this decision and the Court of Appeal held the Judgement flawed. The case has therefore been remitted for a rehearing on the basis of the Judge’s failure to consider the totality of the evidence including mother’s text messages, father’s omission of causing injury to the baby and the evolution of the mother’s account to correspond with the expert reports.
The case provides a reminder to all legal representatives on the importance of expert evidence in non-accidental injury cases, the requirement to interpret evidence in its totality and when representing parents to ensure their accounts are clear and consistent from the outset.
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