Child abuse review: just one case is flawed

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The Independent Online

A massive review of more than 30,000 children who were taken from their parents and put into care has found that just one case was based on flawed evidence.

A massive review of more than 30,000 children who were taken from their parents and put into care has found that just one case was based on flawed evidence.

The nine-month investigation undermines claims that thousands of parents have been unfairly accused of abusing their children as a result of wrong medical advice.

The review was ordered in January after Angela Cannings was cleared on appeal of murdering her three babies. Mrs Cannings had been convicted and jailed on the basis of evidence provided by the later-discredited paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow.

His so-called "Meadow's law" stated that one apparent cot death in a family was a tragedy, two were ground for suspicion and three meant the babies had been murdered.

Sir Roy's theory had been used in the conviction of Sally Clark, found guilty and later cleared on appeal of murdering her two sons, as well as that of Trupti Patel, who was charged with the murder of three of her babies but later acquitted.

After the three women were cleared, campaigners claimed that thousands of women were in jail or had their children taken from them as a result of expert evidence given by Sir Roy or based on his theories.

Medical evidence similar to that given in criminal courts has frequently been used in civil hearings to determine whether a child should be taken into care.

Margaret Hodge, the Children's minister, asked local authorities to re-examine all cases in which children were made the subject of a care order and looked after by foster parents or care homes.

Yesterday, in reply to a parliamentary question, she revealed that, out of 28,867 cases in which a care order was in place, only one had been changed as a result of the review. Only 26 were found to involve disagreement between experts about medical evidence and, of those, five cases raised "serious doubt" about the reliability of the evidence which had led to the care order, she said. It is not clear if the child in the single case had been returned to their parents or whether the terms of the order were modified. Three of the once doubtful cases have remained unchanged and one is still under review.

Ms Hodge said: "Expert witnesses' medical evidence is only one of many factors in the complex and difficult decision-making process that surrounds the safe-guarding of children through the courts. As the survey shows, very few cases where children are being looked after by local authorities depend on the evidence of medical expert witnesses."

The review of all current care orders is the last stage of child protection after the Cannings appeal. The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, will now study the whole system of expert medical witnesses and the way in which they give evidence.

Sir Roy has been accused of serious professional misconduct and is due to appear before the General Medical Council in January.