Belfast Telegraph

Parents of baby with multiple fractured bones failed to protect him, Judge rules

By Alan Erwin

The parents of a Northern Ireland baby brought to hospital with multiple fractured bones failed to protect him from harm, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mrs Justice Keegan held both the mother and father are among potential perpetrators in inflicting non-accidental injuries on more than one occasion which left their son in "excruciating pain".

She ordered that the infant and his five-year-old brother must both remain in care due to the risk of harm.

Describing the mother and father's evidence as "contrived", the judge said: "The reality is that this child sustained serious injuries whilst in the care of both parents."

The baby, referred to as Tom, was four weeks old when he was taken to an accident and emergency department in March 2016.

Examinations revealed that he had sustained bruising and up to 17 fractured bones, including a femur completely broken in half.

A consultant paediatrician who treated the child described it as a "truly dreadful injury" which must have been caused by significant force.

Realising another child, Ned, was at the family home, he contacted police - telling the court it was an unprecedented step in his career.

The doctor's report concluded that Tom's injuries were most likely caused by physical abuse.

Both parents are subject to ongoing criminal investigations.

With their sons sent to live with their grandparents following the incident, a Health and Social Care Trust was seeking full care orders.

It argued that Tom suffered non-accidental injuries while being looked after by his mother and father.

The parents put forward alternative theories that the fractures were either accidental or due to the inherited bone-weakening condition Ehlers Danlos Type 3 Syndrome (EDS).

In evidence the father said he may have crushed the baby when he tripped and stumbled forward with him in his arms.

The director of a bone density clinic in the United States contacted by the mother said he was convinced both parents had EDS, the court heard.

Contrary to other expert opinion, he claimed this would explain Tom's injuries, and referred to the child's ribs as being "like toothpicks".

The mother accepted that she gave no explanation at the hospital, but denied being "unemotional" at the time.

She said her husband informed her the following day about tripping on stairs at their home.

As well as the alleged tripping incident, Tom's father claimed the injuries may also have happened when Ned fell on him weeks earlier.

In a newly published judgment Mrs Justice Keegan said she was unconvinced the couple or their child has EDS.

Rejecting the parents' accounts, she held that the completely broken femur cannot have been caused by normal handling.

"I accept entirely the evidence of the paediatrician's who said that to cause this injury would require considerable force and that the child would be in excruciating pain," the judge said.

She characterised the potential explanations as lacking credibility, adding that it was totally unbelievable for the husband not to have immediately mentioned any innocent trip incident to his wife.

"Unfortunately I consider that the parents' evidence had a contrived quality to it," Mrs Justice Keegan held.

"In my view they both wanted to make explanations fit their own narrative."

Despite being unable to conclude which parent inflicted "serious multiple injuries... which occurred on more than one occasion", she concluded that both are "in the pool of perpetrators".

Backing the Trust case, she said Tom and his brother are both are likely to suffer significant emotional and physical harm.

"These injuries were attributable to the care given by the parents given the timeframe in which they occurred," the judge added.

"Each parent has failed to protect that child from harm."

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