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NSPCC campaigns to close legal loophole for violent parents

Date:12 MAR 2009

The sentencing of the carers of baby Rhys Biggs on Tuesday highlights a loophole which allows carers who cause or allow deliberate serious injury of a child to evade justice, says the NSPCC.

Two-month-old Rhys Biggs sustained a catalogue of horrendous injuries before his death in 2006. It was reported that the boy's right wrist and shoulder were broken and his ribs repeatedly crushed and fractured during a horrific campaign of cruelty. The court heard how on one occasion the helpless baby spent hours screaming in agony. His mother and her boyfriend were convicted of assault and cruelty rather than murder or manslaughter because the cause of the boy's death could not be determined.

The NSPCC says the case highlights a gap in the law. It believes more needs to be done to bring parents and carers to justice when they brutally wound or disable their children.

The charity wants the law of familial homicide extended to include cases of serious injury. Familial homicide legislation allows courts to convict carers of causing or allowing the death of a child when they cannot prove which of them killed the child. It was introduced in 2005, following a long NSPCC campaign. Since then, at least 22 carers, including those responsible for Baby P's death, have been brought to justice or are awaiting trial.

NSPCC lawyer Barbara Esam says: "The law needs to be addressed to cover cases where a carer has inflicted serious injuries on a child - where the child does not die or where it cannot be proved that the child died from the injuries inflicted.

"Before the law of familial homicide was brought in, parents and carers could escape justice by remaining silent or blaming each for the death of a child in their care. While that loophole has been closed, they can still evade justice for inflicting life-threatening but non-fatal injuries on their children.

"We must secure full justice for children who are battered and bruised at home and left disabled for the rest of their lives. The gap in the law must be closed so that cruel and violent parents face charges which reflect the serious nature of their offences."