Rickety appeal rejected

Posted: 22nd November 2012

A mother and father's plea that vitamin supplements in formula baby milk led to them being condemned for battering their month-old baby has been rejected by a judge who refused them permission to appeal against a finding that one or other of them was probably responsible for the child’s grave injuries.

The parents had argued that an extraordinary sequence of medical events had led to a case of congenital rickets being viewed as serious child abuse by experts, social workers and a family judge and their son being taken from their care and put up for adoption. However, Lord Justice McFarlane said that the parents had been given every chance to put forward their case and that their challenge to the family judge’s findings was unsustainable.

The parents' lawyers had argued that there was evidence that the boy was born with a vitamin D deficiency, inherited from his mother, and that this led to soft bones and rickets. Although blood tests carried out when he was four weeks old were normal, it was submitted that his congenital condition could by then have been masked by the formula milk given to him which contained Vitamin D supplements.

RCJRefusing to grant permission to appeal, however, the judge said that, when the boy was taken to hospital at four weeks old, medics found no less than 12 fractures of different kinds to various parts of his body. There were also ‘concerning signs’ in his genital area indicative of either infection or abuse.

Vitamin D deficiency at birth, if established, did not mean that an underlying medical condition was responsible for the boy’s injuries. There was no evidence that he was born with rickets nor that the formation of his bones was affected by a lack of vitamin D. Expert opinion that there was no weakness in his bones at four weeks old was ‘conclusive’ that there was no such weakness at birth.

The judge said that there was ‘genuine public interest’ in such cases and criticism of the family justice system in the press had included claims that medical issues are only superficially examined by the courts, that experts are chosen and paid for by local authorities and that accused parents are not given a fair hearing.

However, paying tribute to the thoroughness and fairness with which the family judge dealt with the case, he emphasised that the parents had been allowed to instruct experts of their choice on any aspect of the case that they considered relevant. Tests had been performed on the boy whenever his parents' asked for that to be done, even on one occasion when that testing was contrary to medical advice.