When children suffer injury, investigations follow and the finger of blame is frequently pointed at their parents. However, in one case, a young couple successfully challenged a judicial finding that they had conspired to cover up the circumstances in which their five-month-old daughter suffered a broken leg.
After an X-ray revealed a severe fracture of the little girl’s right thigh, a local authority launched care proceedings in respect of both her and her older brother. Following a hearing, a judge found that the parents had together fabricated their explanation that the injury may have occurred whilst the girl was being immunised by a doctor.
The possibility that she had been injured when she fell backwards whilst briefly in the sole care of her 11-year-old cousin was also rejected as implausible. The judge found that her non-accidental injuries had been inflicted whilst she was in the care of one or other of her parents. Final care orders were made in respect of both children, who were removed from their parents’ home and sent to live with their maternal grandparents.
The mother challenged the judge’s decision with the support of the father. In upholding her appeal, the court found that the judge had given insufficient weight to positive evidence about the parents. They were in a stable relationship and had been assessed as engaging, cooperative and understanding of their children’s needs. They had had no previous contact with social services.
The judge had failed to take a balanced approach to the critical issue of the parents’ credibility and a lack of structure in her ruling gave rise to a risk of her findings being made by default, rather than being based on all the evidence. Final care orders had also been made on what appeared to be very limited analysis of other options. The case was sent back for re-hearing by a different family judge.