Adoptions stand as court says medical testimony is adequate

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The Independent Online

Thousands of parents hoping to be reunited with their children by overturning council adoption orders suffered a major setback yesterday when they were told that they could not rely on the Angela Cannings ruling. The case of Mrs Cannings, cleared in December of killing her babies, raised doubts about the credibility of expert medical evidence in cot death cases.

Thousands of parents hoping to be reunited with their children by overturning council adoption orders suffered a major setback yesterday when they were told that they could not rely on the Angela Cannings ruling. The case of Mrs Cannings, cleared in December of killing her babies, raised doubts about the credibility of expert medical evidence in cot death cases.

The Court of Appeal rejected challenges by two mothers who claimed that similar evidence had been wrongly used to accuse them of abusing their children. The judges said the court adoption orders should stand and child LU and child LB must remain in council care.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the Family Division of the High Court, ruled that the case of Mrs Cannings had no bearing in family courts. These are the first civil cases heard since Mrs Cannings was cleared by the criminal courts.

Dame Elizabeth said that in many applications for care orders lawyers were arguing that the standard of proof to be applied to mothers accused of harming their children should be the same as in criminal trials - beyond reasonable doubt. "In our judgment this approach is mistaken," she said. Local authorities had a different job to criminal courts and a responsibility to look after children.

In the case of LU, the mother was a Muslim who was thrown out by her family when she became pregnant with the child at the age of 17. She went through a religious marriage ceremony with the father in July 2001 and in August that year the child suffered a series of breathing problems while alone with the mother and was admitted to hospital on each occasion.

Dame Elizabeth said the judge hearing the case in the High Court was entitled to take into account the history of the mother, her suicide attempts, estrangement from her own family, lack of support and vulnerable situation in the household of the "shocked and disapproving" family of the father. She said the judge was also right to take into account the mother's lack of credibility and the fact that she was alone with the child when the incidents occurred.

In the case of LB, the 33-year-old mother had a history of self-harm. Her child was born with disabilities that the mother saw as evidence that the baby was evil.

Evidence was given at the care proceedings that the mother had been seen watering down the milk she fed to her baby, which was failing to thrive and had to be admitted to hospital. The child then suffered a series of unexplained spasms when the mother was present.