Parents convicted on bad science

The Panorama Programme “I want my Baby Back” broadcast on 13th January 2014 draws attention to the failings of the Family Courts. Relying on solely expert medical evidence of abuse, judges are ordering children to be taken into care. Medical evidence is fallible.   Too much reliance is often placed upon it.

Parents should not have to have the burden of establishing an alternative and more plausible innocent explanation for the alleged “injuries”. In the absence of corroborating evidence parents should not have their children taken into care on the basis of expert medical evidence alone. Panorama explored cases where the medical expert evidence was subsequently shown to be completely erroneous.

Grave injustices have occurred where children have been taken from their families and parents and child carers have been convicted and imprisoned for offences which were never committed. A presently known or unknown medical condition must always be borne in mind as an explanation for alleged “injuries” in the absence of any other evidence of abuse.

Forensic science has greatly assisted in the successful prosecution of the guilty, but blind adherence to scientific dogma continues to trouble all who have an interest in justice.

Time and again, care authorities, the CPS, judges and juries have relied upon persuasive scientific and medical experts who have subsequently been proved to be wrong. In the Cleveland child abuse cases children were taken from their parents on the premise that reflex anal dilatation (“RAD”) was pathognomic of child sexual abuse. RAD is now discredited, but only after it had caused injustice and untold suffering to parents and children.

Parents have been wrongly convicted of murder when children in fact died of cot death (SIDS) as the well known cases of Sally Clark and Angela Cannings sadly illustrate.

Parents and care givers have been convicted of murder (shaken baby syndrome) on the basis of a “triad” of medical signs (subdural haematoma, retinal haemorrhages and encephalopathy) alone. This so-called triad, has no scientific evidence supporting its aetiology and even its proponents accept that the unlawful application of force is no more than informed speculation as to its cause. Nevertheless, the triad has become a gold standard and despite the absence of any corroborating evidence of abuse, parents have been imprisoned and had their children taken into care on the basis of this bogus science.

Extreme caution should be exercised in advancing serious charges against parents on the basis of scientific evidence alone.  See A.N GuthKelch  12 Hous J Health L & Policy (2012) 201

It is wholly unacceptable that care proceedings and convictions are founded upon scientifically unsound opinions. No matter how distinguished or persuasive the scientific or medical expert, that opinion – just as a judge’s conclusion or a jury’s determination – must be evidence based.

There should be no room for anecdotal opinion evidence as the basis for any judgment in science or law.