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CARE PROCEEDINGS: Re W (Care: Scope of Investigation)

Date:18 MAY 2009

(Court of Appeal; Thorpe and Wilson LJJ and Holman J; 18 March 2009)

The mother had taken the 18-month-old child to hospital asserting that child had collapsed, but the hospital had found nothing wrong with the child, so the child had been sent home. Shortly afterwards, the child had suddenly died; medical experts had been unable to identify the cause of death. The mother was later charged with murder on the basis of her statement that she had held the child down against the pillow because she was angry that he would not stop crying, but it was subsequently established that the mother was a highly compliant young woman. Her confession was considered to be unreliable and she was found not guilty. Some years later the mother had another baby. The local authority was concerned, and monitored the mother, who had some serious mental health and alcohol problems. When the mother told the GP at the 6 week check up that the baby stopped breathing several times a day, the baby was admitted to hospital, but no breathing problems were found. The authority began care proceedings. The authority wished to instruct experts to advise on the likely causes of the first child's death, either in the light of medical developments, or in the context of child protection rather than the earlier criminal investigation, but the trial judge refused to allow any further investigation of the first child's death. The authority appealed, arguing that they should be entitled to investigate the earlier death.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, rejecting the argument that the judge's ruling was analogous to a finding of 'no case to answer'.