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Kara Swift
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FACT-FINDING HEARING: Re R (Inherent Probability of Mother Harming Baby)

Date:18 JUN 2013
Law Reporter

(Court of Appeal, Thorpe, Tomlinson, Briggs LJJ, 12 June 2013)

At 14 months old the child suffered serious burns caused by scolding water. The mother claimed she had left him in an empty bath while she disposed of his nappy and on her return she found him in 18cm of hot water after apparently turning on the hot tap. The hospital staff were suspicious of the mother's account and contacted the local authority which initiated care proceedings.

During a fact-finding hearing expert evidence was adduced in regard to the taps, the bath, and the temperature of the water in relation to the short amount of time the child had been left as well as evidence as to whether he had been mature enough to be able to turn on the tap. The judge found in favour of the expert evidence which contradicted that of the mother and found her responsible for the injuries. The mother appealed.

The appeal was allowed, Thorpe LJ dissenting. Before the judge had been entitled to find the mother responsible she should have considered whether it was inherently probable that the mother would have acted in such a way. The mother's past good care of the child had to be taken into account and the judge was required to ask whether a caring mother would have caused the child's injuries in the way she so found before accepting the scientific and expert evidence.