When healthy children die or suffer serious injury, the finger of suspicion is very often pointed at members of their family. In one case, however, a judge found that a loving couple had nothing to do with the death of their 11-month-old daughter.
The little girl was given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation after being found unresponsive in the early hours of the morning. Her parents said that she had become entwined in a small fleecy blanket that had completely covered her head. After she died three days later, however, medical staff at Great Ormond Street Hospital said that they could not exclude the possibility that she had suffered a non-accidental injury.
The couple’s two other young children were swiftly placed under police protection and removed from their care. The local authority’s entirely proper response was to obtain emergency protection orders in respect of both of them and to place them in interim care. They had since been looked after by their paternal grandparents.
A galaxy of medical experts, in disciplines ranging from genetics to paediatrics and neuropathology, reported on the baby’s condition but none of them found evidence of inflicted injury. There were signs of asphyxia, but no fractures or other external or internal marks of injury. In those circumstances, the council sought judicial permission to return the two children immediately to their parents.
Granting the application, the judge found it obvious that there was no reasonable prospect of establishing that the baby had suffered a non-accidental injury. Exonerating the parents, he noted that they were previously unknown to the authorities. They were clearly loving and attentive parents who had at all times behaved appropriately in unimaginably distressing circumstances. All the available evidence pointed in only one direction – that the baby’s death was a tragic accident.