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Case note - WSCC v Mother & Ors [2024] EWFC 147 (B) (19 February 2024)

Case note - WSCC v Mother & Ors [2024] EWFC 147 (B) (19 February 2024)

This case concerned a fact-finding hearing in respect of two young children, child A and B. It centered on non-accidental injuries caused to B. 

Background

Two weeks before B was admitted to hospital, the mother had noticed red dots in B’s eyes. She showed family members who confirmed the same. In the following week, the mother left the children with the father whilst out shopping. When she returned, the mother made a Google search regarding B’s red eyes. The mother subsequently  sought assistance from her health visitor who saw B’s eyes and advised contacting her GP. B was referred to hospital where subconjunctival haemorrhages were diagnosed. X-rays also revealed B had rib fractures which had started to heal. Further, a social worker observed the mother acting calm at hospital whereas the father was distressed, felt physically sick and repeatedly had to go to the bathroom.  

The parents were arrested on suspicion of causing the injuries to B. The court granted emergency protection orders followed by interim care orders. The children were placed with the maternal family. 

The court was faced with the difficult issue of determining when the injuries were caused and by whom. 

The father’s memory

Proceedings were delayed for months whilst the father was assessed as not having capacity. This related to an earlier incident in proceedings where the father had lied about being approached by the mother after court. On the same day, he called the children’s guardian to say that he lied and everyone will know he lied. Since that date, the father claimed to suffer from loss of memory which prevented him from being able to answer any questions on how B’s injuries were caused. 

The father had claimed to professionals that he was bedbound and that his daily functioning was limited. The mother applied for the father’s telephone records which painted a different picture of the father living a normal life including playing football, going on holiday and engaging with strangers on Tinder. The court ordered a further psychiatric assessment which found the father did have capacity and proceedings resumed. 

The parties’ positions

Local authority

The local authority sought numerous findings including that the injuries were non-accidental and that they were inflicted by either the mother or the father. Given that the evidence on who caused the injuries was unclear, the local authority invited the court to find the mother and the father were potential perpetrators. The local authority supported the children continuing to be placed with the maternal family under interim care orders pending a trial placement followed by Special Guardianship Orders.

Mother

The mother denied causing any injuries and sought to care for both children. During proceedings, she alleged B’s injuries had been caused by the father. She also alleged the father was lying about his mental wellbeing to avoid giving evidence because he had caused the injuries. 

Father

The father denied causing the injuries but accepted he was not able to care for his children. He did not support the children being placed with the mother but did not oppose the local authority’s plan. 

Guardian

The children’s guardian did not advance a positive case but sought to assist the court by challenging the evidence. The guardian supported the mother’s findings about the father’s credibility. However, she asked whether the lies were to avoid giving evidence or because he caused the injuries. 

Expert evidence 

Three experts provided written reports and gave oral evidence: 

  1. An ophthalmologist ruled out accidental injury and found chest compression was more likely. 
  2. A radiologist considered the rib fractures to be two to five weeks old when B was admitted to hospital and caused by one, two or three episodes of trauma to the chest using significant force. 
  3. A paediatrician ruled out medical causes for the fractures and pointed to the presence of other injuries to show that they were likely inflicted. She also expected a child suffering from painful fractures would cry out in distress.  

Decision

HHJ Bedford summarised two schools of thought. First, that the rib fractures were at least two weeks old when B was admitted to hospital and that the mother had seen burst blood vessels in B’s eyes around a similar time. Second, despite the healing, the ribs were injured closer to the date of the x-rays around a week before. Likewise, the family’s account of seeing red eyes was unreliable with the only certain diagnosis being on admission to hospital. 

Ultimately, HHJ Bedford determined that they were two inflictions. The first occurred around two weeks before which explained the ribs healing and the mother’s family seeing identified burst blood vessels The second resulted in further subconjunctival haemorrhages diagnosed on admission to hospital. 

Considering the totality of evidence and submissions, HHJ Beford made findings that the father had inflicted the injuries and that the mother had not shared all information about life in the family home which might explain B’s injuries. HHJ Bedford was also satisfied that the father deliberately misled professionals, medics and the court and that those deliberate lies were to avoid giving evidence about how B’s injuries were caused. 

Sharan Bhachu and Kate Claxton appeared on behalf of the local authority. 

Pauline Troy appeared on behalf of the children’s guardian. 

Case note by 42BR Pupil, Matthew Timm


9th Jul 2024

Sharan Bhachu

Call 1999

Sharan Bhachu

Pauline Troy

Call 2011| Admitted as a Solicitor: 1989

Pauline Troy

Kate Claxton

Call 2019 | Admitted as a Solicitor: 2005

Kate Claxton

Matthew Timm

Call Pupil

Matthew Timm

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