Almost nothing can be more serious than to accuse a parent of inflicting injury on their child. As a High Court ruling showed, however, family judges demand firm evidence and a careful investigation before finding such allegations proved.
When a mother sought medical attention for her eight-year-old son, he was found to have suffered extensive bruising. Medical staff suspected that the injuries were non-accidental. In the context of care proceedings, a local authority sought a judicial finding that they had been inflicted by the mother or her partner.
In rejecting that allegation, the Court found that the investigation into the youngster’s injuries was so seriously flawed as to be unreliable. Guidelines on the obtaining of evidence from children had in many respects not been followed. During a succession of interviews, reinforcing suggestions had been made to the boy and leading questions asked that infected the entire process.
Accidental causes were possible for all the boy’s injuries and the local authority had failed to meet the burden of proving that the mother or her partner had inflicted them. It was more likely that the boy, whose behaviour was challenging, had brought on himself an unusual number and range of accidental injuries.
In agreeing that he should, for the time being, remain in foster care under the aegis of a care order, the Court acknowledged that his behaviour had been poorly controlled and supervised by his hard-pressed mother. However, the finding that his injuries were accidental, rather than inflicted, greatly boosted her hopes of being reunited with him in due course.