Family Affair: `We didn't abuse our child'

Ian Brown, 38, is an independent television producer. Rioch Edwards Brown was a TV researcher before she gave birth to Riordan in February I995. They live with their son, who is now four, in south London
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The Independent Culture

I had lost five babies, so when I became pregnant for the sixth time, I moved into hospital for 14 weeks hoping not to lose the baby. Riordan was born six weeks premature.

He was in intensive care and special care but the doctors discharged him at 10 days. They were happy with him, and so was I. However, when I got home, my brother asked if had we noticed Riordan's head was big and how he seemed to vomit a lot. At his six-week check-up, the GP asked us to come back in a week's time to check his head size. In one week his head had grown one centimetre. The GP asked us to return to the hospital at 10am on the following day. We were kept waiting six hours without any treatment and had to return the following day.

Finally, we saw a consultant who told us that Riordan's notes had vanished but that Riordan had suffered a brainbleed commonly associated with premature babies - a subarachnoid. As we were leaving, she said: "By the way, have you ever dropped him?"

A week later, Riordan collapsed and I took him to casualty. They asked me to stay in for observation with Riordan. Three days later, they insisted that they see Ian and me together. I thought: "Oh my God, this is a brain tumour." The consultant said: "We've got good news and bad news." I was convinced the bad news would be that he had a brain tumour. She said: "We've had to contact social services, which is standard procedure."

I was waiting for the sledgehammer to fall, unaware that it had arrived. The consultant had now changed the brain bleed to a subdural which she said could only come by trauma and force. I still wasn't registering. Ian said: "Do you mean like a boxer's punch?" She replied: "Yes, or Riordan being shaken and swung around by the ankles up against a hard surface." I could still hear what she was saying but it was as if it didn't apply to us. It was only later when I said I was going home that the social worker said: "If you make any attempt to remove Riordan from the ward, the police will be contacted." I thought: "Oh my God, they think I've done it."

Riordan was X-rayed and the social worker asked me: "Where did you learn to speak English so well, and where were you educated?" I immediately thought of how many black male friends have told me that when they see a police car coming towards them, they start running. I felt I was in a goldfish bowl and I was screaming my heart out but no one could hear.

The social worker said: "If you had a reason for Riordan's injury, it would go much easier for you." But this was something my family and friends used to joke about. I was so careful with Riordan. I treated him like my china doll. I asked them about Riordan's medical notes but we were told they were missing. We thought: "Dear God, without medical notes, how the hell will we prove our innocence?"

Ian and I were best friends before we became a couple, and that will always be the fabric of our relationship. When we had to watch one of our daughters die, we had turned to each other. I said to Ian: "We are going to lose Riordan." I was full of fear and desperation, and nobody was listening. Ian was numb and not saying much. The following day, at a meeting with social workers, we were told that Riordan would be taken from us. I left the room because I was determined that I would not collapse in front of the social workers.

I was in the call box talking to my GP, just outside the ward, when a young doctor came up to me and put these notes into my arms. She kept on walking - she didn't want to be involved - but she said: "Look at the head's circumference at birth." I looked and Riordan's notes showed that his head was 32cm at birth. At 10 days it was 35.8cm. A growth of almost 4cm in 10 days. The notes showed categorically that his head had exploded in 10 days. I thought: "We are off the hook."

To this day we don't know what caused the bleeding or what the future holds for Riordan. Eventually, after two months of dragging their heels, we were allowed to attempt to get back to old life. But we were left with the legacy of trying to work through a child protection procedure. We had to pick up the pieces. We wanted to become a family on steady ground again, but we couldn't do that. I was totally obsessed with Riordan and frightened of him hurting himself. Meanwhile, Ian and I were trying to understand what we'd been through.

I feel very hurt for being falsely accused, when all I was trying to do was to be a loving parent and find out what was wrong with my child. I feel that I have been robbed of what any mother takes for granted.

Whenever Riordan gets a bruise, I think: "Oh my god, what do people think?" Ian and I conceived Riordan; he is our flesh and blood, but he will remain on the state files until he's 18. Sometimes I look at him and think: whose child is he? The state's or mine?


When the hospital accused us of shaking Riordan, we were at the point when we just wanted to get on with our lives. Like many people who've been accused of things they didn't do, I felt disbelief. It all seemed ludicrous. When we went into the final meeting with the two social workers, we felt sense would prevail. When they said Riordan was going into care, walked out. I am English through and through and I felt I had to maintain cool and calm, and try and reason with these people.

That was breaking point: it was about as traumatic a thing for a couple to go through. We were told that if we left with Riordan we'd be arrested, which was the beginning of 12 days of torture. We'd wake in the morning stinking of the kind of sweat that comes through fear and feeling sick. 's milk dried up. Riordan started pulling out his hair in distress. was fuelled by pure anger and rage, but she remained utterly determined.

Women get angry, but men are driven to something beyond anger which is disabling. had the gut feeling that somewhere within those notes was the answer.

A doctor decided that the notes which had gone missing should be found again. We were just numb. After that, we were meant to go home and lead a normal life but we were in a daze. The rage that had fuelled 's fight-back had no means of expression. We were close to being wiped out as a family. and I were, and are, best friends, and we tried to carry on communicating.

Today, we've both changed. It's killed any spontaneous sense of joy I had. Many couples in our situation split up, some people attempt suicide; their lives are completely destroyed. I want to forget the whole damn thing, but because of the moral panic surrounding child abuse our lives will never be the same again.