Silent parents of dead baby walk free

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The Independent Online
PRESSURE to end a suspect's right to silence grew last night after it emerged that all charges against a couple whose nine- week-old baby died from multiple injuries were dropped because both had refused to make statements to the police.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children urged the Royal Commission on criminal justice to consider the move as one option to close the loophole which has led to the collapse of up to 10 similar cases since 1984.

But Liberty, the civil liberties pressure group, last night rejected the suggestion saying that a defendant had an absolute right to silence, particularly after recent miscarriages of justice.

Ann Griffin, 35, and George Hadjioannou, 41, walked free from a committal hearing at Thames magistrates' court, east London, on Wednesday after the Crown Prosecution Service was forced to drop charges of cruelty against them brought under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 because of lack of

evidence.

Both parents had taken Kim Griffin to Newham hospital, in east London, with breathing difficulties on 8 September, but she died after three days in intensive care.

A post-mortem examination found she died from a six-inch fracture to her skull, but also had a broken arm and collar bone, caused by a blow; a shattered rib cage and a torn upper lip. The injuries had been caused over a three- to four-week period.

Detectives from Bow police station's child protection team and Tower Hamlets social services department were called and began an investigation when the baby was admitted to hospital.

But, apart from an inconclusive statement made by the woman, both maintained their right to silence and the police were unable to bring a charge of murder or manslaughter, which would have required evidence to show that one or the other was responsible.

Instead, a lesser charge of cruelty, carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment, was brought against both because it would have been necessary only to show they 'wilfully assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, abandoned or exposed' the child.

However, the prosecution service had to give up even on a cruelty charge after it became clear a GP had examined the child several times in the previous weeks and had failed to notice any injuries.

Prosecution lawyers sought further medical advice and took the opinion of leading counsel, but ultimately conceded there was no realistic chance of securing a conviction.

Yesterday, Detective Inspector Tony Caddy, former head of the child protection team, said: 'We were left facing their defence of 'how would I know how it was done if I didn't see it happening? How would I know if the GP hadn't known'. However, there is no suggestion that anybody else was responsible.'

A spokeswoman for the CPS said: 'We reviewed the case very carefully. The decision not to proceed was not taken lightly, but we formed the view that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.'

It also emerged last night that another child of Mr Hadjioannou's in a previous relationship had been taken into care five years ago and was never returned to her natural parents.

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