Where a child suffers injuries on more than one occasion, it is hardly surprising that professionals may suspect that they are not accidental but inflicted. However, a case in which loving parents were cleared of harming their baby showed that it is always possible for lightning to strike multiple times in the same place.
The young couple took their baby to hospital after he sustained a fall when his father left him momentarily alone on his changing mat. He was initially discharged with no identified injuries. However, a subsequent review of X-rays and a skeletal survey revealed a number of fractures, some of them partially healed.
Suspecting that the injuries were non-accidental, a local authority initially placed the baby and his twin in foster care. Their maternal grandmother and great aunt were subsequently permitted to take charge of their care. The council asserted that the baby’s injuries were inflicted by either his mother or his father. The non-perpetrating parent was alleged to have failed to protect him.
Following a fact-finding hearing, a family judge noted that it was undisputed that the baby had sustained three accidental events in the space of about a month. In the first, he wriggled free from his grandfather’s arms; in the second, his mother tripped and fell while carrying him. The third was the changing mat incident.
The couple, both of them professionals of exemplary character who had never had any previous involvement with social services, accepted that the string of accidents was extremely unfortunate and somewhat embarrassing. They vehemently denied inflicting the injuries and said that they were loving, caring parents who did all in their power to give their twins a high standard of care.
Exonerating them, the judge found their evidence both truthful and compelling. Their accounts of what happened were entirely consistent and the medical evidence was not inconsistent with all the injuries having been sustained accidentally. There was also a small possibility that their baby suffered from a condition giving rise to reduced bone density, placing him at greater risk of fractures.
On the totality of the evidence, the council had failed to discharge the burden of proving, on the balance of probabilities, that the injuries were non-accidental. The parents were subject to no other safeguarding concerns and the judge directed that the twins be returned to their care forthwith.