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FACT-FINDING HEARING: Re L and M [2013] EWHC 1569 (Fam)

Date:24 JUN 2013
Law Reporter

(Family Division, Baker J, 4 June 2013)

The 6-month-old child was taken to the GP by the father due to concerns of swelling on her head. She was referred to the hospital where she was found to have sustained ‘spectacular' multiple skull and rib fractures, although no brain injury was present. In care proceedings in relation to the girl and her older brother the judge found the injuries had been inflicted non-accidentally by the parents. However, that decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal ([2012] EWCA Civ 1710, [2013] 2 FLR forthcoming) and the case was remitted for retrial.

In preparation for retrial, Dr Stoodley, consultant paediatric neuroradiologist was instructed and he prepared a report which challenged some of the basic assumptions upon which the original experts had based their conclusions. Primarily his interpretation of the imaging showed that what had originally been thought to be fractures were in fact accessory sutures. Although unusual, Dr Stoodley had convincingly demonstrated by reference to 3D reconstruction the striking symmetry between the lucencies that he proposed as accessory sutures. Therefore, the number of skull fractures was reduced from 8-10 to 4. The most likely explanation for the skull fractures without the incidence of any brain damage was an eggshell skull which absorbed the impact causing the fractures.

The parents' account of how the injuries were sustained was hesitant and unreliable and the judge found they had not been truthful about the incidents. The local authority had proved on the balance of probabilities that the child sustained the injuries non-accidentally whilst in the care of one or both of the parents. It was not possible to say whether they occurred in one incident or which parent was responsible.