In a case which vividly illustrates the difficulty in identifying non-accidental injuries in children, a couple whose toddler son spent almost a year in care after he was injured in a fall from a bed have been reunited with the boy and exonerated by a family judge.
The then nine-month-old boy was rushed to hospital after suffering serious head injuries in an incident at the couple’s home. A paramedic who attended the scene expressed the view that the injury was too severe to have been caused by a fall onto a carpeted floor and that the mother had displayed a lack of emotion.
On examination in hospital, the boy was found to have suffered brain damage as well as bleeding to the brain and behind the eyes. The local authority argued that his injuries had probably been caused by shaking at the hands of one or other of his parents and asked the judge to make such a finding.
However, the judge noted that it had subsequently been agreed that the boy had suffered one of the brain injuries at the time of his birth. Medical evidence as to the cause of his other injuries was ‘not conclusive’ and there was nothing in the mother’s demeanour to suggest that she was responsible.
Fearing her child was going to die, the mother had simply shut down emotionally as a way of protecting herself. While she had endured mental health difficulties in the past, she had always sought help and the judge noted, “It would be wholly wrong to stigmatise those with mental health difficulties as somehow more likely to injure a child.”
The family had been ‘unknown to social services’ prior to the incident; there was no evidence of domestic violence within the parents’ relationship; health professionals had noted nothing about the boy’s care or appearance to cause concern and the parents had presented photographs ‘revealing a happy, well-nourished baby’.
The parents’ account of the child’s fall had been consistent throughout. The father had given evidence in a straightforward, uncomplicated way and the judge formed the impression that he was telling the truth. He concluded, “There are no features of this case, save for the injuries themselves, which would raise suspicion against these parents. The evidence of the parents was fairly but vigorously tested in cross-examination. If this had been a concocted account, clear fault lines would have opened up. They did not do so.”