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Child who captured nation's heart `tortured by mother'

A mother whose predicament became a national cause celebre after it emerged that her eight-year-old daughter had undergone 40 operations, and been hospitalised 200 times, was arrested this week in Florida after police compiled evidence that she had deliberately and systematically induced the child's illnesses.

The police warrant describes the charges against Kathleen Bush as "aggravated child abuse" and "wilful torture". She is accused of having poisoned her daughter with medications, contaminating her (possibly with faeces), and subjecting her to years of unnecessary but painful examinations and surgery, including operations to remove her gall bladder, appendix and parts of her intestines.

Two years ago little Jennifer Bush sat next to Hillary Clinton at a White House event to promote the President's campaign to reform health care. The girl and her mother then started appearing on the TV networks, and telling their story to the newspapers. They soon became identified with everything that was wrong with the American health system.

The medical bills, so Kathleen Bush said, had bankrupted the family. It turns out now, according to the police, that even that was a lie. The family's credit card receipts show that in 1994, when Mrs Bush was claiming she was ruined, the family had gone on holiday to the Bahamas, bought a new car and spent $19,000 on a swimming pool. The police say Mrs Bush is affected by Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy. Sufferers display a pattern of deliberately making a child sick, or knowingly conveying false medical information, as a means of attracting attention. Perhaps there is a simpler diagnosis: in common with many Americans, she will do anything, say anything, to appear on TV.