Families appeal for children's return as challenges to care orders begin

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The Independent Online

The families of two children taken into care after medical experts diagnosed Munchausen's syndrome by proxy are to challenge the rulings in the Court of Appeal today.

The families of two children taken into care after medical experts diagnosed Munchausen's syndrome by proxy are to challenge the rulings in the Court of Appeal today.

The families are alleging that the children, known only as B and U, were taken into care on the basis of flawed medical evidence.

The joint hearing is the first of hundreds of care order cases to reach the Court of Appeal after ministers announced a review in the wake of the Angela Cannings appeal.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the president of the family division of the High Court of England and Wales, will head the panel of judges that is expected to set guidance for the handling of future appeals.

The judges are expected to address the issue of whether children who have been living in local authority or foster care should be returned to their natural families after the courts have ruled that the original medical evidence was flawed.

Last month Margaret Hodge, the Children's minister, told local authorities to start an urgent review of care proceedings involving children who have not yet been adopted. But she warned it would not be possible to reverseadoptions that had already been arranged after the courts had accepted medical evidence that has recently been discredited - including the interpretation of the causes of cot death by the retired paediatrician, Professor Sir Roy Meadow.

His expert evidence on Munchausen's syndrome by proxy was rejected by the Court of Appeal in December when judges quashed the conviction of Angela Cannings for murdering her two baby sons.

In 1987, Dame Elizabeth's report after the Cleveland child abuse scandals gave warning of excessive reliance on experts' opinion by local authorities and social services departments without sufficient corroborative evidence. The report said it was important that social workers should not act solely on the basis of medical diagnoses. Yet local authorities continued to follow the diagnoses of experts such as Professor Meadow without looking for further corroborative evidence.

Rifat Mushtaq, the solicitor representing the family of child U, said that the appeal was expected to last two days. A leading family law barrister, Andrew McFarlane QC, has been instructed to appear in the case.